119. Telegram From the Embassy in Hungary to the Department of State1
Budapest, July 12, 1971, 1154Z.
1217. Subject: Cardinal Mindszenty.
- Summary. In a short meeting I have had with him Mindszenty has indicated that he will tell Cheli and Zagon he cannot give them a definitive response in the absence of a reply to his letter to the President. I told Mindszenty that, while I could not presume to anticipate the Presidentʼs reply, I felt that the U.S. position was that the decision whether to leave could only be made by him. I recommend that I be authorized on an urgent basis to convey to him, as the official U.S. position, that we cannot presume to advise him on what must be a personal decision. In the absence of such a response on our part, Mindszenty will probably temporize further on his commitment to the Pope to leave. End summary.
- I had a twenty-minute meeting with Cardinal Mindszenty at his request the morning of July 12. The Cardinal was tense and serious, clearly concerned about the decisions he will be facing with the new visit from Rome. He was scathing in his criticism of Vatican policy in Eastern Europe. He said the Vatican simply did not understand the situation in Eastern Europe and in Hungary in particular. He seems to be fighting the commitment given in his letter to the Pope to leave the Embassy and Hungary. I think he will continue to do so in the approaching Cheli–Zagon visit, which could be a very tough one.
- One practical point of significance emerged which has a very direct bearing on the Cheli–Zagon visit. The Cardinal noted that he did not yet have a reply to his letter to the President.2 In the absence of a reply he would, he said, be obliged to tell Cheli and Zagon that one of the essential factors is missing and he could not give them a definitive response. I told Mindszenty that I could not of course presume to anticipate the Presidentʼs reaction to his letter. However, I felt I should in all candor give him my personal view of the situation. This was that on so highly personal and on so grave an issue as the decision whether to leave the Embassy and Hungary, the U.S. Government would not consider it appropriate for it to offer the Cardinal any advice. Rather, this was a matter which only he could decide. I stressed that the U.S. attitude concerning the Cardinalʼs situation of refuge was unchanged, [Page 285] although there was increasing concern about his health and welfare as he grew older.
- Mindszenty tried to summarize our conversation by saying that he understood me to say that he would not be getting a reply from the President. I corrected this immediately, saying that I did not presume to speak for the President, that I was sure his letter was being given the most careful consideration.
- We are obviously in a very delicate phase with the Cardinal. He does not want to leave despite his letter to the Pope, and I think he is looking around for some means of avoiding or at least postponing a final decision. He evidently would like to be able to use a reply from the President in effect to negate the force of the Vaticanʼs urging that he should leave. In the absence of any response from Washington to his letter to the President I believe he will, as he indicated to me, tell Cheli and Zagon that he cannot give them a definitive response. I believe we should head off this possibility which, if it developed in fact, would have the effect of drawing out the process of decision. With this in view, I recommend that I be authorized on an urgent basis to convey to the Cardinal as a U.S. Government position essentially what I have already told him. That is, that with regard to his letter to the President, the U.S. Government does not presume to advise him on so grave and so personal a matter which must remain for his decision alone.3
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 693, Country Files—Europe, Hungary, Vol. I. Secret; Immediate;Exdis. Repeated priority to Rome.↩
- The reply was transmitted in telegram 127237 to Budapest, July 14. (Ibid.)↩
- This position was outlined in the Presidentʼs letter to Mindszenty. In telegram 1248 from Budapest, July 14, Puhan reported that he had delivered this message and had informed the Vatican representatives of its contents. (Ibid.)↩