611.49/4–1550: Telegram

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

secret   priority

546. Embtel 530.1 Had 2½ hour meeting with Foreign Minister today Vice Minister Hajdu translating and Penfield2 present my request.3 Conversation courteous but generally limited on both sides to frankly expressed disagreements. There was no meeting of minds and Siroky gave no indication he was in any way convinced or influenced. What effect interview will have therefore remains be seen, although there is no question but that Foreign Minister now correctly understands position our government takes.

After exchange amenities I opened conversation by recital of statement as per Deptel 230, March 28,4 (no text used or left with Foreign Minister5). Siroky listened attentively, impassively, and without interruption. He then replied by declaring Czechoslovakian policy remains unchanged over considerable period and “instability in our relations therefore solely fault of US.” To illustrate, he mentioned four matters:

US refuses permit export goods, including those bought and paid for by Czechoslovakia (latter obviously reference to steel mill).
Czechoslovakia’s export trade with US has been almost cut off.
US is holding Czechoslovakian planes in Germany, US officials maltreated Czech passengers desiring return, and US has refused extradition “criminal kidnappers”.6
USIS and Embassy Press Attaché Kolarek have been engaging in improper activities as “proved” by statements Czech employees.7

In rebuttal I declared:

Our export restrictions not discriminatory but based on national defense. I told Minister Finance last January any Czechoslovakian proposal for steel mill problem would receive Embassy’s careful consideration and prompt transmission Washington.
I not aware details decrease Czechoslovakian export to US but thought might be due preference private American buyers and/or difficulties American businessmen in proceeding Czechoslovakia to buy.
I emphasized illegal nature entry into Germany of 3 Czechoslovakian planes and pointed out reasonableness holding them until investigation of serious charges made by Foreign Office had been completed. Re charges, I said we regarded them as unfounded and referred terms my opening statement (“if Czechoslovakia would avoid making unfounded charges against American citizens, etc.”) and also Czechoslovakia’s accusations as illustrating incidents hot in conformity with accepted diplomatic standards.
I referred circumstances of arrest of Czech USIS employees as destroying in view of my government validity of statements they made, and I left with Siroky copy wireless bulletin item on Department’s yesterday statement re trial.8

I also left with Foreign Minister copy of Secretary’s Berkeley address.9

Further rebuttals and counter-rebuttals followed without however Siroky’s modifying initial assertions. Only two other statements made by Foreign Minister of interest here:

Foreign Office is “considering” situation of USIS and Kolarek in light of statements made by Czech employees. To this I replied by declaring Kolarek has engaged in no improper activities and that USIS operations always been conducted properly and in open. We have always welcomed scrutiny these activities and if Foreign Office has any questions about them, Penfield at disposal appropriate Foreign Office officials for discussion or elucidation.
Trial of Nechansky and Wahl10 imminent which Siroky declared (obviously with relish) would prove Meryns involvement in espionage [Page 547] and fact that President Gottwald in releasing Meryn11 had made move toward better relations which US had not reciprocated. Foreign Minister sought make point “courtesy” his government in informing us this trial and said Embassy would be invited have representative present. I observed that I knew nothing whatever of Czech individuals referred to and that in any case Embassy had believed Meryn case closed by his release.

Recommendations follow.12

Sent Department 546, repeated London 60, Paris 65, Moscow 27. Department pass Moscow.

  1. Not printed: it reported that an appointment with Foreign Minister Široký had been arranged (124.493/4–1450).
  2. James K. Penfield, Counselor of Embassy.
  3. In addition to the report presented in this telegram, Ambassador Briggs transmitted supplementary comments on his conversation with Foreign Minister Široký in a memorandum sent as an enclosure to despatch 397, April 18, from Phaha, neither printed. Ambassador Briggs observed in that memorandum that Široký handled himself during the conversation with dignity and reasonably friendly attitude, and he impressed the Ambassador “as being shrewd, able, cold, probably ruthless, and a strong character”. Moreover, Široký displayed a greater readiness to talk, argue, and express opinions than former Foreign Minister Clementis. (611.49/4–1850)
  4. Ante, p. 540.
  5. A copy of the text of Ambassador Briggs’ oral declaration to Široký was transmitted as an enclosure to the despatch identified in footnote 3, above.
  6. See the editorial note, p. 543.
  7. See the editorial note, p. 544.
  8. The Department of State Wireless Bulletin was the official news service of the Department. It was prepared in the International Press and Publications Division and transmitted overseas daily for the information of Foreign Service Officers and for publication of appropriate parts in the foreign press. The Wireless Bulletin for April 14 featured an item reporting at length on the Department of State’s press statement of April 14 commenting on the Elbl resignation and the Elsner–Kačerovska trial. Regarding the statement, see the editorial note, ibid .
  9. Regarding the address under reference here, see footnote 4, p. 541.
  10. Following a four-day trial ending on April 22, former Major Jaromir Nechanský and law-student Veleslav Wahl and four other Czechoslovak citizens were convicted as members of a spy ring allegedly guided by officers in the American Embassy. Nechanský and Wahl were sentenced to death. Testimony during the trial implicated a number of former Embassy staff members as alleged spy ring leaders.
  11. Samuel Meryn, a translator employed by the Military Attaché in the Embassy in Praha, who was arrested by the Czechoslovak police on October 21, 1949, held incommunicado until October 29, and whose release from custody and departure from Czechoslovakia on November 8 was effected as a result of Ambassador Briggs’ initial conversation with President Gottwald that same day. That conversation was reported upon in telegram 1671, November 8, 1949, from Praha, Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. v, p. 412.
  12. See telegram 547, April 15, from Praha, infra.