158. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter 1


  • The Crown of St. Stephen

You have asked us for an update of the written assurances we are seeking from the Hungarians in connection with the return of the Crown.2 I can report that they have agreed to our proposal for a joint communique in the name of the two Presidents.3 It will specify what the Hungarians have agreed to do with respect to the public ceremony, permanent public display of the Crown, and concerning foreigners who wish to return to Hungary to see the Crown. The Hungarian Government’s acceptance of the communique will serve as a written guarantee of these essential elements.

Concerning the nature and scope of religious participation in the return ceremony, the Hungarian Government has assured us that leading Hungarian religious figures will be included in the ceremony. The Hungarian Cardinal told us this week that he will be an active participant. Senior Foreign Ministry officials have expressed agreement to our request that Hungarian Protestant church leaders and leaders of the Jewish community also participate in the ceremony.

I believe it is both appropriate and important that we now set a firm date for the return of the Hungarian Crown. Further delay could allow the political climate to become worse:

—Clem Zablocki and Lee Hamilton have been urging us to return the Crown at the earliest possible date. They were helpful at the hearings on the Crown, and Hamilton is trying to avoid a formal vote in his European sub-committee on Congresswoman Oakar’s bill against the return. Even though her bill would be defeated, a vote could be embarrassing for the Administration and politically difficult [Page 476] for Hamilton and others. Hamilton has told us that announcement of a date will allow him to head off this vote.

—Only Congresswoman Oakar (and Congressman Horton to a lesser degree) is still actively opposing your decision. Oakar is alleging that the Administration is even reconsidering its decision to return the Crown. Many influential Senators and Congressmen have publicly supported your decision and expect us to act promptly and assertively on this. (These include Humphrey, McGovern, Griffin, Pell, Biden, Charley Wilson, Vanik, Bingham, Whalen, Frenzel and Fenwick.)

—Cardinal Lekai of Hungary has given us his strong support and will issue a public statement. He told Ambassador Kaiser the following: “I support the return of the Crown, the Catholic Church supports the return of the Crown, and the Hungarian people support the return of the Crown.”4 However, the Vatican and the US Catholic Conference are not willing to issue supportive statements, and there is no advantage in waiting any longer for them.5

—Setting a date now would not only defuse the opposition but would allow us to get started on choosing a delegation (Tip O’Neill has written me already about Congressional involvement) and on the technical steps both here and in Budapest.

Therefore, I recommend that we return the Crown on January 7, the day after your visit to Brussels. One or more members of your party could go to Budapest for the ceremony, meeting the rest of the US delegation there. If you approve, we will inform the Hungarian Government that we are prepared to return the Crown on January 7, subject to agreement on a joint statement6 (draft attached).7

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Europe, USSR, and East/West, Hunter Subject File, Box 14, Hungary: Crown of St. Stephen: 12/77. Secret; Nodis. Vest sent the memorandum to Vance under a covering memorandum dated December 1. (National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia, Hungarian Holy Crown—Crown Follow Up 1979 and Prior Years 1945–1980, Lot 85D389, Box 1, The Crown 1977)
  2. See footnote 2, Document 157.
  3. In telegram 3976 from Budapest, November 15, Kaiser reported that Puja had informed him of the Hungarian Government’s agreement to issue a joint communiqué as part of the ceremony for the return of the Crown. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770422–0676)
  4. See footnote 5, Document 156.
  5. See footnote 6, Document 157.
  6. In a memorandum dated December 2, Brzezinski forwarded Vance’s proposals for Presidential approval. Carter approved the January 7, 1978, date for the return and approved Brzezinski’s recommendation that Vance seek more specific assurances, “perhaps through an exchange of letters” on the handling of the return and display of the Crown. Carter wrote in the margin “a) We should consider Jan 6th also (same day I’m in Brussels); b) Will they agree that Cadinal Lekai will participate in accepting Crown? (in statement); c) Date of proposed announcement?” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 27, Hungary: 1–12/77). Brzezinski forwarded Carter’s second and third comments to Vance in a December 2 memorandum. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Europe, USSR, and East/West, Hunter Subject File, Box 14, Hungary: Crown of St Stephen: 12/77)
  7. Attached but not printed. For the final text, see Department of State Bulletin, January 1978, pp. 32–33