202. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to Italy (Martin) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

373. Subject: Rome 372, WH 02232.2 Deliver only to Kissinger or Haig at opening of business. As requested your WH 02232, following is text of memorandum left with Secretary Rogers on October 28th 70.

To: the Secretary. From: Graham Martin. Subject: Political action proposal for Italy.

1. As you requested, I am summarizing some rather firm conclusions I have reached after almost a year’s intensive observation of the internal Italian scene—conclusions which I hope to have the opportunity to present to the President during my current visit to the United States.3

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2. Due in large part to the success of the President’s visit, there is a greatly increased awareness on the part of the senior Italians of the serious intent of this administration to maintain the American commitment in Europe and in the Mediterranean. They are reassured that there is a clear understanding of the vital role Italy can and must play in facilitating the fulfillment of this commitment, and a renewed confidence that they can, in fact, make such a contribution. There is, therefore, a renewed confidence in the continuing validity of the special Italo-American relationship.

3. Colombo has started off well. We had no doubt of his technical qualifications. It now appears that he also has not only the instinct to govern, but also the will to govern. The shock treatment deliberately administered by Rumor in July4 has, in part, arrested the internecine warfare within the coalition and within the Christian Democratic Party. Despite the ever-present possibility of an accident that may bring him down, Colombo should last, at least well into the winter and, quite possibly, through until the Presidential elections next year.5

4. We have a little time. I hope we can use it wisely. To do so it is necessary that we have a clear understanding of certain basic facts. We must:

A. Recognize that the stakes are very high, for without a friendly and cooperative Italy, the preservation of the Atlantic Alliance and a tenable and effective American position in the Mediterranean is not very likely.

B. Recognize that while the Communists are and will continue to be a formidable force within Italy, they are not nine feet tall; that they have large areas of vulnerability subject to exploitation, and that they can repeat can be prevented from taking over Italy, or from participating in the national government within this decade.

C. Recognize that the center-left formula is dead in the sense that it is alleged to represent a viable party coalition with a common ideological concept capable of being translated into a coherent program of legislative action to achieve the kind of reforms essential to the preservation of a democratic structure in Italy. At present the center-left is merely a mathematical grouping within the present Parliament, held together only by a common abhorrence of again facing the electorate until the last possible moment.

D. Recognize that the Socialist Party (PSDI) as presently constituted, regardless of the personal inclination of its principal leaders, will [Page 688] be remorselessly pushed by its own internal dynamics into ever-closer collaboration with the Communists.

E. Recognize that basic American interests in Italy are inextricably linked with the survival and revitalization of the Christian Democratic Party, and that while the remaking and revitalization of the CD Party will be difficult and extremely complex, it is, nevertheless, a feasible goal.

F. Recognize that as this process gets under way, it will compel such a realignment within and among the other parties that, even if the Christian Democrats do not win a Parliamentary majority in 1973, a viable coalition oriented more toward the center can be achieved.

G. Recognize that the still existing enormous American moral influence in Italy can be effective only if we choose to utilize it, in ways that will be understandable and credible to Italians to demonstrate the depth of our concern about the future of Italy.

5. A good deal has already been accomplished in the past year. Instead of an Embassy with assorted independent, autonomous representatives of other U.S. departments and agencies, we now have a unified United States diplomatic mission with the activities of each section increasingly reinforcing and complementing the activities of other sections within the framework of overall U.S. policy.

6. Italy is one of the few countries where the right kind of American presence is an asset rather than a liability. Aside from certain further minor military reductions which may be safely made, I do not wish to see American presence reduced below its present level. OPRED and BALPA6 were useful in reducing both marginal positions and marginal people. However, after the addition, which I have already requested, of four American positions on the State complement and four American positions on the USIA complement, I now need to freeze the overall diplomatic mission complement, both American and local, at its June 30, 1970 level.

7. We have sharpened the focus of our information activities but we need to do more in this field.

8. We are now in communication with a far broader spectrum of Italian political life. The fact that we really do care what future course Italy may choose is increasingly known. The quiet but intense pressures the Mission exerted were not unrelated to the results of the June regional elections where the Communists failed to gain for the first time in fourteen years.

