109. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Valenti) to President Johnson1
These are some observations that I hope that you would consider in regard to the visit of Prime Minister Moro.
The Prime Minister is very anxious for this visit to be a success from both his standpoint and yours. As you know, I spoke rather sharply to the Italian Ambassador after the publication of the New York [Page 229] Times story about his alleged remarks on Viet Nam.2 The Italian Ambassador was very upset about it and insisted that this was a speculative story. He later conveyed to me that he passed along to the Prime Minister my conversation with him. The Prime Minister declared the story to be entirely speculative and not at all the sort of thing he would be saying.
The Prime Minister is in a difficult political situation. The Nenni Socialist Party (PSI) cannot be too accommodating or else Nenni will lose his effectiveness as well as his following. It is vital to Moro that the Nenni Socialists remain allied to him because of the substantial strength of the Communist Party.
As of now the Christian Democrats have a little less than half of the majority in the Italian Parliament with the PSI about 15% and the Communists about 25%. There is a splinter group (PSIUP) a little to the left of the PSI and a little to the right of the Communists. This group broke off from Nenni’s Socialists when the Nenni Socialists endorsed NATO. Therefore, the Moro posture is on a knife-edge and the outcome of his meeting with you is very important to him.
Viet Nam is the one issue that threatens the Moro-Nenni relationship. Your Baltimore speech had a tremendously favorable impact in Italy. It cut the propaganda ground out from under the Communists and strengthened Moro’s hand immeasurably.
The Prime Minister wants to tell you about the Italian political situation and of the moves that Italy is making to restore its economic strength. He will be very circumspect about what is said in public about Viet Nam.
I think you will find out that you will be able to call the turn on this and he would be willing to go along with your views—keeping in mind, of course, that too strong a support of the U.S.-Viet Nam policy would allow the Communists to make some hay.
If it is possible for you to consider the following, it would allow Moro to go back to Italy in a stronger position than when he left:
- The President hopefully show great warmth and affection for Moro and Italy in some visible way-perhaps a little longer than usual discussion with Moro, particularly private talks. Hopefully, I will try to come up with some ideas for pictures and other suggestions that will give evidence that the warmth of your welcome was more than merely normal and procedural.
Any background we can give the Press to emphasize the extreme cordiality of the meeting and the President’s genuine and intense interest in Italy’s problems and in Italy’s future.[Page 230]
You are scheduled to actually talk with him about 45 minutes. If this could be stretched to say about an hour and a half even though Moro will be a little late to his luncheon given by Secretary Fowler on April 20 it would be taken as a gesture of warm interest on your part.
- The Italians are quite sensitive about their position in the European power structure. It would be most helpful if your talk could underscore the fact that the U.S. considers Italy to be part of a rectangle of London, Paris, Bonn, and Rome. Like any human or nation that once tasted great glory and then settled into a decline, the Italians thirst for recognition as a nation to be reckoned with in the affairs of the world.