Today’s post is written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park. This blog post is derived from an article published on the web site “American Diplomacy: Foreign Service Despatches and Periodic Reports on U.S. Foreign Policy”
An essential aspect of the U.S. foreign policy program, especially since the 1930s, is the use of cultural representatives abroad. Having major musicians perform overseas under the auspices of the U.S. government is a major component of the cultural program. Planning for such events did not always proceed smoothly. In June 1974, the attempt to arrange for one such event led to a unique bureaucratic response, if not the specific performance itself.
In late June 1974, the U.S. embassy in the Philippines informed the Department of State of the impending inauguration of a new folk art theater, part of a cultural complex on Manila Bay. The embassy reported that while the Philippine Government had invited ministers of culture from a number of friendly countries, and the embassy expected several “significant” attendees, the U.S. had not received such an invitation because it had no cabinet level equivalent.
The embassy further reported that the noted pianist Van Cliburn had agreed to perform concerts on July 3 and 4, just a matter of days away. In order to give Cliburn an official imprimatur, the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs requested that the U.S. designate the performer as a “special cultural representative” or similar title. The ambassador, William Sullivan, noting that Cliburn was a “local favorite,” endorsed the idea, writing that “This strikes me as an easy and painless gesture for the U.S. Government to make in order to earn a useful return of Philippine appreciation.” Given the timing, however, he noted that the issue needed to be resolved quickly. 
The Department’s same-day response was short: “Regret any USG designation or special title representing USG would require Presidential appointment.”  At the time, President Nixon was traveling in the USSR.
The embassy responded the next day with a telegram filled with frustration. Referring to his earlier message, Ambassador Sullivan acknowledged recognizing that formal designation for Cliburn required a Presidential appointment. “That is why I sent Ref A to Washington.” He also noted that some designations did not require outside approval and could be handled “expeditiously.” Furthermore, Sullivan explained, he assumed that communication with the President was possible even though he was in the USSR and that White House staff knew how to make such arrangements and that the Department could “take the limited initiative to accomplish the designation.” He closed with “Please advise soonest result of mountainous labors directed toward this musical mouse.” 
The Department responded the same day with a list of requirements that had to fulfilled for White House consideration of the proposal. First, was the need for an official invitation from the Philippine government to the U.S. government requesting the designation of a Presidential representative (but not naming any specific person). Upon receipt of that invitation, the Department indicated that it would pursue the matter “vigorously” based on the initial rationale and any further justification the embassy wished to provide. In addition to the invitation, the embassy was told to provide information on dates; related events, such as presentation of credentials; who from other countries was expected to attend; inclusion of spouse, if appropriate; other noteworthy aspects of the opening of the new folk art theater; and whether Cliburn’s already-planned presence was as an official guest of the Philippine government and if his performances were commercial or non-commercial in nature. The Department’s message closed “We have your interests at heart.” 
In response to the Department’s instruction, the embassy responded with this telegram:
There are no further telegrams relating to the matter in the Central Foreign Policy File in the National Archives. Since the embassy admitted defeat, it seems likely the subject was dropped.
 1974 Manila 07539, June 25, 1974, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-1979, Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State. All the telegrams cited can be viewed on-line through the web site under the heading of “Diplomatic Records.”
 1974 State 136706, June 25, 1974, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-1979, Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State.
 1974 Manila 07594, June 26, 1974, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-1979, Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State.
 1974 State 138046, June 26, 1974, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-1979, Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State.
2 thoughts on “Diplomats Expressing Displeasure”
This was the perfect beginning to a day devoted to thinking strategically how to get something done. It made me laugh and made me grateful.
David Langbart should be on Twitter. He’s one of the most knowledgable and helpful archivists I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. He has much wisdom to share!
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