39. Memorandum of Conversation1



New York, December 1964


  • Czechoslovakia-U.S. Relations


  • U.S.
    • The Secretary
    • Mr. Givan, EUR
  • Czechoslovakia
    • Foreign Minister David
    • Dr. Jiri Hajek, Ambassador to the UN
    • Dr. Karel Duda, Ambassador to the U.S.
    • Mr. Frantisek Soukup, Interpreter

Foreign Minister David noted a certain modest development in peaceful bilateral relations, notably in trade, cultural exchanges and tourism, since he had talked with the Secretary in September 1963.2 The GOC has tried to move forward and has taken certain steps. Jamming of VOA broadcasts has ceased. Medals have been awarded U.S. citizens who participated in the Slovak uprising. Visa issuance has been simplified and emigration procedures have been revised. There is also an agreement on patents. They are agreeable to some exchanges in the agricultural [Page 153] field and to further development of cultural exchanges. David thought it would also be useful to establish an exchange of economic delegations. He noted that three groups of U.S. Congressmen toured Czechoslovakia recently; he thought they were satisfied with their visits. Tourism has increased since 1963 and the GOC is trying to send outstanding people as exchange visitors.

Despite these positive phenomena, David thought it necessary to say that a number of problems remain for which solutions are not being pressed forward. He had in mind in particular the conclusion of an agreement on financial matters. He recalled that at their last meeting the Secretary had said that they should lock their experts in a room until they reached a solution, in the manner of a papal election. The GOC presented a draft agreement in March 1964 but has noted no progress since then. David thought the time had come to sit down and sign the agreement, which has an important bearing on the general development of relations.

Another problem, David said, concerned bilateral trade. Trade has increased a little but significant improvement depends on American policies. The GOC is interested in developing trade with many countries and has reached a number of agreements in this field. It is important to restore the MFN relationship that was suspended in 1951.3 Without MFN they cannot imagine any substantial trade development.

The Czechs think, further, that trade relations are one of the most significant means of improving general relations between states. David noted that a Chamber of Commerce Delegation would visit the U.S. in the first quarter of 1965.

David said a third problem related to the restricted areas for official travel.4 They expressed their view by note last year: they think the restrictions are not good for bilateral relations, are discriminatory and do not reflect a realistic evaluation of the situation. They ask that the restrictions be removed. They understand that the problem has been considered within the USG and hope the Secretary will say something about its status. They would not like to take a similar measure in Czechoslovakia.

The Secretary repeated an observation President Johnson had made yesterday to Gromyko,5 namely that we wish to explore every possibility of reaching further agreements with Eastern European countries. This attitude toward Eastern Europe was one of the issues in our elections. [Page 154] President Johnson’s view of Eastern Europe was that we should keep our guard up but our hand out. The American people decided in effect that we ought to explore possibilities of further agreements. With regard to Czechoslovakia we are prepared to move ahead to see how our relations can be improved. We have noted with satisfaction the modest improvement of the past year or two. The Secretary said he wished to compliment Ambassador Duda for his alertness in keeping in touch with ways of improving our relations. The Secretary would not concede that the initiatives all came from one direction, but this was of no great consequence.

The Secretary thought the exchange program should be developed further and saw no obstacle to this. He agreed that MFN is the key to significant trade improvement. The executive branch and Congress are taking a new look at this problem and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is studying it. There are increased indications of interest among our business and economic groups and the State Department has encouraged their interest. But MFN will require legislation and there are certain obstacles in the way of an easy and quick change in the law. For example, it is important for us to reach a settlement of our lend-lease problem with the USSR. Consideration of such legislation will also be influenced somewhat by the general relations and atmosphere between the Warsaw Pact countries and NATO countries. We hope this atmosphere will be favorable so far as it affects this legislation. Some steps can be taken without legislation, however, and we will do what we can.

