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. 1
The Department’s same-day response was short: “Regret any USG designation or special title representing USG would require Presidential appointment.” 2 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.”3
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.”4
In response to the Department’s instruction, the embassy responded with this telegram:
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE
PAGE 01 MANILA 07657 270828Z
INFO OCT-01 EA-07 ISO-00 SS-20 M-02 NSC-04 USIA-12 A-01
R 270737Z JUN 74
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 4729
LIMITED OFFICIAL USE MANILA 7657
E.O. 11652: N/A
SUBJECT: VAN CLIBURN
REF: STATE 138046
1. UNTIL I RECEIVED AND READ REFTEL, I NEVER APPRECIATED
WHAT AN ENORMOUS HANDICAP OUR ASTRONAUTS OVERCAME WHEN THEY CIRCUMVENTED WASHINGTON BUREAUCRACY AND ACTUALLY LANDED
ON THE MOON.
2. DEPARTMENT’S ELABORATE OBFUSCATION HAS SUCCEEDED IN
EFFECTIVELY FRUSTRATING OUR SIMPLE REQUEST AND WE GRACELESSLY
ADMIT DEFEAT. HOWEVER, IF DEPARTMENT TRULY BELIEVES IT
HAS OUR INTERESTS AT HEART, I WOULD SUGGEST AN EXHAUSTIVE
ANOTOMICAL [sic] EXAMINATION.
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.
1. 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 http://aad.archives.gov/aad/ under the heading of “Diplomatic Records.”2. 1974 State 136706, June 25, 1974, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-1979, Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State.
3. 1974 Manila 07594, June 26, 1974, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-1979, Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State.
4. 1974 State 138046, June 26, 1974, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-1979, Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State.
5. 1974 Manila 07657, June 27, 1974, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-1979, Record Group 59, General Records of the Department of State. The document in the central file contains no drafting information, but a retired Foreign Service Officer with personal experience working with Ambassador Sullivan told me that it reads like a telegram he would have written.
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