157. Memorandum From Robert King of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Secretary Vance’s Intention to Raise the Crown of St. Stephen at Breakfast Tomorrow

According to the staff of State Department Counselor Matt Nimetz, Secretary Vance plans to raise the Crown at your breakfast meeting tomorrow at which time he will bring with him a memo in response to your memo to him of November 30 (Tab A) asking for written assurances from the Hungarian government regarding permanent display of the Crown and the question of religious participation in the return ceremony.2

Vance’s response to your memo will be along the following lines:

—The Hungarian government has already given us high level assurances (both before and after we informed them of the decision to return the Crown) that the Crown will be placed on permanent display.3 Although these assurances were given orally to our ambassador in Budapest, the Hungarian government has taken steps to implement them and is now considering two possible sites for permanent display. We have proposed, and the Hungarians have agreed in principle, that a joint statement will be issued4 when the decision to return the Crown is publicly announced which specifies that the Crown will be placed on permanent public display. Since the Hungarians will commit them[Page 474]selves in this joint statement, requesting confirmation in writing would be undiplomatic and unnecessary.

—The U.S. proposals on the ceremony for transfer of the Crown call for participation of representatives of Hungarian religious groups, including the Cardinal, and the Hungarian government has accepted these proposals. Ambassador Kaiser met with Cardinal Lekai just a few days ago and confirmed to him our desire that he participate in the ceremony and he affirmed his willingness and intention to do so (see report of this meeting at Tab B).5 The Vatican has informed the Cardinal that it considers the return of the Crown to be a bilateral affair between the U.S. and Hungary and expressed its disinterestedness and neutrality on the question. While Lekai expressed his willingness to issue a statement or write an article in a Hungarian Catholic publication welcoming the return of the Crown, it is unlikely that we will get any kind of public statement from the Vatican or the American Catholic Conference (see Ambassador Kaiser’s cable about approaching the Vatican for a statement at Tab C).6

Vance reportedly plans to propose that we fix January 7th as the date for the return of the Crown and request concurrence from the Hungarian government. Once the date has been agreed upon, a public announcement should be issued. The arguments for this course are: (1) to prevent public speculation that the President has reconsidered his decision to return the Crown; (2) to help Congressmen Zablocki and Hamilton who are being pressed by Congresswoman Oakar to bring to a vote her resolution requiring Congressional approval of any decision to return the Crown. If the President’s decision is announced, they can argue that it is too late for Congressional action.

I agree with this position. The public announcement that the Crown will be returned on a specific date will close the issue. The longer we postpone an announcement of the date, the more it will encourage opposition on the grounds that the White House is undecided or has backtracked because of public reaction. This is the time for a bold step—we should not return the Crown timidly.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 27, Hungary: 1–12/77. Confidential. Sent for action. Brzezinski wrote “good” on the memorandum and noted “he did” in the upper right corner, indicating that Vance had raised the issue with the President at the breakfast meeting. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Carter met with Mondale, Vance, and Brzezinski from 7:30 to 8:43 a.m. on December 2. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary) No substantive record of that meeting was found.
  2. Attached but not printed. Brzezinski notified Vance: “The President would appreciate an update regarding the assurances we are seeking from the Hungarians. He requests that these assurances be in writing, and that they cover—among other items—the issue of the permanent display of the Crown and the question of the nature and scope of religious participation in the return ceremony.”
  3. Brzezinski wrote in the margin next to this paragraph: “We want them in writing.”
  4. On December 15, the Department of State released the Joint Communiqué and the exchange of letters between Kaiser and Puja detailing the understanding reached by the two governments on the return of the Crown. For the full text, see Department of State Bulletin, January 1978, pp. 32–33.
  5. Tab B is telegram 4161 from Budapest, November 30. See footnote 5, Document 156.
  6. Tab C is telegram 4162 from Budapest, November 30. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Europe, USSR, and East/West, Hunter Subject File, Box 14, Hungary: Crown of St. Stephen: 12/77)