239. Despatch From the Embassy in Yugoslavia to the Department of State1

No. 451


  • US-Yugoslav Relations—Present Trends of Yugoslav Foreign Policy

In the week following Tito’s return from India and Burma2 to Belgrade on February 12, it so happens that I have been able to have conversations with several high-ranking Yugoslav leaders including Mr. Kardelj, the senior Vice President, Mr. Koca Popovic, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bebler, Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and Dr. Vilfan, Chief of Tito’s Chancery. I have also talked with lower-ranking officials on a number of social occasions and believe that these conversations can profitably be summarized.

In view of the innuendoes against the U.S. which emerged in the heat of the DedijerDjilas affair,3 the anti-bloc comments in some of [Page 616] Tito’s recent speeches (going back, in fact, to before his trip), the tone of the local press respecting Red China, and some of the press aspersions on NATO, I felt the time had come when a continuation of the line taken by Mr. Murphy in his conversation with Ambassador Mates on January 24, 19554 would serve a useful purpose. In these talks, I followed in general the approach which is contained in the briefing paper of January prepared for Mr. Murphy in EUR.5 It seemed to me that the four points set forth in paragraph 5 of this paper were altogether pertinent, and I made full use of them. Some of paper’s points I had made in earlier conversations, particularly paragraphs 3 and 4, in the course of the DedijerDjilas affair. I was happy to observe how closely the Department’s approach to current Yugoslav policy corresponds to our ideas here.

To avoid repetition as to what I said in my recent conversations, in every case I described in plain terms U.S. reaction to a number of recent developments in Yugoslavia utilizing to the full the four points A to D inclusive of paragraph 5 of the briefing paper. I was particularly sharp respecting the Yugoslav accusations against NATO, was more than a little sarcastic on the subject of the timing of the re-establishment of Yugoslav relations with Red China (particularly as Yugoslav officials never fail to demand our understanding on matters which have a deep emotional appeal) and underlined our special and untiring efforts to help surmount what could have been a disastrous wheat deficit. Nor did I fail to remind the Yugoslavs how much their cherished independence was buttressed by U.S. assistance, the growing strength of NATO, the recovery of Western Europe following the Marshall Plan and the sacrifices which the U.S. had made to re-establish its military power. All these efforts were the true support of Yugoslavia’s policy of independence, and the Soviet pressure on Yugoslavia had been eased when it was perfectly plain that NATO was gaining strength. In these circumstances, I found it somewhat contradictory that Yugoslav leaders should accuse NATO of being purely anti-communist when its only purpose was [Page 617] to resist Soviet aggression. I also ticked off rather tartly the vague accusations about foreign interference in internal Yugoslav affairs, contrasting such innuendoes with the facts on aid. In conclusion, I indicated that a greater Yugoslav understanding of U.S. attitudes would be welcome, and it should not be forgotten that in the end it was the public sentiment in the U.S. that enabled our government to effect such rescue operations as we had done this fiscal year on the wheat crisis.
In the reply I received from Dr. Vilfan, he took the offensive respecting NATO, although not contesting the other points. As he is so close to Tito, I repeat his argumentation in some detail. When I criticized the anti-bloc utterances that now seem to be a commonplace of Yugoslav foreign policy statements, he defended the Yugoslav attitude by contending that unfortunately in the U.S. a strong anti-communist coloration had been given to NATO. He said this was evident from many speeches, both by governmental leaders and influential private persons. He said that in certain segments of the Republican Party everything was condemned if it was even related to Communist creed, and in this general condemnation Yugoslavia seemed to be included. Yugoslavia, he said, was a Communist country, but it was not a satellite and was determined to maintain its independence and had made great sacrifices to that end. He would be the first to recognize how much assistance the U.S. had given Yugoslavia, but nonetheless there was a growing impression that in U.S. opinion NATO was primarily an anti-communist instrument. I replied that perhaps in the public use of the word “communism” this expression had been loosely used to denote Soviet policy, but certainly the U.S. Government had drawn a distinction between Soviet aggressive communism and the Yugoslav interpretation. And the U.S. public had certainly accepted the principle of support for Yugoslavia, whatever its feelings might be about some aspects of the Yugoslav system. There could be no better illustration that non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries is integral to our policy, because it is integral to the way we construe our self-interest, which requires that other countries be free of any foreign domination, including our own. I said it was palpably unfair to lump NATO together with the Soviet bloc as equally guilty of causing tensions. Dr. Vilfan did not argue it further and turned to other matters.

