192. Memorandum of Conversation1
- US-Yugoslav Relations and Czech Developments
- Ambassador Bogdan Crnobrnja of Yugoslavia
- Secretary of State
- Orme Wilson, Jr., EUR/EE, Yugoslav Affairs
Secretary Rusk received Yugoslav Ambassador Crnobrnja for one hour on afternoon August 29. On August 27, Ambassador Crnobrnja had requested an appointment following his return from local leave. The conversation concerned Czechoslovakia and related matters.
Ambassador Crnobrnja began by saying that Yugoslavia discredited the theory of “revanchist plot” against Czechoslovakia. It seemed clear that the Soviets wanted to stop the process of democratic and human development in Czechoslovakia out of concern that a “chain reaction” might affect other areas of the socialist world. Yugoslavia was confident that Czechoslovakia had a socialist leadership. Yugoslavia believes it inherent for the body of socialist society to proceed to “more human goals” just as other human societies are doing. Yugoslavia sensed no threat to socialism in Czechoslovakia. Yugoslavia would not, however, exclude the existence of anti-socialist activity in Czechoslovakia and believed that this activity may have had better chance for expression in the more liberal Czechoslovakia of recent months. However, liberalization had strengthened forces of socialism in Czechoslovakia to a much greater degree.
Regarding the Moscow communiqué,2 Ambassador Crnobrnja did not know whether it should be called an “agreement“, but Yugoslavia considers it as having been accepted by legally constituted representatives of the Czech people. In a way, this orients Yugoslavia’s present position. Yugoslavia believes that the Czech leaders should be allowed to assess what the Moscow agreement means in all its consequences and aspects with a view to deciding on its future treatment. The very fact that [Page 510] the Moscow talks took place means a lot politically. Perhaps the holding of talks was contrary to what the Soviets had anticipated. Yugoslavia considers the exemplary conduct of the Czech people to have been the greatest help in saving what was saved. All credit should go to the Czech people and world public opinion.
Ambassador Crnobrnja continued that Czechoslovak events were of great significance not only for today but for tomorrow. They were tragic but were lessons for many states including Yugoslavia.
Ambassador Crnobrnja saw one danger. If the Moscow agreement should lead to a split in the Czech people, disaster would follow. Solidarity of the Czech people remains the strongest ally for achieving Czech goals. Neither the Czechs nor the Yugoslavs have a more powerful political weapon than national solidarity. Unity in Yugoslavia is as good as in the 1948–51 period. Unity is also good in Romania. These are great and promising factors.
Yugoslavia is neither frightened nor worried. If the need should come, the Yugoslav people know what they will do. They will defend their independence. Under no condition will they stay quiet. On the contrary, where relations with socialist states are concerned, the justification for defense would be even greater. Crnobrnja asked the Secretary’s assessment regarding Czechoslovak events and their effect on East-West relations, bridge building, and US–USSR discussions on vital problems.
The Secretary said we had felt well informed at all stages regarding the deployment of Soviet and other forces in the area of Czechoslovakia as well as the nature of the maneuvers under way. It was clear that the maneuvers were intended to put pressure on Czechoslovakia. We did not have advance information of the Soviet decision to move into Czechoslovakia, but we did know that a move could be started at a moment’s notice. The decision to move must have been a very difficult one for the Soviets. Internal Czech developments must have seemed a very real threat to the Soviets for, as Ambassador Crnobrnja had said, they might have “infected” the USSR itself.
The Secretary made it clear that there was no US–USSR understanding, tacit or otherwise, regarding Czechoslovakia. He said he had told Ambassador Dobrynin several weeks ago about our feelings concerning the independence of states and had emphasized the reaction would be severe if the independence of Czechoslovakia were threatened.3 The Secretary had particularly protested what appeared to be a Soviet effort to create pretext for intervention out of a myth of a Western plot against Czechoslovakia.
The Secretary continued that NATO and the Warsaw Pact both knew that an attack by one against a country of the other would lead to [Page 511] war. NATO, however, does not recognize the right of Warsaw Pact countries to occupy the territory of a Warsaw Pact member. This could not happen within NATO. We gather that Moscow’s black propaganda organs have been trying to manufacture the myth of a US–USSR understanding on Czechoslovakia.[Page 512]
The Secretary stressed the outstanding conduct of the Czech people and the extraordinary strength of world reaction in the face of the invasion of Czechoslovakia. The US had not whipped up this reaction; it had been immediate and spontaneous. The Soviets were probably surprised by the strength of this reaction, all the more so because they tend to attach more weight to propaganda than most countries do.
What happens in Czechoslovakia is of serious concern for the United States. Not because we have had particularly good relations with the Czechs, though. On the contrary, Prague over the years has been one of the capitals most active in promoting “world revolution”. Czech arms today are killing our men in Viet-Nam. Our concern relates to the elementary point that, unless a small nation can live unmolested there can be no peace in the world. Spheres of influence can never prove satisfactory in achieving this condition, since the concept of spheres of influence understands a “master race” within a sphere of influence. We therefore subscribe to the principles set forth in the UN Charter whereby every nation, large or small, has a right to its own national existence.
