218 Minutes of Meeting of Prime Ministers

PMM(46) 6th Meeting (extracts) LONDON, 28 April 1946, 2 p.m.


[matter omitted]

Disposal of Italian Colonies 3. The Meeting then discussed the attitude to be taken at the Council of Foreign Ministers regarding the disposal of the Italian Colonies. They had before them a memorandum by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (P.M.M.(46)15) setting out the salient features of the question.

MR. BEVIN recalled that before the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in London in September last, the United Kingdom Government had taken the view that the best arrangement would be on the following lines:-

(a) Tripolitania to be placed under international trusteeship with Italy as Administering Authority;

(b) Cyrenaica to be placed under international trusteeship with the United Kingdom as Administering Authority;

(c) Italian Somaliland, together with British Somaliland, the Ogaden and the Reserved Areas, to be placed under international trusteeship with the United Kingdom as Administering Authority;

(d) Eritrea to be given to Ethiopia, except for the North-Western Lowlands which would be joined to the Sudan.

These proposals had not been submitted to the Council because the situation was radically altered by the presentation to them of the United States plan for collective trusteeship and the Soviet demand for Tripolitania. [1]

The United Kingdom Government thought that the best means of combating the embarrassing Russian demands was to give conditional support to the United States suggestion. There was also this argument in favour of supporting the United States proposal that it was much to our interest to engage American responsibility in this field.

The Council of Foreign Ministers had referred the matter to their Deputies for further consideration and report. During their discussions, the United Kingdom representative had suggested that the Peace Treaty with Italy should do no more than provide for renunciation by her of her rights in her Colonies, the disposal of them being left over for later settlement by the United Nations.

There were admittedly disadvantages in delay-these were set out fully in the memorandum before the meeting-but on the other hand this course would have the advantage of removing one main difficulty in the way of the negotiations for the peace treaties and it would perhaps be easier a little later on to see the shape of things to come.

Mr. Bevin said that he had asked Mr. Byrnes his present attitude on the question. It appeared that he still remained firmly opposed to the Russian request but equally firmly in favour of collective trusteeship. Mr. Bevin said that the subject would be one of the most important which the Council of Foreign Ministers had to discuss in Paris and much depended on a satisfactory solution of it. It was urgent to settle the terms of the peace treaty with Italy so that some progress might be made with her rehabilitation.

The terms of the armistice, even if some relaxation of them were allowed, were too rigid to permit of this. He would welcome the views of Dominion Ministers as to the line he should take. He was himself inclined to the view that he should continue to press that the treaty should only provide for the renunciation of Italian rights, the disposal of the Colonies being left over for later settlement.

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MR. CHIFLEY and DR. EVATT agreed that a single trusteeship over Tripolitania should not be granted to the Soviet Government. This was not because there were strategic objections to this course but because Russia had no grounds of principle or justice for her claim. Nor did return of any of the colonies to Italy seem to them a good solution, for, as the inhabitants harboured a violent antagonism against Italy, it would invite further trouble. If there was to be an individual trustee, the British Commonwealth had the superior claim. The decisive actions in Africa had been won by the forces of the British Commonwealth. Individual trusteeship would probably be more efficient than joint or collective trusteeship. Collective trusteeship by the United Nations Organisation was experimental because there might be top- heavy administration, and it should be noted that the United States Government had not suggested collective trusteeship for the Japanese islands in the Pacific in which they had a special interest themselves.

The Australian Government were not in favour of delaying a decision. If the Council of Foreign Ministers did not reach a decision on the subject, the proper authority for doing so would be not the United Nations Organisation but the twenty-one former belligerents who would be represented at the forthcoming Peace Conference. France, although a member of the Council of Foreign Ministers, had less right to an effective voice than the Dominions who would be represented at the Peace Conference. Above all there was no reason why members of the United Nations, which had taken no part in the war and had perhaps not even been well disposed to the Allies, should have any voice in the decision.

DR. EVATT said that the Australian Government was not in favour of delaying a decision. If the Council of Foreign Ministers did not reach a decision on the subject, the proper authority for doing so would not be the United Nations Organisation. It was unthinkable that a decision should be left to over 50 nations, the majority of whom had not been active belligerents. The twenty-one former belligerents who would be represented at the forthcoming Peace Conference should decide this matter. Dr. Evatt said that his first reaction to the Russian claim had been to regard it as frivolous and merely a bargaining counter. She had no claim in justice.

The aim of trusteeship was ultimate independence. This meant in the case of Libya that it would eventually become an independent Arab country. This concession to the Arabs should be taken into consideration in any Palestine settlement, where the Arabs continually claimed without justification that they were unfairly treated.

Summing up his views, Dr. Evatt said that they were, first, a straight refusal to Russia; secondly, if a single trusteeship was decided upon, the British Commonwealth or the United Kingdom should be trustee; finally, if the ideas of the United States for a collective trusteeship were pressed they should be supported. It was experimental but it might turn out to be a success.

MR. CHIFLEY said that, in his view, one of the fundamentals of the present world situation was the necessity for us of British- American cooperation. It might be helpful to build up the strength of other countries -of Italy and France for instance-but it was of infinitely greater importance to cement our friendship with the United States and to secure their active interest in every part of the world which was also of interest to us. United Nations trusteeship of the Italian Colonies as proposed by them would at least have the advantage that it would ensure that the United States maintained some degree of interest in these countries.

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1 See Document 91 and note 1 thereto. The Soviet Union had supported a plan for collective trusteeship similar to the U.S.

scheme, but proposed that Tripolitania be governed by a Soviet administrator and an Italian deputy administrator, supported by a commission of U.K., U.S., French, and Arab members.

[AA:A6712, [3]]