218. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Negotiations on Berlin


  • Germany
    • Chancellor Adenauer
    • Foreign Minister Schroeder
    • Defense Minister Strauss
    • Under Secretary Carstens
    • Mr. Franz Krapf
    • Mr. von Eckhardt
    • Mr. Schnippenkoetter
    • Ambassador Grewe
    • Heinz Weber (interpreter)
  • United States
    • President Kennedy
    • Secretary Rusk
    • Secretary McNamara
    • Under Secretary Ball
    • Mr. Kohler
    • Mr. Bohlen
    • Ambassador Dowling
    • General Clay
    • Mr. Bundy
    • Mr. Nitze
    • Mr. Hillenbrand
    • Mrs. Lejins (interpreter)
[Page 604]

Secretary Rusk said that he had met earlier this morning for over an hour with Foreign Minister Schroeder and other members of the German delegation to discuss some of the questions on the present agenda.2 As usual, when Ministers do the talking, the experts must tidy up matters afterwards. One of the matters discussed was the legal position of West Berlin, on which there is a difference of opinion between the U.S. and Germany. While Germany considers West Berlin to be a German “Land,” with a certain suspension of its status on the basis of the 1949 action of the Military Governors, the U.S. does not consider West Berlin a “Land.” Whether this difference in view would have any serious effect on the projected negotiations with the Soviets is not quite clear at this point. Both Germany and the U.S. agree that the ultimate aim of both the U.S. and the Federal Republic is to retain the freedom of West Berlin to establish its own relations and other ties with the Federal Republic, which ties are vital to the maintenance of Berlin’s existence and prosperity. The U.S. recognizes the importance of the psychological aspects of the situation, since Berlin feels its existence closely tied to Allied rights; at the same time West Berlin has intimate ties with the Federal Republic. The U.S. may have to take the view that the German Basic Law is inoperative for Berlin and that Berlin can make its own contractual arrangements for its ties with the Federal Republic. If the negotiations which the U.S. envisages with the Soviet Union will assure improved access conditions, then the Federal Republic might be willing to put into the background the constitutional aspects of this matter. It is hoped that something more definite can be written up on this subject before the end of these present meetings. The Secretary wondered whether the German Foreign Minister might like to make some comment on his summary of the discussion of this point. The German Foreign Minister had nothing to add.

The Secretary continued that not all aspects of access to Berlin had of course been covered, but only certain ones on which there might be a difference between the U.S. and Germany. Germany was extremely anxious to see that everything was done to guarantee German access to West Berlin. The U.S. took the stand that free access to Berlin was an essential requirement, and that our right to access included both military and civilian access on the basis of our Occupation rights. The West Berliners are entitled to exercise such access, as well as those with whom West Berlin wants to communicate, including the West Germans. Thus, there should be no real difficulties between us and Germany if any arrangement which we might enter into with the Soviets makes it clear that we are talking about full access, which includes both military and [Page 605] civilian access; and, of course, we encompass German access in our understanding of civilian access.

The President understood on the basis of this presentation that there existed no real substantive difference between the U.S. and Germany on the matter of access to Berlin, but that the problem was essentially one of formulation.

The Secretary indicated that the Germans feared that when we talk to the Soviets of Allied access we might refer only to Allied access or infer that this did not include German access. West Berlin cannot live without full access. As a footnote, the Secretary wished to add that there might perhaps be an advantage in having some kind of a new agreement or arrangement with the Soviets on the matter of access. Such an agreement would not destroy our Occupation rights but rather would be superimposed on them. The Occupation rights would remain in the background and could be called upon if needed. Thus the new contractual agreement could spell out in detail what the rights of access were, but they would be based on our Occupation rights. In this manner the Soviets could then concentrate on the new agreement as such, while we could move confidently because all this was based on our Occupation rights, pending a peace treaty with Germany as a whole.