My conversation with the Vice President, Mr. Kardelj, was more extensive. When I had finished my observations, Kardelj immediately said that U.S.-Yugoslav cooperation was on a sound basis and was developing well. He specifically said that the Yugoslav Government had no complaint whatsoever against the U.S. Government in the DedijerDjilas affair. He had been most careful in his speeches and press conferences to avoid giving any implication that he [Page 618] thought U.S. Government was involved. If Mates had so implied, it had not been as a result of a governmental decision. What Kardelj had meant was that certain press circles and other circles outside of Yugoslavia had taken advantage of the DedijerDjilas affair to interfere in internal Yugoslav matters and this interference could be called an organized campaign by certain circles to give support to DedijerDjilas. However Kardelj had been most careful not to imply that any Western country had given governmental support to DedijerDjilas. In fact, what had happened was that DedijerDjilas had offered their services and this had been taken up by various circles abroad.

In assessing the whole DedijerDjilas affair, Kardelj continued, it must not be forgotten that for some years Yugoslavia lived under great Soviet pressure. It was the positive policy of the Soviet Union to interfere in internal Yugoslav matters and violent propaganda efforts had been undertaken to this end. Socialism is not yet well enough established in Yugoslavia for the government to regard such campaigns with equanimity. On top of this, there is the hope in many circles abroad that Yugoslavia will abandon its present course and revert to what we could both call a Western democracy type of government. Because of the economic situation in the country this was not feasible until more socialist gains were consolidated. Any other policy would throw Yugoslavia into confusion and internal convulsions.

Kardelj said that his impression had been that the Governments of the US, UK and France had a good understanding of the fundamental postulates of Yugoslav foreign policy. Unfortunately, some other governments had read into “normalization” an interpretation which was not warranted by the facts. Normalization had been an asset and a benefit to Yugoslavia in relieving the political pressure so long applied by the Soviet Union. But normalization had not affected the basic tenets of Yugoslav foreign policy. Unfortunately, the DjilasDedijer affair had been so treated in the press as to create the impression that these two personalities were champions of a pro-Western policy and while the Yugoslav Government was veering towards a pro-Soviet policy. What amounted to a newspaper campaign to this effect had gotten underway and nothing could be more contrary to the truth. In fact, commented Kardelj, the only beneficiary from the press campaign on DedijerDjilas had been the Soviet Union. Dedijer was a figure of no political importance while Djilas had occupied high positions in the government. But the whole experience which he and his colleagues had had in dealing with Djilas was that of a confused and vacillating character. Kardelj recalled that during the difficult Trieste negotiations he and Tito had frequently had to edit Djilas’ speeches because their tone was so extreme that they could have seriously compromised the objective we were all [Page 619] seeking of a reasonable Trieste settlement. Djilas had always been a vacillating character swinging from extreme to extreme and his attempts to represent himself as the champion of a pro-Western policy had in effect tended to misrepresent the real aims of Yugoslav foreign policy.

We also had occasion to discuss briefly the recent developments in the USSR. Kardelj thought that the ouster of Malenkov6 was evidence that the Yugoslav Government’s interpretation of the flow of events in the Soviet Union had been the correct one. There were great stresses and strains in the USSR and enormous problems to be solved. The Western world must expect a number of ups and downs in Soviet developments and should not be thrown off balance by tough talk and increased bellicosity. He thought the Western world must do what it could to support the moderate elements in the Soviet government. When I remarked that it was difficult to find out who they were even if any support were advisable, Kardelj laughed and admitted that the secrets of the Kremlin were not easy to penetrate and no one could be sure who was supporting what. His own estimate was, in spite of the Molotov and Bulganin speeches, that Soviet foreign policy would not undergo much change although we would probably hear some more threatening words, particularly with reference to China. In response to my question, he admitted that the MalenkovKhrushchev affair was a setback but said we should not be discouraged and that we must wait and see what the deeds of the USSR would be. When I pointed out that the French Government had already made an attempt to test the temperature as far as positive action was concerned, using the Austrian Treaty as the instrument, Kardelj admitted that the Soviet reaction had been entirely negative. He thought however that this was probably influenced by the developments in China.

