124.60H3/2–1547: Telegram

The Chargé in Yugoslavia (Cabot) to the Secretary of State


141. Embassy translators not yet released. I shall seek further interview at Foreign Office Monday. Department will appreciate that work of Embassy has already been seriously prejudiced and prestige greatly lowered by series of incidents which can scarcely be interpreted as other than a deliberate Yugoslav Government campaign to intimidate and humiliate Embassy and perhaps to put it out of business. We already have indications of further attacks. These incidents are of course but one part of a thoroughly unsatisfactory picture but they seem to me first point I should attack in order if possible to secure room for maneuver. I believe a general review of policy may nevertheless be useful at this point.

Possible courses to follow in connection with this campaign and general situation include (1) ignoring campaign and sitting a few numbers out; (2) inaugurating positive policy of conciliation; (3) negotiations on a quid pro quo basis for progressive relief of tension; (4) protest and astonishment; (5) positive acts of retaliation.

First course would do nothing to stop campaign or better situation and hence should be adopted only if other courses positively ruled out.

Regarding second course I am increasingly impressed by legitimate grievances Yugoslavs have. For example, I have just learned from excellent source that Army fliers deliberately baited Yugoslavs prior to airplane incidents1 by flying over Yugoslav territory. Department [Page 762] will recall a number of other incidents in which we were at fault. Various observers here inform me that Yugoslav Government has sincere sense of grievance and ascribe much of our trouble to what they consider our clumsy diplomacy. These observers while recognizing many provocative Yugoslav actions generally recommend we adopt more conciliatory policy.

My conviction necessarily tentative diverges strongly from this view in that I do not believe in unilateral concessions. I do believe that we must actively strive to eliminate real Yugoslav grievances particularly when our good faith is involved, for example in Nicoloff case (Embtel 140, February 152) and war criminals situation (Embtel 137, February 143) without requiring reciprocal concessions unless Yugoslavs are at fault in some cases. Nevertheless whole pattern of Communist diplomacy suggests to me that Yugoslavs would be actively hostile to whatever course we had pursued and that their grievances though doubtless sincerely felt are basically but wolf’s excuse for malevolent course they would have followed in any case. British whose policy generally considered more conciliatory than ours feel as much persecuted as we do. Nothing I have seen suggests that we can appease totalitarian dictators whether white or red.

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I think it important however not to slam door in Tito’s face and not needlessly to offend Yugoslav nationalist sentiment. I conceive our long range policy should aim to promote in [a?] Yugoslav Government responsive primarily to will and needs of people rather than to Soviet directives. My guess is that even within present government there are potentially factions which might favor this if we do not irrevocably alienate them. I do not believe we can further such a policy by unilateral concessions; nevertheless by great patience, urbanity and firmness but not rigidity in negotiating we may get somewhere eventually. Unless Dept objects I intend to explore situation with Foreign Office next week and go into possibility of trading off some minor irritating cases while continuing to press for release of translators. I am naturally not optimistic but feel this path should be thoroughly explored before it is abandoned. It must again be emphasized that no success can attend such a move if the Yugoslavs sincerely believe that we are not acting in good faith and we must therefore move vigorously to eliminate their just grievances.

Fourth possible course would merely be futile, counter productive and further embitter situation.

I feel Dept should consider possibilities of fifth course if we make real progress in eliminating Yugoslav grievances and my talks still get no further than previous experience foreshadows. Possible means of retaliation include:

