25. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Eagleburger) to Secretary of State Shultz 1


  • Asylum-Seekers in our Embassies

Our policy towards Eastern Europeans seeking refuge in our Embassies has been based on three fundamental truths:

Much as we would like it to be otherwise, the host government has complete authority to grant or deny exit permission to its citizens. Our intercession carries little or no weight.
Although the situation varies from country to country, the mere presence of an individual in our Embassy may get him or her in trouble. The longer the stay, the more certain that the individual will face serious consequences upon departure. The exception to this—at least temporarily—is East Berlin, where the authorities have proved willing to negotiate with their citizens refusing to leave our Embassy. Their continued willingness to do so, however, is dependent on the numbers of such cases staying within tolerable limits.
Even short stays by one person can severely strain the security and administrative workings of the Embassy. Longer stays by larger numbers could quickly lead to a complete inability of the Embassy to perform its regular functions.

As a result of the above, our policy has been to take down all relevant information concerning an individual and then persuade him or her voluntarily to leave the Embassy as quickly as possible. With the notable exception of the Pentacostals in Moscow, this policy has been effective.2

The attached memo asks you to decide what happens when our strategy fails, i.e., when the individual involved refuses to leave the Embassy.3 It is timely because the publicity now being given to the East German cases can easily lead desperate people in other Warsaw Pact countries to try the same thing.

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It is EUR’s recommendation that we give the Ambassador the discretion (with the understanding that in normal cases, it would be used) forcibly to eject individuals that otherwise cannot be persuaded to leave at the end of the workday. I, on the other hand, recommend that all such cases be referred to the Department for decision (with the presumption being that no one would be forcibly ejected). HA supports my view.

This is a very tough call, as either choice has serious drawbacks. My option could lead to severe disruption of the functions of an Embassy for an indeterminate period of time. The EUR option could lead to harsh domestic and international criticism when the policy became known, as it surely would. (Genscher, for example, has already laid down several markers that forcible ejection of East German nationals from our Embassies would, to put it mildly, not be regarded favorably in the FRG.)

On balance, I believe that the cost of forcibly ejecting individuals seeking our help is simply too high to pay. First and foremost, it is not in keeping with our human rights policy. Moreover, the criticism would be too strong, both towards the Department and the Administration.

In reaching this conclusion, I was influenced by an incident at our Embassy in Warsaw less than one month ago. We were notified that the Embassy was planning forcibly to eject a Pole who was seeking asylum. Only due to this policy review were we made aware of the Embassy’s plans in time to prevent the ejection. Later we found that the man was in fact a dual national with a valid claim to American citizenship. The firestorm of criticism that would have hit the Department—and the Administration—if the ejection would have been carried out and the press informed—would have been simply overwhelming. It would also have made it more difficult to pursue our current policy initiative with the Polish Government. In the event, the individual was persuaded that it was in his best interests to leave and he did so voluntarily.

This is not to say that our Ambassadors cannot be trusted or that their judgment is suspect. It is to say that it is in the interests of the Department—and the Ambassadors themselves—that decisions of this magnitude are made here.

I recommend that you approve a policy that would have the decision forcibly to eject an individual be made in the Department and the normal presumption be that such a recommendation would be denied.

Lawrence S. Eagleburger 4
  1. Source: Reagan Library, Secretary George Shultz Papers, Executive Secretariat Sensitive (03/08/1984–03/12/1984). Secret. Hill initialed and dated the top of the memorandum on March 12.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. III, Soviet Union, January 1981–January1983, Documents 46 and 193.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Eagleburger signed his initials above his typed signature. Beneath his signature, he hand wrote, “I’m ready to discuss, if you wish.”