Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (McGhee)1
[Washington,] August 7, 1950.
Subject: Ethiopian Views on Eritrea.


Ato Abte-Wold Aklilou, Foreign Minister of Ethiopia

Mr. John Spenser, Adviser to the Ethiopian Foreign Minister

Assistant Secretary McGhee

Mr. Elmer H. Bourgerie—AF

Mr. S. K. C. Kopper—AF

Foreign Minister Aklilou, accompanied by Mr. John Spenser, called on me today at his own request. After an exchange of amenities, I expressed my appreciation for the letter which I recently received from the Emperor (this letter dealt with Ethiopia’s desire to obtain certain airplanes).2 The Ethiopian Foreign Minister replied that the Emperor appreciated very much the assistance which the United States had been giving Ethiopia in its efforts to obtain suitable military planes. Foreign Minister Aklilou also referred to my trip to Addis last spring in gracious terms.
The Ethiopian Foreign Minister then spoke along the following lines concerning the problem of Eritrea: the Ethiopian Government appreciated the help which the American delegation had given to Ethiopia in the past. He said that Emperor Haile Selassie had appreciated Dr. Jessup’s assistance on the federation problem which [Page 1664]the Emperor knew was designed to help Ethiopia, even though the Emperor was not at all enthusiastic about federation. The Emperor was disposed to accept the federation proposal made by Dr. Jessup principally because the United States had made the proposal and the Emperor had great faith in United States judgment. Unfortunately, a decision of the Italian Cabinet had caused the defeat of the federation proposal last fall.
Continuing, Foreign Minister Aklilou stated that four things have happened since last fall:
The General Assembly action giving Italy a trusteeship over Italian Somaliland had deeply shocked the Emperor and the Ethiopian population. They found it exceedingly difficult to understand why Italy should have had her desires met while Ethiopia had to wait. Nevertheless, Ethiopia had made every effort not to have any incidents break out along the Ethiopia–Somaliland border.
There had been a large growth of the Unionist Party in Eritrea. This had been caused by several factors: (a) the activities of the Italians, (b) the difficulties of some of the Eritreans regarding the acceptance of union with Ethiopia had been worked out, and (c) the Independent Party had been disintegrating while the Unionist Party had been gaining strength.
The report of the UN Commission was a new factor. A majority of this Commission was in favor of closer association between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The Emperor was quite surprised when he heard that the federation proposal was already being discussed in New York because when the federation proposal was discussed in New York last year, there had not been a UN report which recommended closer association between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Now there was.
Whereas there had never been a clearcut majority in favor of closer union between Eritrea and Ethiopia, it was now evident that only a small minority favored independence and that a majority did favor union.
Foreign Minister Aklilou said he had explained to the Emperor that the United States and the United Kingdom were talking about federation now because of the difficulties which would be incurred in the UN in efforts to obtain the desired Ethiopian position of union. The Emperor had consented to Aklilou’s discussing federation because of the Emperor’s respect for the judgment of the United States and the United Kingdom.
Aklilou felt that when discussing federation all of us should know exactly what we were talking about. During the London conversations in June the Italians did not wish to discuss details although he, Aklilou, desired to do so. As a result, it was necessary to start all over again when he reached New York. He then repeated that the Emperor was most grateful for United States support. The Foreign Minister said that he wanted no misunderstanding on this point. [Page 1665]Ethiopia is grateful for the work which the United States and the United Kingdom have put into the draft resolution now being discussed in New York without committing ourselves. He said this was very helpful. He had cabled this draft back to Ethiopia and he was now happy to inform us in confidence that the Emperor had consented to discuss federation on the basis of the paper.3
The Foreign Minister then said that, speaking personally and confidentially, he was concerned about the prestige of the Emperor as [Page 1666]regards Eritrea. Many of the peoples in Eritrea had been clamoring for complete union with Ethiopia. It would be difficult for the Emperor to explain to them why federation should be accepted. Aklilou said that there was a lack of understanding as to what federation meant; one thing was definite however: the period of transition should be short and absolutely definite. Aklilou said he was willing to do everything possible to help out in the work in the Interim Committee. If no desirable solution came out, Ethiopia would have no choice but to go back to union. He said the Emperor was somewhat disappointed at the intransigent attitude of the Italians. Aklilou referred to a telegram which he understood the Italian delegation had received from Prime Minister De Gasperi instructing the Italian delegation to take a strong line against close federation. Aklilou said that if Ethiopia had to go back to the position of annexation of Eritrea, she would ask the United States to support her in her opposition to an unacceptable solution. Ethiopia would also ask the United States to support an arrangement along the lines adopted in Somaliland, i.e., a long term Ethiopian trusteeship over Eritrea. Aklilou concluded by saying that no solution would be disastrous.
I replied along the following lines. We appreciated very much the full explanation which Foreign Minister Aklilou had given us regarding the Ethiopian position. I assured him that we would abide by our understanding with the Ethiopian Government. We were doing everything possible to get a solution adopted by the UN which could be acceptable to Ethiopia. We desired to have it settled quickly in such a manner that it would work. We would keep in confidence the fact that the Emperor had consented to discuss federation on the basis of the US–UK draft. Our delegation in New York had our full confidence and they would be more than willing to discuss any details. Italy seems to have receded. Because of this, it did not seem that Ethiopia had lost any bargaining power. Aklilou then interjected that although Italy had declared that she had no interest in Eritrea, she was certainly acting in a contrary fashion. I resumed by saying that any concessions that Ethiopia might make should be considered as concessions to the UN and not to Italy. I expressed the hope that Ethiopia would be willing to make minor concessions, if necessary, in order to satisfy all members of UN. We were encouraged by the reports of progress from the U.S. delegation in New York. As regards citizenship, I said that citizenship of the people living in Eritrea would have to be considered Ethiopian. In addition, we believe that national defense should be controlled by the federal government, but that Eritreans might desire to have a local police force. We appreciated the forbearance of Ethiopia with regard to Italian Somaliland. [Page 1667]Foreign Minister Aklilou said that as far as policing was concerned, considerable international responsibility would fall upon Ethiopia on such questions as protection of minorities. He added that the Independence bloc have said that they would have no Italians in the Government. This might cause some difficulty. I said that these were all questions of give and take which would have to be worked out as time goes on. I assured him that we would continue to support a workable and acceptable solution.
George C. McGhee

