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Cablegate: Czech Republic: Holocaust Era Assets Conference in June

P 231300Z DEC 08


E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Top Czech officials are urging attendance at the
highest possible level by the United States and 46 other invited
countries at the June 26-30 2009 Prague Conference on Holocaust Era
Assets (HEA). The Czechs see the conference as a follow up to the
1998 Washington Conference and want it to have an equally important
impact in identifying solutions to outstanding Holocaust issues.
The GOCR is putting particular emphasis on education and is
sensitive to potential controversies in dealing with art and
financial issues. It will work through diplomatic channels in the
preparatory phase to avoid problems in gaining approval of a
conference declaration. The Conference will occur at the conclusion
of the Czech Republic's EU presidency. End Summary.

2. (U) On November 26, 2008, Ambassador Milos Pojar, GOCR special
representative, and Denisa Haubertova, advisor to DPM Alexandr
Vondra, briefed members of the diplomatic corps regarding the 2009
Holocaust Era Assets Conference. The stated objective of the
Conference is to "evaluate activities which followed from the
conclusions of the 1998 Washington Conference and give a new impetus
for further international cooperation with the emphasis on
education." The conference will take place in Prague and Terezin,
Czech Republic, on June 26-30, 2009. According to Haubertova, the
timing in late June 2009 is intended as a symbolic conclusion of the
Czech EU presidency. It is planned that the conference will be
officially concluded by signature of a joint declaration, referred
to as the "Terezin Declaration," focusing on the historical aspects
of the Holocaust and the current situation of Holocaust victims, as
well as on education and preserving the moral message for future

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3. (SBU) During his December 4 meeting with Representative Robert
Wexler (D-FL), Executive Director of the Federation of Jewish
Communities Tomas Kraus, who is also involved in organizing the June
2009 conference, summarized the expected results of the June
conference: 1) Bring attention to the outstanding tasks, but avoid
controversial issues; 2) encourage Holocaust education, including
the establishment of a special education institution in Terezin; 3)
establish in Prague an international association for provenance
research of art displaced during World War II.

4. (SBU) Originally, the Czechs envisioned a much smaller conference
that would focus on looted art only. However, with the support of
DPM Alexandr Vondra, who served as the Czech Ambassador to
Washington during the 1998 Washington Conference, the conference has
evolved into a much broader project. After consulting with
Ambassador Christian Kennedy, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, on
the idea of the follow-up conference, DPM Vondra proposed the
Holocaust conference to the Czech government. On July 23, 2008, the
Czech government approved the event and tasked DPM Vondra and
Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg with the conference's preparation.
Ambassador Milos Pojar was appointed as the country's special
representative for coordinating the conference.

5. (SBU) The organizers invited 47 countries and 22 NGOs to
participate. (Note: An official letter of invitation signed by PM
Mirek Topolanek was sent to President Bush in July 2008. End
note.). Three EU commissioners, namely Margot Walstroem, Jan Figel
and Vladimir Spidla, were also invited to assure high level EU
participation. The GOCR hopes for top officials from invited
countries to participate, and thus give the proceedings and the
final declaration a strong political mandate. DPM Vondra reiterated
during various official meetings, including his November 17-19 trip
to the United States, that it would be very important for the
overall impact of the conference to have a high level official from
the United States attend the conference, i.e. Secretary of State or
Vice President.

6. (SBU) Kraus stressed during his December 4 Prague meeting with
Rep. Wexler that the participation of the U.S. Secretary of State
would be crucial. Moreover, he stated that it would be vital to
have the information about the U.S. delegation by the end of March
at latest, so that other delegations could appropriately adjust the
level of their participation. Rep. Wexler promised to pass this
information to the transition team and mentioned that he may also
seek to form a congressional delegation to the 2009 conference.

7. (SBU) In preparing the conference, the Czech government is
heavily relying on the experience and know-how of the U.S.
government and NGOs which organized the 1998 Washington Conference.
During his November 17-23 trip to the United States, Ambassador
Pojar, Tomas Kraus, and Denisa Haubertova met with Ambassador
Kennedy and representatives of various organizations, including the
Claims Conference, American Jewish Committee, World Jewish Congress,
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and a delegation of
Holocaust survivors. Their meetings in the United States focused
among other things on the scope and structure of the planned
conference. The organizers adopted several recommendations from
Ambassador Kennedy, including the concept of a friends-of-the-chair
group, which could share preparation costs and help shape the agenda
of the respective working groups.

8. (SBU) According to the current Czech plans for the conference,
the opening plenary session would be devoted to reviewing issues
such as financial assets, bank accounts, insurance, and other
financial property. The US will assist the Czech Chair with the
preparations for the financial assets recovery and financial
compensation portion to ensure all stakeholders are consulted.
Former Treasury Deputy Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat has agreed to
deliver the opening speech on this subject. Then the participants
would divide into four working groups: 1) Holocaust education,
remembrance, research, and social programs for Holocaust victims; 2)
immovable property, both private and communal; 3) looted art; and 4)
Judaica and Jewish cultural property. The chairs of respective
groups together with the friends-of-the-chair will work on the
agenda and composition of the working groups, and will draft
respective parts of the final declaration. The following countries
have declared their interest in participating in the financial and
conceptual preparations: United States, Germany, United Kingdom,
France, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Austria, and Russia.

9. (SBU) The Czech government has allocated CZK 500,000 (about USD
25,000) for the conference, a sum substantially less than the full
cost of the conference. DPM Vondra mentioned financing issues
during his recent U.S. trip and stated that contributions from
private as well as federal sources were welcome. He left the United
States with a promise of USD 100,000 by the Claims Conference. It is
expected that the friends-of-the-chair will also share some of the
financial burden.

10. (SBU) Comment: Having approved the hosting of the 2009 HEA
conference, the Czechs have been careful to work through consensus
and hope to avoid at the conference certain controversial issues,
such as insurance claims and problems concerning looted art. They
have heard Ambassador Kennedy's advice that sensitive bilateral
diplomacy will be necessary to prepare the ground for progress at
this conference. In the Czechs' view, the conference should
motivate participants to undertake additional positive and tangible
steps. The Czechs feel very keenly the need for action. As Kraus
recently pointed out: "It is the last chance to do something, while
the Holocaust survivors are still around. Five years from now,
there may be no survivors."

11. (SBU) Comment continued: While the intent to make this
conference a successful cap to their EU presidency is clear, the
GOCR appears behind schedule in nailing down concrete preparations.
They indicated a time-line for working group meetings would be
forthcoming, but so far potential hosts for preparatory meetings
have not been formally approached for concept papers, dates, or
financial contributions. The Czech allotment of approximately
$25,000 would seem to indicate that they are expecting sizeable
contributions from other governments and NGOs. Furthermore, the
Czech proposals for a special education institution in Terezin and
establishment in Prague of an international association for
provenance research of art displaced during WWII are new ideas that
we have not yet been fully briefed on.

12. (U) Ambassador Kennedy (EUR/OHI) has cleared this cable.

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