105. Letter From Livingston T. Merchant to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Tyler)1

Dear Bill:

This is a brief report of a lunch I had alone on January 12 with my old friend Sergio Fenoaltea, the Italian Ambassador, on his invitation. He wanted to talk about the MLF. I told him I had been completely out of touch with developments for over two months. Nevertheless, he pursued the topic with pertinacity and dolor. He said he was most unhappy over the shift in the US position which he had first learned of through Scotty Reston’s column some weeks ago on the President’s injunction.2 I said I had read the article and other news stories but had not seen the memo if indeed it existed. Sergio went on to say that “The US had pulled the rug out from under the Germans (particularly Schroeder) and also members of the Italian government favoring it. The Germans were very unhappy. Even if the MLF was a poor idea (and he himself thought it a very good one) the US should have pursued it with constancy once we had committed ourselves to it. To shift gears cost us confidence in many ways. Moreover, it appeared we were appeasing deGaulle-even giving him a veto,” etc. I replied that our basic position on the problem and on the MLF—to my knowledge—had not changed. No one should doubt our constancy. The MLF had always been an attempt to meet an asserted European problem. Moreover, I said that there had been two major new elements in the situation in recent weeks. First, the new Labor Government had been elected in the UK and was striving to abandon its national nuclear deterrent. Surely it was only sensible to consider most carefully British proposals to this end which could result in UK participation in an MLF. If the Germans and Italians disliked certain of the British ideas it was far more effective for them to tell the British so directly rather than for us to object on the basis that the Germans or Italians would not like this or that. Secondly, De Gaulle’s attitude had shifted from indifference to open hostility toward the MLF with the veiled threat that he’d pull the pillars of the Temple down if it became a fact. Surely time should be allotted to ensure that he understood the basic concept and the intention [Page 218]to leave it open for later French adherence. I added I knew of no willingness to accord the French a veto over any or all actions in NATO.

Sergio then referred to a statement in President Johnson’s speech3 to the effect our policy was not based on an “abstract design” and asked if he should attach great significance to this as portending a basic change in US policy toward Europe. I said “certainly not—that this was language reflecting Mr. Johnson’s pragmatic approach to problems.” He agreed.

Sergio then shifted to East-West relations and talked interestingly on the dangers to Italy (& France) which had large Communist parties of overemphasizing polycentrism in the European satellites and deemphasizing the inherent evils of communism as an ideology.

Finally, he reverted to one of his chronic themes that the US cannot and must not leave the Europeans to make important decisions alone. US influence and leadership is needed.

It was a long and interesting lunch. Despite all my efforts he was still in a melancholy mood when I left, for he has stuck his own professional neck out very far on the MLF.

I leave it to you to give this note such distribution as you think it should have.

All the best,


  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 1 IT-US. No classification marking. Tyler wrote the following note on the letter on January 19: “I called Livie and thanked him for his thoughtful note.”
  2. Reston’s column appeared in The New York Times, December 21, 1964. For documentation on U.S. policy decisions, see Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. XIII, Documents 49 67.
  3. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, Book I, pp. 1-9.