183. Telegram From the Embassy in Italy to the Department of State1

5589. Subject: Military cost reductions in Europe. Ref: (A) State 111102; State 131049; State 145104. (B) Rome 5097; Rome 5437; Rome 5525.2

1. Chargé met alone for an hour September 3 with Prime Minister Rumor to discuss REDCOSTE.

2. Chargé referred to statements made over past year or so putting Allies on notice that US was studying ways in which it could tighten up [Page 633] military establishment in Europe, while maintaining current commitments to NATO. US had indicated that this would be done through simplifying and consolidating administrative and support services and functions. Such tightening could be achieved without compromising our combat readiness or effectiveness in Europe.

3. We then told Prime Minister that in this general framework and with specific reference to Italy, it would be necessary to make certain reductions in SETAF installations during period October 1, 1969, to June 30, 1970, affecting approximately one half of present American and Italian complement of SETAF. We also said that there might be some reductions at Aviano and Naples involving both American and Italian personnel and that it was possible that Med Div Engineers might be relocated from Livorno to US. We also mentioned that in view of certain Italian legal requirements concerning dismissals, it might well be necessary to proceed with some dismissal notices as early as September 15. We showed Prime Minister a breakdown of reductions affecting Livorno-Verona-Vicenza area for period October 1 to December 31, 1969 (covering two quarters), and then by quarters from January 1 to June 30, 1970. We also gave Prime Minister run-down of properties which we wished to return to GOI and of leases we would terminate.

4. Chargé also referred to US statements regarding desirability of greater assumption by our Allies of defense burden and said US would like to propose that Italy take over Sergeant missile battalion. We said that such transferral could take form of sale, lease or barter, depending on preference of Italian Government and subject to negotiations.

5. Finally, Chargé asked Prime Minister if he would designate competent Italian authority with whom US could discuss implementation of foregoing programs, including problems arising from dismissal of Italian personnel. Chargé said he intended to discuss REDCOSTE both with Defense Minister and Foreign Office. We also referred to consideration of possible press treatment once reduction became public knowledge.

6. Prime Minister, who expressed appreciation that we had taken this matter up directly with him rather than starting with other ministries, inquired whether our proposed actions were being taken only in Italy or whether other countries were involved. Chargé replied that other countries in Europe were involved, but did not comment further.

7. Prime Minister left no doubt that our approach had been most unwelcome news to him on his first day back from vacation. He spoke with evident feeling and urgency along following lines: He said that, while he understood our reasons for seeking reductions, he thought this was a most ill-advised moment to reduce our forces not only from general strategic point of view involving Mediterranean and Europe, but also from Italian political point of view. There was also another side [Page 634] to this matter which involved him personally, (see para. 12) but since he was Prime Minister, it transcended purely personal considerations.

8. With regard to general strategic considerations, Prime Minister stressed that Mediterranean situation, with increased Soviet activity in area and with events in Libya, and problems of European security, all argued strongly against our proposed course. Symbolic and psychological aspects of our reduction were infinitely greater than actual number of men involved. He considered our action to be “a political error.”

9. With regard to Italian political situation, he stressed that our proposed reductions could not come at worse time. His government, already facing political tight-rope walk, depending as it does on uncertain outside support of two Socialist parties, was now about to face extremely difficult situation arising from wage contract negotiations in many important sectors of economy. Dismissal of some 800 Italians between now and end of December would add immeasurably to his difficulties in labor field.

10. Prime Minister recalled that in talking with President Nixon, question of Italian neutralism had arisen.3 Rumor recalled he had told President that pressures for neutralism in Italy came from Communists (a known factor), from certain Catholic elements (but these were not important with Christian Democrats in power), and from actions which US itself might take. It was his view that actions we were now proposing were precisely of sort which would encourage neutralist tendencies in Italy. In spite of all efforts to contrary, it would be impos-sible to persuade public opinion that US reductions were not in fact beginning of US disengagement from Europe. Communists would be handed tailor-made propaganda weapon to encourage Italy’s departure from NATO and to argue for accommodation with East.

