Conversation between Assistant Secretary of State George C. McGhee and the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Ato Aklilou, regarding the Eritrean Question.



Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (McGhee)

Subject: Conversation between Assistant Secretary of State George C. McGhee and the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Ato Aklilou, regarding the Eritrean Question. Conversation held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York, September 15, 1950.

Participants: Mr. George C. McGhee, Assistant Secretary of State.
Mr. E. H. Bourgerie, Director, AF.
Mr. Charles Noyes, USUNNY.
Ato Aklilou, Ethiopian Foreign Minister.
Mr. John Spencer, Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ethiopian Government.

Mr. McGhee opened his conversation with Ato Aklilou by stating that all of the conversations which we have had to date indicated that the Italians were genuinely interested in reaching a satisfactory solution to the Eritrean problem. Their most recent statements indicating that they were not willing to reach an agreement on any federation proposals had come as a distinct shock to us. Mr. McGhee told Ato Aklilou that he would make it clear to the Emperor through our Embassy in Addis Ababa how effective Ato Aklilou had been in conducting the negotiations with the Interim Committee in New York and also how cooperative he has been with the United States officials in trying to find a satisfactory solution to this problem. Ato Aklilou [Page 1675]told Mr. McGhee that Mr. Muniz had assured him that the Latin American countries would vote for some compromise solution such as federation even though the Italians did not fully agree with the solution that had been worked out. He said that when he called on Mr. Muniz that he had been asked why he had not come to see him and Mr. Nervo sooner. At that time Mr. Muniz stated to Ato Aklilou that in view of the Korean episode and the critical world situation he felt that the Latin American Bloc would agree to a compromise solution. Ato Aklilou said that he told Mr. Nervo that he had no instructions from his Government or any authority to negotiate with Mr. Muniz or Mr. Nervo; and that his instructions only permitted him to negotiate with the US and UK. According to Ato Aklilou, Mr. Muniz assured him that the Latin American States would not let their sentimental attachment to Italy warp their judgment in arriving at a solution to the Eritrean problem. However, Ato Aklilou stated that at subsequent meetings with Mr. Noyes of USUNNY Mr. Muniz did not repeat these statements.

Ato Aklilou told Mr. McGhee that prior to Mr. Brusasca’s visit to Rome, the Italians had accepted most of the points contained in the US–UK working paper as subsequently modified by Mr. Muniz and Mr. Nervo. After his return from Rome, however, everything had changed and the Italians had then taken a much different line.

Just before Mr. McGhee’s visit to New York Ato Aklilou had talked to Mr. Muniz and said that Muniz had told him that he planned to see Count Sforza and try to get his agreement to the federation proposals. Mr. Muniz assured Ato Aklilou that he would talk to the Latin American Delegates after seeing Count Sforza. Ato Aklilou said that he then posed the direct question to Mr. Muniz as to what, if anything, he would do about it if the Italians refused to consider the federation proposals but he said that he did not receive a satisfactory answer to this question. Ato Aklilou stated that he felt that Mr. Muniz had not faced up to his responsibilities in not taking a stronger line with the Italians and with the Latin American group. According to Ato Aklilou Mr. Muniz was then taking a line that the Latin American States would not be willing to go ahead with the federation proposals unless they could be sure that the Italians were in complete agreement.

Mr. McGhee asked Ato Aklilou how he explained the apparently inconsistent attitude which Mr. Muniz had shown in his talks with Ato Aklilou. In reply to this query Ato Aklilou stated that Mr. Muniz now claims that there would not be time before the Interim Committee’s work comes to an end for the Latin American Delegates to get new instructions from their Governments. Most of them apparently had received instructions that they could support a federation proposal if it was agreed to by both Ethiopia and Italy.

[Page 1676]

Ato Aklilou remarked that he had told Mr. Muniz that he did not wish to press for a solution in the Interim Committee if it was likely by doing so to result in negotiations breaking down completely. Mr. Noyes agreed that any changes in the present draft would be dangerous and would no doubt result in a complete breakdown in negotiations. He added that it might not be impossible to get agreement in the General Assembly to the federation proposals and that USUN would exert all possible efforts to this end.

Ato Aklilou then devoted considerable time to reviewing the background of his efforts to reach a satisfactory compromise on the Eritrean question. He said that when the subject was first raised that Ethiopia accepted the US–UK offer to attempt to mediate this problem between the Ethiopians and the Italians he had had a very difficult time convincing the Emperor of the desirability of this course of action for two reasons:

The Emperor’s distrust of the Italians; and
The Emperor’s feeling that the Italians would only drag out negotiations and then back out at the last minute.

