350. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Giovanni Leone, President of Italy
  • Aldo Moro, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • President Gerald R. Ford
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Leone: I would like to reiterate my gratitude for your kind invitation to visit. There is the importance of this visit as a first contact. I want to assure you of my interest in building better relations with the United States.

President: We treasure our ties with the Italian people and want to expand them. There are millions of Americans with Italian ancestry. We are anxious to build on this already warm relationship.

Leone: On the aircraft, the press asked me how we approach our dialogue with the United States. As we are both lawyers, we approach [Typeset Page 1071] it as defending the same cause. I would like to talk how ever you would like. We can discuss European and world problems, or I will tell you the Italian scene.

[The press was admitted briefly for photos.]

President: How long were you in Parliament?

Leone: I was in the Constitutional Assembly in 1946. During the last term I was a lifetime Senator—an honorary title that is given to only five people.

President: I was in Congress for 25 years.

[Kissinger and Moro come in.]

President: While chatting before the press, President Leone asked if I wanted his appraisal of the Italian scene. I was about to ask him to give us his views of the situation in Italy and the Mediterranean.

Leone: The situation, Mr. President, is as I discussed with Dr. Kissinger at our meeting in Rome last July, despite Cyprus. There has been the development that Southern Europe is revealed as the soft under-belly of Europe. There is concern over all the South European countries. Portugal, for example, fears a right-wing or a left-wing dictatorship; Spain has Franco. In France the socialists missed only by a hair. In Greece we got an appeal from the military to get the U.S. to get Turkey to make some step which will unblock the situation. They fear the left in Greece. I forgot Yugoslavia—there are many problems there. What will happen when “our friend” Tito goes?

President: I wondered if you would mention Yugoslavia, because of Tito’s age and what might happen when he leaves office.

Leone: Yugoslavia is a problem of universal concern which affects the national Communists in many countries. Yugoslavia consists of many nationalities with conflict among each other and who are held together only by Tito, and his passing can have a real threat to security in the Mediterranean.

President: Italy’s participation in the security of this area of Europe is essential. I hope we can strengthen this in this vital area about which we are concerned.

Leone: What you said is very true. I left Italy to the end, and I will be brief—though perhaps more eloquent. Many confuse the instability of our governments with political stability. That is not so. In fact, since 1946 we have been stable with a constant foreign policy. We have had centrist governments or center-left governments. One other illusion is that we will be having talks with the Communists. All the center parties are against it. Even the Communists are, although they say otherwise. So we have been very stable and I would say there is no possibility of an opening to the left.

Kissinger: Moro is Secretary General of the Christian Democrats and he gave me a lesson in politics. I will never oppose him.

[Typeset Page 1072]

Leone: Italy in foreign policy has always been loyal to NATO. We deplored the French departure, and in a visit to France I urged Pompidou to return. We have never opposed the U.S. in Europe and have always supported the United States.

President: Your observations are very important to us. We have the view that the stability of Italy depends on the Communists not participating. If NATO is to be strong, we can’t have the Communists participating in the political life of any member. It is reassuring to hear that the center and center-left won’t take to the Communists. We laud your past exclusion of them and think it vital they continue to be excluded from your government as such.

Leone: This picture I painted applies to the present and I hope to the future. But we have to be realistic. We favor détente and appreciate the American role in achieving it, but there is a price, which is a slackening of democratic ideals and an increase in attacks on those ideals. When all the U.S.-Soviet meetings go on it is hard for us and others to say the Reds are the enemies of democracy. I will be candid: In your talks with the Soviet Union, is there no success in making the Soviet Union make a gesture toward détente? Can’t the Soviet Union instruct the national parties to desist and not go on the attack to destroy the status quo? We made every effort with Mintoff to keep Libya and the Soviet Union out of Malta. We think the U.S. could tell the Soviet Union to respect the status quo in Europe, because we are paying a stiff price. The things I used to say about the Communists just aren’t accepted now.

President: We face the same problem. We think movement in the broad areas is beneficial, but we don’t think détente will change the ideology of either. We hope for a change in the Soviet Union, but détente is not directed toward that. We are trying to make progress in détente for the welfare of the world. We don’t know what kind of response we would get.