The Secretary continued that we were watching the situation as it related to Romania and Yugoslavia. We have not seen the kind of build up of forces which we clearly saw with regard to Czechoslovakia. However, if Yugoslavia obtains information suggesting a build up and Yugoslavia discreetly advises us of it, we will check the information as we have the means to do so.
The Secretary commented that we had noted considerable lack of enthusiasm for the actions against Czechoslovakia within the countries which had provided token units for invasion and occupation.
Secretary Rusk said that the situation in Czechoslovakia had been achieved through a significant deployment of Soviet troops to the south and west. Soviet troops were now on the Bavarian border. We have an immediate interest in the length of stay of these troops, because NATO must consider what this means with regard to the strength and deployment of NATO forces. Earlier this year at Reykjavik the NATO ministers had supported the possibility of a reduction of forces in central Europe.4 Now this possibility was reversed by the Soviet move into Czechoslovakia.
The Secretary stressed that we respected the way in which Yugoslavia had expressed itself on the Czech events. We felt that the fact that some socialist states had spoken out strongly had been a matter of great importance in helping the Czechs to preserve something. If the USSR now were to proceed against socialist states making this critical response, a very grave situation could develop. Romania’s geographic position and Yugoslavia’s, to an even greater degree, made this subject a matter of great interest to NATO. A further extension of Soviet forces would be a matter of very grave concern to NATO. Pointing to a map of Europe, the Secretary noted that, for instance, there were now no Soviet forces in the Adriatic area.
The Secretary said that the Czech events had had a serious effect on US–USSR bilateral relations. Previously we had been in contact with Moscow on very important matters. The Soviets must have known that their action in Czechoslovakia would damage bilateral relations. Public opinion and Congressional reaction were important factors and now were negative toward the USSR. The great pity is that efforts at détente have been blocked while at the same time problems have not evaporated. The questions of missiles, Viet-Nam, and the Near East remain. We must think more about what all this means. The Russians are presumably doing the same.
The Secretary wondered what the move into Czechoslovakia signifies regarding the USSR. Does it represent a step backward on other matters as well? What were the dynamics of the situation leading to the decision to move into Czechoslovakia? We don’t know. The Soviets know how to maintain silence better than we do. If one were to interpret this move as irresponsible or impulsive or taken out of fear, it is distressing to think of the decisions which might be taken by a capital having as much destructive power at its disposal as Moscow. Does it mean that irrational action is possible?
The Secretary added that the US has not been engaged in any way in any shape or form of mischief in Czechoslovakia. There has been no CIA activity and no arms infiltration. The Secretary said that, whereas his predecessor John Foster Dulles talked about a rollback in central Europe, the present Administration has wanted to improve relations with Eastern Europe and the USSR by bridge building. The purpose has been to bring about broader serenity in the world. We have not wanted bridge building to set one state against another. It has been notable, however, that in recent months, the USSR had been speaking negatively about bridge building. Within the USSR, comment had been quite bitter on the subject. We have been especially resentful about the theory of an “imperialist threat” which has been pushed by the Soviets.
In concluding this portion of his remarks, the Secretary again invited Ambassador Crnobrnja to have his government submit any [Page 513] information suggesting the development of a threatening situation for Yugoslavia. The Secretary pointed out in this connection that, with regard to Czechoslovakia, the Soviets obviously felt their interests so fundamental that they were willing to make major sacrifices regarding détente, US–USSR bilateral relations, world popular opinion, and harmony within the family of communist parties.
Ambassador Crnobrnja thanked the Secretary for these views and turned to the subject of US-Yugoslav bilateral relations. Ambassador Crnobrnja said that Yugoslavia had no particular requests to make and did not want to take advantage of the situation in this connection. Yugoslavia did not want to irritate the USSR even though Yugoslav-Soviet relations had already deteriorated and would probably deteriorate further. He said, however, that it would be most unfortunate if developments were to lead to paralysis in US-Yugoslav relations. He stressed that Yugoslavia wanted to continue to proceed with the gradual development of relations in areas of “real business”. In this connection, he said that Yugoslavia soon would probably join Intelsat. Yugoslavia would do so because it saw real business advantage in doing so. The US might attach other importance to the matter. He said that Yugoslavia, as a small power, wanted to avoid any action suggesting that it was within a sphere of influence. It wanted to live freely and make its own decisions.
The Secretary concluded by answering that we did not believe that the Czech situation would have a negative influence on US-Yugoslav relations. We certainly did not want to create difficulties or embarrassment for Yugoslavia. He agreed that the US and Yugoslavia should proceed with matters in which they have a common interest. Public opinion was favorable.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL US–YUGO. Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Wilson and approved in S on September 3. The meeting was held in Secretary Rusk’s office.↩
- For text of the communiqué and protocol issued in Moscow on August 27, see Remington, Winter in Prague, pp. 376–382.↩
- See Document 70.↩
- The NAC Ministerial Meeting was held at Reykjavik June 24–25. For text of the NATO declaration, see Department of State Bulletin, July 15, 1968, pp. 75–77.↩