Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Thompson)

Participants: Dr. Vladimir Outrata, Czechoslovak Ambassador
Mr. Thompson, Deputy Assistant Secretary
H. C. Vedeler, EE1

Ambassador Outrata called at my request and I handed him a note containing the text of the note presented today by Ambassador Briggs [Page 560] to Hajdu in Prague, requesting the Czechoslovak Government to reduce within a reasonable time its official personnel in the United States in accordance with the reduced scope of relations between the United States and Czechoslovak Governments.2

I said that the Ambassador was aware that his Government had recently demanded that we reduce our staff in Czechoslovakia by two-thirds. When the Czechoslovak Government made this demand in the note of April 28,3 we were already engaged in the process of reducing our staff because the functions of our diplomatic mission in Czechoslovakia had been curtailed through actions of the Czechoslovak authorities. Although the note of April 28 had indicated a “reasonable time” for carrying out the reduction, the Czechoslovak Government had suddenly insisted on May 10 without previous notification on compliance within 48 hours, or within two weeks from the date of the note. The deadline was extended to May 17 only after representations by Ambassador Briggs. These developments intervened before we even had an opportunity to transmit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a reply the text of which had been cabled to Ambassador Briggs. We deplored such actions contravening accepted diplomatic conventions and making it impossible to maintain normal relations between the two countries much as we wished to do so. We accordingly saw no alternative, even though we regretted that we were obliged to take the action, but to make the request in the present note for reduction of the Czechoslovak representation in the United States.

Ambassador Outrata gave the impression of having expected the request to close the consulates at Pittsburgh and Cleveland but of being disturbed by the request for comparable reduction of Czechoslovak personnel in the United States. He did not defend the steps taken by his Government and remarked that the people in Prague did not seem to understand developments here. He discussed the question of “reasonable time” for departure of personnel, seeking to learn what we implied by the use of this phrase.

I replied that we interpreted “reasonable time” to correspond in general to what was allowed United States personnel in leaving Czechoslovakia. I did not mention a specific time limit and stressed that we did not wish to impose any hardship on individuals. I recognized the difficulty in making immediate arrangements for travel from the United States and the difference in this respect between the situation here and that in Czechoslovakia.

The Ambassador spoke of the problem of getting passage on ships and said that some people would probably go by plane. He appeared [Page 561] to infer that he did not expect that passage would be obtained by ship except on the MS Batory, which he said would sail on May 17 and again a month later.

The Ambassador declared that the situation was unfortunate since the request came just at the time when the Czechoslovak staff here had declined in size through failure to make replacements. He had endeavored to obtain replacements and steps were being taken to fill the vacancies with some replacements already on the way. He inquired whether the requested reduction in these circumstances meant the same for Czechoslovak personnel as for the American staff in Czechoslovakia.

While not suggesting that the reduction was to be by categories, I answered that we thought the reduction should be approximately the same here as in Czechoslovakia.

Apparently inferring that the reduction was to be two-thirds of the staff at the Embassy and of the staff of the Consulate General in New York (and not in the total number of personnel in the United States), the Ambassador stated that he did not see how his Government could reduce to that extent and that he must consult the Foreign Office as to what was to be done.

I stated clearly that this kind of reduction was not agreeable to us. We thought each Government should be free to determine the composition of its own diplomatic mission in accordance with its needs and that this should not be determined according to the demands of the receiving state. Such practice had been developed and recognized in diplomatic relations through centuries of usage and we regretted that the Czechoslovak Government had chosen to depart from it. I intimated the possibility of some adjustments on our part if the Czechoslovak Government were similarly inclined.

The Ambassador said he would report to the Foreign Office and await instructions. I requested him to keep Mr. Vedeler informed of the arrangements made, to which he agreed.

I then turned to some of the pending issues between the two governments mentioned in Praha’s telegram No. 679 of May 10,4 pointing out [Page 562] that these were related to the Czechoslovak demand for reduction of personnel in reflecting the present restricted state of relations between the United States and Czechoslovakia. Although such problems as these were usually dealt with at Prague it might be noted that the unsatisfactory reaction of his Government in each case had contributed to preventing the conduct of normal relations.

In discussion of specific issues he suggested in connection with the case of the Field family that the situation was a difficult one for his Government since people could disappear in Czechoslovakia without the authorities knowing what had happened to them. With reference to the recent refusal to allow the laying of wreaths at the Pilsen and Cheb monuments to the United States liberation forces,5 he remarked that there were also certain things he could not do here. All of this, he added, unfortunately reflected the general situation.

I said that we were keenly aware of the existing international tension, deploring it, hoping it might lessen, and wishing to do whatever we could to diminish it.

Llewellyn E. Thompson
  1. Harold C. Vedeler was the principal assistant to the Officer in Charge of Polish, Baltic, and Czechoslovak Affairs in the Office of Eastern European Affairs.
  2. The note of May 13 from Acting Secretary of State Webb to Ambassador Outrata is not printed. Regarding the note of May 13 from Ambassador Briggs to the Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, described here, see telegram 341, May 11, to Praha, supra.
  3. Ante, p. 551.
  4. Not printed. In it Ambassador Briggs observed that in addition to recent Czechoslovak actions against the Embassy and the USIS (the subject of previous documents in this compilation), the Embassy had been the target of numerous provocative actions by Czechoslovak authorities, including the following: (1) the latest wholly unsatisfactory Foreign Ministry note on the Field case, (2) the refusal by Czechoslovak authorities to permit the placing of wreaths at monuments at Pilsen and Cheb (see footnote 5, below), (3) highly improper behavior of the Czechoslovak security police to Embassy Assistant Attaché Kosmak, (4) insulting behavior of public announcer to American Military Attaché at May 7 Liberation Day parade, (5) Foreign Ministry failure to reply to Embassy representations regarding Embassy Czechoslovak personnel, (6) denial of consular access in a number of protection of American citizen cases. (249.1122/5–1050)
  5. On April 29, the Embassy informed the Foreign Ministry that the Ministry and Air Attachés would place wreaths on monuments to American forces on May 5, the anniversary of the liberation of Western Bohemia. The Foreign Ministry replied by note on May 4 that such Embassy ceremonies would be undesirable in view of Czechoslovak Government preparations for the celebration of the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Army.