Breaking relations or withdrawal of our Embassy to neighboring capital. I am opposed to this if only because I believe this may be what Yugoslav Govt wants. Should a group of aggrieved nations simultaneously break relations this might be effective but I doubt its feasibility.
Retaliation against Yugoslav Embassy and Yugoslav officials. This might take form of (a) rummaging baggage as Yugoslavs often do with us (but my baggage was not inspected); (b) restricting Yugoslav Embassy officials to DC. This would be difficult to enforce; (c) stationing police at Yugoslav Embassy entrance and taking names of all who enter; (d) harassing Yugoslav officials by blocking visas, transportation, etc. I do not recommend this course since we are more vulnerable than Yugoslav Embassy and they would doubtless go further than we.
Reference of constant Yugoslav provocations to UN. This course would have advantage of focusing world opinion on this situation but would give Yugoslavs excellent opportunity to wash our own not inconsiderable amount of dirty linen in public.
Detention of prominent Yugoslav Communists in Trieste area on some plausible pretext.4 I believe this offers possibilities since there are few real American citizens now in this country without official status and such Yugoslavs could be held practically as hostages.
Crackdown on prominent Yugoslav sympathizers in US with Communist affiliations for example as alien agents or by pillorying before Committee on Un-American Activities. By adroit handling maximum glare of publicity on conditions in Yugoslavia and treatment of this Embassy might be attained.
Introduction of legislation to permit (a) indefinite blocking of Yugoslav assets in US; (b) payment of American claims against Yugoslavia from these assets if negotiated settlement cannot be reached; (c) establishment of commission to pass on these claims; (d) blocking of all financial translations [transactions?] between Yugoslavia and US except under license. (This would permit US to block remittances to Yugoslavia a significant item in Yugoslavia international balances). I strongly urge Dept to give immediate consideration to such legislation since their assets are our most important weapon and it would be disastrous if we were for any reason to give them up.
Embargo on all shipments between Yugoslavia and US. This would undoubtedly hurt Yugoslavia far more than US in view of their reconstruction needs; also Yugoslav officials have recently been emphasizing desire for trade with US. Nevertheless I feel this move which might include all relief shipments should be held for last resort only.

Except for point 6 I do not recommend that any of the above measures be undertaken for present but I feel Dept should tentatively consider feasibility of other possible measures favorably mentioned above as well as others which will doubtless occur to Dept in order that we may be prepared to act vigorously in event need for this becomes clear.

I would appreciate any expression of Dept’s views it may wish to send me.

  1. For documentation on the forcing down of two unarmed American transport planes by Yugoslav aircraft on August 9 and 19, 1946, see Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. vi, pp. 915 ff. For the text of a note of September 3 from William L. Clayton, Acting Secretary of State, to the Yugoslav Chargé d’Affaires in the United States, see Department of State Bulletin, September 15, 1946, p. 501. In this note Mr. Clayton referred to several recent incidents and stated as follows: “No American planes have flown over Yugoslavia intentionally without advance approval of Yugoslav authorities unless forced to do so in an emergency.” Mr. Clayton further stated that the United States Government expected the Yugoslav Government to make suitable indemnification to the families and dependents of the victims of the Yugoslav action as well as compensation for the destruction of and damage to the United States planes and other property.
  2. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Charles E. Nicoloff was present at the scene of the alleged murder of Soviet Army Private Ivan Ivanovich Vasilenko in Belgrade on February 7, 1946. Sergeant Nicoloff was tried by a U.S. Army court martial in Italy on November 29, 1946, on the charge of assault with intent to commit voluntary manslaughter by shooting Private Vasilenko with a dangerous weapon, and he was acquitted.

    Telegram 140, February 15 from Belgrade, not printed, reported receipt of a Yugoslav note complaining that the Nicoloff court martial had disallowed the interrogatories of Yugoslav eye-witnesses. The telegram further observed that the “acquittal while disallowing all Yugoslav evidence makes it difficult to argue that Yugoslav courts have made unjust decisions.…” and urged that the full record of the (Court martial be made available to the Yugoslav Government (860H.00/2–1547). This record was given to the Yugoslav authorities in late May 1947.

  3. The telegram under reference here reported on the difficulties facing the British authorities in Italy in screening Yugoslav prisoners of war for alleged war criminals. It read in part:

    “British Ambassador [Charles B. P. Peake] paints very gloomy picture of situation. He says that combined Anglo-American forces in Italy are quite insufficient to handle Yugoslavs who number 21,000 in British camp alone and who are at liberty to come and go from camps. He adds that Italy is teeming with notorious Yugoslav war criminals connected with Nedich and Ustasha. He fears Italians, to protect own war criminals, may turn over innocent and guilty en masse to Yugoslavia when treaty is effective. He feels Yugoslavs may raise issue in UN with great embarrassment to Great Britain and possibly US.”

    Chargé Cabot concluded the telegram with the following observation:

    Dept will appreciate that this is one of several real grievances Yugoslavs have at US and will, I am sure, do everything possible to deliver all real war criminals to Yugoslav authorities at earliest possible date. We cannot justify our failure in this matter by Yugoslav misdeeds in other matters and we certainly cannot expect any satisfaction from Yugoslavs re our grievances if we do not show clear determination to satisfy their just complaints.” (740.00116 EW/2–1447)

  4. For documentation regarding the interest of the United States in the establishment of the Free Territory of Trieste, see pp. 51 ff.