179. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • President Saragat
  • MG Vernon A. Walters

President Saragat began by saying that he thanked the President for his visit and was most happy to see him again.

Speaking as a friend he would speak with full candor as one should among friends. He would like to present to the President certain considerations concerning Italian political life and after that would be very happy to hear anything that the President might wish to say.

There were in Italy three major parties: the Communists, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists. The Communist Party represented about 28 percent of the Italian electorate and with their allies they represented roughly a third of the Italian electorate. This they had achieved by distinguishing themselves in the fight against Fascism and by deceiving many Italians who regarded them as a respectable sort of activist Socialist Party without realizing the true nature of Communism. The Communists were careful and never spoke of dictatorship and almost always of freedom. The Italian Communist Party was more devoted to the interests of Moscow than was, for example, the French Communist Party. Its chief, Luigi Longo, was for all practical purposes a Soviet Officer. The new Secretary General2 was completely devoted to the interests of Moscow. Recently the Italian Communist Party had held its Congress at Bologna. During this Congress it had condemned the Soviet move into Czechoslovakia and this had been hailed in the press in Italy and abroad as a sure sign that they were loosening their ties to Moscow. This was a mistake. They had issued the condemnation only because the events in Czechoslovakia had disturbed the Italian electorate and because thus they would feel much freer to attack the Atlantic Alliance whose destruction was their major objective. First, they [Page 622] would try to lead Italy to neutralism as a first stage and eventually to the side of the Soviet Union.

Next, there was the Christian Democratic Party. This Party was the mainstay of democracy. Without it democracy would collapse in Italy. It represented around 38 percent of the electorate. It was strong because it was supported by the Vatican. It deserved support because it was the central piece of the structure of democracy and freedom in Italy. In it, however, there was a fringe of far leftists. It was one of the two main partners in the present coalition government in Italy. As stated previously, it did have the support of the Vatican. Pope Paul was a good man but did not understand much about politics. He should be told that he could be Pope in Rome only so long as democracy endured in Italy. If democracy were to be overthrown in Italy, then he would either have to emigrate or share the fate of the Metropolitain Alexei in the USSR.

There was also the Socialists who were the product of the fusion of the old Social Democratic Party which Mr. Saragat himself had headed and the Socialist Party of which the present Foreign Minister Mr. Nenni had been head for many years. The Socialist Party also had a left wing fringe which was more important than the left wing fringe of the Christian Democrats because it comprised a much larger section of the Socialist Party than the similar fringe of the Christian Democratic Party. It was to these two anti-Atlantic Alliance accomplice groups in the Christian Democratic and Socialist Parties that the Communists owed much of their trouble-making capacity.

There was also a Democratic Party on the right headed by Mr. Malagodi.3 This was the Liberal Party, a strongly pro-Atlantic party and it was also devoted to the unification of Europe. It had previously been in the Government with the Christian Democrats but now was in the opposition. The Republican Party polled about a million votes but its representation in Parliament was small. It, too, was strongly pro-Atlantic and pro-European. It was headed by Mr. La Malfa.

The Neo-Fascist MSI Party and the Monarchist Party on the far right were very pro-Atlantic, if not pro-American, and not very nationalistic which was in a sense ironic for nationalistic parties.

President Saragat then said that European Unification was indispensable if Italy were to be a useful partner for the U.S. Italy believed strongly that Great Britain should be brought into the European Common Market and should be integrated politically with the other countries of Europe.

[Page 623]

Still speaking frankly he would talk about some other problems that were of concern to him. He hoped that the U.S. in determining its policies would not do anything that would weaken the democratic forces in Italy. He would speak of such problems.

First, he hoped that the U.S. would not give General de Gaulle preferential treatment. This would create many difficulties and strengthen the hands of those who wanted to get Italy out of the Atlantic Alliance, and this continued to be the number one objective of the Italian Communists and their PSIUP (Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity) allies.

The President said that while giving no preferential treatment, we certainly felt that we should talk to General de Gaulle and the French Government in order to ensure that no “fracture” occurred with the French. He asked whether President Saragat did not feel that this was useful, and President Saragat replied that he did think this useful.

He then said he would speak of another matter and this was Vietnam. He understood that Italy which had not committed a single soldier to this problem was not really in a position to give the U.S. advice on this, but as long as this war went on, it gave the Communists the opportunity to attack the U.S. and portray them as aggressors and as loving war. The suspension of bombings had been well received.4 Should it be resumed it would have a very negative effect in Italy.