Kissinger: We have tried once or twice, but frankly we are more worried about a responsible than an irresponsible Communist party, because if they appear responsible they will be a bigger threat to democracy in the long run.

Leone: I agree with Secretary Kissinger that the more respectable the Communists appear the more dangerous they are. Presenting themselves thus is their present tactic all over Europe—whatever the U.S. does. So we should take advantage of it. We have not interfered in Eastern Europe and I think the Soviet Union should instruct the Reds not to interfere in the conduct of our political system.

President: Do you find the Communists acting more responsibly?

Leone: The Communist Party in Italy appears to be more moderate and takes stands we appreciate, but is it not just tactics?

[Typeset Page 1073]

Moro: I think they are somewhat more independent.

President: By appearing responsible they could have an impact on Italian policies. We want to continue to cooperate with the center groups in the same way as we have done since 1946.

Kissinger: In fact, we could not exchange military information if they came into the Government. We have had to make such a change with respect to Portugal.

Leone: Perhaps we have spoken more about Italy than constitutionally permitted, but before Moro talks about the Arab world let me say a few words about the economy of Italy. We have taken stringent measures and the nation have taken them gracefully. But the situation is dangerous, and if there is a collapse, the political system may take a turn to a different form. That is why we need help from our friends. We need to redress the trade balance and export more and we need help here. Appraisals about Italy are black. The Federal Reserve Board’s appraisal was bad, and others are adopting the same approach. The fact of the meeting of Foreign Ministers and Finance Ministers here without us at the time when our people are here is a matter of regret, for our image. I say this frankly. What do we need? Some obvious and open steps to reverse the Federal Reserve Board appraisal. Your speech took the same approach and I hope you will show this in your approach to Italy. These are words from a dear friend of the United States and the Atlantic Alliance. When Moro and I returned from voting for NATO the Communists had black crosses saying we voted for war.

President: I appreciate this frankness among friends—it is essential to the growth of friendship. As for the Federal Reserve Board, I have trouble with it too. It is autonomous, and their cooperation with the government is a judgment on their part about what their actions should be. I think it is unfortunate the Five are meeting here, but as I understand it it is a traditional group. I hope you and the Italian people won’t feel excluded. We will continue the close cooperation we have always had with Italy. We admire your stand for NATO. I come from an isolationist area and know what you mean. It has been of great benefit to Italy and I am proud of my support. Historians will write that NATO was beneficial not just to the Atlantic Community, but to the world.

Leone: Can we continue?

President: It would be helpful if we could do it tomorrow. I would look forward to a resumption of the discussion tomorrow.

Leone: I think we must continue and I am grateful you agreed to another talk.

President: I am pleased you will be meeting with Secretary Kissinger. He is the most popular figure in America because of his accomplish[Typeset Page 1074]ments. He and I are continuing the policies which have been so successful. I am looking forward to the continuation of those policies in the months ahead.

Leone: I am very glad to continue with Dr. Kissinger and to talk to you tomorrow. I am glad to invite you officially to Italy.

President: I am honored, and I hope sometime in the future that will be possible.

Kissinger: The President lives in a modest little establishment.

Leone: It is a palace, but I am a prisoner. It was the Pope’s palace. Will we have a communiqué tomorrow?

Kissinger: It would be better at the end of the visit.

  1. Summary: Ford, Kissinger, and Leone discussed the Italian political and economic situation.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, Box 6. Secret. All brackets are in the original. The meeting took place in the Oval Office, began at 11:40 a.m., and ended at 1:02 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Leone was in Washington on a State visit from September 25 to 27. On September 25, Kissinger told Ford: “One thing they must hear from you—tough—is that any Communists in government would change our relationship.” Kissinger added, “The problem with Italy is that with Communists in government—they would be competent—it would make them irresistible in France, isolate Germany, give Papandreos an opening in Greece. The Socialists never would have gained power in Germany if that nice idiot hadn’t taken them into a coalition. That makes them respectable. The same would happen in Italy.” (Memorandum of conversation, September 25; ibid., National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, Box 6) Ford, Kissinger, Leone, and Moro met again on September 26. (Memorandum of conversation, September 26; ibid.)