121.5464/3–2849

Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Southeast European Affairs (Barbour) to the Director of the Office of European Affairs (Hickerson)

confidential

Subject: Expulsion of American military officers from Hungary

The action of the Hungarian Government on March 22 in expelling Lt. Cols. Peter J. Kopcsak and John P. Merrill1 from Hungary on 48 hours’ notice (reported in Budapest’s telegram No. 452 of March 222) raises the question of the advisability of the US taking [Page 468]reciprocal action against one or more members of the Hungarian Legation staff here.

Preceding developments in this case may be summarized, for background purposes, as follows:

Hungarian police authorities on February 10 attempted unsuccessfully to detain Kopcsak and Merrill, who were on a field trip to Szeged, on the grounds that they had approached the Hungarian-Yugoslav frontier and had taken photographs there without permission.3 Legation Budapest, in a note of February 11, protested the treatment by the Hungarian authorities of these American officers as discourteous and unwarranted and requested assurances that the Hungarian Government would adopt measures to prevent such occurrences in the future.4 In reply, on February 12, the Hungarian Foreign Office charged that the US officers had not only entered a restricted zone but had threatened and assaulted a Hungarian official and otherwise misconducted themselves in Szeged. The Foreign Office note concluded by inquiring whether the US should not remove Kopcsak and Merrill before the Hungarian Government found it necessary to request the US to do so.5 In subsequent notes of March 2 and 11, the Hungarian Government renewed its accusations and inquired concerning US “intentions” in the matter.6 The Legation, on instructions from the Department, reiterated its protest in notes of February 15 and March 14, and made clear that it had no intention of voluntarily withdrawing the two officers.7 On March 22, an official of the Foreign Office handed to our Chargé a note requesting the departure of Kopcsak and Merrill from Hungary within 48 hours. Our Chargé stated orally in reply that he considered this demand contrary [Page 469]to diplomatic comity and precedent and pointed out that the Hungarian Government had not yet responded to the substantive portions of US protests. He also cited, as an example of the misstatements contained in previous Hungarian notes on the incident, that the Foreign Office had implied refusal by the officers to pay their garage bill in Szeged, whereas the Legation had the receipted bill and was prepared to produce it upon request.

The Legation has informed the Department that Kopcsak and Merrill would depart within the time limit.

SE believes that the Department should take no measures at this time in retaliation for this action of the Hungarian Government. The Hungarian Legation here has no military personnel assigned to it and no civilian personnel, other than Minister Sik,8 of a rank equivalent to or higher than that of Colonels Kopcsak and Merrill. SE has no knowledge that any of the present members of the Hungarian Legation staff have engaged in objectionable activities. It is the further view of SE in this regard that this Government should decline, wherever possible without placing itself at a serious disadvantage, to resort to the same tactics used by the Hungarian Communist regime. Moreover, in view of the action which we are planning to take within the next few days in charging the Hungarian Government with violating the human rights clauses of the Peace Treaty,9 SE feels that there is little likelihood that a decision not to retaliate in the present case will cause the general public or the Hungarian Government to regard US policy in Hungarian matters as passive.

Consistent with its recommendation that no retaliatory action be taken in the Kopcsak–Merrill case, SE believes that we should not issue a press release or stimulate publicity on the matter but that, as regards possible press inquiries, we be prepared to confirm the facts of the case along the lines of the background information summarized above. A draft telegram informing Legation Budapest of the Department’s views in the foregoing sense is attached for your approval.10

Walworth Barbour
  1. Both were Assistant Military Attachés at the Legation in Budapest.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Detailed sworn statements by Kopcsak and Merrill on the incident were transmitted to the Department of State as enclosures to despatch 120, February 17, from Budapest, none printed (121.5464/2–1749).
  4. The text of the Legation’s note of February 11 was transmitted in telegram 243, February 11, from Budapest, not printed (121.5464/2–1149).
  5. The text of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry note of February 12, which Minister Chapin described as “unbelievable diplomatic Billingsgate”, was transmitted in telegram 254, February 12, from Budapest (121.5464/2–1249). In his telegram 256, February 13, from Budapest, not printed, Chapin commented that the Foreign Ministry note was “the most insulting pseudo-diplomatic communication have ever seen” and the charges against Kopcsak and Merrill were obvious calumny (121.5464/2–1349). For the text of the Hungarian note, see Hungarian Foreign Ministry Documents, pp. 100–101.
  6. The text of the Foreign Ministry note of March 2 was transmitted to the Department in telegram 346, March 3, from Budapest, not printed (121.5464/3–349) and telegram 399, March 11, from Budapest, not printed, commented upon the note of that date (121.5464/3–1149).
  7. The instructions under reference were transmitted in telegrams 137, February 14 and 198, March 9, to Budapest, neither printed (121.5464/2–1249 and 3–349).
  8. On August 11 the Hungarian Legation informed the Department of State that Minister Endre Sík was being permanently recalled to Hungary. No explanation was provided. Sík departed on August 13, and on August 18 the Hungarian Government requested an agrément for Imre Horvath as the new Minister in Washington.
  9. For documentation on the efforts of the United States to assure fulfillment of the human rights articles of the Treaties of Peace with Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, see pp. 223 ff.
  10. For the telegram, which was duly approved, see infra.