Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director, Office of African Affairs ( Utter )1



  • Analysis by John Spencer of Present Ethiopian Attitude Toward the United States.


  • John Spencer, American Adviser to the Ethiopian Government.
  • John D. Jernegan, Deputy Assistant Secretary.
  • John E. Utter, AF.

Preliminary to the resumption of discussions between the Ethiopian Foreign Minister and the State Department dealing with U.S. Base Agreement, U.S. Military Mission to Ethiopia, and purchase of arms by Ethiopia, Mr. Spencer called to give us his confidential appraisal of the present state of mind of Ato Aklilou, the Foreign Minister, toward the United States. Mr. Spencer prefaced his remarks by saying that after nine years in Ethiopia during which time he had had an opportunity to understand the workings of the Ethiopian mind, he felt that he was in a position to give us an analysis of the present attitudes of the leading Ethiopian officials toward the United States. He assured us that any seemingly blunt remarks regarding United States policy were given in a spirit of frankness and with the sole object of preparing us for a probably difficult and intransigent attitude of Ato Aklilou during the forthcoming discussions.

He stated that the Foreign Minister had not wanted to come to Washington at this time but had been compelled to do so on the instructions of the Emperor, who had told him that he wanted the three items mentioned above settled before Aklilou’s return to Addis Ababa.

Mr. Spencer then went on to relate in great length a series of events directly concerning Ethiopia in which the United States Government was involved which tended to establish in the minds of the Emperor and Aklilou that the United States was not deeply interested in the welfare of Ethiopia. Mr. Spencer reminded us that both the Emperor and Aklilou had long memories and incidents which seemed of relatively minor importance had stuck in their minds and the accumulation of what they considered somewhat lukewarm support by the United States on a series of issues had resulted in a state of mind which might gradually develop into a reticence in dealing with U.S. Government and American private enterprise and a shifting of policy in favor of other nations. Mr. Spencer said that there existed in Addis Ababa a strong group of Ministers among whom were the Ministers of Commerce and Public Health who were critical of Aklilou’s partiality for the United States and who seek advantages both to Ethiopia and to [Page 436] themselves in playing off the important European powers against each other. He mentioned the machinations of a Frenchman by the name of Michel Cott who with the aid of considerable funds appeared to be playing an important role behind the scenes in promoting this anti-American policy among Ethiopian officials. Ato Aklilou is, according to Mr. Spencer, still on the spot for having insisted on the resumption of diplomatic relations with Italy and it is obvious that he feels somewhat uncertain of his own position despite the fact that he appears to have had the backing of the Emperor up to this time. Spencer said that the United States brought considerable pressure to bear in connection with the resumption of relations with Italy and we are therefore linked with this unpopular action in the minds of many Ethiopians.

Mr. Spencer gave us to understand that Aklilou’s mission was not only to settle the three problems mentioned above but also to be able to return to Ethiopia and assure the Emperor that the United States was really taking more than a casual interest in the development of Ethiopia. Mr. Spencer called our attention to the fact that there was an increasing trend toward Ethiopia’s throwing in its lot completely with the Arab States which had already given their support to the Eritrean-Ethiopian Federation and which are now active in courting Ethiopia to join the Arab-Asiatic bloc.

General Mulughetta, Commander of the Imperial Ethiopian Body Guard, who has accompanied Ato Aklilou to Washington, was reported by Spencer to be unconcerned about obtaining a United States Military Mission to Ethiopia and Spencer had gathered the impression that the General would be just as pleased to see a Swedish military mission in its place. Spencer indicated that the Foreign Minister was anxious to settle this issue and that he would probably be satisfied if a fixed number of officers (say 25) for a definite period of time could be assigned. Aklilou would not accept what he considered the vague proposition put forward in December. The question of obtaining arms from the United States on a reimbursable basis was also a ticklish point with the Ethiopians who, probably because of their contribution in Korea, considered that they should have better treatment than such countries as Pakistan and India. The terms for obtaining and purchasing of arms would be discussed and Spencer hoped that the United States could agree to a generous treatment of this question.

With regard to the Base Agreement, Spencer said that Aklilou had withdrawn some of his more extreme objections to the draft in its present form and that the terms of Articles 2 and 3 appeared to be the real stumbling blocks. The Ethiopians were entirely prepared to give complete authority to the Americans within their installations and complete freedom of import and export and to have the necessary cable and wireless communications but were not prepared to give a priority of movement of goods and troops between U.S. military installations. [Page 437] They would be satisfied, however, by parity between the United States and Ethiopia on this question. Spencer stated that Articles 2 and 3 were too general, vague and comprehensive and gave the impression to the Ethiopians that there was an impingement on their sovereignty. It was suggested to Spencer that he might prepare a rewording of the text which would be acceptable to the Foreign Minister and let us have it before entering negotiations so that we could see just how far we could go along with them.

Mr. Spencer referred to Ato Aklilou’s call on the Secretary in the morning and said that the Foreign Minister would not be ready to begin discussions until Mr. Dulles had designated high-ranking and responsible officers to meet with him. We told Mr. Spencer that this was being arranged and Aklilou would be informed shortly. It was understood that discussions would probably not take place until the beginning of next week, although certain preparatory work might be done between Mr. Spencer and members of the African Office.

  1. This memorandum of conversation was initialed by Jernegan.