The Secretary said he was interested to note that some Americans showed increased interest in buying in Czechoslovakia. We will work with Congress on this question. The Secretary could not make a firm prediction when Congress would consider the question or what the outcome would be, but he was personally optimistic. Meanwhile there is one area in the economic field where rapid growth is possible, namely tourism. The American tourist has a great interest in visiting countries he has not seen before. In the post-war period relatively few American tourists have gone to Czechoslovakia, so there is a considerable reservoir of tourist interest. The actions of the GOC in this field have been constructive and will encourage further development. We hope the GOC will earmark part of its income from tourism for Czechoslovaks to visit the U.S., since we are in the tourist business too.

On the financial agreement, the Secretary said he was frankly embarrassed to find out this morning that he was personally uninformed about its status at the moment. He would phone the Department and get a message to David on this point. If the Secretary was not personally satisfied with the answer the Department gave him he would ask again.

On travel restrictions, the Secretary said he would speak quite frankly. The problem rose in a new form in the last two or three years [Page 155] because of certain activities of Warsaw Pact missions which we found difficult to accept. These activities had to do with our intercontinental missile sites. In arranging travel certain representatives left normal routes and criss-crossed small country roads in, through, and around sites. Reciprocity was not involved for some of the Warsaw Pact countries because they did not have sites in their territory. We are under no misapprehension where this information was going. Had we not taken steps to insure that such activity was stopped, we would have been in great difficulty and the Warsaw Pact countries would have regarded us as children. However, we would look into the matter again and see whether improvement is possible. This question should not be considered a thermometer of our general relations but as a matter to be thoroughly understood on both sides. We will hope there can be some improvements. If Ambassador Duda personally has difficulty the Secretary would be glad to discuss the matter personally and facilitate his travel if he can. The trouble is that Ambassador of Czechoslovakia is not the only one waiting to travel.

David thanked the Secretary for all he had said and looked forward to trade expansion. He would repeat, however, that MFN is an obstacle. The Secretary said he agreed. David said they would now wait with interest for news from us. He believes many Americans are interested in buying Czech goods and he does not know why they should be deprived. Why should Americans not have the best beer in the world, frankfurters, Prague ham, glassware etc.? The Secretary said he agreed there is a market here for such products. At the same time, David said, there is interest in American goods; no one has to persuade Czechoslovaks that American production and technology have reached a high level. As for the solution of financial issues, he believed this agreement is ready for signature; the experts are waiting and have nothing more to do. The Secretary said that was his understanding but he would like to find out more about it. David said old matters should be liquidated. The GOC has liquidated problems with a number of countries, which has proved to be of mutual benefit.

As for the third problem, travel restrictions, David begged the Secretary to give his attention to this matter so that it also would be liquidated. The restrictions really hamper their people, not only in their work but by making their life more difficult. Americans stationed in Prague have no such troubles. The Czechoslovak Ambassadors to the U.S. and UN and their colleagues have no task except to improve relations. The Secretary said he had tried to be very frank about the essence of this problem. We will see what can be done.

[Page 156]

As the Secretary accompanied David to the elevator, the latter referred to U.S. citizen Alois Vesely now under charges in Czechoslovakia.6 David said that in a few days the GOC would take action in this case that would reflect the desire of both countries to improve their relations.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 17 CZECH. Confidential. Drafted by Givan and approved in S on December 17. The meeting was held at the U.S. Mission. The source text is labeled “Part 2 of 2;” a separate memorandum of conversation dealing with the MLF is ibid.
  2. The Rusk-David meeting was reported in Secto 12 from USUN, September 25, 1963. (Ibid., Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2313)
  3. On October 2, 1951, President Truman suspended Czechoslovakia’s MFN status under the provisions of the Trade Agreements Extension Act of 1951. For text of the announcement, see Department of State Bulletin, October 15, 1951, pp. 621–624.
  4. On November 12, 1963, the Department of State imposed travel restrictions on Eastern European diplomats resident in the United States. For text of the Department’s statement and the note presented to the Czech Embassy, see ibid., December 2, 1963, p. 860.
  5. A memorandum of President Johnson’s December 9 conversation with Gromyko is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XIV.
  6. Alois Vesely, a U.S. citizen, was arrested on November 24 during a visit to his native village on charges of spying for France in 1948–1949. Following a U.S. protest, he was expelled from Czechoslovakia on December 11.