The shilly-shally brigade at the State Department has succeeded in sandbagging a congressional effort to force the communist Czechoslovakian goverment to reimburse several thousand elderly Americans whose property in Czechoslovakia was confiscated 32 years ago.

The U.S. government holds a strong hand in the diplomatic poker game: 18.4 tons of Czech gold under the control of an American-British-French commission since it was captured from the Nazis after World War II. But Foggy Bottom is no match for the tight-fisted double-dealers in Prague. Our diplomats insist on negotiating in good faith, and the Czechs refuse to budge.

In May, legislation was introduced to Congress aimed at prodding the Czechs into a more reasonable attitude. If no agreement was reached within 60 days, according to the proposed legislation, the gold would be sold, the proceeds would be invested in Treasury bonds and the claimants would be paid from the interest over the next five years. Then, and only then, the proceeds of the gold sale would be turned over to the Czech government.

But the State Department lobbied frantically against the legislation, and won. The bill has been stymied by a key House subcommittee and the gold hoard, now worth between $300 million and $400 million, still sits locked in the vault. And the claimants -- many now in their late 80s -- still haven't gotten a penny of the $105 million due them from the communists.