On 21 July 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador to Italy Kajetan von Merey (pictured) sent a private coded telegram to the Austro-Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Leopold Count Berchtold in Vienna. In his telegram, Merey informs Berchtold of the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs’ views on the crisis between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.
Herr von Merey to Count Berchtold. Rome, 21 July 1914.
Referring to your Excellency’s telegram of the 20th of July, a conversation with [the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs] Marquis di San Giuliano took place this afternoon.
The Minister showed himself very preoccupied by our démarche [measures] in Belgrade. I spoke at length in the sense of the first part of the above-quoted telegram. Marquis di San Giuliano listened attentively and made some notes. A lengthy discussion followed, during which I made use of the remarks at the conclusion of the telegram in question.
With regard to our relations with Servia the Minister again explained, at length, that we would not obtain any favourable results by humiliation or violence, but much sooner by a conciliatory attitude. For a nationally mixed state like the monarchy, this was the only possible policy, and it had served us well with Germans and Poles. I told him that this reasoning, often dis- cussed between us, was mere theory and false. In reality things look quite differently. I reminded him of all we had done for Servia since the Berlin Treaty; of our conciliatory attitude during the Balkan war, and how the Pan-Servian offensive regularly grew more violent.
Italy, the Minister continued, wishes for a strong Austria, but such as it is now, without territorial aggrandisement. Any change of this sort — he told me in all sincerity — would be considered as damaging to Italy, whose policy was one of conciliation and perfect equilibrium. The Minister received my assurances that we intended no territorial annexation with visible satisfaction, the remark with regard to the Lovcen with ill-disguised triumph. He asked whether he might make use of these assurances in the press, and I not only answered in the negative, but told him that in my confidential information I was saying that there was no intention of territorial acquisition, but not an engagement. (As the possibility of war exists and the eventuality of Montenegro making common cause with Servia, I should consider it dangerous to make further promises.)
Marquis di San Giuliano then declared that it was his determined intention to support us, if our demands of Servia are such that they can legitimately be complied with, in any other case he would have the whole country against him, which is undeniably liberal, loves to remember its own revolutionary origin and sympathises with irredentist manifestations, wherever they show themselves. He gave me to understand that we could make it much easier for him, if our démarche in Belgrade was founded — if not exclusively — still for the most part upon the catastrophe of Sarajevo and not so much on political agitation in general.
I argued against all these reservations, which I called mistaken from a theoretical point of view (since they placed Servia on the footing of a modern cultured state). From a practical point of view they showed, too little friendship and solidarity.
With regard to the press, the Minister promised his support, within the limits of his reservations; but he could certainly not do anything in this direction before he had knowledge of the content of our note to Belgrade.
He promised to send instructions in the sense we desired, to Montenegro this very day. He had already advised Belgrade in a conciliatory sense, and with a view to giving this advice more weight [note: at this point there are missing words. The cypher is illegible] had recalled the Minister.
Finally the Minister remarked that his confidence in our moderation towards Servia was principally based upon the wisdom of our monarch, to which I replied, that he might for the same reason be convinced, that whatever our note to Servia contained, it had been carefully considered and found to be absolutely necessary.
The general impression I received from this interview, was that of much friendly phraseology and quite as many mental reservations; that the Minister does not for the present apprehend war, but believes that Servia will give way, founding his belief on the intense diplomatic influence the Great Powers will exercise over Vienna and Belgrade.
Source: 1919 Austro-Hungarian Red Book, with minor edits