159. Telegram From the Embassy in Hungary to the Department of State1

4285. Ref: (A) SecState 292670; (B) Budapest 3749.2

1. Summary: During an hour and fifty minutes meeting at Party headquarters December 8 with First Secretary Janos Kadar a wide range of subjects was covered, including the state of our bilateral relations, the President’s decision to return the Crown, Hungary’s economy and MFN, and the prospect for widening Hungarian-American contacts. End summary.

2. After going through the pleasantries of how I was finding Budapest and whether my family was here with me, Kadar warmly welcomed me as the new U.S. Ambassador to Hungary.3 He commented that the role of an Ambassador was significant because it was through his eyes that his home country saw Hungary’s society. It was essential, therefore, for Ambassadors to be as objective as possible and to report fully and frankly. He, Kadar, put a premium on a realistic approach to both international and domestic affairs.

3. Kadar then expressed his satisfaction over the improved state of our relations at which point I read the oral message from the President.4 He was grateful for the message and used it as his lead for a lengthy exposition on Hungarian policies and attitudes which lasted for over an hour (including interpretation).

4. He started by noting that although Hungary was a member of one alliance and the United States the leader of another, that did not mean that effective and meaningful bilateral relations should not be [Page 478] developed. He wanted to make clear that Hungary was an independent country with its own domestic and international policies although, of course, it was loyal to its alliances. He always read with amusement stories that said that while Hungary was a “satellite” on international affairs, it was freer domestically where its policies were more liberal than any other Eastern European country. Hungary had its own traditions, history and culture with its own national interests. These factors, plus the “size of our country, our location on the map and the nature of our economy” were the main criteria in the international and domestic policies that Hungary pursued.

5. He then spoke at great length about the Hungarian economy, stressing that it was by far the most important aspect of Hungarian life today. He is pleased with the progress that had been made and is determined that this progress continue. This depended, he pointed out, on expanding the country’s foreign trade. Forty-five percent of Hungary’s GNP derived from that trade and it had to be increased if the standard of living was to be raised. For every increase of one percent in GNP, Hungary required a one and a half percent increase in exports. At present, Hungary’s foreign trade was divided roughly sixty percent with the East and forty percent with the West and for the foreseeable future that was probably the right proportion. The main Western trading partners were the traditional ones: Germany, Italy and Austria. American trade, unfortunately, was “just a trickle” and he hoped that situation could be changed.

6. He talked at some length about the unfairness of the lack of MFN and the inhibiting effect it is having on our future relations, although he was pleased that several joint enterprises with American companies had been launched and others were in the planning stage. He saw no ideological obstacle to this kind of collaboration because Hungarian industrial enterprises were practically independent.” More than once he stressed that the most important political element to Hungarian life was the way in which it handled its economic development.

7. He then turned to a once-over-lightly review of Hungarian-American relations since World War I, ending up with the story of the Crown. He understood fully, he said that successful bilateral relations depended on mutual understanding of the differences in the domestic policies and attitudes of the two countries involved. Whereas for the Hungarians the issue of the Crown was simple—Hungarian people knew it belonged to them—he realized why it was more complicated for the Americans. He very much appreciated the President’s decision to return the Crown. He said that he was always confident that this issue would be resolved one day because we had succeeded in resolving the more complicated Mindszenty issue. He particularly understood [Page 479] and agreed with the President’s emphasis on the fact that the return of the Crown was a people-to-people act. The Hungarians were ready to receive it in this spirit. When I broke in to urge him to clear the communique and the letter we had proposed as rapidly as possible, he said that although we both desired quick action, “the Hungarian Government also had its procedures” and therefore it might be early next week before we had an official Hungarian response. (1& . . . 3, 5: Ambassador Bartha told me later in the day that after my meeting with Kadar the latter had phoned the Foreign Ministry to press them on the two documents.)

8. He then asked me to tell President Carter that he appreciated the oral message and had no difficulty in being responsive to it. The Helsinki Accords provided a basis for improved relations among all the signatory countries and the Hungarians had found its provisions compatible with their own historical experience and outlook on life. They mean to continue to implement those provisions in reasonable order.

9. He concluded his remarks by recalling his meeting in Moscow with Governor Harriman in 1963 when the Governor was there to sign the Test Ban Treaty. He remembered in great detail that evening at the sports stadium when Harriman came in with Khrushchev and was introduced to Kadar. He mentioned his discussion with Harriman on the Mindszenty issue and the Hungarian position at the United Nations.5 He spoke warmly of the Governor, stating no man understood East-West relations better than he and asked me to convey his greetings to him.

10. After quipping that I could report that the Governor’s story of that evening in Moscow coincided on every detail with Kadar’s own, I responded to the main points he had raised.

