While the delegations from communist Asia tried their hand at the big time in Geneva last week, Secretary Dulles headed south to a meeting with Italian Premier Mario Scelba. In their Milan conference, Dulles offered a feasible settlement to the question of Trieste.
Unlike other disputed land, such as the Saar, the Adriatic port city is of little economic value. Once, before the first World War, it serviced the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and it prospered. Since the breakup of the Empire, the trade going through the port has dwindled; nevertheless, Trieste retains vast political and military significance.
The Italian government has made it clear that a favorable Trieste settlement is its price for ratification of EDC. Western military planners, attempting to fix a barrier across the girth of Europe, consider Trieste vital to the defense of Italy and southern France, for it represents the only break in the formidable chain of mountains that runs from Geneva itself to the Adriatic sea. The successful defense of this gap clearly depends on the co-operation of Yugoslav and Italian forces.
The Italians got Trieste following the first World War, lost it in the second. Eight years ago, however, to influence crucial elections, the Western "Big Threee" promised the return of the Trieste area, with its predominantly Italian population. A few months later, when Yugoslavia made its historic switch, what had seemed a smooth propaganda move became a diplomatic nightmare.
Drafted in secret by American, British, and Yugoslav experts, the proposal that Dulles presented would give Zone A, including the city itself, to Italy. In return, Tito would build himself another port at the city of Capodistria, further south, with the United States, Britain and France paying the bill.
Both Italy and Yugoslavia demand "peace with honor" in any Trieste settlement. Earlier Anglo-American proposals were doomed to failure because they did not represent a compromise. This one does. While Italy renounces its claim to Zone B, Yugoslavia loses the city itself, and the British and Americans pay for a new port.
Marshal Tito has indicated his willingness to accept the proposal; if Italy agrees, the compromise will strengthen Western defenses at one of its weakest points. Almost as important, it will put a needed feather in Mario Scelba's well crushed political hat.