862A.181/5–1750: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Douglas) to the Secretary of State


2709. Praha’s 725 May 151 recommending retaliation has resulted in tripartite working level discussion, of situation with following results:

Retaliation more strongly favored by US conferee than by British and French since we are most injured party and have less to lose. Both British and French still have fairly profitable trade with Czechoslovakia, French having recently concluded com[mercia]l agreement. However, all impressed by unexpectedly accelerated recent moves by Czechs and are agreed we should take some “deterrent” action to retard or possibly end present Czech free-wheeling at our expense. This should be positive approach and we should not act from motives of mere retaliation or spite.
Have canvassed various possible moves including three in reftel. Basic objections are:
UK Foreign Office policy is at present opposed to any type of move likely to result in spiralling actions with unforeseeable endings.
General desirability of continuing and even improving German trade since decline will cost western allies real money and have undeniable political effect in Germany.
Interference truck or rail traffic might cause Soviets to bear down on our traffic to Berlin.
Outstanding item which would hurt Czechs most would be stoppage over flight air traffic which we cannot do since it would hurt US, UK and French lines, not to mention Embassy airplanes. Elbe barge traffic is of fair volume but there are lack of suitable control points (such as locks), and German cooperation would be needed to make restrictions effective. (Analysis of river traffic—Praha’s 707 to Department, first paragraph, therefore not being obtained from British.) Rail traffic control also regarded very cumbersome administratively and likely to raise opposition in too many quarters.
Conferees agree that utilization of HICOG permit office in Praha is our best deterrent weapon and that it could well be used in foot-dragging manner on issuance of permits to: (a) Czech businessmen, (b) Czech truck drivers, (c) charter air flights. Method should be to avoid refusing permits, possibly granting one occasionally, simply sitting on applications as means of causing maximum uncertainty, [Page 564] irritation and inconvenience. If we choose, we can inform Czechs they use same methods on us, and can also bargain for favors we want. If this course followed, recommend rather full discretion be granted to three Ambassadors in Praha for at least initial period one or two months to operate permit office on subjects a, b, and c this paragraph in manner they regard best suited to get results from Czechs. Absence of publicity and explanations believe best suited to keeping enemy guessing.
If above action approved, suggest it should be put into operation promptly.

Substance of foregoing is being submitted to UK and French Foreign Offices for consideration. Suggest Department instruct London, since further coordination of possible divergences of views may be needed before final instructions are issued.

  1. Not printed. In it Ambassador Briggs recommended the immediate utilization of the Allied High Commission Permit Office in Praha and Allied control of barge, truck, and rail traffic in Western Germany for the purpose of retaliation against Czechoslovakia that would take the form of slowdown and harassment rather than blockade. (862A.181/5–1550)