The President replied that we would do everything we could through negotiations in Paris to ensure that a responsible solution be found to this conflict that would not lead to similar conflicts elsewhere. We were endeavoring to secure the assistance of the Soviets as we did not believe the Soviet Union wanted this war to lead to a confrontation.

President Saragat said he was sure that the Soviets did not want such a confrontation worried as they were by the Chinese.

The President said that President Saragat could be sure that we would do everything in our power to secure a just settlement.

President Sarragat then said that another problem for the democratic forces in Italy was the undemocratic character of the Colonels and Generals regime in Greece. He understood that for many valid reasons the U.S. could not expel Greece from NATO, but he hoped we would do everything we could to hasten the return of a democratic regime to this country.

The President said he would take note of President Saragat’s observations.

President Saragat then expressed Italy’s concern with the situation in the Middle East. He felt that the situation there was very dangerous.

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The President after emphasizing the desire of the U.S. to consult with its friends and allies on such matters as were of interest to them asked whether President Saragat thought it was useful for the U.S. to have bilateral talks with the Soviet Union within the framework of the Four Power talks in the UN or the Middle East.

President Saragat said he thought that this would be very useful. He felt that it would be useful to make it appear that the four powers were acting as the permanent members of the Security Council rather than as the “Big Four.” Anything that smacked of a grouping of big powers from which Italy would be excluded would be very bad for the democratic forces in Italy. This applied also to any idea of a “directorate” within NATO. Opponents of the Atlantic Alliance would then emphasize that Italy was a member of the Alliance but no one listened to her.

The President said he was glad that President Saragat felt that talks with the Soviet Union were useful on the Middle East, that we had no idea of a directorate, and that we planned to keep our Allies aware of what was going on both before and during any talks on areas in which they had major interests and Italy, as a Mediterranean power, was certainly interested in the Middle East and had great experience in the area and we would be anxious to have their views on these problems.

President Saragat expressed his satisfaction at hearing this.

The President then said that the Soviets had expressed interest in having talks on the limitation of strategic weapons and in general seemed to want a détente. We were interested in this but all history was there to show us that while wars sometimes occurred as a result of arms races, more often than not they arose from the explosion of political tensions. We, therefore, felt that such talks should not be limited to strategic weapons but that we should endeavor also to make progress in other areas such as the Middle East, Vietnam and so forth.

President Saragat said he thought that this was very wise and he felt that such talks might well prove useful.

The President then asked why President Saragat believed that the Soviet Union was interested in a détente now.

President Saragat replied that they were concerned with the Chinese, with the cost of strategic arms that was preventing them from giving their people the better life they were demanding ever more vehemently, and because they were fearful that situations such as Vietnam and the Middle East might lead to confrontations which they did not want.

He expressed great satisfaction at the President’s undertaking this trip so early in his administration and at the President’s desire to consult with our Allies. The President had received a warm welcome from [Page 625] the people of Rome and this was how the great majority of the Italian people felt. They would never forget the assistance which the American people had rendered them especially in the difficult period right after the war. He himself was very happy to renew his friendship with the President and hoped they would remain in contact. He repeated again Italy’s desire to see Britain admitted into the European Common Market for both political and economic reasons. He felt that the British were perhaps the most politically mature people in Europe. He was going to England later this year for a 10-day state visit. He was looking forward to learning a great deal on this trip from his talks with British leaders. He again thanked the President for his visit and wished him well in his talks with General de Gaulle.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 694, Country Files—Europe, Italy, Vol. I. Secret; No Foreign Dissem. The meeting took place at the Quirinale Palace. Although the memorandum of conversation, prepared by Walters, is dated February 28, the President’s Daily Diary indicates that the meeting took place on February 27 beginning at 5:26 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The President visited Rome February 27–28 as part of a six-nation European tour (February 25–March 2). For text of his public statements, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 159–166.
  2. Enrico Berlinguer. He was elected Vice General Secretary of the PCI at its Bologna Congress, February 1969, to take effective control of the party from the ailing Luigi Longo.
  3. Giovanni Malagoldi. The President met separately at the Quirinale Palace with Malagodi, Ugo La Malfa of the Republican Party, and Enrico Ferri of the Social Democratic Party following his talks with Saragat. A memorandum of their meetings is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 694, Country Files—Europe, Italy, Vol. I.
  4. President Johnson halted the bombing on October 31, 1968.