When I pointed out the danger of relaxing our efforts to obtain ratification of the Paris agreements,7Kardelj immediately said that he fully agreed. He said not to ratify the conventions would be a great mistake as it would merely encourage those Soviet elements who argued for a tough policy. At the same time, the West should be careful to keep the door open for negotiations and if possible should make it plain that it was willing to negotiate whenever there seemed to be some prospect of success. He was most firm, however, in his insistence that the Paris Pacts should be ratified, a point of view that is certainly not reflected in the Yugoslav press.


With Dr. Bebler, I have had a number of conversations since the turn of the year. He tends to stick closely to whatever the official line may be at the moment, although on occasions he can be surprisingly frank. One night at dinner, he sharply attacked the U.S. press in the DedijerDjilas affair and after having told him that he, from his experience in New York,8 should know better, I delivered a lecture of a half-hour on what a free press is like, how it operates, what is news, why it’s news and how silly in general were some of the interpretations advanced. This conversation closed the subject.

Bebler, however, is intensely interested in the developments in the USSR and in our China policy. On the first, he misses no opportunity to ask our estimate, which I have given him on the basis of our information directives. While he follows the official line, particularly that the Yugoslavs were originally right, I have the impression that he now harbors some doubts respecting the reality of changes in the Soviet system. But this is only an impression, and not substantiated by any specific remarks. On China, he is constantly seeking an interpretation of the President’s and the Secretary’s statements, probing to see if there is any hope of the U.S. accepting a cease-fire on the basis of a withdrawal from all the offshore islands. I am not drawn, but he does not abandon it. He repeats the standard expression that Formosa is part of China, but takes prompt evasive action when I ask him if he would surrender Formosa to Red China, with everything that such a surrender would imply.

As the Foreign Secretary was extremely occupied after his return from the Far East, I was only able to have a real conversation with him on February 21. He immediately said he thought our points were well taken and he had to agree that the U.S. had demonstrated a completely sympathetic understanding of Yugoslavia’s problems and policies. He said that the Yugoslav press did not always reflect accurately his Government’s viewpoint because the local press was being given more freedom of action, although he admitted it could not be compared to the American press in this respect. He said that while the Yugoslav Government was opposed to the division of the world into blocs for reasons which it thought were valid, this did not mean that it did not distinguish between the outlook and intent of the two great blocs. It had had bitter experiences with the Soviet bloc and was well aware of what it portended. The Yugoslav analysis of trends in the Soviet Union had been confirmed by recent events. He thought, as did Kardelj, that the KhrushchevMalenkov affair was not encouraging, but the end was not yet. At best, it was a compromise and the stresses remained. He thought that in spite of sabre-rattling Soviet foreign policy would remain about the same. In the [Page 621] meantime Yugoslav relations with the Western powers would continue to develop.

On the Paris Pacts, he echoed Kardelj’s position.

With respect to Red China, Koca Popovic was unusually frank. He thought both the President’s statements and the Secretary’s recent speech had gone very far in displaying a reasonable and conciliatory attitude. He said that given all the considerations involved, he could not see how our leaders could have come farther in showing American willingness to search for a peaceful solution. He was doubtful if a United Nations solution could be found at this time, but certainly the U.S. position was worthy of praise. As for Yugoslavia’s decision to re-establish relations with Red China, he said he agreed the timing was not good and that his personal opinion was it had been a mistake. It would perhaps have been wiser to wait, and he implied that the decision was the result of pressure, probably from Nehru.9

Returning to the question of U.S.-Yugoslav relations and in reply to my various points, the Foreign Secretary said he had only one real complaint, and that was about the American press. Admitting that the press situation in the two countries was different, could not I and Department do something to influence the reporting on Yugoslavia? It had become almost standard in the U.S. press to speak of Red Russia, Red China and Red Yugoslavia, as if they were all the same which (a) was not true and (b) inevitably aroused active resentment in Yugoslavia. He realized that was not an easy problem as he knew something about the American press. Nonetheless it did have its effect on our relations and the use of the label “communistic” (which was in such bad odor in the U.S.) seemed to put Yugoslavia in the same pot as the USSR and Red China. I said that communism certainly and understandably had a bad name at home, but I would do what I properly could to assist the U.S. correspondents in reporting fairly and objectively on Yugoslavia, which I thought they usually tried to do. Mr. Popovic said that his remarks did not in any way apply to the U.S. Government which he thought had drawn the necessary distinctions for a long time.

