No. 671

249.1122–Oatis, William/4–3051: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in Czechoslovakia 1


565. We have held back from suggestions for action Oatis case2 in hope might be more light on real reasons for arrest and because uncertainty as to best time for any step. Recognize this may be part build-up in connection Clementis affair3 or attempt deal on Vogeler model.4 In either event strong action on our part at proper time probably necessary. Czech move has aroused strong reaction here in both press and Congress.

While wishing avoid any measure that might only impair chances Oatis’ release in long run and taking into account risks eventual break in relations if retaliatory chain reaction is set off (ur Unnumbered tel, Apr 26, 6 p. m.5) we raise question whether forceful response at this point even prior to any trial may not be desirable let Czechs know how serious matter is in our view. In our estimate situation we believe Kremlin does not presently desire [Page 1353] break in relations satellites with US which seems borne out by attitude Hungary in Vogeler case.

We have in mind fol series retaliatory measures:

Prohibition travel non-official US citizens to Czech and request immed departure those already present there including UP Rep.
Detention or expulsion former Czech consular personnel or other agents in Germany (Deptel to Frankfort 7262, Apr 27, rptd Praha 5536).
Embargo on US exports Czech.
Blocking, without vesting, Czech assets in US.

Of these, first cld be put into effect at once and no question our ability adopt third recourse. Feasibility second and fourth now under consideration; if no bar in these cases we wld take four steps in order indicated or in so far as might be necessary obtain favorable action. Last expedient wld very likely produce heavy impact since it wld forestall in large measure econ relations with US and also interfere with transactions involving third countries.

We agree fully ur view protest alone futile and suggest, therefore, serial course action beginning with adoption next few days first step above. This wld be followed up by personal call on President Gottwald with approach along fol lines:

“Arrest Oatis, which follows imprisonment Jan Hvasta,7 represents climax in series developments affecting status US citizens Czech. This jeopardy US citizens in your country has become intolerable. In view finally what has happened Oatis US Govt has prohibited travel non-official US citizens to Czech and requested departure those already present there. I must emphasize continuing imprisonment Oatis and other Americans is producing a very strong effect on public opinion in US and my govt is obliged to act accordingly in matter. His early release cld help to check this development and make an important contribution to settlement general problem.”

You might also find it useful point out speedy action this matter wld reduce likelihood extensive publicizing issue on both sides that wld only complicate problem.

In view your counsel caution (Emb reftel unnumbered) wld appreciate comment on above earliest. Since not yet clear as to course we shall follow no formal press statement has been issued; share ur [Page 1354] view undesirable magnify publicity this juncture (urtel 680, Apr 308). We have kept to bare facts case and summary your notes; on VOA now stressing force public reaction here to outrageous conduct Czechs.

  1. Drafted by Vedeler of EUR/EE, cleared by SA/M, PD, and EDS, and approved by Deputy Assistant Secretary Bonbright and Deputy Under Secretary Matthews. Repeated to Frankfurt for HICOG.
  2. See the editorial note, supra.
  3. See telegram 546 from Praha, Document 668.
  4. For documentation on the release from Hungarian custody of Robert Vogeler, see Documents 723 ff.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Not printed.
  7. John Hvasta, born in Czechoslovakia, was a naturalized U.S. citizen through the naturalization of his mother. After serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II, he returned to Czechoslovakia in 1948 and worked for a time as a local employee of the Consulate General at Bratislava. He was arrested by Czechoslovak authorities in October 1948 on charges of espionage, was tried in May 1949, and was convicted and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. The sentence was subsequently extended to 10 years. Throughout 1949, 1950, and 1951, the Embassy in Czechoslovakia sought unsuccessfully to have Hvasta’s sentence commuted to expulsion from Czechoslovakia.
  8. Not printed.