The infamous January 1936 accords between Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and French foreign minister Pierre Laval have been the subject of vigorous debate. Did Laval promise Mussolini a ‘free hand’ in Ethiopia, giving tacit French approval for an Italian invasion? The two men kept no formal record of their final meeting, leaving contemporary critics and historians to speculate about their bargaining. Italian foreign ministry documents reveal the contents of the first two meetings between Mussolini and Laval. The evidence strongly indicates that Laval did give his approval for Italy to invade Ethiopia. Laval hoped to maintain limited French economic interests, but sacrificed French treaty rights in Ethiopia in order to enlist Italy in a defensive front against Germany. Laval failed to foresee the results of his diplomacy, and ended up alienating the Italian dictator.
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