750G.00/9–453: Telegram

No. 97
The Chargé in Yugoslavia (Wallner) to the Department of State1
secret
niact

298. Embassy telegram 297.2 French Ambassador opened by saying his government was disturbed by recent developments. Yugoslav Government had requested our good offices to intervene with Rome to have Italian military measures revoked and had by informing press of démarche and making public note to Italian Government threatening countermeasures (Embassy telegram 2963) rendered ineffective in advance any compliance with request we might have been contemplating. Furthermore, these press statements could only increase tension in view of special psychology of Italian Government and people. Three governments had from beginning counseled moderation Italian Government. Italians had perhaps hastily but not uncharacteristically staged “military spectacle”. That this spectacle was not serious had been admitted by Bebler when he asked us to intervene in Rome. Three governments agreed it was not dangerous and certainly did not justify any countermeasures on part Yugoslavia. Consequently they felt they must [Page 253]seriously invite Yugoslav Government’s attention to desirability and urgency of taking no steps which would increase tension, either countermeasures or inflammatory statements by Tito on Sunday.

British Ambassador followed particularly stressing fact that three governments efforts undertaken from very outset of trouble with Italian Government to bring about moderation were continuing. These things took time. Three governments could see no justification in countermeasures and urged further patience on part Yugoslav Government. Countermeasures might lead to dangerous situation. He understood Yugoslavs were pleased with results military talks in Washington and was sure would think twice about spoiling atmosphere.

I associated myself in general with two Ambassadors’ statements. Making no reference to what had been or would be done or said in Rome, I stated that my government agreed with Yugoslav Government and [that?] Italian military measures were not serious. We thought they had abated. This might be open to dispute but it was certain they had not been increased since early days. Countermeasures, however, would be very serious. It took two to make a fight. We considered such countermeasures unwarranted and strongly urged Yugoslav Government to take no steps to further disturb situation.

Popovic said he would inform his government of our views but he felt he could make an interim reply. First the facts. At no time since this business started had there been taken on Yugoslav side any measure which could be qualified as pressure tactics despite what French Ambassador had described as “military spectacle”. This is proof of Yugoslav patience and good faith. If three powers wished to correct situation they should turn to place where trouble started. It is most illogical to ask Yugoslavia to do nothing when Italians have not cancelled their military measures. Three powers influence in Rome is certainly no less than in Belgrade.

Reuter’s story compelled Yugoslav Government to issue correction and go back on its original intention to keep request for intervention secret. In all world press Yugoslavs are made out equally at fault with Italians. Press agencies were constantly issuing contradictory reports. Yugoslav Government felt it had to maintain some balance. He could see no reason why this prevented us from telling Italian Government to revoke measures which were at root of trouble.

My colleagues and I attacked this thesis pointing out that there were certain practical limits within which coalition governments, particularly weak ones, had to operate with public opinion but Popovic [Page 254]merely replied, “does this blackmail of weakness have no limits?”

Trying another tack, we said that public opinion in our countries did not necessarily consider Yugoslav Government equally at fault with Italy. Editorial opinion had on whole tended consider Italian measures as unwarranted. Yugoslav Government would put itself in same boat with Italy by countering now and lose all credit for patience shown to date. Popovic said he could not understand how we could ask Yugoslavia to refrain from acting when both her vital interests and prestige were at stake. “Le role est trop beau”. We were asking too much, to point where we expected “one of highest leaders of Yugoslav Government” to make important speech “under shadow of Italian bayonets”. We said Yugoslav Government was only judge of its own vital interests and prestige but public opinion in our countries would not understand that they had been adversely affected by developments to date. We renewed our plea that Yugoslav Government do nothing further.

Meeting broke up as described reference telegram.

At this stage, I doubt that we have succeeded in persuading Yugoslav Government to abstain from taking certain symbolic countermeasures. A dictatorship can ill-afford to have patience interpreted as weakness, and warning contained in latest published Yugoslav note to Rome (Embassy telegram 296) cannot go long unfulfilled. Nevertheless on basis currently available evidence I am hopeful Yugoslav Government will proceed cautiously and carefully weigh in advance consequences of each act. Its immediate course will be largely determined by what Italians do.

Wallner
  1. Repeated for information to Rome, Paris, London, and Trieste.
  2. In telegram 297 Wallner briefly summarized the meeting he and the British and French Ambassadors had that evening with Koča Popović and said that details of the conversation would follow. (750G.00/9–453)
  3. In telegram 296 Wallner quoted the substantive points of the official Foreign Office press statement on Sept. 4, entitled “Yugoslav Government Note to the Italian Government,” a note which was presumably delivered earlier in the day. (750G.00/9–553)