Memorandum of Conversation, by the Officer in Charge, North African Affairs (Wellons)1



  • U.S. Base Rights in Eritrea and Ethiopian Desires for Military Assistance.


  • General John E. Hull, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army
  • Lt. General L. L. Lemnitzer, Deputy Chief of Staff for Planning and Research, U.S. Army; Lt. Col. Pierce; Mr. H. Byroade, Asst. Secretary of State; Mr. J. Utter, AF; Mr. A. Wellons, AF.
  • Ato Aklilou, Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs; Gen. Mulughetta Bulli, Commander, Imperial Ethiopian Body Guard; Mr. John Spencer, American Adviser to and Interpreter for Aklilou.

This meeting was held at 3: 00 p.m. on March 30, 1953, in the office of General Hull in the Pentagon.

[Page 439]

After Gen. Hull and Foreign Minister Aklilou had exchanged cordialities, the Foreign Minister stated that he had been instructed by the Emperor to come to the United States to reach a settlement on three matters: (1) the problem of reimbursable military assistance for Ethiopia, (2) the U.S. Military Training Mission for Ethiopia, and (3) the agreement for U.S. military rights in Eritrea (Radio Marina).

Base Agreement

The Foreign Minister expounded at great length on U.S.-Ethiopian relations. He recalled the promise which he had made in Paris in 1948 concerning our continued use of Radio Marina if Eritrea should be placed under the jurisdiction of the Ethiopian Government, and the renewal of this promise to Lt. General Bolte when he visited Ethiopia in 1951. Aklilou mentioned his conversations with Secretary Acheson last fall2 and Secretary Dulles last week.3 He pointed out that the facilities which the United States now desired were considerably more than what we had wanted in 1948. Thus when Ambassador Childs proposed the conclusion of a definitive agreement and submitted a draft in August of 1952, he found that it involved all sorts of things and was much broader in scope than the commitment which he had made in Paris. The Foreign Minister stated that when he inquired what was the “status quo modus vivendi” the Ambassador was unable to explain just what was involved. In spite of this, however, the Ethiopian Government had exchanged notes with the U.S. on September 11, 1952, granting a continuation of our rights and privileges without knowing fully what was involved.

Aklilou then recalled the discussions of the proposed agreement carried on at Asmara and Massawa in September and October (1952) and said that it was his feeling at that time that the agreement was “unilateral”—that only the United States was benefiting from the agreement. He mentioned specifically that in the case of our Agreement with Saudi Arabia all properties reverted to the Government of that country at the termination of the agreement. He inquired why this could not be so for Ethiopia. In the negotiations which were held in Washington last December he said that the changes were not so much ones of substance but rather of form. The Pentagon’s representatives, however, were unable to satisfy him at that time because they were not precise enough. He emphasized that the problem is not that Ethiopia refuses to grant the U.S. request for facilities in Eritrea but that he wants a clarification of our desires in the area.

Arms Assistance

The Foreign Minister recalled that Ethiopia had been endeavoring to obtain military equipment from the United States for more than [Page 440] six years and noted that it was not until one year after General Bolte had visited Ethiopia that a reimbursable arms agreement was signed by the two countries.4 The Foreign Minister then related a series of misunderstandings or misconceptions concerning Ethiopia’s eligibility to purchase military equipment under section 408 (e) of the MDAA. He said that at the time the agreement was signed it was his understanding that Ethiopia would be considered on the same basis as Greece and Turkey—that it was not until later that he was told that Ethiopia could only “purchase” arms. He said that in Ethiopian eyes the reimbursable aid agreement was regarded as a “Mutual Defense Treaty”.

With regard to the cost of the equipment Aklilou stated that Mr. Gatewood (Counselor of Embassy and now Chargé d’Affaires a.i. at Addis Ababa) had indicated that the price of equipment would be reduced on a relative scale, for example, from $100 to about $12 or $15. While he was in Paris recently, however, he had received a telegram from the Emperor advising him that the price for 12,000 rifles was four and one half million dollars and that payment therefor had to be made in advance. This was too much and the Emperor instructed him to clear the matter up. He mentioned that the cost of the small arms retained by the Ethiopian troops returning from Korea had been reduced to about 30% of their original cost.

The Foreign Minister then went into a lengthy discourse on Ethiopia’s need for arms. He said that about 90% of the old weapons which Ethiopia had been using (mostly captured Italian equipment) were virtually unusable. He referred to Ethiopia’s size, its long unprotected borders, the matter of internal security, the problem of communications, floods, etc., etc. In this regard he mentioned that Ethiopia had been given a plan for the reorganization of the Ethiopian Army which had been approved by the United States JCS. He said that this plan did not meet Ethiopia’s needs; a plan for using reserves was not applicable to the country under present conditions—what Ethiopia needed was two fully equipped divisions and a brigade to meet its minimum requirements.