  1. The memorandum was drafted by Kopper.
  2. For documentation on Ethiopia’s interest in obtaining planes from the United States, see pp. 1691 ff.
  3. The paper under reference was drafted by the U.S. and U.K. delegations at the United Nations on July 25. After a preamble which stated that the wishes and rights of the inhabitants of Eritrea and Ethiopia and the security of East Africa should be taken into consideration, the paper read:
    1. “1. Eritrea and Ethiopia shall be federated under the sovereignty of the Ethiopian Crown.
    2. 2. Eritrea shall be self-governing and shall possess local legislative and executive autonomy, and the right of Eritreans to manage their own affairs shall be protected.
    3. 3. Full authority shall be vested in the Federal Government with regard to such matters as defense and national security, external affairs, finance and currency, foreign and interstate commerce, and communications. Eritrea shall pay its proportionate share of the expenses of the Federal Government in carrying out the functions set forth above.
    4. 4. The area of the federation shall constitute a single area for customs purposes and there shall be no barriers to the free movement of goods and persons within the area.
    5. 5. A single nationality shall prevail throughout the federation.
    6. 6. No discrimination shall be practiced in Eritrea as regards the religious, personal and civic rights of the indigenous inhabitants. Basic human rights and fundamental freedoms for all inhabitants of Eritrea, including minorities, shall be guaranteed. All property rights shall be fully respected.
    7. 7. There shall be a United Nations Commissioner in Eritrea appointed by the General Assembly.
    8. 8. The Commissioner shall consult with the Government of Ethiopia, and advise and assist a representative assembly of Eritreans for the purpose of formulating a constitution giving effect to the provisions of paragraphs 1 through 6 above.
    9. 9. The constitution shall go into effect as soon as it shall have been approved by the commissioner, adopted by the Eritrean Assembly, and ratified by the Government of Ethiopia as an annex to its constitution. Every effort shall be made to bring it into effect as soon as possible, and, in any event, before the end of 1951.
    10. 10. The present administration shall continue to conduct the current affairs of Eritrea until the constitution is put into effect. During this transition period the administration shall, as rapidly as possible, induct Eritreans into all levels of the administration, form a representative assembly of Eritreans, and assist the Eritrean Assembly in formulating its views on the constitution. During the transition period the administration may, on behalf of the Eritreans, negotiate a customs union with Ethiopia to be put into effect as soon as practicable.
    11. 11. Arrangements shall be made by the Government of the United Kingdom as the present administering authority for the transfer of power to the appropriate authorities. The transfer of power shall take place as soon as the constitution comes into effect in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 9 above.
    12. 12. The Commissioner shall reside within Eritrea until the transfer of authority has been completed and shall make appropriate reports to the Secretary General of the United Nations concerning the discharge of his functions. When the transfer of authority has been completed, he shall so certify to the Secretary General of the United Nations.” (Telegram 117, from New York, July 25; 357.AH/7–2550)