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

495. Reference: WH 20959, 25 Feb 1971.2

1. Until the last moment, there was a bit of uncertainty whether the generally agreed script, ending in an unprecedented dissolution and early elections, would be followed to the end. Leone signed the dissolution decree this morning at 10:07 and we are now faced with elections on 7 May. I am, therefore, now able to respond with more precision to your message of 25 February.

2. The temper of the country definitely is swinging to the right. Almirante will gain most from this trend unless the Christian Democrats make an all-out effort which I believe they are inclined to do. They will need help.

3. The Communist PCI, still smarting from the severe psychological shock of the public humiliation of their miscalculation in the Presidential elections, will go all out and will receive considerable support from the Soviet Union. They are deeply worried about the threat from their left and are desperately trying to prevent the Manifesto Group3 from filing separate electoral lists.

4. Saragat, motivated primarily by a burning desire to recapture control of the PSDI from which he was on the verge of being practically excluded, has succeeded in forcing an electoral line which, while still anti-Communist, will be more to the left than the majority of the rank and file of his party would have liked. Consequently, the PSDI will lose several hundred thousand votes they might otherwise have counted on. These votes will not all be lost to the centrist forces, however, and the PSDI may enter the new Parliament with about its present strength. Saragat’s present line may attract some support which would have gone to the Socialists.

5. The Republicans are expected to make considerable gains, while the outcome for the Liberals is uncertain. If they wage an aggressive [Page 728]campaign, they may draw votes away from the MSI on the basis that a vote for the Liberals may contribute to a sound base for a centrist government while a vote for the MSI will be wasted.

6. [1 line not declassified] He has arranged channels to keep the two of us in quiet, unobtrusive but intimate contact. He believes this election to be as important to Italy and to overall American policy as were those in 1948. He has requested that we help as much as we can. I have said that we would do what we could.

7. I have not yet seen [less than 1 line not declassified] but expect to do so in the coming week. I have indicated in previous conversations that we would be inclined to be helpful if the [less than 1 line not declassified] showed more cohesion and compactness than had been evident in recent years. He believes that their success in the Presidential election, and the subsequent cohesion that brings us now to early elections, has met that pre-condition. I agree.

8. We have reviewed the situation this morning and have arrived at the following priorities and general order of magnitude of [less than 1 line not declassified] for a vastly expanded political action program over the period between now and May 7:

[3 paragraphs (7 lines) not declassified]

9. Under existing authority, I have today committed [less than 1 line not declassified] to get the preliminary organizational activities under way. This leaves us with only [less than 1 line not declassified] left from the [less than 1 line not declassified] authorized by the 1971 March 10 decision of the 40 Committee.4 I would prefer to keep this separate as a reserve rather than blanket it into the new authorization I have requested in para 8 above. If more is needed as targets of opportunity present themselves during the elections, I shall not hesitate to ask.

10. I do not know whether you actually have to have a meeting of the 40 Committee before going ahead with the additional authorization, but obviously time pressures will be very great. I anticipate no difficulties except perhaps with my inflexible and continuing pre-condition—that the authority for the mix and implementation be left entirely under my authority. I just don’t intend to have another Chile here.

11. Our friend mentioned in your last paragraph5 is celebrating his birthday in Switzerland. He is happy as a clam since we have helped him untangle some of his personal problems here. He has accepted the fact that there is only one representative of the President here.

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He would be quite happy with the above program if he were to know about it although he has never learned from me that such a program exists and I do not intend to discuss any details with him. Now that elections are upon us, he will be quite relaxed.6

Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 424, Subject Files, Backchannel Messages Europe 1972 [2 of 2]. Secret; Sensitive; Immediate; Eyes Only.
  2. Not found.
  3. Reference to a dissident group of Communists who had been expelled from the PCI in 1969 over issues of policy and party discipline. The dissidents organized their efforts around a small circulation newspaper, Il Manifesto, which was influential in intellectual circles.
  4. See Document 208.
  5. [name not declassified]
  6. In backchannel message 500 from Rome, March 2, Martin reported [1 line not declassified] to back the center parties to the fullest extent. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 424, Subject Files, Backchannel Messages Europe 1972 [2 of 2]) In telegram WH21059, February 29, Haig thanked Martin for his evaluation and promised speed action on his request. He added that with the elections set “it will be helpful for you to utilize the services of our friend to the fullest extent feasible.” (Ibid., Backchannel Messages Europe 1972 [1 of 2])