No. 674

249.1111–Oatis, William/5–1651: Telegram

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


721. Oatis case discussed with FonMin Siroky for nearly two hours this morning. After summarizing Dept’s views thereon and mentioning that I assumed Siroky had surmised purpose visit (to which Fon Min assented, stating that Vinar had in fact reported [Page 1358] conversation in Dept on May 4—Deptel 5701) I requested on behalf my govt that Oatis be forthwith released.

Substance Siroky’s reply as fols:

Accusations against Oatis unconnected job as correspondent but involved alleged efforts obtain secret info on Czech security and armed forces. Had correspondent activities been in question cancellation accreditation and expulsion in order, but in existing circumstances must stand trial which expected begin “within ten days”.
Oatis has confessed.
Prior trial Consular access denied “in accordance practice US, Great Britain, France, etc”.
Oatis in good health.

To which I replied as foreshadowed Embtel 693, May 42 emphasizing concern over continued arrest and also unsatisfactory nature above info, having in mind detention already extending beyond three weeks, strong doubts that wld be entertained in US as to likelihood Oatis involved in activities summarized in (1) above, and continued failure grant access which I informed Siroky wld undoubtedly be interpreted in connection with alleged confession.

After considerable argument resulting however only in restatements by FonMin of items 1 to 3, Siroky said that in advance two FonOff notes shortly to be recd by Emb he wished observe Oatis case occurring at time when atmosphere unfavorable viz. (1) There has recently been “inexcusable violation” of Czech frontier which had been penetrated from US Zone Ger to depth of approx 80 meters, only Czech forbearance preventing “serious incident”; and (2) Recent US sponsored broadcasts from Ger by Czech émigrés “and other traitors” were openly inciting to revolution.3

Asked what this had to do with Oatis case, Siroky reiterated these matters affected atmosphere. Thereupon dropped subjects until just before my departure.

I continued to press for more satisfactory handling of Oatis case and Siroky finally said investigation nearing completion, wld be concluded by end this week; he wld then study full dossier and discuss case with me again prior trial. In meantime he regretted not possible under Czech law grant access to Oatis but repeated I had his word Oatis well.

When I thereupon prepared depart, Siroky again referred, as sort of final shot, to broadcasts from Ger as constituting influence not propitious solution Oatis case.

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Comment follows.4

  1. Supra.
  2. Document 672.
  3. The two topics raised by Široký were actually the subject of a single Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry note of May 21; see the editorial note, infra.
  4. In telegram 723 from Praha, May 16, Briggs commented that the conversation with Široký had developed approximately as anticipated, suggested that retaliatory action be deferred for a brief period to test Široký’s intentions, and observed that Široký’s reference to RFE broadcasts from Germany was not haphazardly introduced and might portend an attempt to bargain Oatis’ release for the ending of the broadcasts. (249.1111–Oatis, William/5–1651) Telegram 593 to Praha, May 18, drafted by Vedeler, replied that Czechoslovak authorities might be attempting to “blackmail” the United States in the Oatis case with a view to obtaining abandonment of RFE broadcasts to Czechoslovakia. The Department agreed with Briggs’ suggestion (made in telegram 723) that in any discussions with Czechoslovak officials it should be insisted that RFE was a private organization for which the United States was not responsible and its activities had no connection with the Oatis case. (249.1111–Oatis, William/5–1651) Briggs sent further observations on his conversation with Široký on May 16 to the Department in despatch 309 from Praha, May 17. (249.1111–Oatis, William/5–1751)