181. Telegram From the Embassy in Austria to the Department of State1

1268. Proximity and ties of history and blood between Austria and Hungary have perhaps distorted impression which I have received in Vienna of intensity and depth of feeling in Europe as it helplessly watches what appear to these Europeans as the death throes of Hungarian freedom. Nevertheless the offers of haven to refugees and other acts have demonstrated that the feeling of horror and frustration is not peculiar to Austria. When correspondents now in Budapest are able file their stories this feeling doubtless will become even more intense. In such a situation it is natural that one instinctively looks for someone to blame for his own impotence. Despite the British and French action in Suez which does indeed draw much of the fire (and this is surely no help to us) the US is the target of bitter criticism on part of many Austrians and more so on part of hundreds if not thousands of Hungarians with whom we have had direct or indirect contact.

One of reasons is doubtless realization that no country other than US has capability of doing anything effective but reason almost universally given is that past declarations of policy but more specifically our radio and balloon operations have led to belief that we would be prepared do more than we actually done if any of the subject peoples attempted break free from Soviet tyranny. I am of course aware that neither the leaflets dropped nor the nature of broadcasts were designed to incite an uprising scope of these operations and in case of balloons dramatic nature of method did in fact given rise in considerable measure to false expectations. Regardless of cause I believe our future position in this part of world will suffer greatly if Hungarian affair ends without some action on part of US of a nature different from anything we have done, or at least made public so far. Our actions in the UN so far do not in my opinion achieve the purpose as they are widely regarded here as fitting into a pattern of our exploiting as part of the cold war any Soviet error. No Austrian to whom I have talked has produced a concrete practical suggestion other than that of an ultimatum from the US to the Soviet Union and they back rapidly away from this when asked to consider its implications.

I find myself unable to make any suggestion without becoming involved in discussion matters of high policy beyond my competence and to which I know Department is giving most intense consideration. I am insufficiently informed of recent indications Soviet intentions and [Page 431] capabilities to do much more than shoot in the dark. Following are therefore not recommendations but suggested lines of thought and based on assumption nothing can be accomplished that will at this time effectively rescue Hungarian people from their tragic situation.

Any action would of course have to fit into framework of policy decision whether we consider our best interest lies in eventual reestablishment Soviet New Look with at least indirect encouragement satellites seek freedom via path of national Communism or whether we should exploit to full Soviet action Hungary in intensification cold war with risk return to Stalinistic methods in East Europe and possibility new explosion. In any event seems to me we should attempt channel present anti-Soviet feeling in free world (as well as within Soviet bloc) into some constructive direction. Apart from Hungarian question our prestige and moral standing in Austria at least is higher than it has been for many years and any lead we give will have major effect. Hope following may at least be suggestive to those considering problem.

Appears to me that unless we see possibility direct and confidential approach to Soviet Government, further statement by President or alternatively letter from him to Bulganin is called for.2 For maximum effect it should be made while there is still some active resistance continuing in Hungary and before Soviet policy toward Hungarian question in light new situation has become settled. Any action along this line could of course not be in fact or appearance a propaganda line but at least a genuine reassertion of our principles if not a declaration of our future policy.

For example could the President not make an offer to Soviets that in return for immediate firm commitment from them to US or UN to withdraw Soviet forces from Hungary completely within given period of time—such as 6 months or a year—we would undertake certain commitments of which following are illustrative only: 1. We would recognize any Hungarian Government that may now be set up as an interim government until such time as Soviet troops are withdrawn and enter into joint effort with Soviet Union and other countries rebuild Hungarian economy.

That we would not seek (or accept) military arrangements with Hungary, or that we would recognize Hungarian neutrality if declared by government established after withdrawal Soviet troops.
That we could extend economic assistance or credits to other satellites, etc.
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Coupled with whatever carrots that were included could be threats or at least a dark picture of where the alternative road might lead.

Realize we may not be in a position in present rapidly changing situation particularly in the Mediterranean to make the policy determinations which such statement or letter would involve but so far as I can see from here our interests will suffer if there is nothing more affirmative or positive on our part to compensate for enormous sacrifices of the Hungarian people and to hold out hope for their future than relief activities and unfulfilled UN resolutions.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 764.00/11–1156. Secret. Repeated to Moscow, Paris, Belgrade, and Munich.
  2. A letter to Bulganin from President Eisenhower was transmitted in telegram 579 to Moscow, November 11. (Ibid., 674.84A/11–1156)