Aklilou then proceeded to point out the advantages to the United States for extending military equipment assistance to Ethiopia. He said that arms given to Arab States might not be used as well as arms given to Ethiopia and emphasized that the United States can count on Ethiopia more than it can count on the Arabs. In this connection he mentioned that recently in the United Nations, Ethiopia had voted against the Czechoslovakian resolution concerning Mutual Security whereas the Arab States abstained.5 He said that Ethiopia [Page 441] wants to collaborate with Americans and mentioned as examples the Sinclair Petroleum Company’s concession, T.W.A.’s contract to run the Ethiopian Air Lines, the Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, etc. In developing this thesis he pointed out that Ethiopia is independent, is developing economically, and is not a member of a “bloc”. She is neither for nor against the Arabs; she is neither for nor against “Colonial Powers”. He felt, therefore, that the U.S. would encounter no “bloc” or other repercussions by extending military assistance to Ethiopia.

The Foreign Minister then re-emphasized the close relationship with the United States which he has fostered over the last ten years and pointed out that U.S. influence and prestige in Ethiopia is greater than in any other country of the Near East. However, there has been criticism of his policy within his country and also from the Arabs. It is necessary that he now show results and that the U.S. demonstrate reciprocity of feeling with regard to (1) military assistance, (2) the base agreement, and (3) the training mission.

General Hull then expressed great admiration for Ethiopian accomplishments and for the high caliber of the troops sent to Korea. With regard to Radio Marina, he said that it is very important to us but that we should not ask for extra rights and privileges—that our forces there should not be privileged but should be on equal terms with Ethiopian forces. The General stated that all the U.S. wants is a continuation of what we now have in Eritrea. This should, however, be clearly defined in a formal agreement so there would not be any misunderstanding over the meaning of words. He referred to the proposed changes in the agreement (which Mr. Spencer had given to Mr. Utter on March 27, 1953), said that they were under study, and that he believed an agreement could be worked out on a reasonable basis.

The General felt that the size of the Ethiopian Army, its equipment, the amount of money which could be expended for equipment, etc., were matters which should be decided by the Ethiopian Government. As for the United States, we had declared Ethiopia eligible for reimbursable assistance and we would be glad to supply arms to them on that basis. He expressed his personal opinion that what Ethiopia needed was lightly armed, mobile troops. On the question of the cost of the equipment the General stated that he was not familiar with the details but felt that the Ethiopians had every right to know what is involved and what the requirements are.

General Lemnitzer suggested that the misunderstanding regarding prices may have involved “surplus equipment” which could be sold at considerable price reduction.

[Page 442]

Mr. Byroade said that the State Department would check on this matter of prices.

At the end of the meeting Aklilou emphasized two problems: they want (1) a reduction in price of the arms they purchase, and (2) to pay for the equipment by installments (presumably over several years) after receiving delivery. Ethiopia, he said, could not pay 4½ million dollars now. Mr. Utter explained that the Ethiopian Government had been told it could buy the equipment they want with a down payment of $850,000 and a letter of credit for the remainder of the 4½ million. Mr. Byroade said that he wanted a settlement of all of these problems and suggested that they be studied by State and Defense and then have a further meeting with the Ethiopians.

Ato Aklilou said that Ethiopia needs equipment now and that the phazing of purchases of equipment would not meet its need. General Mulughetta Bulli added that Ethiopia has trained troops who are ready to use arms. General Hull expressed the opinion that the Ethiopians might purchase the desired 12,000 rifles first and then obtain the other equipment later and thought that the availability of such items should be studied.

The Ethiopian Foreign Minister then inquired what the program was to be and was informed that the problems would be discussed by State and Defense and a further meeting would then be held with him. Mr. Byroade hoped we could have an answer for Aklilou this week.6

  1. Beard (AF) helped draft this memorandum of conversation.
  2. The memorandum of this conversation, dated Oct. 21, 1952, is on p. 428.
  3. Memorandum of conversation of Mar. 24, supra.
  4. See telegram 377 to Ethiopia, May 15, 1952, p. 423.
  5. Reference is to a Czech draft resolution (UN document A/C.1/L.34) which stated that the U.S. Mutual Security Act of 1951 constituted aggression and interference in the affairs of other states. It was overwhelmingly voted down in the First Committee and in the General Assembly in March and April 1953; see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1953, pp.253–258. For related documentation, see volume viii.
  6. A copy of this memorandum of conversation was sent to the Embassy in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa despatch 444, May 1, expressed surprise at some of the statements made by the Foreign Minister. The following points were made in the despatch: 1) The Embassy did not understand how the Foreign Minister could expect Ethiopia to be considered on the same basis as Greece and Turkey, as copies of the Mutual Security legislation had been carefully reviewed with the Foreign Ministry; 2) Since the basic exchange of notes on reimbursable military aid contained clear references to Section 408e, the Embassy could not understand how the Ethiopians could consider the reimbursable aid agreement a mutual defense treaty; 3) General Lemnitzer’s contention that the misunderstanding regarding prices may have involved surplus equipment was correct. Gatewood said he had told the Foreign Minister that the price of surplus equipment was lower than that for new items, but he never indicated a reduction as great as 85–90 percent even for those items. (775.5 MSP/5–153)