56. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Political Developments in Czechoslovakia; Various US-Czech Bilateral Questions
- His Excellency Dr. Karel Duda, Czechoslovak Ambassador
- Mr. Walter J. Stoessel, Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
I lunched alone today with Ambassador Duda at his residence. The following subjects came up in the course of our conversation.
Czechoslovak Political Developments. The Ambassador said he expected that Novotny would bow to public pressures and would resign his post as President in the very near future.2
The Ambassador felt that the Central Committee Plenum on March 28 would be very important. He anticipated that, at this meeting, an action program would be elaborated and that a number of personnel changes in the government would be decided. He thought that the action program would include various measures designed to further the process of democratization in his country. Among these, he anticipated that an increased role for the Central Committee would be provided for and that the police would be “brought under control”. Various proposals are being considered with regard to this question, but the Ambassador thought that the most likely solution would be for the police to be removed from the Ministry of Interior and to be put under the authority of the Minister of Justice. The Ambassador also felt that the action program would direct Czech foreign relations in general terms, indicating a desire for good relations with all countries regardless of ideological considerations. He said that, realistically speaking, it must be recognized that the Viet-Nam conflict posed a problem in US-Czech relations; nevertheless, he felt that, within the limits imposed by this situation, the new leaders in Prague would wish to improve relations with the United States.
The Ambassador repeatedly expressed his pleasure at changes taking place in Prague and said he was confident that things were moving in a desirable direction and would continue to do so. He ruled out any “foreign intervention” (obviously meaning from the Soviet side), although he acknowledged that, if civil strife developed and there were [Page 186] bloodshed, the situation could change radically. However, he did not anticipate that matters would go this far.
Extradition of General Sejna.3 The Ambassador spoke with great seriousness about this case. He observed that it was ironic, to say the least, that Sejna, who represented the worst element of the “conservative” clique in Czechoslovakia, should find a haven in the United States. He stressed that the Sejna case was of political importance and said that it would be most unfortunate if the main problem with which the new leadership had to deal in its relations with the United States was a refusal to extradite Senja. The Ambassador said he was particularly concerned about the possibility that Sejna might be exploited in this country on TV and in the press. He mentioned that he had seen several days ago in The Washington Post an indication that Sejna might appear on “Meet the Press”. He felt that this would be greatly resented in his country.
The Ambassador added that he expected to be seeing me within the next few days to present additional evidence from Prague concerning Sejna’s criminal activities.
In responding to the Ambassador, I agreed that the Sejna case had its ironic aspects; however, it should be understood we had not sought Sejna out—he had come to us. I remarked that, as the Ambassador was well aware, we were handling the request for his extradition in strict accord with the provisions of our Extradition Treaty with Czechoslovakia. Consideration of such a request was time-consuming. In the meantime, there was no intention on our part to exploit the case through publicity, and I certainly did not anticipate that the General would be appearing on any TV program.
The Ambassador appeared to take special note of my last comment.
Trade and Gold/Claims Negotiations. Other than the immediate question presented by the Sejna case, the Ambassador observed that the two outstanding problems between our countries were in the field of trade and gold/claims matter. On trade, the main question is obviously that of most-favored-nation treatment for Czechoslovakia. Ambassador Bohlen had told him this morning4 that liberalizing trends in Czechoslovakia might have a favorable impact on Congressional representatives in considering most-favored-nation treatment for Czechoslovakia; the Ambassador felt this might well be true, although he was not optimistic that any favorable action on MFN would be taken during this calendar year.[Page 187]
I said that I would not dispute the Ambassador’s conclusion, although I certainly agreed with Ambassador Bohlen’s remarks to him, and thought that sooner or later the trend of events in Czechoslovakia, if continued, would produce favorable results.
On the matter of gold/claims, the Ambassador said that, as we knew, the authorities in Prague took a very negative view of our proposals. However, on his advice, the Czech side had held off giving us a formal, negative response to our note. The Ambassador hinted that, given the political uncertainties in the United States at this time, it might be considered advisable to leave the whole question open pending our elections in November; thereafter it might appear that the United States would be willing to take a more forthcoming stand on the problem.
I emphasized to the Ambassador that the gold/claims problem was not really political in nature, and I strongly discouraged him from thinking that our election could affect our position on the problem one way or the other. Regardless of the Administration in power, or of its views concerning improving relations with Czechoslovakia, the fact would remain that we had a very large outstanding claims settlement still pending with Czechoslovakia and the interests of the U.S. claimants had to be taken into account.
I reminded the Ambassador that our proposal had not been made on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.5 While we felt that our proposal had been a reasonable one, and certainly any counter-proposal would have to be “in the ball park” of the general framework sketched out in our proposal, we would welcome suggestions from the Czech side as to how they would envisage a settlement. I felt that a completely negative Czech response would be regrettable and I urged the Ambassador to consider the possibility of further discussions with us of the problem.
- Export of Czech Airplanes. The Ambassador mentioned in passing that his Embassy would be in touch with the Department in the near future in connection with sales possibilities for light Czech airplanes and gliders in the United States. He said he had already received hundreds of inquiries from California about such products and he hoped that a good market could be developed in the United States for these items.
- The Ambassador did not raise at any point the question of security in Washington of official Czech installations.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL CZECH–US. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Stoessel. The meeting was held in Ambassador Duda’s residence.↩
- Novotny resigned on March 22.↩
- Major General Jan Sejna, head of the Communist Party apparatus within the Czech Defense Ministry and close collaborator of Novotny, defected on February 25, following revelation of a plan to use military units in support of Novotny.↩
- No memorandum of this conversation has been found.↩
- See Document 52.↩