249.1111 Oatis, William N./2–1452: Telegram

No. 6
The Ambassador in Czechoslovakia (Briggs) to the Department of State

top secret

616. FonMin Siroky sent me word yesterday that he wld like see me today and I met him this morning for hour and half at least 90 percent of which was devoted to discussion of steel mill.

I presented our current Oatis proposal1 after declaring that after careful study last month’s Czech suggestions, my govt offered agreement that in general wld return matters to situation existing prior Oatis arrest, which solution is based on our recognition of Czecho’s desire expressed last Sept by Amb Prochazka to avoid appearance acting under pressure, and equally based on Czecho recognition [Page 11] US not prepared accept any settlement resembling ransom payment.

After listening while interpreter read US Govt proposal which Siroky said wld receive careful study by himself and cabinet colleagues “especially Min of Finance”, Siroky immediately launched into denunciation our steel mill action. He declared that in midst of Oatis discussions had come US Treas action about which Czecho not notified advance. He added Czecho not even yet officially informed as to precise nature step which he gathered is taken under US war powers. “Does US consider itself at war with Czecho?” he demanded.

I replied that steel mill action based on strategic considerations and importance of steel to natl defense and that it had no reference whatsoever to Oatis. As far as lack of notification in advance concerned, I was sorry if Czecho offended. As for effect on mill of US action, I said that with reservation I might not have full info thereon, I interpreted it to mean that whereas previously export of mill from US had been blocked, now mill has been seized by US Govt and if sold proceeds wld not be accessible to Czecho except thru some future agrmt “for example as suggested in point five of proposed agrmt.” I also said that US action appeared similar in effect to that taken by Czecho several years ago when it confiscated US property in this country, except that seized Amer property was of much greater value than steel mill.

Siroky countered by declaring US action re steel mill “unprecedented, bellicose, and gross discrimination,” last for reason that whereas Czecho action re US property was according to Czech law of general applicability in interests social welfare etc., US action is blow aimed exclusively at Czecho. All this he concluded wld have to be referred to Min of Finance and cabinet colleagues for consideration. He said I could expect to hear from him “within a few days”, to which I replied I was entirely at his disposition until end of next week when I expected depart from Praha for approx two weeks absence.

At end of meeting I again requested access to Oatis. Siroky said: “When you last mentioned access I expressed hope Oatis wld soon be in your Emb and hence visit to him superfluous. In view of present situation I shall initiate necessary action with Min of Justice.”

My comments: (1) Today’s conversation indicates our steel mill action probably principal, not necessarily only, reason for long delay in Siroky appointment.

(2) Implication which Siroky evidently sought deliberately to convey throughout conversation was “no steel mill, no Oatis” not withstanding which I believe this remains to be seen. My comments [Page 12] today shld have gone some further way toward extinguishing ransom hopes although conceivably they may not have killed them.

(3) For first time Siroky today referred to cabinet colleagues and Minister of Finance. This may have some significance as indicating for example that Siroky hopes get off hook by cabinet decision accepting compromise solution Oatis case responsibility for which wld be shared. (I recognize this may be wishful thinking on my part.)

(4) No comment whatever was made by Siroky re points 2, 3 and 4, that is restoration of status quo ante Oatis arrest thru terminating US actions taken. This failure to comment I interpret as tactics on part FonMin seeking minimize importance US concessions. I am by no means convinced that when other cabinet and party members, etc., start evaluating lost Czecho trade, aviation access western Europe etc., our offer may not carry considerable weight.

My recommendations:

Although Czecho Govt shld now be quite thoroughly informed re steel mill action and its effect, shld official notification not yet have gone to Czecho Emb in Wash I suggest this be done.
We shld by all means go forward with projected note re access (1) including Oatis as per Embtel 613, Feb 13.2
Pending Czecho reply to today’s proposals continued absence US publicity re these discussions shld be helpful. Conversely leak wld undoubtedly jeopardize chances success.

  1. Transmitted in telegram 351 to Praha, Jan. 19, the proposal offered: 1) to exchange Oatis for Czech prisoners held in the West; 2) to certify consular invoices permitting the import of Czech goods; 3) to resume issuing licenses for the export of U.S. goods to Czechoslovakia; 4) to grant permission for the overflight of the Czech airlines over West Germany; and 5) to initiate discussions concerning the unblocking of the Czech steel mill. (249.1111 Oatis, William N./1–1452)
  2. Telegram 613 proposed protesting Czech denial of access to Oatis. (249.1111/2–1352)