The Minister in Czechoslovakia (Wright) to the Secretary of State

No. 373

Sir: I have the honor to report that on the 18th instant, I improved an opportunity afforded by the discussion with Dr. Krofta, Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, of other matters, to refer to the recent visit of the Austrian Chancellor.8

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As was likewise announced in the press, the matter of increased cooperation between the States of the Danubian region was also the [Page 182] subject of general discussion with some officials and of detailed examination with others, and favorable ground for such conversations was found in the statements made by Dr. Hodza, now Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, when he was Minister of Agriculture in 1935 (regarding which I reported in my despatch No. 315 of October 31, 19359). Dr. Krofta said that the field of this discussion would naturally embrace Austria and the States of the Little Entente and, ultimately, Hungary; but that it had been decided to defer discussions with the latter country until initiatory steps had been taken between Austria and the Little Entente nations, thus affording a lead which Hungary would probably be unable to decline to follow, whereas—as he rather naively put it—if discussions had been first begun with Hungary, such divergence of views would have become immediately apparent as would have been difficult to overcome.

Dr. Krofta continued by stating that the proposal of the Czech Government was to grant certain preferences to Austria, and ultimately to Hungary or other States within the Danubian agreement, if properly possible; in return for which Czechoslovakia, of course, expected to obtain reciprocal privileges—at which point in the conversation he stated, to my surprise and interest, that this would be a principle in which the United States would be interested and to which we had given our tacit approval by virtue of the preferential provisions of the Modus Vivendi at present governing commercial relations between Czechoslovakia and the United States.10 As will be seen from memoranda and reports upon this subject, I had already discussed it with Dr. Veverka, Czech Minister to the United States, from which conversations it was apparent that the Government of the United States is now of the opinion that these provisions are far too ample and should be limited and rendered more specific: I did not think it advisable, however, to refer to this phase of the matter in my conversation with Dr. Krofta concerning relations with Austria and therefore merely informed him that I had recently discussed the matter in general with Dr. Veverka.

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Upon my initiative, the conversation then turned to the more political phase of the visit and Dr. Krofta, with his accustomed freedom of conversation with me, informed me confidentially as follows:

The visit did possess considerable political significance, to which, however, no mention was, or could be, made in the official communiqués, and which he therefore requested me to regard as entirely confidential information for my Government and not to be considered as [Page 183] a matter for discussion here (from which I deduced that he obviously would withhold this information from certain of my colleagues) for the obvious reason that knowledge of it in Vienna would not only serve no good purpose but might be fraught with danger.

He then said that Italy’s military activities in Africa were, of course, a matter of concern to Austria and that an Italy certainly enfeebled by the drain upon her military and financial resources even at the present stage of the African campaign, and conceivably far more greatly weakened by a failure in that undertaking, could not afford the same measure of guarantee of Austria’s integrity as had formerly been possible or might otherwise be the case. It is therefore but natural that Austria should seek at least to strengthen as far as possible her economic relations with her neighbors, and this consideration entirely offset any possible incongruity that might be considered to exist on account of Austria’s conducting such negotiations with the members of an Entente which was created to restrain her. The object, of course, is to obtain the greatest possible guarantee against Germany and for that reason, even more than the others to which reference has been made above, no public mention of the political nature of the conversations would be made. Austria, therefore, while still desirous of keeping on good terms with Italy in view of the moral and material support rendered by Italy at the time of a more immediate threat against her independence, now feels that this obligation is perhaps not so clearly defined; therefore, without in any way estranging Italian sentiment or, what would be far more dangerous, contributing in any way towards any rapprochement of Italy with Germany, she must seek additional means of protection. This visit, therefore, is an important factor in this cautious but well-determined program.

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Respectfully yours,

J. Butler Wright
  1. Kurt Schuschnigg, Austrian Federal Chancellor, Minister of Defense and Education.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Embodied in identic notes dated March 29, 1935; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1935, vol. ii, p. 145.