[Page 627]

181. Memorandum of Conversation1

PRESENT

  • The President
  • Robert OsgoodNSC Staff
  • Wells Stabler—State Department
  • Prime Minister Rumor
  • Ambassador Ortona
  • Maj. Gen. Vernon Walters

Prime Minister Rumor opened the conversation by saying that General Eisenhower had enjoyed great esteem and sympathy in Italy and therefore, they had wanted to be represented as significantly as possible in this sad occasion. He was thus representing not only the President of the Republic but the government as well.

The Prime Minister said that he again wished to congratulate the President on the success of his trip to Rome where he had won wide acclaim. Few foreign statesmen had scored such a personal triumph.

He had no great problems to take up with the President since their conversation in Rome,2 but there were one or two problems which might seem minor to the President but did have significance because of the peculiar political conditions prevailing in Italy. The Prime Minister said the government had overcome a small crisis arising from the resignation of one of the Ministers but he had been immediately replaced and this had avoided unpleasant political problems. The President would recall that Foreign Minister Nenni had brought up the question of a possible European Conference on Security which the Eastern Bloc had proposed.3 This had now been repeated at the Budapest Confer[Page 628]ence.4 For the political reasons of which the President was aware, the Italians felt that such a proposal should not be rejected out of hand, even though they knew its purpose was essentially propagandistic. They would, of course, not conceive of such a conference being held without the participation of the United States and they felt it should be taken up in NATO.

The President inquired as to whether the proposal emanated from governmental sources in Eastern Europe or whether it came from some other source. The Prime Minister indicated that there had been no formal invitation as such, but the idea which had been previously floated by Warsaw Pact sources had now been put forward again by the Preliminary Conference of Communist Parties meeting in Budapest.

Prime Minister Rumor then said that one should expect large demonstrations against NATO in Italy in April and May as this would coincide with the 20th Anniversary of the signing of the treaty. The Italian Government would have both the strength and determination to deal with these.

The Prime Minister then inquired whether there had been any progress on the solution of the Middle East problem since his last talk with the President in Rome. The President said the Four Power talks were going forward but there was great reluctance on the part of the Israelis to accept anything they regarded as an “imposed peace.” There were some in Israel who felt they could go it alone, and perhaps they could for a few years, but after that unless the whole question were solved, Israel might well go down the drain. It was important therefore, that some solution be found. He had inquired, when in Rome, of the Prime Minister what influence Italy might have in this area. The Prime Minister recalled this and said he was happy to note that in the United States, there was also recognition of the fact that Israel’s ideas of defense sometimes were exaggerated. Italy did have some influence in this area; she did not want to overestimate it, but would do what she could with the Arab countries to help.

Prime Minister Rumor then inquired concerning the talks on Vietnam. The President then said we were convinced that if any progress were made, it could only be on the basis of private talks. Both the South and North Vietnamese had to save face and this could not be done in public. Without going into the details of any talks, he felt that the talks would be long and arduous. The President recalled that in February, Prime Minister Rumor had told him that any resumption of the bombing of North Vietnam would, in Italy, be tantamount to a [Page 629]bombing of Italy. We had therefore done nothing to heat up the situation. He knew that Vietnam was a particularly difficult problem for the Italian Government and we were being careful to neither say nor do anything that would heat up the situation further. During the months ahead, the Prime Minister would undoubtedly hear of impatience of some Senators and Congressmen in the United States but the road ahead would be long. President Thieu had been taking a much more reasonable attitude and on balance, the President felt there had been some movement.

The Prime Minister said he was delighted to note the President was well aware of the difficulties of the Italian internal political situation inherent in the existence of a very large Communist Party, and he was most grateful for the understanding.

The President then asked the Prime Minister whether he thought the strength of the Left was still growing. The Prime Minister replied that while the Communist Party had grown somewhat, its growth was slowing down. However, on balance, as the Socialist Party had been brought to a pro-Atlantic stance, he felt the forces of the West were stronger.

The President then inquired whether, in the Prime Minister’s opinion, a détente between the Soviet Union and the U.S. would favor the middle-of-the-road parties in Italy or would it rather be beneficial to the parties of the Left. The Prime Minister replied that such a détente would be beneficial to the middle-of-the-road parties provided it did not take place “over our heads.” The President assured him we would make every effort to keep the Italian Government concerned [informed] of developments in this area, and Ambassador Ortona said he had been kept very well informed by the Department of State. The President then praised Country Director Stabler to which Ambassador Ortona added his praise.

The Prime Minister then expressed his satisfaction at the President’s efforts to keep them informed as well as of his deep understanding of the internal problems which his government had to face.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 IT. Top Secret; Nodis. Approved in S/S by Walsh on April 17. The meeting took place in the President’s office. Rumor was attending funeral ceremonies in honor of former President Eisenhower, who died on March 28.
  2. Apparently when the President and Rumor met privately at 9:40 a.m., February 28. No record of that meeting was found. There was an “enlarged group meeting” that began at 10:45 a.m. Memoranda of conversation of this meeting are ibid., Executive Secretariat, Conference Files, 1949–72, CF 338. Nixon and Rumor also met on February 27 as part of a group meeting between U.S. and Italian officials. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)
  3. According to the February 28 memorandum of conversation, Nenni brought up the security conference in the context of a broader statement on the “irresistible” movement from the Soviet sphere he believed was taking place among the states of Eastern Europe. The Italian Foreign Minister elaborated on the question during a separate February 28 meeting with Rogers. A memorandum of conversation is ibid., RG 59, Executive Secretariat, Conference Files, 1949–72, CF 338. For documentation on the European Security Conference, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 12.