811.607 New York 1939/2122

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Steinhardt) to the Secretary of State

No. 83

Sir: I have the honor to refer to paragraph 2 of the Department’s telegram No. 131 of August 29, 7 p.m., making mention of a request by the Soviet Embassy in Washington for customs facilities and presumably privileges in connection with the impending arrival at the port of New York of two hundred and twenty-one members of the Red Army Ensemble, and in this connection to invite the attention of the Department to the refusal of the Soviet authorities in Moscow to grant customs facilities or privileges to others than the diplomatic officers whose names appear on the official diplomatic list. The Soviet Government has steadfastly refused customs facilities or privileges even to members of the staff of this Embassy though the holders of diplomatic or special passports other than those individuals whose names appear on the diplomatic list. Laissez-passers—without which customs facilities and privileges are denied—continue to be refused to members of the Embassy personnel who have been arriving here as replacements. The most recent example is the case of Vice Consul Trowbridge who arrived here yesterday to assume his duties.

This attitude is quite characteristic of the Soviet Government which blandly requests, expects, and receives customs privileges for two hundred and twenty-one itinerant vocal acrobats while denying the same privileges to the American personnel of the staff of this Embassy who bear diplomatic or special passports and who are to serve here more or less permanently.

I might add that on the occasion of my arrival here, although I was most generously granted a laissez-passer, the customs inspection of my effects at Spaso Building consumed four days from 10:30 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. each day—two inspectors being in attendance [Page 856]who required not only that each case be opened but that the contents of the boxes and packages within each case be examined. Those effects which had not been passed each day were placed under seal at 4:30 each afternoon and were not accessible to me until the next morning after 11:00 o’clock, so that for nearly a week after my arrival here a good part of my effects were not available to me. I cite this merely as an example of the rigidity of the customs inspection as applied even to Ambassadors themselves. Although I have not yet experienced inspection on the departure of an Ambassador, I have had occasion to observe the treatment accorded Mr. Grummon and Dr. and Mrs. Nelson at the time of their respective transfers from which I conclude that the examination at the time of departure is considerably more rigorous than at the time of entry. To make matters worse the customs examinations are conducted at the Customhouse both on entry and departure, excepting in the case of the Chief of Mission or a Chargé d’Affaires, when they are carried out at his residence, so that the diplomatic officers of the Mission other than Ambassador or Chargé d’Affaires are in effect required at the time of entry to unpack all of their belongings in the Customhouse and to unpack them there at the time of departure, or in the alternative and as is generally the case to engage in two completely separate packing and unpacking operations each time.

These rigid customs requirements are but a minor phase of the denial to all diplomats in Moscow of reasonable consideration or courtesy.

Under these circumstances it might be of advantage to this Embassy to be telegraphically advised by the Department for say a period of thirty or sixty days of every request made by the Soviet Embassy in Washington for courtesies or consideration of any kind whatsoever so that the Embassy may be afforded an opportunity before the request is granted of advising the Department telegraphically as to whether or not reciprocal treatment is being accorded. Should the telegraphing of these requests be too expensive or otherwise burdensome to the Department, I suggest as an alternative that the Department keep a list of the requests made by the Soviet Embassy in the course of each month and that a copy of such list be transmitted to Moscow each month so that the Embassy may have an opportunity to make such comment thereon as may seem appropriate, and so that in making requests of the Foreign Office from time to time the Embassy may be in a position to refer to the requests being made of the Department by the Soviet Embassy in Washington.

Respectfully yours,

Laurence A. Steinhardt