156. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France1

1691. Paris pass Finletter 9:00 a.m. Sept 23. Also pass Stoessel and McGuire. During post-luncheon conversation September 21 lasting nearly three hours both Secretary and Gromyko formulated at some length respective positions on Germany and Berlin.2 Atmosphere was reasonably relaxed but Gromyko’s presentation did not deviate from standard version of main Soviet themes as developed at Vienna and thereafter.

Emphasizing that these were bilateral conversations since he did not have mandate to speak for other governments, Secretary stressed that current Berlin crisis was essentially of Soviet creation. Threatened effect of peace treaty would move against vital interests and fundamental commitments of US. We did not want arms race but would not draw away from it if Soviet threats executed. We did not want conflict but would have to prepare and be ready to face one if it forced upon us. Both sides must know clearly what are vital interests of other so that there can be no mistake. We believed, Secretary continued, and thought Soviets believed that two countries shared common interests in preventing war. Soviet proposals however did not seem to be put forward in spirit of discussion and negotiation but rather as kind of unilateral edict.

[Page 432]

Mr. Gromyko noted Soviet Government had expressed readiness to have exchange of views between Secretary and himself in order to discuss question of peace treaty with Germany and settlement of West Berlin problem on basis of such treaty. Success of this exchange of views would be measured by extent to which two Governments would succeed in drawing line under World War II by signing peace treaty with Germany. Gromyko then launched into lengthy exposition of Soviet position on peace treaty, alleged FedRep revanchism and militarism and need to recognize fact of existence two German states. If unification at all possible it can be achieved not by heating situation between two German states but rather by peace treaty which would also solve problem of West Berlin. Gromyko reiterated that peace treaty would terminate occupation status and would proclaim West Berlin a free city. However, he argued, idea of free demilitarized city of West Berlin did not signify desire on part Soviets and GDR to gain hold over that city. Soviet Union prepared to accept strictest international guarantees and to have forces of all four powers in West Berlin to ensure what Secretary had called US presence in city. Added another possibility would be to have neutral forces stationed in West Berlin and a third possibility to have UN forces in the city.

Turning to access question Gromyko stated access linked to number of temporary (with stress on word “temporary”) agreements concluded as result of unconditional surrender of Germany. Peace treaty would change this situation and would necessitate solution of access problem on different basis. Intention was not to sever communications between West Berlin and outside world or to blockade city, but rule had to be observed that once peace treaty signed access would have to be based on arrangements with GDR through whose territory all communications lines ran including air. Both Soviet Union and GDR have repeatedly stated such arrangements would be respected. Soviet Union wished to reach agreement with US and Allies on peace treaty and West Berlin solution on basis of peace treaty. Only as last resort would Soviet Union sign peace treaty unilaterally. As to timing Soviet Union believed peace treaty should be concluded this year.

In answering Gromyko Secretary said that, while post-war agreements were temporary in sense they were intended to end when it became possible to conclude peace treaty with single German Government, it was not intended that one side would unilaterally terminate them before that time. He stressed that rearmament of FedRep was in non-aggressive framework of NATO and had been preceded by East German action same field. As far as Soviet proposals on Berlin were concerned, East Berlin had simply disappeared from scene and we were told that this is a non-negotiable subject. Thus, having disposed of East Berlin with regard to their four-power responsibility Soviets were now [Page 433] turning to West Berlin which our area of responsibility under four-power agreements. If Soviets wished to have troops in Berlin it could propose their stationing in East Berlin. Best guarantee of integrity of West Berlin and freedom of its population were proposals of three Western Occupying Powers. Moreover our access rights were not available to Soviet Government to be over to East German regime since Soviets cannot turn over to someone else what it does not have itself. Secretary expressed concern that from what he knew of Soviet position two countries were on collision course. It was important not to let situation get out of hand and develop into direct clash. It was for such a reason that he had recently called in Soviet Chargé on Soviet threats to Western air access since unilateral action in this field could seriously impede peaceful discussion.

Discussion of subject terminated with effort by Secretary to obtain indication from Gromyko as to whether latter conceived terms of reference present talks to be as narrow as described his opening statement. Gromyko fuzzed response and Secretary commented that he supposed he could take it that Gromyko did not exclude broader approach than discussion limited to peace treaty and settlement West Berlin problem on basis such treaty.

For Finletter: You may draw on foregoing in presentation to NAC Sept. 23.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/9-2261. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Hillenbrand; cleared by Fessenden, SOV, and S/S; and approved by Kohler. Repeated to Bonn, London, Moscow, Berlin, and USUN.
  2. An 18-page memorandum of this conversation is ibid., 611.61/9-2161.
  3. In his summary of the discussion on September 23, Finletter reported that all the North Atlantic Council members agreed that Gromyko seemed to have taken a much more rigid stand than Khrushchev on the Berlin question. (Polto 384 from Paris, September 23; ibid., 611.61/9-2361)