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AUSTRIA: Treaty of Independence

3 minute read

Austria rejoiced. Bells pealed, brass bands blared and thumped, choirs sang the national anthem, and the Vienna woods resounded to waltzes. For the first time in 17 years, Austria was free and sovereign. At 11:30 a.m. one day last week, the foreign ministers of Russia, France, Britain and the U.S. met in the marble room of Vienna’s Belvedere Palace and signed their names with gold pens to the Austrian State Treaty.

Article 35. Long delayed and often despaired of during almost nine years of negotiations and Soviet stalling, the final text of the treaty was hammered out in nine days’ bargaining between the ambassadors to Vienna of the Big Four occupying powers. The ambassadors’ conference, conducted in strictest secrecy, was probably the most cordial and fruitful session that Western negotiators have had with the Communists since World War II.

The last stumbling block was Article 35, which made over to the Soviet Union a vast collection of former German enterprises in Austria, including the Danube Shipping Co. and a 30-year title to some 60% of Austrian oil properties. In its anxiety to get an Austrian treaty signed, the West was willing, as late as 1954, to accept Article 35. Actually, the article was superseded last month when Austrian Chancellor Julius Raab flew to Moscow and agreed to buy back the German assets with a ransom of $2,000,000 cash, 10 million tons of oil and $150 million worth of manufactured goods in ten years. Russian Ambassador Ivan I. Ilyichev insisted that Article 35 remain in the treaty, on the ground that Raab’s deal with Moscow was purely bilateral, and no business of the West.

Spotting Snags. U.S. Ambassador Llewellyn E. (“Tommy”) Thompson was quick to spot the snag. Keeping Article 35 in the treaty, he pointed out, would give the Soviet Union a permanent legal pretext for reviving its claims on Austria, should Moscow ever decide to welsh on its deal with Raab. Washington, London and Paris supported Thompson’s stand. John Foster Dulles made it plain that he would not fly to Vienna to sign the Austrian treaty unless Ilyichev yielded. The result was a compromise: Article 35 was left in the treaty, but a note was attached, binding the Russians to the arrangements made with Raab in Moscow.

From that moment on, the treaty was ready for signature. Its main provisions: ¶ Restore Austrian independence by promising to withdraw the 60,000 occupation troops “within ninety days”; ¶ Establish Austria’s boundaries as they were on Jan. 1, 1938. and forbid another Anschluss with Germany; ¶ Respect Austria’s territorial integrity. Additionally, the Big Four are expected to promise to “recognize and observe” Austria’s neutrality.

Austria’s Foreign Minister Leopold Figl had gone out of his way to say that Austrian independence was “particularly due to American help.” When Molotov arrived from Warsaw (see above), all grinny with benevolence, Figl greeted him at the airport with a good-natured but double-edged reference to Austria’s ten years of occupation. “Now you come as a real liberator,” Figl told Molotov.

At the Austrians’ earnest request the Big Four agreed to eliminate a war-guilt clause written into the treaty. Then, after the signing, Figl led the four foreign ministers onto the balcony of Belvedere Palace. A cheering crowd went wild when the Austrian waved a copy of the treaty over his head. Molotov, Dulles, Macmillan and Pinay clasped hands together and solemnly held them aloft. That gesture, too, brought down the house.

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