11. I pointed out first of all the significance of the President’s decision on the Crown. It was not only right morally but it was an act of political courage and explained why. I mentioned too that both the President and Secretary Vance had always recognized that the Crown was Hungarian property and that in spite of some domestic opposition felt that the time had come to return it to the Hungarian people. I said that this act reflected the President’s general approach to East-West relations and spelled out the points made in State 292670: That the President was committed “to cooperation and not confrontation,” as evidenced by his determination to reach a SALT Agreement, to pursue MBFR to a successful conclusion and to prevent proliferation of nuclear [Page 480] weapons. Because of the President’s technical knowledge of the nuclear problem no Chief of State had a better appreciation of the full significance of the nuclear threat. I pointed out that Averell Harriman and Marshall Shulman typified the kind of advisers that the President had on Soviet-American relations, and emphasized that Secretary Vance had long since been known for his constructive, moderate approach to East-West relations. I suggested that if he hadn’t already done so, Kadar should read the President’s Charleston speech6 to get a realistic exposure to the President’s views on world affairs. He said he was familiar with it.

12. In regard to MFN, I emphasized that the Executive Branch of the government was in favor of granting it to Hungary, but we had to meet the requirements of the 1974 Trade Act.7 We thought that this could be done to the mutual advantage of both countries without adversely affecting either nation’s self-esteem. As Kadar undoubtedly knew, we had made our first proposal for meeting the political requirements of the act and we were waiting for the GOH’s response. We hoped we could solve the political aspects of the matter fairly soon so that we could proceed to negotiate a trade agreement. To my surprise, he asked whether MFN was linked with the Crown. I made it clear that there was no linkage. (Comment: I am puzzled by this question, but perhaps it results from the fact that when we told Foreign Minister Puja about the President’s decision to return the Crown we also made our first proposal about MFN. Budapest 3749).8

13. I also commented on the importance of extending our bilateral contacts. We were pleased with the cooperation between members of our Embassy and officials of the Foreign Office and other government departments. We would now like to develop similar relationships with members of the Party. When Senators McGovern and Biden and Counselor Nimetz were here they had a chance to talk with Mr. Gyenes and Mr. Berecz, top Party officers, and this had proved very useful. In fact, we had invited Mr. Berecz to visit the United States and we hoped that he would be able to accept.

14. We also desired to increase our contacts between the private individuals of our two countries and between organizations, particularly in the fields of education, science and technology and culture. I saw no reason why our exchanges should not be on a scale similar [Page 481] to those of Poland and the Soviet Union. His response was positive in regard to all the above contacts and exchanges. He stated in his direct simple way these “exchanges were reality.”

15. Finally, I said that in addition to bilateral issues, I hoped that our dialogue would also deal with important international issues of common interest. I recalled that when Secretary Vance had seen Foreign Minister Puja in New York, the Secretary discussed at some length Middle East developments and progress in the SALT negotiations, as well as bilateral subjects.

16. Before the conversation ended, Kadar asked me again to be sure and convey his appreciation to the President for the decision to return the Crown and to emphasize that he foresaw increased cooperation between our two countries. We could accomplish a great deal on a realistic basis, he added. We could live normally with each other, and we don’t have to announce our achievements in “bright neon lights.”

17. Comment: A. Although Kadar has the complexion of a man of his actual years—it is slightly blotchy and puffy—the vigor of his movements and the liveliness of his mind belie his age. He walks with an attractive strut which reminds one of a confident athlete. He articulated easily and with animation in spite of the fact that the only other person present was a woman interpreter. This is in contrast with his public speaking style which is apparently rather diffident. One is struck by his poise. He has the dignity of a man who has gone through severe trials and emerged on top, but has learned the appropriate lessons from his earlier experience. He is a smoker. He consumed about five cigarettes. Early in our meeting two scotch and sodas were brought in which we imbibed at about the same speed in the course of our conversation.

B. Perhaps the most striking aspect of our substantive discussion was his emphasis on the economic side of Hungarian life. More than once he referred to the political importance of Hungary’s economic progress. There is not only pride in what has been achieved, but determination to effect a steady improvement in the standard of living. He appreciates the fact that the achievement of this objective requires important economic ties with the West.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770461–0966. Secret; Exdis.
  2. Telegram 292670 to Budapest, December 8, provided Kaiser with instructions for his meeting with Kadar. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770455–0720) Telegram 3749 from Budapest, October 28, reported Kaiser’s meeting with Puja the day before and their discussions on MFN. See footnote 3, Document 149.
  3. For Kaiser’s personal recollection of the content and atmosphere at the meeting, see his memoirs, Journey Far and Wide, pp. 287–290.
  4. On December 7, Brzezinski approved on Carter’s behalf the following oral message: “I wish to take this opportunity to express my satisfaction at the recent positive developments in relations between our two countries and peoples. It is my desire and intention to continue building on these relations to the mutual benefit of our peoples and in support of those principles and goals embodied in the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Europe, USSR, and East/West, Hunter Subject File, Box 14, Hungary, Crown of St. Stephen 12/77) The text was transmitted as part of the instructions in telegram 292670 to Budapest. See footnote 2 above.
  5. No record of this conversation was found. See Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XVI, Eastern Europe; Cyprus; Greece; Turkey, footnote 4, Document 28.
  6. Reference is to President Carter’s speech on U.S.-Soviet relations at the annual meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference in Charleston, South Carolina, July 21. For the text of the speech, see Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book II, pp. 1309–1315.
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973–1976, Document 223.
  8. See Document 149 and footnote 3 thereto.