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9. We have established a relationship with the Italian military establishment of increasing intimacy and trust which has already proven very fruitful [3½ lines not declassified]

10. [7 lines not declassified] I am convinced we have the capability to guide and influence Italian political evolution to a quite satisfactory result [1 line not declassified]

11. [5 lines not declassified] It is a perfectly feasible and attainable goal. I arranged with Rogers C. B. Morton and Bob Hitt of the Republican National Committee to receive a score of young Christian Democratic members of Parliament. This visit was a resounding success, partly because it was private, but primarily because it opened their eyes to the possibility of harnessing modern technology and techniques to the pragmatic tasks involved in winning a political campaign. They now realize that the traditional practice of improvising an organization a month before the election is just not adequate if they hope to successfully compete with the Communists who are working at the grass roots level every day of the year. The enthusiasm of this particular group of young Christian Democratic politicians has been infectious and we have already been approached by other Christian Democratic leaders to expand and intensify this type of cooperation.

12. This is only one example of what we can do. As the process continues we will not only be contributing to the revitalization of the party machinery, but we will be also building a core of able young political leaders capable of gradually influencing formation of a coherent and workable majority within the party. We will benefit from their growing sense of identification with US—an identification they will welcome. All of these things must be done without tying ourselves to any faction or any particular faction leader, leaving ourselves the maximum flexibility to support those who will clearly further our own goals and objectives, and to quietly but firmly withhold our support from others.

13. There is also a fruitful field for furthering our objectives by supporting those elements of the non-Communist labor movement in Italy with which we share common objectives.

14. If we are serious about Italy, we must recognize that for our support to be credible and effective, it must also be material and concrete. This means money, not on the scale of the more than $20 million a year now provided by the Soviet Union to the Communists in Italy, but at least [less than 1 line not declassified] over the next three years. Money alone will not be enough. We must have the capability to use it flexibly, with great speed when desired, and above all with complete precision to achieve specific goals. Under no circumstances should we resume the scatter-gun approach of the past in the vague hope that if we support everybody, we keep everybody happy. There is no sure way to vitiate what influence we may be able to otherwise bring to bear and to [Page 690] earn a contempt which would be justified. Rather than do this I would prefer no money at all. Consequently, if the decision is to go ahead, and I believe this to be the decision our interests demand, I would propose that I be given sole authority on how it will be utilized, subject only to such continuous postaudit as may be directed. I just do not believe that a program such as I recommend can be implemented while being continuously nibbled to death by the bureaucratic mattress mice in Washington.

15. When you were staying with me last May in Rome,7 I was much impressed by your comment on the apparent inevitability of leaks in Washington on proposals of this sort. Consequently, neither this memorandum nor its substance has been seen by or discussed with anyone other than you. I hope you have the opportunity to discuss its content with the President at San Clemente and I would hope to discuss it with both of you when you return to Washington next week.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 423, Subject Files, Backchannel Messages Europe, Mideast, Latin America 1970 [1 of 2]. Secret; Nodis; Sensitive. Kissinger annotated the message: “Make summary for Pres. Schedule early 40 Committee consideration.” Haig drew a line from this comment and wrote: “Sonnenfeldt Action Rush. Coord[inate] w[ith] Chapin.”
  2. In backchannel message 372 from Rome, December 19, Martin stated that Pier Talenti would be in Washington and suggested that Kissinger meet with him, downplaying Talenti’s assessment of the Italian political scene as extreme. The Ambassador stressed the need for a reform of the DC as critical to the containment of the PCI and expressed concern that his recommendations were being ignored in the Department of State and that Kissinger’s staff had not passed on his October request for a meeting with Kissinger. (Ibid.) In fact, the request had been forwarded in a November 6 memorandum to Haig. (Ibid.) A memorandum of conversation between Haig and Talenti, December 22, is ibid., Box 695, Country Files—Europe, Italy, Vol. II. Message WH 2232, December 19, informed the Ambassador that Talenti would meet with either Kissinger or Haig and that an appointment for a meeting with the President would be made for Martin during his next U.S. visit. (Ibid., Box 423, Subject Files, Backchannel Messages Europe, Mideast, Latin America 1970 [1 of 2])
  3. Martin was in Washington, at special invitation, for an interagency meeting to discuss NIE 24–70 (Document 200).
  4. Reference to Rumor’s resignation; see footnote 2, Document 196.
  5. In fact, Colombo’s government lasted until January 15, 1972.
  6. For BALPA, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume II, Organization and Management of U.S. Foreign Policy, 1969–1972, Document 303 and footnote 5 thereto. For OPRED, see ibid., volume III, Foreign Economic Policy, 1969–1972; International Monetary Policy, 1969–1972, Document 25.
  7. Rogers was in Rome May 26–27.