Sunday, August 28, 2016
ADSS 1.199 Valeri to Maglione: French hopes for Italian Neutrality
ADSS 1.199 Valerio Valeri, France, to Luigi Maglione, Sec State.
Reference: Report number 9100/298, (AES 6563/39)
Location and date: Paris, 13.09.1939
Summary statement: Meeting with French Foreign Minister, George Bonnet (1889-1973). Italian neutrality appears secure.
The day before yesterday, 11 September, I asked for an audience with Minister Bonnet (1) to talk to him about various difficulties that members of this Diplomatic Corps were experiencing on account of the recent security measures, when they were away from Paris. Many of them, in fact, go to and fro having found accommodation outside Paris.
I took advantage of this meeting to talk to him about other things. This I reminded the Prime Minister to see that steps were taken to protect the members of religious orders at least. M. Bonnet promised he would deal with this immediately. I also spoke to him about those missionaries in the republic of Haiti, on whose behalf you have given me instructions, and who are in danger of being called up. On this point too the Government will try to satisfy the wishes of the Holy See.
We went on to talk about the international situation and especially about Italy. M. Bonnet has seen M. Poncet (2) before me and told me that the news received form him was good. He told me that Minister Ciano had called him by telephone on 31 August to inform him about the attempt made in extremis by Mussolini (3) to call a Conference, and on that occasion he had noticed the cordial tone of the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The French Government, it seems, already realise on an assured Italian neutrality, on this subject M. Bonnet suggested I should pay no attention to what people here, who do not know the facts, are saying, namely that it would be better if Italy entered the war. (4) “The French and British Governments are of a completely different opinion” he affirmed. He also said that the French Government was always ready to lend a friendly ear to the requests or wishes of Italy.
For my part, I assured him that the Holy See had done and would keep on doing everything in its power to limit the conflict, as, unfortunately, it had been impossible to prevent it and that the Holy Father considered it very important that good relations exist between France and Italy. Then, as I pointed out the possible difficulties that might have to be overcome on account of the military pact between Germany and Italy, M. Bonnet replied he did not believe that there would be any difficulties in this respect, as, from information received from well informed sources during the Salzburg talks, M. Mussolini had sustained the view that a war need not be started for three years and that, in any case, Italy would have to agree to this. (5)
I have in fact received from other sources rumours that confirm the optimistic outlook of M. Bonnet. Nor should we forget that Italy’s intervention, which would also affect Germany’s interests, would immediately be followed by Turkey’s entry into the war, as the Turkish Ambassador gave me to understand. Hungary also wishes to remain neutral and her Minister here would like this to be known.
Before taking me leave, I asked M. Bonnet – who in the meantime was telling me that Marshal Petain had brought very good news from Spain and that France, Spain and Italy, if united could in the future carry out a great mission – if every hope had to be abandoned of stopping the conflict already in progress. The reply did not leave me any illusions.
(1) George Bonnet (1889-1973), French Foreign Minister 1938-39.
(2) Andre Francois Poncet (1887-1978), French Ambassador to Italy 1938-40.
(3) According to Ciano Diario I, pp154-57, and of reports contained in DDI, Series 8, Volume 13, pp 407, 412, it appears Lord Halifax was the person to whom Ciano communicated the plan for a conference and the official information was given by the French and British Ambassadors. On 2 September Ciano had a telephone conversation with Bonnet, this time to launch Mussolini’s plan afresh.
(4) See DGFP, Series D, Volume 7, n438.