611.49/12–3152: Telegram

No. 18
The Ambassador in Czechoslovakia (Wadsworth) to the Department of State1


320. Supplementing Embdesp 233, Dec 29.2

In private conversation with President Gottwald following formal ceremony (re Deptel 153, Dec 153), I mentioned my sincere desire resolve, with his government’s help, many problems between our countries, ranging from claims to blockings, from trade to travel and air transport and of course Oatis case.

Re Oatis case I said had learned Mrs. Oatis addressed to President direct personal appeal that sentence be commuted to expulsion in accord with Czech law. I hoped keenly this might be done. I asked specifically if petition received and if President felt could be acted on favorably. He replied in substance had received petition; cld not act on it alone; had referred to appropriate authorities, namely Minister Justice. I asked to be informed either thru FonMin or directly by Pres secretariat of outcome and Pres assented.

Pres then said wished raise two questions. First div to do with a steel mill which to him indicated US–Czech relations not good even before Oatis case. I replied that two cases in fact overlapped in time and suggested two possible solutions: Since mill as strategic material under US law cannot be exported to certain countries (a) Czecho could sell it in US or other country to which exportation not prohibited by law; or (b) if Czecho preferred, US Govt might be able expropriate mill at price fixed by fair appraisal. In either case, proceeds could be credited to Czecho.

After some confusion in translation, Pres said however matter presented it appeared as already one of substantive confiscation by US.

Pres then asked: What about spies you are sending to this country? They are many; they come armed; some have murdered. In reply I said had read three Czech notes to Embassy containing such allegations; my only information was contained in replies Washington [Page 34] directed Embassy to make. Altho admitting that throughout history all countries engaged in overt and covert intelligence activities, I stated categorically Embassy engaged only in former in accord with proper diplomatic practice; covert intelligence by US to other countries not its business. Nevertheless I said would be available always to transmit to Washington views Czecho on any subject.

Comments by President and Foreign Minister confused in translation but gist was that agents and spies sent to Czecho by US CIC. Czechs had room filled with arms and apparatus of obvious US origin seized with arrested agents and I could be shown room and some spies so might report to Washington. FonMin added would send me new long list names agents supplementing those previously sent Embassy. Those activities also antedated Oatis case.

Significantly both Pres and FonMin made point of saying did not accuse Embassy of being engaged this espionage activity and in fact knew this not to be case; but matter obviously militating against good relations between two countries. I made no further direct reply, merely saying I wished work with FonMin to improve relations. Pres said could see my predecessor had not left me white, i.e., clean, desk.

After pause, Pres came in form of question said “and you take position improvement relations must depend on settlement Oatis case” I replied that altho case of high importance to American people, I did not wish it considered only problem I hoped work on with FonMin.

I took this opportunity to inquire whether Louwers case might provide precedent in considering Mrs. Oatis request for commutation sentence to expulsion. Pres and FonMin exchanged comments, evidently familiar with case, but not prepared for question. Answer as finally given by interpreter was non-committal.

Ending conversation Pres indicated general willingness facilitate my mission. In retrospect I am not greatly encouraged as to prospects Oatis release. On other hand, I certainly am not discouraged. Later in discussion this démarche with my British and Dutch colleagues they commented, on basis personal experience similar cases, it was most effective possible in circumstances and estimated “odds success about 50–50”.

Full memorandum of conversation being hand-pouched tomorrow.4 Department may wish instruct me telegraphically whether it would wish me accept invitation, if again extended, to visit collection arms and equipment allegedly seized with apprehended spies.

  1. Wadsworth, who was appointed to replace Briggs on Oct. 8, presented his credentials on Dec. 29.
  2. Despatch 233 contained the same substantive information as telegram 320. (123 Wadsworth, George)
  3. Telegram 153 instructed Wadsworth to use the occasion of his presentation of credentials to urge Oatis’ release and the normalization of relations. (249.1111 Oatis, William N./12–1552)
  4. Not printed.