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Eastern Europe: Secret Documents Reveal U.S. Diplomacy With East in 1960s

Washington, August 13 (RFE/RL) --Records of secret White House meetings on the 1968 Czechoslovak crisis and diplomatic cables on U.S. relations with other East European countries have been released by the U.S. State Department.

The papers are in the latest volume of Foreign Relations of the United States, a historical documentary series constituting the official record of U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy, going back to the year 1861.

The latest volume is No. XVII in a series of 34 volumes on the Johnson era. It deals with U.S. relations with Eastern Europe in the years from 1964 to 1968, during the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The State Department says major themes are the efforts of his administration to build bridges through trade policy to European communist regimes and America's reaction to developments in Czechoslovakia.

The documents reveal America's cautious response to that country's reform movement, allegedly to avoid giving any pretext to the Soviet Union.

A summary of the volume describes the U.S. as "an interested spectator" in 1968.

"The United States, in an effort to avoid provoking the Soviet Union, maintained its distance from the new Czechoslovak leadership" of reformers headed by Alexander Dubcek, it states

U.S. officials worried about persistent Soviet propaganda claims of outside Western support for the reformers and threats of intervention.

In July 1968, then U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk met with the Soviet ambassador to the United States., Anatoly Dobrynin, to assure the Soviets that U.S. policy was non-involvement in Czechoslovak internal affairs.

But in late July, cables from the U.S. embassy in Moscow to Washington warned of a high probability of Soviet military action.

On the eve of the invasion, August 20,1968, Dobrynin sought an audience with President Johnson and read him a note informing the United .States of Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia.

Following the Soviet invasion, meetings of U.S. policy-makers focused on ways of keeping Soviet power in check. Washington was primarily concerned about preventing similar action against Yugoslavia and Romania, as well as the neutral countries of Austria and Finland.

Romania had taken independent steps in trade and foreign policy away from Soviet control and in 1964 openly sought U.S. economic assistance.

The documents show Romania sought loans, technology and foreign investments and also tried to act as intermediary, setting up peace talks between the United States and Vietnam.

Under the presidency of Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania supported the Dubcek regime and spoke out against a Soviet military intervention, earning a degree of respect and support in the United States.

The United States warned Moscow against attacking Romania. According to the summary, "by late 1968, the Soviet threat appeared to diminish while the relationship between the United States and Romania was stronger."

The State Department says relations with Yugoslavia, the first defector from the Soviet Bloc, were uneven during the Johnson administration. He wanted to support market liberalization there, but his initiatives were blocked by the U.S. Congress, irritated by Yugoslav criticism of America's Vietnam policy and differences over the Middle East.

When Yugoslavia condemned the invasion, the U.S. attempted to protect and assist the government of Josip Broz Tito and even invited Yugoslavia's deputy prime minister to the White House to meet Johnson.

The documents published in this volume are drawn mostly from files of the U.S. State Department and presidential papers from Johnson's library in the U.S. southern state of Texas, Johnson's home state.