124.493/4–2950: Telegram

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


623. Czechoslovak demand two-thirds personnel cut1 climaxes week of public abuse based as predicted Embtel 594, April 232 on “revelations” recent trials. Build-up supplemented by offensively worded Foreign Office notes which apparently seek deliberately push relations to lowest possible level.

Object seems clearly either goad us into breaking relations or, if we do not do so, score great propaganda victory (“we caught Americans red-handed, we have kicked them in face”) and henceforth to restrict Embassy Praha activities to innocuous level, scrutinized day and night by ever vigilant servants of victorious peoples democracy.

Czechoslovakia conduct presents ample justification for rupture and we recognize temptation resort polemics in kind and enjoy brief soul-satisfying battle of words during which we ourselves could produce impressive display of prose accurately describing Czechoslovakian behavior. And then we would have no representation in Czechoslovakia.

We believe temptation should be resisted and that it would not be to our advantage to break relations at this moment. Kremlin hand dominates Czechoslovakian Government and Moscow orders have probably been in effect “make it as difficult and unpleasant as possible for Americans—but if break comes, make them do it”. This appears to us to constitute ample reason for US not to break relations until there is unmistakably no alternative, and for us then to seek do so on our terms and at moment we consider opportune.

Even on reduced basis demanded by Czechoslovakia we believe maintenance representation more advantageous than withdrawal: Our mere presence unquestionably encourages opponents present regime, who constitute vast majority Czechoslovak population (as long as US [Page 553] flags fly in Praha and are visible when we move about country, many Czechoslovaks are comforted): while information we can obtain undoubtedly will be even further curtailed and unpleasantnesses to which personnel exposed may be multiplied, nevertheless we can furnish more information and more evaluation from here than from outside; main contact with US will continue to be through VOA and future handicaps to contrary notwithstanding, we should still be able give useful suggestions and guidance. All these factors probably not unknown to Kremlin and likely constitute part of motivation present campaign.

Furthermore, Czechoslovak note gives us some area for maneuver. Department will observe demand is ambiguous in several particulars: No base date is given and “categories of employees” are not specifically defined. As it seems hardly likely this ambiguity unintentional it may be assumed purpose is either (1) provide basis for making further provocative demands relative reduction staff or functions later or (2) give loophole for us make moderate or less severe reductions where with Czechoslovakia can seek to satisfy Kremlin. As (1) may be anticipated in any event and as (2) is to our advantage, believe we should proceed initially on latter assumption and not endeavor clarify ambiguities. Fact that note couched in less vitriolic terms than it might have been and makes no specific charges against any present Embassy staff member, supports latter assumption. (We shall immediately again review staffing pattern and telegraph recommendations within next few days.)

Foregoing is not however to recommend that we “take Czechoslovak note lying down”. We assume we will be instructed make reply along lines our answer recent analogous Hungarian demand,3 rejecting demand in principle but pointing out Embassy is already in process of readjusting staff pattern to meet present Czechoslovak conditions of obstruction and harassment. Believe I should be instructed hand reply to Siroky.4

Sent Department 623; repeated London 68, Paris 79. Department pass Moscow. Pouched Warsaw, Budapest and Bucharest.

  1. See the Czechoslovak Foreign Minister’s note of April 28 to Ambassador Briggs, supra.
  2. Not printed.
  3. The reference here is to the Hungarian Foreign Ministry demand set forth in its note of February 23, 1950, to the Legation in Budapest, described in footnote 1, p. 996.
  4. In his telegram 639, May 3, from Praha, not printed, Ambassador Briggs expressed the belief that the Czechoslovak Government had seemingly carried out a basic change in its attitude toward the United States, presumably as a result of direct Soviet interference on a scale not previously apparent. The Czechoslovak Government had become openly hostile and was fully aware of the direction in which its current campaign of charges and intimidation was leading. Under the circumstances, Ambassador Briggs questioned whether the United States could receive enough return to justify the difficulties, harassments, and loss of prestige involved in the effort to resist the current demand for the reduction of the mission staff. (124.493/5–350)