[Page 671]

197. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Nixon
  • Prime Minister Colombo
  • General Walters
  • Mr. de Bosis

Prime Minister Colombo opened the conversation by thanking the President for his visit which pointed up the importance of the Mediterranean and Italy in particular. The great majority of the Italian people were happy to welcome the President.

The Prime Minister said that there were two cardinal points on which Italy’s foreign policy would continue to be based: friendship with the United States, and loyalty to the NATO Alliance. Italy also was committed to the idea of a United Europe organized within the NATO framework.

He expressed concern to the President over the ostpolitik being pursued by Chancellor Brandt. Such a policy has positive aspects, but it could also have negative aspects if it were to lead the Germans too far in the search for new friends in Eastern Europe.

The President said that there had been a number of misleading reports concerning the U.S. attitude towards the German-Soviet Treaty and Brandt’s Eastern Policy. Some have said that the United States approved or supported such a policy. This is not true. The United States neither supports nor opposes such a policy. We recognize the right of the German Government to decide its own policies. We simply have felt that it is important for the Germans to know that they have a home in NATO, and that their search for new friends in the East should not lead them to lose their old friends in the West.

Prime Minister Colombo said he fully agreed since if Germany were lost to the Alliance, it would be difficult to keep the Alliance alive.

The Prime Minister said he had recently talked to Foreign Minister Riad of the U.A.R. and he had expressed great concern regarding the situation in the Middle East.

The President said that this was not just a conflict between Israel and its neighbors since the two super powers were also involved. De[Page 672]spite the truce violations, we were working on the Soviets and the Egyptians to get them to remove the missiles so that the Israelis would agree to talk. Our show of force was also accompanied by intensive diplomatic activity.

The Prime Minister agreed that this was the proper form in which to do this. Italy too had expressed her concern to the parties involved. He had also recently seen the Lebanese Ambassador who had requested him, on behalf of the Lebanese Government, to ask the President to see that the Lebanon was not “abandoned.” The President said that much of the difficulty resided with irrational people like the Syrians.

Turning to the Italian domestic scene, the Prime Minister said that his task was an arduous one. He had to govern with a coalition of four parties and it was very difficult to hold them in line. The President smiled and said it was hard enough to hold one party in line.

In Prime Minister’s view there was no other solution at present than the maintenance of the four-party coalition. He was endeavoring to heal the wounds of the parties and to consolidate the coalition. The President congratulated him on the success achieved so far.

The Prime Minister noted that the Government was attempting to set its financial house in order. The stability of the lira had been restored, and the balance of payments situation was much more favorable since the flight of capital abroad had been stopped.

Perhaps the most important task the Government faced was to carry out certain essential reforms that were demanded by public opinion. The Prime Minister’s Government was endeavoring to do this, and was working closely with the labor unions in this respect. Temporarily at least, the demands of the labor unions had halted; but one of the unions was controlled by the Communists and they were present in the others—and this did not make his task easier.

The President at this point received a note informing him that the freed hostages from the hijacked plane had arrived at Rome Airport. He and the Prime Minister agreed that they would fly out by helicopter to see them.2 At this point, the other Cabinet Ministers entered the [Page 673]room and were presented to the President. The discussions then adjourned to a large adjacent room.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 466, President’s Trip Files, Presidential European Trip, 1970. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Villa Madama.
  2. The President and Prime Minister met privately with the former hostages at Fiumicino Airport shortly after noon. The hostages had been held by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine during the Dawson’s Field hijackings in which the PFLP hijacked four planes bound for New York on September 6. The hostages, some of whom were Americans, had been held at Dawson’s Field, a remote desert airstrip in Jordan. The hijacking sparked an international crisis and Jordanian military intervention against the PFLP. After an exchange of PFLP prisoners held in the United Kingdom, the hostages were flown to Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome on September 28. For text of the President’s statement to reporters at the airport, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 774–775.