Comment: The replies to my sometimes acid observations were largely conciliatory, and tended to emphasize the satisfactory side of U.S.-Yugoslav relations and to complain more about the U.S. press than the Government. It is plain that the high Yugoslavs still want their bread buttered on both sides. Political support, economic help, military aid, growing strength of and good relations with the West remain of paramount importance. At the same time the anti-bloc talk (so long as it is not followed by any adverse action by the Western Powers) provides an easy way of exemplifying how Yugoslavia is [Page 622] “different”, is independent, and helps to justify unpopular internal policies which can be equated to those of such non-bloc powers as India and Burma. The reiterated insistence upon the similarity of prewar Yugoslavia to India, in that both were allegedly victims of foreign capitalistic exploitation, provides a convenient peg on which to hang the continuation of economic policies whose success is yet to be observed. The fact that India may have pursued an entirely different course in agriculture, for example, does not invalidate the usefulness of the argument internally. The justification for the regime, in a part of the world that has always known dictators, is to be found in its so-called socialistic program. Otherwise, why Tito? Why not some other dictator? This problem is fundamental to the Government and explains in some measure why it is often so reluctant to effect reforms whose necessity is privately admitted where they may run counter to Marxian doctrine. Therefore it is my estimate that the anti-bloc declarations will continue to be expounded, so long as some profit internally can be squeezed from them. What it may mean in practice, remains to be seen, particularly after the KhrushchevMalenkov affair.

It is clear from my conversations that the Yugoslav leaders are unhappy over developments in the USSR. They obviously had high hopes of fundamental changes which would lead to a general lessening of tension. Peace is essential to the present regime. Extremely vulnerable to attack, weak in the air, dependent upon a not too sympathetic West for survival, war presents innumerable hazards to the continuance of the regime. Their great hope is that an accommodation can some day be found which will enable Yugoslavia to continue its experiment in doubtful economics. Although those with whom I talked put up a bold front about having been right on Soviet developments, it is plain that they are unhappy and unsure of the future in Russia. The contrast between the former assurance of their statements with the present uncertainty, is most marked. It is likely therefore that with Tito’s return a new assessment is being made of Yugoslavia’s international position. I should say a convenient measure of the Yugoslav Government’s estimate of its position and its future intentions will come when we see how it proposes to deal with the question of further military cooperation with the West, a question now reposing with Tito personally.

James W. Riddleberger
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.68/2–2155. Secret.
  2. President Tito visited Burma and India January 6–February 11.
  3. Milovan Djilas was stripped of his position as President of the Yugoslav National Assembly on January 17, 1954. He was defended in Yugoslav Communist Party circles by Vladimir Dedijer, Tito’s official biographer. Dedijer was also expelled from the party for his defense of Djilas. In January 1955, Dedijer and Djilas were tried in a secret trial and convicted of conducting propaganda hostile to the Yugoslav Government. Both received suspended sentences. Documentation on the incident and its effects on U.S.-Yugoslav relations is in Department of State, Central File 768.00
  4. No record of this conversation has been found in Department of State files. Telegram 633 to Belgrade, January 22, informed Riddleberger that Murphy intended to meet with Mates on January 24 to deny charges of U.S. participation in an anti-Yugoslav campaign and to voice concern over the effect of such charges on U.S.-Yugoslav relations. (Department of State, Central Files, 768.00/1–2255) Telegram 636 to Belgrade, January 24, informed Riddleberger of the MurphyMates meeting, and noted that Murphy had taken the position outlined in telegram 633. Murphy had pointed out that such Yugoslav charges, in view of U.S. aid to Yugoslavia, seemed to accuse the United States of duplicity. (Ibid., 768.00/1–2455)
  5. Not found in Department of State files.
  6. Georgiy M. Malenkov, Chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers, resigned his position on February 8 and was replaced by Nikolay A. Bulganin.
  7. Reference is to the Nine-Power and Four-Power Agreements, signed October 23, 1954, which provided for the admission of the Federal Republic of Germany into NATO.
  8. Bebler was the Yugoslav Representative at the U.N. Security Council.
  9. Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India.