146. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Tarnoff) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Returning the Crown of St. Stephen

Your memorandum of August 4 requested that we ascertain Hungarian wishes concerning return and display of the Crown, without making any commitment to return it.2 In response to such a query, the Hungarian Government informed Ambassador Kaiser last month that: 1) it would be happy to work out the details of the transfer once our decision had been made and we had indicated how we intended to return it; and 2) it would place the Crown on public display in an appropriate edifice in Budapest, without restriction on foreigners or Hungarians who wish to see it (Tab 1).3 We believe this latter statement constitutes acceptable assurances about the Crown’s “continuing display” as set forth in Presidential Directive/NSC–214 as a precondition for us to indicate to the Hungarians our willingness to return the Crown.

[Page 451]

Deputy Prime Minister Aczel reiterated to Dr. Billy Graham that Hungary wants to put the Crown on public display and added that, if the United States decided to return the Crown, the Hungarians would receive it in whatever way would fit the President’s requirements.5

We believe that we should inform the Hungarian Government before the Belgrade CSCE Conference gets under way of our willingness to return the Crown under appropriate circumstances. Telling the Hungarians that we are taking this important step both because of improved bilateral relations and Hungary’s positive attitude toward CSCE implementation should favorably affect Hungary’s attitude at Belgrade and after. The President’s decision can be conveyed in one of the following manners:

  • —By the President in a bilateral meeting with the Hungarian Foreign Minister at UNGA;
  • —By a Presidential oral message to the Hungarian President, delivered by Ambassador Kaiser;
  • —By the Secretary to the Hungarian Foreign Minister during their UNGA bilateral.

A Presidential bilateral with the Hungarians would be so unusual as to provoke undesirable press speculation about the substance of the meeting—and might lead to disclosure of our plans before an acceptable scenario of transfer has been arranged. A Presidential oral message delivered by Ambassador Kaiser could be used to convey our intention right now. Since there is no pressing reason to inform the Hungarians immediately, we prefer using the Secretary’s bilateral with the Hungarian Foreign Minister (tentatively scheduled for October 1).

In New York the Secretary will also note that the Hungarian Government has already stated its intention to us to place the Crown on public display in an appropriate place. He will add that Ambassador Kaiser has been asked to work out with the Foreign Minister an appropriate scenario of transfer that would permit the Crown’s return by the end of 1977.

At that point we would send Ambassador Kaiser guidance, along the lines of the Secretary’s July 28 memorandum to the President for his scenario talks with the Hungarians. (Tab 2)6 Once we have Hungarian agreement to a suitable scenario, we would consult with key Congressional leaders and inform the Vatican.

[Page 452]

In working out the scenario of transfer with the Hungarian Government, it will be important to indicate to the Hungarians at an early date whom the President will appoint as head of the US delegation and to suggest exact dates for the ceremony of return that would be convenient to that individual. The Secretary’s memorandum to the President of July 28 suggested that the Vice President or Governor Harriman would be appropriate.

Peter Tarnoff
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 27, Hungary: 1–12/77. Secret; Nodis.
  2. See footnote 5, Document 144. Carter’s decision was transmitted in telegram 194954 to Budapest, August 17. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840070–0724)
  3. Tab 1 is telegram 2916 from Budapest, August 26, which reported that Nagy assured Kaiser that if the United States returned the Crown, the Hungarian Government would “receive it with the dignity and honor appropriate to this unique national and cultural treasure.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850050–2281)
  4. See Document 16.
  5. This conversation was reported in telegram 3097 from Budapest, September 9. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770327–0356) Telegram 3099 from Budapest, September 10, judged Graham’s visit to have “exceeded his expectations,” and to be a “highly valuable event in bilateral relations.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770328–1231)
  6. Attached but not printed. See footnote 2, Document 144.