611.49/2–850: Telegram

The Ambassador in Czechoslovakia (Briggs) to the Secretary of State


184. To place communications matter1 in perspective, it should be considered in connection with other issues. It seems evident from recent actions that Czechoslovakia has rejected approach suggested my first talk with Clementis last December,2 namely that we should seek to conduct our affairs on basis largest possible “area of agreement”. Reiterating their annoyance over VOA (and perhaps to themselves citing VOA as justification for current actions) Czechoslovakia seems systematically seeking whittle down “area of agreement”. Recent examples in addition to current communications threat include rejection [Page 530] of Amerika distribution,3 difficulties in protection cases, interference with USIS library, misrepresentation of US Government policies coupled with press and official denunciation of high US officials, espionage charges specifically mentioning Embassy, and increasing difficulties chancery operations, for instance, housing and other personnel facilities together with threatened confiscation for use by “Communist workers” of ski chalet rented by Embassy Recreation Association for weekend relaxation.

Communications matter is merely one of series of examples of churlish or unpleasant behaviour, apparently undertaken to annoy or to harass or restrict our diplomatic operations.

How soon we wish to try to call halt, we recognize may involve broader issue of East-West relationship than bilateral US-Czechoslovakia affairs. Considering latter only, we doubt whether protest unsupported by US action likely be effective. Protests alone may produce satisfaction rather than apprehension among local Communist leaders who may conclude therefrom “now we are getting somewhere in our retaliation for VOA broadcasts”.

Whether we decide to move now or later, until we do move that is until we take some action that hurts, present Czechoslovakia policy seems to us unlikely to be reversed or modified (unless of course tone down VOA, which is not recommended). Furthermore, effective action seems well within our power—probably easiest and quickest to apply being restriction or paralysis Czechoslovak transportation across Germany which we could accomplish through Military Permit Office here. We could do this through informing government that “on (date) validity of all outstanding truck permits would be cancelled, except for return of vehicles to Czechoslovakia, application for revalidation to be made to MPO Praha”. We could then drag our feet on issuing new permits pending further developments. (Department may wish consider bearing this suggestion on ECA and ECE plans. I am assuming, however, that we would not describe step as “cutting communications” but as “organizing more effective channeling of traffic”).

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Such action might be doubly painful to Czechoslovakia now with barge transport frozen in. It might also be considered in connection with our Berlin truck transport difficulties, having in mind transport across US Zone Germany to Czechoslovakia doubtless carries important merchandise ultimately destined for Russia.

Other actions, mentioned in recent communications to Department, are available to us.

We are aware that retaliation on our part for Czechoslovak misbehavior, while it might help settle various currently outstanding problems, might likewise set stage for counter measures, and that we might thus be moving toward eventual break in relations.

If we correctly interpret Department’s view (such as messages Deptel 854 and 885 February 3) we gather Department prefers us for present “to grin and bear it” rather than to precipitate matters, taking such dignified steps to assert our rights as will keep record clear but at same time not expose ourselves to unnecessary rebuffs.

We should welcome indication of general policy guidance for we apprehend time approaching when failure to take stand may be interpreted in Czechoslovakia, and perhaps elsewhere in orbit, as weakness on our part, thus encouraging further cavalier treatment our interests.6

Sent Department 184, repeated Frankfort 20. Department pass Moscow 5.

  1. On January 31, the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry informed the Embassy that its telecommunications facilities with Heidelberg, in use since 1945, would be discontinued on February 15. Despite an Embassy note of February 13 seeking a reversal of the Czechoslovak Government decision or the institution of alternate communications facilities, the telecommunications circuit to Heidelberg was cut on February 15. Documentation on this subject is included in file 161.1.
  2. The conversation under reference here was reported upon in telegram 1878, December 21, 1949, from Praha, Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. v, p. 427.
  3. The illustrated magazine Amerika (in Russian and Czech editions) was written, edited, and printed in New York by the United States Government. It presented a picture of life in the United States and concentrated on articles and, features of broad cultural interest. Telegram 137, January 30, from Praha, not printed, reported that during their conversation on January 31 (see telegram 144, January 31, from Praha, p. 526), Foreign Minister Clementis informed Ambassador Briggs that the allegedly increased tone of antagonism of the Voice of America broadcasts toward Czechoslovakia had caused the Czechoslovak Government to reverse its tentative decision of March 1949 to permit the distribution of the magazine Amerika (511.4921/1–3050). Formal withdrawal of permission to distribute Amerika was contained in a Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry aide-mémoire of March 28. In telegram 85, February 3, to Praha, not printed, the Department of State agreed with the Embassy that it would be fruitless to proceed further in the effort to obtain permission to distribute the magazine. The Department felt it would be inappropriate, however, to undertake any retaliatory actions proposed by the Embassy. (511.4921/2–150)
  4. Not printed, but see footnote 3, above.
  5. Supra.
  6. In his telegram 218, February 13, from Praha, not printed, Ambassador Briggs reported that he met with British Ambassador Sir Pierson John Dixon and French Ambassador Jean Rivière on the evening of February 11 for a general discussion of the Czechoslovak situation along the lines described in the telegram printed here. The three Ambassadors agreed on the nature of the problem and the increasing restrictions placed on the activities of Western Embassies and undertook to report the discussion to their respective foreign ministries with a suggestion that the three governments consult with a view to adopting a common approach to the problem. (611.49/2–1350)