106. Memorandum From the Presidentʼs Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Senator Hartke and Cardinal Mindszenty

What Senator Hartke Wants To Do

Dick Allen spoke with Senator Hartke concerning the Cardinal Mindszenty affair.2

Hartke feels that he, along with Cardinal Koenig of Vienna, can proceed to Budapest, meet with Cardinal Mindszenty and, if he is willing, escort him out of Hungary and to the United States.

Hartke has met with the Hungarians on this matter, and feels that there would be no objection to Mindszentyʼs leaving Budapest. He is of the opinion that the transfer of the Cardinal from U.S. territory (i.e., the U.S. Embassy) to the United States proper would not constitute a legal problem. Hartke has broached this matter with the Soviets as well and is awaiting a reply. He is very pessimistic about State Department assistance in any attempt to secure Mindszentyʼs release.

A Reluctant Cardinal

The problem with getting Mindszenty out of our Embassy rests with the Cardinal himself. The Vatican has been eager to bring him out for years, and the Hungarian authorities have been prepared to let him go provided two conditions are met:

that he gives up his claim that he remain Primate of Hungary and its formal head of state;
that once out of the country he engages in no activities inimical to Hungarian state interests.

The Vatican accepts these conditions; the Cardinal categorically rejects them. The matter has been discussed with Martin Hillenbrand who, until recently, was our Ambassador in Budapest.3 It is his judgment, from innumerable conversations with the Cardinal, that he will never accept these conditions.

For this reason, the Hungarian regime has been quite content to leave Mindszenty in our mission where, whatever his claims, he remains silent.

All the evidence indicates that, if we tell the Cardinal he must leave our premises, he will walk into the street and have himself re-arrested. He may indeed almost prefer to be a martyr in a Hungarian jail than a guest in our Embassy.

I doubt that Senator Hartke will accomplish what Cardinal Koenig has failed to accomplish in his repeated efforts, in behalf of the Pope, to persuade Mindszenty that he should leave.

In the circumstances, I believe there is nothing we can do but accept the status quo.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 693, Country Files—Europe, Hungary, Vol. I. Secret. Sent for information. A notation by the President on the memorandum reads: “OK. So inform Hartke.”
  2. Mindszenty had sought and received asylum in the United States Embassy in Budapest on November 4, 1956, in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Hungary. The Hungarian Governmentʼs refusal during the ensuing years to grant him complete political rehabilitation led him to remain in the Embassy. Regarding Mindszentyʼs receipt of asylum in 1956, see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, volume XXV, Eastern Europe, Document 163. Puhanʼs Cardinal in the Chancery, pp. 185–218, discusses the diplomacy surrounding the Cardinalʼs potential departure from the Embassy.
  3. Hillenbrand left Budapest on February 15. He entered on duty as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs on February 20.