133. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Wilhelm G. Grewe, German Ambassador
  • Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary

Ambassador Grewe called on the President at the request of the German Embassy to present a letter addressed to the President by Chancellor Adenauer (translation attached).2 The President commented, as the Ambassador handed over the communication, that he had read about it in the press that morning in an article by New York Times correspondent Sydney Gruson from Bonn. The Ambassador protested that this was a very partial and inaccurate account, as the President would see.

After reading the letter, the President commented that he had great difficulty understanding reports of trends towards neutralism in Europe particularly in contrast to the tremendous military preparedness effort which the United States is making. He said he appreciated of course that there had been some disenchantment at the inability of the Allies to hit back vigorously after the Soviet sealing off of East Berlin. This feeling was of course shared in the United States. However, even the counter measures which had been proposed by Mayor Brandt were wholly inadequate responses. The President said he had discussed this question with Secretary Rusk this morning and was very apprehensive about possible Soviet and East German harassment of civil air access to Berlin.3 He felt it urgent that appropriate counter measures for any such move be readied.

The Ambassador said there were some people who had not been satisfied with the Allied response and there were some criticisms of the continuance of interzonal trade despite the Soviet/GDR action. If further [Page 381] measures were taken against us by the other side without strong reactions there was a possibility of serious discouragement in West Berlin and the Federal Republic.

The President said he was inclined to agree with the Ambassador’s remarks and with the observations in the Chancellor’s letter. He asked, however, what the Germans expected in the way of Soviet moves and what they expected as counter measures. The Ambassador replied that the Federal Government felt the counter measures might be more timely and might be taken earlier with respect to a whole range of Soviet harassments which fell short of touching what we described as vital interests. The President then asked the Ambassador whether there were any differences between the Germans and others in the Ambassadorial Group. The Ambassador replied that there had been some difference with respect to the application of counter measures related to interzonal trade. At the President’s request, Mr. Kohler then briefly summarized the points of view which had been expressed both in the Paris Foreign Ministers Meeting and in the subsequent Ambassadorial Group discussions, pointing out that it was generally agreed even by the Germans that this was an instrument of considerable importance not to be lightly applied, particularly since the burden of civilian traffic—which constituted 95% of the volume—would then fall on Allied military means of transport. Terminating this discussion, the Ambassador commented that the Federal Government was not complaining about this matter. The President said that he agreed that it was desirable that we be able to respond quickly to Soviet moves and not seem supine. He asked that this question of counter measures be urgently discussed in the Ambassadorial Group and pointed out that he was expecting a report on this subject tomorrow.

The Ambassador then said that the FRG was somewhat bothered by public references made to the definition of the three vital Allied interests involved in the Berlin situation and press comments along this line. He said that the FRG feared that this would constitute an invitation to the Soviets to aggress in the sectors which were not included in this definition, such as the ties between West Berlin and the FRG. The President reiterated that there should be a careful examination of all possible Soviet moves and of non-military counter measures, so that if there were a Soviet attack in non-vital areas there would be an appropriate non-vital response.

The Ambassador then commented on a passage of the Adenauer letter stating that, while the Chancellor agreed on the need for negotiations, he was somewhat worried as to whether Western initiative might not be interpreted by the Soviets as weakness. He said there were some West Germans who were reading into our readiness to negotiate a willingness to make concessions, since there was much speculation in the [Page 382] press and our negotiating positions were not publicly known. The President commented that this was the position of General de Gaulle. He said it was a real problem since it was clearly not desirable to try to develop negotiating positions which might be publicly speculated about before the German elections. The Ambassador said perhaps the immediate problem could be handled by having the Information Subgroup of the Ambassadorial Group consider the problem and take a more aggressive information line.

The President then told the Ambassador about his intention to appoint General Lucius Clay as his personal representative with the rank of Ambassador on temporary assignment in Berlin4 which he thought should help to maintain morale and confidence in Berlin and Germany. After indicating he welcomed this news, the Ambassador added that we needed more Western complaints about Soviet actions. In this connection he said the hint in the President’s recent statement about self-determination in Eastern Europe had been considered valuable by the FRG.5 His Government considered that the Soviets were both vulnerable and sensitive on this point (the President noted that he might have an opportunity to say something more on these lines at a press conference).

The President then said that there was obviously no difference of opinion between the Chancellor and himself. He did want to ask, however, the Ambassador’s view as to how serious were the tendencies toward neutralism hinted at in the Gruson story. The Ambassador replied that there was some latent neutralism around, some doubt about how far the West would go and some question about whether the Chancellor’s Atlantic policy had been right. For the most part these tendencies were on the part of small splinter parties which had been quiet for the past couple of years, but were now speaking up again. The President asked what they saw as an alternative. Did they want Ulbricht? As the Ambassador shook his head to indicate no, the President assured him that it is the very real purpose of the United States Government to maintain solidarity with the FRG. The United States was prepared and he felt that we were going to the brink of nuclear war. If we were willing to face this prospect, there must be good faith on both sides. This was a very serious question. The Ambassador said he could assure the President [Page 383] that there was no fundamental reversal of mood in the FRG. However there were the tendencies he had described and of course in an election campaign the Chancellor was particularly sensitive to them.

The President thanked the Ambassador and told him he would make an early reply to the Chancellor.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.62A/8-3061. Secret. Drafted and initialed by Kohler and approved by the White House on September 11. The meeting was held at the White House. For a brief account of this meeting by Grewe, see Rückblenden, p. 496.
  2. Not attached. In it Adenauer expressed his understanding of the U.S. desire to negotiate and de Gaulle’s concern that negotiations might be misinterpreted. Because of this he welcomed the forthcoming meeting of the Western Foreign Ministers and stressed the need for a fresh examination of non-military countermeasures that might be taken against the Soviet Union. (Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204)
  3. The President met with Rusk, Bundy, and Taylor from 9:50 to 10 a.m. (Kennedy Library, JFK Log Book) No other record of this meeting has been found.
  4. At 4 p.m. on August 29 the President and General Clay discussed his appointment as the President’s Personal Representative in Berlin. (Kennedy Library, JFK Log Book) On the following day Kennedy sent Clay a letter appointing him to the position and outlining his position in the military and political chain of command in the city. (Ibid., National Security Files, Germany, Berlin, General Clay) For text of the statement Kennedy made at a press conference on August 30, see Documents on Germany, 1944-1985, pp. 786-787.
  5. For text of this statement, made at the President’s press conference on July 19, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, p. 520.