On 20 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Leopold Count Berchtold met the German Ambassador to Vienna Heinrich von Tschirschky (pictured). The two men discussed their respective country’s policy towards Italy.
Conversation between Count Berchtold and the German Ambassador Herr von Tschirschky. Vienna, 20 July 1914.
The German Ambassador came to me on the 20th July, and according to instructions received, informed me that Berlin was exceedingly anxious on account of the attitude of Italy in face of the action we were planning against Servia.
Ambassador von Flotow [the German ambassador in Rome] had reported on the 15th that all those, who surrounded by the [Italian] Minister of Foreign Affairs the Marquis di San Giuliano were disquieted because of the pessimistic reports sent by the Duke of Avarna [the Italian ambassador in Vienna]. San Giuliano avoided conversing on the subject with Flotow; Luzzatti [pro-Entente Italian politician] and others in the confidence of the minister had expressed a belief that if Austria-Hungary demands went too far, the monarchy would put itself in the wrong and could not count upon the support of Italy.
On the 16th, Flotow had announced that San Giuliano had consulted Fusinato on the subject, who had declared that a foreign state can only be made responsible for common crimes and certainly not for political propaganda. The murder of the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary was not committed by Servian subjects and could not therefore be the ground of reclamations.
The Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs therefore declared that Italy could not take active part in a policy suppressing the national idea. There had been repeated differences between Vienna and Rome, ever since Prince Hohenlohe had issued the Trieste decrees [excluding Italians from the Austro-Hungarian civil service], which had caused such painful surprise all over Italy, and had produced a feeling against Austria- Hungary, which it would be vain to combat. He sees so many dark points on the horizon of our reciprocal relations that he almost despairs of the success of his effort to maintain a friendly understanding. He fears that Italy will not be able to support the Austrian reclamations, without putting itself in direct opposition to the deep-rooted principles of the Italian people.
In the face of this information Herr von Jagow [the German Minister of Foreign Affairs] comes to the conclusion that not only will the action of Austria- Hungary meet with no sympathy in Italy, but may eventually call forth direct resistance. The German Minister of Foreign Affairs therefore urgently advises us to seek an understanding with Italy and at the same time expresses the opinion, that an Italian action against Valona (though Italy has at present no such intentions and would but unwillingly undertake it, if forced thereto à titre de compensation [as compensation]) might avert Italy’s attention from our Servian action.
In my answer to all this, I said first of all that it was much to be regretted that Italy had apparently already obtained knowledge of our plans against Servia. As not the slightest hint had been made to the Italian ambassador, the information had certainly not come to Rome from Vienna.
To the assurance of Herr von Tschirschky that no communication on the subject had been made on Germany’s part, I parried with the remark that perhaps Flotow might have said something on his own responsibility. Moreover, I said that such confidences to Italy, from whichever side they may have been made, were exceedingly objectionable, also that I already had proof that Italy was at the time busy counteracting against us. I could not therefore make my mind up to an early exchange of ideas with the Italian government on the subject of our action in Servia, and this was what had been agreed upon between [German] Undersecretary of State Zimmermann and Count Hoyos [Berchtold’s head of cabinet] in Berlin. We had agreed to inform the cabinet of Rome one day previously to the tendering of the note in Belgrade and this seemed sufficient courtesy towards so unreliable an ally as Italy.
I then referred to the fact that by a resolution voted in the Crown Council it had been decided that no Servian territory should be annexed, so that Italian demands of compensation, even if they would be put forth on the interpretation of article VII [of the Triple Alliance], would become extinct of themselves. As to Valona, public opinion is so very strongly against Italy settling on the coast of the Adriatic opposite to its own, especially near the straits of Otranto, that I could never consent to any transactions on this point.
I also suggested to Herr von Tschirschky to get Berlin to call the Marquis di San Giuliano’s attention to the contradiction in his assurances, that Italy required a strong Austria-Hungary as a wall of defence against Slavism and in his policy at critical times, which brings him into contact with the main power of Slavism, Russia, and prevents Austrian-Hungary from keeping its possessions intact.
I concluded by saying, that after all we could not allow ourselves to be intimidated by such news from Italy and could not deviate from the path wo had begun to tread. We must keep to our purpose all the more, because from the reports of our Ambassador at the Quirinal [the Italian court], I see that in consequence of the Libyan campaign [e.i. the Italian-Libyan War of 1911-1912], Italy is by no means eager for battle, and may express its indignation in words, but will scarcely follow them up with deeds.
Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits.