611.49/1–2853: Telegram

No. 20
The Ambassador in Czechoslovakia (Wadsworth) to the Department of State


351. 1. Since sending my telegram 340 January 201 I have had one week mostly in bed with worst case flu my 36 years Department’s service. Tonight I am giving my first formal official dinner (for my NATO colleagues). Meanwhile I have had ample, if feverish, time consider what my next move should be.

2. To recapitulate past moves:

I saw Foreign Minister, and I presented my letters to President Gottwald (please see details reported my despatch 233 December 29 and letter to Barbour referred to therein2); and
I made official calls on Polish and Soviet Ambassadors and on Czechoslovakian Prime Minister, Vice Foreign Minister and Chief [Page 39] American Section Foreign Office (please reread my telegrams 328 January 8, 340 January 20 and 342 January 213). These calls averaged one hour each, as did some 30 others exchanged with diplomatic colleagues. I think I have my feet on or very close to the ground.

3. The analysis suggested in my earlier telegrams cannot be very far off beam namely, it is at best doubtful that this Czechoslovakian regime wishes—and, even should it so wish, would be permitted by Moscow—to resolve, through normal diplomatic negotiations, those various issues (from trade, steel mill and blocked accounts to Oatis case and civil aviation) now clouding our relations on working plane; even were Foreign Minister (as is also doubtful) willing “to agree to disagree” with me on such stratospheric questions as capitalism, imperialism, NATO, Korea and relative merits of Christian vs Leninist revelations. (Note: We here are in midst propaganda splurge commemorating 29th anniversary Lenin’s death, in which President Gottwald, dealing inter alia with “character of American imperialism” commented: “America today becomes center of world reaction, main instigator of new world war and greatest enemy of national freedom and democracy”).

4. It would seem to follow that, if I am in position render any service to crystallization US policy vs this country, it can probably best be by proving my foregoing analysis to the hilt i.e. not by modifying my tactics towards table pounding re Oatis (or Field, see my telegram 348 January 234) but rather by continuing “normal” wholly straight forward diplomatic negotiation.

5. To this end I should appreciate Department’s approval (with detailed guidance) to my calling on Foreign Minister to present both orally and in first person note argument along following lines (Note: For convenience Department’s reference I indent and number paragraphs of suggested note):

  • Subparagraph 1. Mr. Minister, this is my first opportunity to speak with you since presenting my letters to President Gottwald. I was particularly glad you were present at that interview.
  • Subparagraph 2. Since then I have had long helpful conversations with your Prime Minister and Vice Foreign Minister and with Chief your American Section. I was given to understand that you would receive memos of those conversations. I have also talked at length with a number of my colleagues.
  • Subparagraph 3. In all these conversations I made same point I made to you in our initial conversation, namely that I hoped to be able resolve on working level half dozen or more issues now clouding our relations and “to agree to disagree” on such questions of high policy as to whether NATO is aggressive in intent. Could we not, I asked, best leave these questions to Marshal Stalin and Gen Eisenhower? All seemed to agree, as I trust you do, at least in principle.
  • Subparagraph 4. What then are those half dozen questions I should like to settle with you on working level? First, as I see it, is to get trade re-established, i.e. buying and selling on both sides, within those sectors of our economies where this is possible under our respective laws.
  • Subparagraph 5. If this can be done, then, as your Prime Minister said to me, a percentage of your total exports to US could be earmarked towards paying off, over the years, appropriate compensation claims. Your Prime Minister assured me both that your government recognized this principle and that you are authorized to discuss its implementation with me.
  • Subparagraph 6. Let us assume that agreement on these points can be reached. If so, it seems obvious that buyers and sellers of each country must visit the other. This in turn would mean that both countries would naturally relax present passport and visa restrictions. I can say that my government is quite prepared to do so.
  • Subparagraph 7. It would mean also I suggest that you would feel more disposed to act favorably on Mrs. Oatis’ petition5 that within Czechoslovakian law her husband’s sentence be commuted to expulsion. This would seem only reasonable if other Americans are to visit your country on missions of trade. But that is advancing the order of my argument; I will with your permission return to Oatis case a bit later.
  • Subparagraph 8. To resume my presentation: Trade and travel once agreed on would I submit logically lead us to mutual unblocking of accounts, including FLC PMT agreement, and to my governments reauthorizing flights of civil airplanes over our zone of West Germany.
  • Subparagraph 9. On this latter point, I can assure you as of now that, once my govt has reauthorized such overflights, it should be relatively simple matter to arrange similar reauthorization for British and French zone overflights.
  • Subparagraph 10. On former these last two points, mutual unblockings, I have already assured Pudlak I would be glad recommend positive action by State Department if he would undertake that so soon as such action had resulted in freeing your Statni Bank accounts, your Finance Minister would permit renewal Embassy drawings against FLC credit. Other similar arrangements would naturally follow, e.g. for your free use of such dollars as you may receive when selling your $15 million steel mill now deteriorating in storage in US.
  • Subparagraph 11. Further as to this steel mill, with respect to which you will recall President Gottwald questioned me, let me say [Page 41] I was relieved to hear your Prime Minister say he recognized it must be sold. I can assure you that, if you wish, my government stands ready facilitate such transaction within framework any general settlement such as I am now suggesting.
  • Subparagraph 12. Let me now return to Oatis case, as President Gottwald did at my meeting with him when he said in substance that any general arrangement must hinge on its settlement. Your Prime Minister too said specifically that this was so “whether we liked it or not”, and he explained his point by adding that “to both governments it has become a matter of prestige”.
  • Subparagraph 13. Mr. Minister, when taking leave of your Prime Minister I both thanked him for his clear exposition of your government’s position and I said that, while certain elements of rebuttal were forming in my mind, I wished to think them through carefully before replying.
  • Subparagraph 14. I have done so, and I wish now to endeavor in all sincerity to rebut his suggestion that considerations of prestige may force him to refrain from recommending favorable action on Mrs. Oatis’ petition.
  • Subparagraph 15. How, I ask you, can Czechoslovakian prestige be involved when her petition begs only that government act only within its own law and that it take an action (i.e. commutation of sentence to expulsion) which it has already taken in similar cases?
  • Subparagraph 16. How, I ask also, can you now consider that my government’s prestige is involved when, with all the authority given me by my letter of credence, I assured your President that I hoped sincerely he would be able to view her petition favorably.

    Subparagraph (Note for Department only: There is, I feel, a deeper argument on this score but obviously not for use here, namely: (A) That, as Czechoslovakia is not a free agent, there is nothing it can do which can truly affect our prestige; and (B) that, as prestige is primarily matter enjoyment esteem our fellows and peers, as Russia and its satellites are neither fellows nor peers and as we enjoy esteem all other nations, we need have no qualms on this score).

  • Subparagraph 17. If all this be so, Mr. Minister, and that is my true conviction, I trust you will fix an early date when with our experts we may discuss just how the general lines of settlement I have outlined, or similar ones, can be implemented to benefit our two countries.
  • Subparagraph 18. I leave with you Mr. Minister this first person note recapitulating my thoughts and proposals.

6. If presentation along these lines does not get us anywhere, I shall feel I have proved, beyond reasonable doubt, analysis of situation given in paragraph 3 above.

7. It may seem like trying cross stream before getting there, but I wish end this message with suggestion as to what we might do if failing achieve Oatis release through approach along foregoing lines. You should, I suggest, direct me to call on Foreign Minister, or perhaps better Prime Minister, and present both orally and in written memo form statement along following lines.

[Page 42]

My démarches to President Gottwald, to yourself and to your Prime Minister, made with full consideration for all diplomatic proprieties and Czecho Government’s susceptibilities as to its prestige and inviolability its laws, having failed to elicit any evidence of desire on part Czecho Government to effect, in general, any improvement in relations between our two countries and/or, in particular, to arrange expulsion of William Oatis in consideration his wife’s recent petition to President Gottwald, I am directed by my government to inform you:

  • Subparagraph A. That I have been recalled to Washington on consultation where it is intended that I shall remain unless and until Oatis is released;
  • Subparagraph B. That, unless and until such release be effected, my government will continue in effect the US Treasury order freezing any proceeds which might result from sale of steel mill purchased by Czechoslovakian Government and now stored in US;
  • Subparagraph C. That, similarly, my government will also block payment to Czechoslovakia of some $18 million now due that country in further liquidation of allied looted gold pool;
  • Subparagraph D. That Czechoslovakian Government will in due course be informed of such further measures as US Government proposes or may propose take in light present circumstances.
  • Subparagraph E. That, unless Czechoslovakian Government desires discuss with me personally subject matter this communication, I hereby request my passports for immediate departure; and finally
  • Subparagraph F. That this communication is in no sense an ultimatum but rather a single statement of facts and consequences as my government sees them.

8. Obviously an approach such as this latter is susceptible of several permutations as to subject matter and drafting. I submit it as indicative of our present line of thinking. This same observation applies as well to outline of note in paragraph 5.

9. A third major line is of course possible, i.e. to withdraw from position which former administration—and notably President Truman himself—has taken in making release of Oatis sine qua non of any détente in US–Czechoslovak relations. My two foregoing action suggestions have been premised on that essential.

If however withdrawal therefrom be postulated, I venture to offer two thoughts and those only because they seem of general relevancy as well as apposite to this possible third policy line:

  • Subparagraph A. I was impressed, when visiting our commanding general in Berlin last month, by almost axiomatic nature reply which he (daily dealing with such matters on front-line basis) made to my hardly more than casual enquiry as to what he thought he might be able to do to free a West Berlin kidnapee believed to be in hands East Berlin authorities.

    [Page 43]

    General’s reply was in substance: We have done and will keep on doing everything possible to get him out, but he knew, and he knew we knew, he was living dangerously. It was obvious to us all that just what had happened might well happen. In these circumstances, we cannot make his case key consideration our zonal policy; there are too many other, many of them were more important, issues at stake.

    I wondered at the time if at sometime during my forthcoming service in Prague this line of thinking might not have to be applied to Oatis case. Chapter 4 of Dana Schmidt’s Anatomy of a Satellite and other comment I have heard as to Oatis crusading spirit suggest that he too knew he was living dangerously.

  • Subparagraph B. During my 8 months last year on policy planning staff I could not but acutely sense heightening crisis in East-West conflict and, incidental thereto, especially after Kennan incident, approaching imminence of necessity decide whether we would not better serve national interest by breaking diplomatic relations with Kremlin and its satellites.

The point I wish to make, within framework this thought, is that before rupture, if such be decided, we should try every reasonable approach to effect Oatis release; but, if such attempts fail, we should not be deterred by such failure from following, with respect to Czechoslovakia, line which major policy considerations dictate we should adopt towards this basically evil Kremlin world.6

  1. Supra.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 18.
  3. Telegrams 328 and 342 dealt respectively with conversations held by Wadsworth with the Polish Ambassador to Czechoslovakia, Grosz, and with officials in the Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (601.4849/1–853 and 611.49/1–2153)
  4. Telegram 348 inferred that the Department of State should inquire at the Czechoslovak Embassy in Washington concerning the whereabouts of the Field family. (249.1111 Field/1–2353)
  5. Not found in Department of State files.
  6. In telegram 189 to Praha, Feb. 9, the Department suggested that Wadsworth concentrate primarily on Oatis’ release, rather than on a package deal, and take as his point of departure with the Czechoslovak authorities subparagraphs 14 and 15. (611.49/1–2853)