104. Letter From the Ambassador to Italy (Reinhardt) to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Tyler)1

Dear Bill:

I want to write a word to you regarding the way we see developments moving in Italian policy toward Communist China.

As you know, and as we have reported repeatedly, Saragat has assured me that in the forthcoming UN General Assembly Italy will support the United States view that the Chinese representation issue is an “important question” and that Italy will not vote for seating Communist China at this session of the General Assembly. I have no doubt that this will remain the Italian position—for this coming session.

It is important to bear in mind that these assurances have carefully been limited to the forthcoming session and it has been pointed [Page 215] out that they do not necessarily apply to the future beyond that time. These assurances have also been given against a background of repeated reminders that Italy is convinced the time is rapidly approaching when a new look must be taken at its policy regarding Chinese recognition. In our conversations with responsible Italian officials here there are also constant allusions to alleged rising internal economic and political pressures calling for a recognition of Communist China. Although we can and have demonstrated repeatedly by statistics that the economic advantages to Chinese Communist recognition are largely illusory, it must be admitted that there are still some pressures nonetheless from Italian business and industrial concerns favoring Chinese Communist recognition. The main issue-and here the matter is much more complex and much less susceptible to statistical refutation, is the internal political pressure from many quarters, particularly from the PSI, for recognition, as well as a general and growing feeling that Italy, by continuing to support the United States position, is on a slippery slope and is backing, without conviction, a losing proposition.

We have come into possession of information in strictest confidence from a source which I consider to be completely reliable concerning Saragat’s conversation with Spaak during Spaak’s last visit here. Reportedly there were the following significant elements in the conversation:

Both Saragat and Spaak referred to growing strong internal pressures favoring Communist Chinese recognition. Spaak is said to have told Saragat that in Belgium only he, Spaak, is keeping Belgium on its present course.
Both Saragat and Spaak agreed that, although Italy and Belgium will support the United States position at the forthcoming UN General Assembly, both countries have “decided” that they will recognize Communist China in the not too distant future. It was not excluded that one or both countries might make explanatory statements to this general effect in connection with the positions they might be called upon to take in the General Assembly this year. It was noted that Canada might be in a similar position and should be consulted privately.
Both Saragat and Spaak agreed that the changes in Italian and Belgian policy would not be taken without full and frank prior conversations with the United States. Both agreed they wished to avoid acting in the manner in which De Gaulle had carried out his change of policy.
The way in which the conversation flowed from a discussion by Saragat of Italy’s intention to support and participate in the MLF to a discussion immediately thereafter of the attitude of Nenni and the Italian Socialists favoring recognition of Communist China led some [Page 216] among the Belgians to conclude that Saragat may have been thinking that Italian government agreement to recognize Communist China would be the price for Italian Socialist acceptance of MLF.
Spaak urged that the United States should be informed privately at once of the Italian and Belgian “decision” to recognize Communist China. Saragat, on the other hand, argued that, while, of course, the United States must be informed as soon as possible and full discussions should be held with the United States before any action were taken, the matter should not be broached even privately with the United States until after the United States presidential elections.

I have noted from a number of reporting cables various straws in the wind which point in the direction of the information I have just set forth. Now, Malfatti has told us directly that Italy is rethinking its position as we have reported in our telegram 1291.2 My purpose in writing to you is to bring to your attention—and through you to the attention of others whom you may consider appropriate—what I consider to be authentic information indicating the lines along which I believe Italian policy is developing. I doubt that the Italians will be responsive much longer to United States exhortations and arguments on this subject. While wishing to take their contemplated action in such a manner so as to minimize the damage to the United States and the strain on US-Italian relations, I believe that the Italians have taken a decision in principle to move on this matter. To the extent that they are able to do so in coordination with Belgium and possibly Canada, they will be strengthened in their resolve to move forward with this change in policy.3

I believe that Saragat is sincere about this; but I know that he also expects us not to make any changes in United States policy with regard to Chinese recognition or UN admission without informing the Italian government about it at the very earliest possible time. He is particularly sensitive about this possibility, however remote, since he fears that if Italy were to be taken by surprise by any such US policy shift, the Italian government would be laid open to criticism from the Italian Left of lagging behind “even the United States” on this issue.

With best wishes,

Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Italian Desk Files: Lot 68 D 436, Ambassador Reinhardt. Secret; Official-Informal.
  2. Dated November 11. (Ibid., Central Files 1964-66, POL CHICOM IT)
  3. In a November 26 letter to Reinhardt, Tyler commented: “I think your analysis leaves little doubt but that in the longer run, the Italian Government intends to modify its policyhellip;. We would hope to be consulted, not merely informed, on this matter.” (Ibid.)