11. Prime Minister went on that it would be extremely difficult to find reemployment for 1700 or so Italian nationals who would be dismissed. To Chargé’s comment that we had the impression that economic and employment situation in affected areas was generally favorable, Prime Minister replied that situation was explosive in Livorno and that in Verona-Vicenza it would be no easy matter to find adequate jobs for those people in light of existing requirements in area. Moreover, in Vicenza-Verona area it was not merely question of some 700 Italians, but fact that some 1600 Americans and their dependents, possibly totalling some 4000, would be removed from economy of this area in some seven or eight months.

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12. Prime Minister observed that what we were planning in Verona-Vicenza area was personally disastrous for him as first Prime Minister from this area. This was his constituency and it would be extremely difficult for him to explain how US has had so little consideration for him that it had brought about these cuts. He said he did not intend to overemphasize this personal side of the problem (even though it was extremely painful for him), but he did wish to point out that his political position was closely related to stability of present government and that this was a factor which US must take into account in its appraisal of effects of our proposed action on Italian political scene.

13. Prime Minister raised one other point on which he said he felt strongly. He had been much impressed by President’s emphasis in his talks with him here and in Washington on need for consultation between Allies.4 He had also just read President’s speech in Colorado Springs in which President had again referred to consultation policy.5 He was deeply disturbed that we were now proposing to go forward with this program apparently without this consultation and without taking into account considerations deeply felt by himself and Italian Government. He believed that this was “an act of inconsideration”.

14. Finally, Prime Minister requested Chargé make clear to USG strength of his feelings on this subject and to request that US suspend action on reductions until there had been further opportunity to examine question with the Italian Government to determine how our objective could be met, but without damaging effects he feared. Rumor said he intended to keep this matter secret and that he would inform only Foreign Minister Moro about today’s conversation.6 He requested Chargé not to make further approaches at this time to Defense Minister and Foreign Office.

15. Chargé said he did wish make clear that REDCOSTE proposals had been considered and approved at highest levels of USG and that their implementation was regarded as most important. He added that fact he had sought meeting on this subject with Prime Minister directly demonstrated US desire to work closely with GOI. Chargé said he would report on Prime Minister’s comments and request.

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16. Finally it was agreed that should press inquire concerning Chargé’s visit, reply would be given that Chargé was paying courtesy call on Prime Minister and there had been general discussion.

17. Our comments and recommendations will follow by septel.7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 694, Country Files—Europe, Italy, Vol. I. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Sent with a request to be passed to the Secretary of Defense, CINCEUR, USNATO, CINCUSNAVEUR, CINCUSAREUR, CINCUSAFE, USNMR SHAPE, and CG, USASETAF.
  2. Telegram 111102 to Rome, July 4, provided guidance for “developing scenario” for talks with Italy on the REDCOSTE issue. Telegram 131049 to Rome, August 6, outlined plans for consultations with the Italian Government. (Both ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 6 US) Telegram 145104 to Rome, August 27, outlined the economic rationale for cuts in defense support abroad. (Ibid., PER 4–1) Telegram 5097 from Rome, August 15, outlined Embassy plans for an approach to the Government of Italy and requested more information on U.S. positions. Telegram 5437 from Rome, August 28, reported on an Embassy review of the impact of REDCOSTE on Italian cities. Telegram 5525, September 1, informed the Department of State that the Chargé would meet with the Prime Minister on September 3 to discuss REDCOSTE. (All three are ibid., DEF 6 US)
  3. Not further identified.
  4. See Document 181 and footnote 2 thereto.
  5. In a June 4 address at the U.S. Air Force Academy. For text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 432–437.
  6. In telegram 5616 from Rome, September 4, Stabler reported that Rumor had telephoned to say that he had discussed the issue with Moro who “concurred completely in Rumor’s statements reported reftel.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 694, Country Files—Europe, Italy, Vol. I)
  7. In telegram 5618 from Rome, September 4, Stabler commented that Rumor’s reaction “was not unexpected and probably would have been the same whether we had told him many months in advance or only several days as in the present case.” He suggested offering Italy the possibility of an offset agreement as a way to stave off the political damage the government and Prime Minister would face. (Ibid.)