215. Editorial Note

In telegram 190271 to Rome, October 17, 1971, the Department of State instructed U.S. Ambassador to Italy Graham Martin to personally démarche Italian Prime Minister Emilio Colombo on the issue of Italy’s support for the United States’ position on the Important Question (IQ) to prevent the expulsion of Taiwan at the time the United Nations voted to seat the People’s Republic of China. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 695, Country Files—Europe, Italy, Vol. III) Martin reported on October 20 that he had made the démarche to Colombo and that he believed that Colombo and certain elements of his coalition were favorable to the United States’ view on the IQ. (Telegram 6693 from Rome, October 20; ibid.) At 2:15 p.m., October 22, President Richard Nixon met with Secretary of State William Rogers, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations George H.W. Bush, and Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Alexander Haig at the White House to discuss the effort to round up support for the U.S. position on the IQ. During the meeting, the discussion turned to Italy. Bush noted that Giuseppe Lupis, a member of Italy’s U.N. General Assembly delegation and a government minister, had privately expressed his desire to support the U.S. position, but stated that the Italian decision would be a “political” one. The President instructed Bush to tell the Italians: “I think it would be very unfortunate for Italy and the United States—who have been together on everything in Europe; we are always together; we consider them our closest, the people that vote with us more often than anybody else—for us to divide on this issue.” Rogers noted that “the only thing I think that’ll make a difference, now, would be a call from you to Colombo.” Rogers also remarked, “If we could get Italy, I think we could win. I think Italy’s a very key vote.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Conversation 599–17) The editor transcribed the portions of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.

[Page 721]

The President telephoned Colombo at 5:40 p.m. After a few introductory remarks, Nixon turned to the IQ issue. A Department of State translator translated simultaneously for both the President and the Prime Minister and was transparent during the conversation.

Nixon: “Well, when I saw Foreign Minister Moro—”

Colombo: “Yes.”

Nixon: “—I talked with him with regard to the Important Question vote in the United Nations that will take place on Tuesday.”

Colombo: “Yes.”

Nixon: “Translate that. [pause for translation] Now, I—”

Colombo: “Yes, Mr. Moro did tell me that—”

Nixon: “Yeah. Yeah. Now, I realize that, that you feel that there may be some problem because of your government’s previous statements on this vote. However, I believe that, that it is completely consistent to take the position that we take, which is we support the admission of the People’s Republic, but we oppose the expelling the Republic of China. We believe that expelling a nation from the United Nations would be a very dangerous precedent and that it should be by two-thirds vote. If, for example, it is decided that this can be done by simple majority vote, who knows? Next time it will be Portugal or some other nation that some may—that some group of nations may be at odds with.”

Colombo: “Si [Yes].”

Nixon: “And in our country, I would say that a majority of our people, well, they would favor the admission of the People’s Republic—of Communist China. They strongly oppose expelling Taiwan, and that is particularly true, I would say, among the very large Italian-American group in our country, who support the position that Taiwan should not be expelled.”

Colombo: “Si [Yes].”

Nixon: “And, the—I, I feel, as I told the Foreign Minister, that I would very much hope that if your government could stand with us on this one question—the important—the ‘IQ question,’ as it’s called, the Important Question—that it, that it will—that that will make the difference. I think that Italy—not only your vote is involved, but there are four or five other countries that I think will go the way you go.” [pause for translation]

“And, so I wanted you to hear in my own voice, since we did have that very good meeting in Washington and also in Rome. I wanted you to hear it from my—in my own voice, how strongly I felt on this issue, and I—that’s the reason I’m bothering you at this late evening.”

Colombo: “Mr. President, I wish to say, first of all, that I’m very grateful for this call that you have put through to me at this time, partic[Page 722]ularly with regard to this issue, but also it gives me the opportunity to communicate to you a few hints, or somewhat in the way of—something in the way of orientation with regard to our feelings and our concerns on the score of the matter of Italian public opinion.”

Nixon: “Um-hmm.”

Colombo: “Mr. President, I would like to say that I’ve done nothing more, nothing, nothing more over the last ten days—nothing over the last ten days but to try to face and grapple with this particular problem. And the problem stems primarily from the fact that based on our statements and declarations with regard to this issue last year, this brought about a mood among our population to the effect that any procedural vote which would tend to impede or hinder the admission of the Chinese People’s Republic into the United States [United Nations] would not be, would not be taken well. This is just the way the—our public opinion has been oriented to this issue.” [pause for translation]

“Well, Mr. President, with regard to the procedural issues, it is true that the situation has changed to some degree, because the Important Question has to do not only with the admission of the Chinese People’s Republic, but now it is linked to the expulsion of Taiwan. However, Mr. President, in view of the fact that we extended diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China in—within the framework of this rep—of this step that we took, we committed ourselves to the principle—we agreed to the principle that Peking was the only legal representative of the Chinese people. And, in fact, Taiwan, at that point, upon our recognition, withdrew its Ambassador from Rome. And, therefore, at this time, to bring back this issue of the expulsion of Taiwan, in the light of the possibilities of a majority vote having to do with this, I think would fall within the—would fall afoul of the attitude that has been developed with regard to this in view of our acceptance of Taiwan, our commitment to—or rather, Peking, as the only legal government of the Chinese people.” [pause for translation]

“Now, if Taiwan had recognized itself as something different from the identity that it has assumed and not simply insisted on being recognized as the Government of the Chinese Republic, why, then, our task would be a lot easier from the political and the legal standpoint.” [pause for translation]

“Now, in Italy there are political—there are public opinion trends that are conflicting in nature with regard to this, so that my efforts, Mr. President, are directed toward trying to avoid having to vote against the Important Question. Now, I’m not sure that I can get a vote in favor of it, but tomorrow we’re going to discuss this issue, and it’s going to be a very hotly discussed one in the Council of Ministers.” [pause for translation]

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“On this score, Mr. President, I would like to assure you that, as far as I am concerned, I have been devoting my best efforts to this particular issue, based on my particular—my personal convictions, to bring together the various opinions and the various viewpoints and, and bring about a decision that will be a true reflection of our friendship toward the United States. And my effort tomorrow will be in the direction of trying to avoid having to come up with a vote against the Important Question, and I do have some hopes of succeeding.” [pause for translation]

“I also should note, Mr. President, that Ambassador Martin has discussed this problem very thoroughly and at length with me and he’s—has explained to me your concerns, as well as the general concern that exists on this, and my response has invariably been that I am directing my very best and concentrated efforts to this issue.”

Nixon: “Well, I want to say to the Prime Minister that I appreciate this difficult problem. I also would emphasize that this vote, of course, will be watched in, in the whole world, and I think it would be very unfortunate if the United States and Italy, the two countries that on all the issues of Europe and on most of the great issues in the world have stood together, that they—it would be very unfortunate if we were to split. And so, I would hope that in the consideration with his Cabinet tomorrow that the Prime Minister, if possible, could help the United States on this vote. We consider it very important that the precedent not be established that by a simple majority a country or government can be expelled from the United Nations. It goes far beyond the China question. It goes to the whole matter of expelling countries. And we think it should require a two-thirds vote. That’s why we think an ‘aye’ vote on the Important Question is so important.”

Colombo: “Well, I wish to assure you, Mr. President, that I will do everything within my efforts to assure that our position is as close as possible to that of the United States.” [pause for translation]

“On any score—at any rate, I do hope to avoid having to vote against the IQ.”

The two men concluded their discussion with expressions of mutual esteem. (Ibid., Telephone Conversation 12–88) The editor transcribed the portions of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.