195. Editorial Note
On April 5, 1978, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs George Vest, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Patricia Derian, and Director of Policy Planning Anthony Lake forwarded an action memorandum to Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher requesting decisions on a number of human rights issues prior to the arrival of Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu. Sent through Counselor of the Department of State Matthew Nimetz, the memorandum asked, among other issues, for a decision on how to raise the sensitive case of Constantin Rauta’s request for family reunification with Ceausescu’s party. (See Document 196.)
Constantin Rauta was part of the advance party preparing for Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu’s visit to Washington in December 1973, when he defected to the United States. Rauta, a diplomatic courier at the time he defected, requested that the United States facilitate his attempt to trade his classified pouch for permission for his wife and young child to immigrate to the United States. U.S. officials persuaded Rauta that such an attempt was impractical and that the pouch should be returned to the Romanian Government. Ceausescu considered Rauta’s defection a personal affront, and the Romanian Government refused to allow Rauta’s family to emigrate.
The focus placed on human rights by the Carter administration offered Rauta new traction. In telegram 196804 to Bucharest, August 18, 1977, the Department informed the Embassy of the increasing interest in the Rauta case of Representatives Charles Vanik, Joshua Eilberg, Bill Frenzel, as well as Senators Abraham Ribicoff, Henry Jackson, Paul Sarbanes, Jacob Javits, and Edward Kennedy. (National Archives, RG [Page 592] 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770299–0146) The Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Bureau pressed for an official démarche on the Rauta case. Romanian Ambassador to Washington Nicolae Nicolae, told newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Romania Rudolph Aggrey upon his arrival in Bucharest, “as a friend and colleague” that, in Nicolae’s opinion, the case was “heavily political here, that it is political to the very highest level, and that he saw no possibility of securing a reversal of the GOR’s stand.” Nicolae added that “any decision to reunite this family will be considered a reward and encouragement to others for treason, and will be taken only for the most pressing political reasons, at the highest level.” (Telegram 9067 from Bucharest, December 19, 1977; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770472–0250)
The Department of State continued to debate the issue internally. In telegram 305730 to Bucharest, December 23, 1977, Nicolas Andrews, Director of Eastern European Affairs in the Bureau of European Affairs, informed the Embassy: “We have given very serious consideration to Bucharest 9067. There have been conversations between us and Patt Derian’s office, between George Vest and Patt Derian, and so forth.” Andrews continued: “There is strong pressure from D/HA (and of course Rauta) to do something now. Romania’s poor reputation in human rights matters (beating up and detention of Goma, beating up of Baptists, continuing American-Hungarian propaganda on Transylvania, the ‘reprisals’ against the Jiu Valley miners, Goma’s statement in Paris, etc.) is not made up for by its adequate emigration record (especially to the US and FRG).” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770479–0302) While Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs George Vest was “not overly optimistic about the Romanian reaction” to a démarche, he considered that the case’s “potential to prejudice the normal development of our relations with Romania if left unresolved” made sending a note imperative. (Telegram 309076 to Bucharest, December 29, 1977; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770484–0036) The démarche, which was sent to Bucharest in telegram 2366, January 5, was discussed by Ambassador Aggrey with Deputy Foreign Minister Cornel Pacoste on January 6. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780009–0162) Pacoste refused to accept the note, denied that Rauta was a humanitarian case, and told the Ambassador that “he did not understand U.S. persistence (“insistence”) in this case and was surprised that U.S. Government is officially pressing for its solution.” (Telegram 109 from Bucharest, January 6; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780010–1118)
As preparations for Ceausescu’s visit went forward, the Rauta case was brought up repeatedly in all high-level discussions between U.S. [Page 593] and GOR officials. Counselor of the Department of State Matthew Nimetz discussed the issue on January 10 during his meeting with Romanian Ambassador Nicolae. (Telegram 7567 to Bucharest, January 11; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780017–0020) Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Patricia Derian raised the issue on February 14 with Ceausescu adviser Vasile Pungan, suggesting that failure to resolve the matter would force the U.S. Government to bring up the case during Ceausescu’s visit. (Telegram 43849 to Bucharest, February 18; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780077–0269) By late March, the Department concluded that pursuing the Rauta case on humanitarian grounds was unlikely to succeed. “We are willing to suggest to the right Romanian officials the possibility of a quid pro quo for the release of the Rauta family,” the Department informed the Embassy in telegram 79845, March 28. “We see no other way to break the present stalemate” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William Luers wrote. Representative Charles Vanik’s visit to Bucharest on March 31, Luers concluded, “offers a good opportunity to make the first try. Vanik has shown a personal interest in the Rauta case. More important, he has good bargaining chips, if he is willing to use them in this way.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780135–0178) Vanik discussed the Rauta case with Romanian Foreign Minister Stefan Andrei, without any success. (Telegram 2146 from Bucharest, April 1; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780142–0921)
On April 4, Helen Thomas, UPI White House correspondent, asked the President’s personal secretary, Susan Clough, to bring a letter from the Holy Cross Romanian Orthodox Church to the President’s attention. The letter asked the President to intervene on behalf of Rauta’s family with the Romanian Government, “perhaps during the upcoming visit of Romanian President Nicolai Ceausescu.” Carter forwarded the letter to his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski commenting “Zbig—I’d like to help.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, VIP Visit File, Box 12, Romania, President Ceausescu, 4/12–13/78: Cables and Memos, 12/13/77–4/10/78) Robert King, of the National Security Council Staff, was instructed to prepare, in cooperation with the Department of State, a paper for the President’s use on the Rauta case. King responded to the memorandum on April 7, detailing the Rauta case and the Romanian sensitivities, as well as the numerous instances in which the case was discussed with the Romanians. King wrote: “Bill Luers and I have discussed the problem and we agree” that the best U.S. Government strategy to get permission for the family to emigrate “is to offer to make some kind of underhanded deal with the Romanians—to approve an exchange of [Page 594] something the Romanians want in return for the exit visas.” King continued: “If the President were to raise this specific case with Ceausescu it would have serious repercussions and I strongly advise against doing so.” King also recommended that Brzezinski advise the President not to raise the Rauta issue with Ceausescu. Brzezinski disapproved the recommendation. (Ibid.)
On April 10, King forwarded to Brzezinski a memorandum for President Carter’s briefing book for the Ceausescu visit. The memorandum recommended that the issue be raised late in the visit and that it be raised in a tête-à-tête between Carter and Ceausescu. Most importantly, “the best way to approach the issue is not on humanitarian grounds and not by appealing to Ceausescu’s sense of justice” the memorandum stated. Rather, the President should “explain that the Rauta case has introduced discord in our relationship and express your desire that it be resolved so that such obstacles do not stand in the way of the further development of our relations.” (Ibid.) That same day, King also informed Brzezinski that Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher had approved a recommendation that Secretary Vance would raise the Rauta case privately with Romanian Foreign Minister Stefan Andrei. (See Document 196 and footnote 7 thereto.) Brzezinski signed King’s memorandum on the Rauta case and sent it to Carter on April 11.