Despite these misgivings, Ato Aklilou had persuaded the Emperor that it would be in the best interests of Ethiopia to accept the US–UK offer to try to work out a solution. He said that the Italians had always opposed a solution to the Eritrean problem—at Lake Success in 1949, at Geneva and at London. The Italians, he said, had renounced all their interests in Eritrea and had consistently stated that their only interest in Eritrea was in safeguarding the rights of the 20,000 Italians who lived there. However, he did not believe that they were at all sincere in these statements.

Ato Aklilou pointed out to Mr. McGhee as a result of what had happened in the Interim Committee he was now in a very difficult tactical position and would have a very hard time explaining developments to the Emperor. Everyone knew, he said, that federation proposals have been discussed by the Interim Committee and it would now be difficult to retreat to the original stand taken by the US and the UK, namely that Eritrea be annexed by Ethiopia. The Italians, he said, are now in a very good tactical position to veto any action on Eritrea in the General Assembly. Ato Aklilou told Mr. McGhee that they were not very happy about one aspect of the federation proposals, namely that there will be an interim period of about two years during which the British administration would remain there. Any such proposal, he remarked, plays directly into the hands of their adversaries. Ethiopia, Ato Aklilou said, has taken no action to foment trouble in Eritrea and they had lived up to their promise given to Mr. McGhee when he visited Addis Ababa in March, 1950. On the other hand, the Italians in Eritrea have done their best to undermine the Unionists’ [Page 1677]support of Ethiopia by attempting to persuade them that federation proposals meant in effect independence for Eritrea. Ato Aklilou concluded his summary of recent developments by stating that the solution recently arrived at with Mr. Muniz and Mr. Nervo represented the maximum concessions that Ethiopia was prepared to make with respect to any federation proposal. The solution of this problem would now rest with the General Assembly.

Mr. McGhee then asked Ato Aklilou what stand he felt the US should take, whether Ethiopia would like to have us revert to our original position of annexation of Eritrea or whether we should endeavor to secure some solution along the lines of federation which would be acceptable to Ethiopia. In reply Ato Aklilou said that he had the following definite suggestions:

He wondered whether Secretary Acheson would be willing to make some public declaration regarding the US views towards federation which would be designed to protect Count Sforza against public opinion in Italy. He said that he was sure that the French would go along with any such course of action and probably the British would also agree. Could the Foreign Ministers make a tripartite declaration on Eritrea urging that a compromise formula be accepted at this time; stating that each country including Italy should aim for a solution to this problem; and indicating that a satisfactory solution was urgent in view of the threat to peace and security in Eritrea if no solution was found.
The other suggestion which was advanced was that Secretary Acheson and Foreign Minister Bevin talk privately with Count Sforza and make it clear to him that it was essential that Italy agree to the federation proposals. The British, Ato Aklilou said, have for five years been seeking a solution to the Eritrean problem but to no avail. The British Government, through Mr. Bevin, might consider telling Sforza that they would leave Eritrea at some early date if the Italians could not see their way clear to reach a satisfactory compromise with the Ethiopians.

The US and the UK, Ato Aklilou said, must take strong action now to influence the course of action in the General Assembly on Eritrea.

Mr. McGhee pointed out to Ato Aklilou that since Eritrea was not on the agenda of the Foreign Ministers’ Conference in New York1 it would be difficult to obtain a tripartite declaration along the lines suggested by Ato Aklilou. Another factor was that the formal meetings of the Foreign Ministers had already ended and their present conversations had to do with Atlantic Pact problems.2 Mr. McGhee [Page 1678]assured Ato Aklilou that the United States only agreed to consider federation proposals when it looked as though this might be the only solution to this problem. He said that the United States would not expect Ethiopia to recede from its present position. He assured Ato Aklilou that he would ask Secretary Acheson to take a very strong position with Count Sforza. In closing, Mr. McGhee said that the USUN would follow up on this matter and would keep in close touch with Ato Aklilou on developments. He assured Ato Aklilou that the United States would take any reasonable action which Ethiopia desired and that the United States would exert every effort in the General Assembly to reach a final solution to the problem of Eritrea.

  1. For documentation on the meetings of the Foreign Ministers of the United States, United Kingdom, and France at New York, September 12–18, see vol. iii, pp. 1108 ff.
  2. For documentation on the Fifth Session of the NATO Council at New York, September 15–26, see ibid., pp. 1 ff.
0 0 votes
Article Rating

Leave a Reply

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x