The question of possible dealings with the GDR on matters of access needed to be worked on further, the Secretary indicated. We supposed that first of all it would be necessary to clarify the right of access with the Soviets. We would have to make sure that these rights would in no way be diminished. We would point out that we expected the Soviets to guarantee these rights, and that the Soviets would have to ensure that East Germany would comply with whatever was agreed upon. We, the U.S., would not enter into any negotiations on access rights with the GDR itself.

The problem before us was what might happen after the Soviet Union enters into a separate peace treaty with the GDR. What will happen if the Soviets should subsequently disappear from the checkpoints and withdraw from administrative arrangements with reference to access? Who in that case should take over dealing with the GDR on the implementation of access rights? In order to minimize the international aspects of the GDR, we have suggested to the West Germans that they undertake to maintain the necessary contacts in technical matters. Apparently there has been some misunderstanding on what we mean when we speak about “talking” to the GDR. We do not mean negotiations, but only practical day-by-day dealings, such as might be involved in clearing up traffic jams, doing certain repair work, or getting a barge through a canal. The question of the access rights themselves, or any indicated deliberate political obstruction of access, is something entirely different. Then, we would look to the Soviet Union for satisfaction and [Page 606] neither we nor the Federal Republic will negotiate on such matters with the GDR. At this point the Federal Republic is considering whether it would prefer the Western powers to take over practical dealings with the GDR or whether they themselves should assume this responsibility.

The German Foreign Minister stated that this is a problem which does not involve the matter of recognition of the GDR, but that Germany is concerned about the safeguarding of civilian access. The Federal Republic fears chicanery on the part of East Germany, which may demand unreasonable controls, inspections and institute other forms of harassment. This type of thing will be much more difficult for Germany to deal with than for the Allied powers. It is a purely practical matter for Germany.

The Secretary of State voiced the opinion that on the basis of what has transpired in the conversations of this morning, it would appear that it might be necessary to prepare a detailed description of what the present exercise of the right of access consists of, so that we can insist vis-à-vis the Soviet Union that East Germany must permit the exercise of access at least on the level described in this document. This would require a great deal of detail in order to avoid new access formulae by East Germany. This description of the exact character of the access to be exercised should be included in whatever agreement we reach with the Soviets.

The President indicated that in his discussions with the German Ambassador, he had learned that talks of the nature now discussed had already been taking place between East and West Germans on a number of technical matters.

The Secretary of State then pointed out that the real problem left now was how to handle the 5% of traffic which was the military part of the total. He did not anticipate too much of a problem with the civilian traffic.

The President pointed out that it was very important that every detail of this be worked out.

The Secretary of State then recalled that at one point in the morning’s discussions, the possibility of a certain amount of UN participation in this matter had been brought up. He felt that there might be a certain advantage to having international civil servants enter the access-control picture. They would be individuals on the spot, without political implications, to whom either side could talk. Such UN participation might prove to be a barrier to bad faith.

The German Foreign Minister then indicated that, if the UN were brought into the picture in this manner, the occasion would certainly arise where the Secretary General of the UN would have the authority and the need to talk to the GDR. The Foreign Minister felt that this constituted [Page 607] an element of recognition of the GDR which, to him, represented a much greater danger and was less desirable than direct talks between the Allied Powers and the GDR.

The Secretary added that would be no such complication, of course, if there were an International Autobahn [Access]Authority. The Secretary of State then pointed out that the morning’s discussion had not gotten around to the stationing of UN troops in West Berlin. To be sure, the Soviets had offered Soviet forces to be placed in West Berlin as guarantors of the freedom of the city. We opposed the stationing of Soviet troops in West Berlin. We were strong enough to safeguard and defend West Berlin ourselves. Moreover, we did not feel that the Soviets had any experience in safeguarding democratic freedom in any area. He felt sure, however, that the question of stationing a UN contingent in Berlin might well arise. He did not feel that the UN was inclined to assume additional expenses and responsibilities such as would be involved in stationing a contingent of troops in Berlin. He also knew that West Germans were skeptical about such a contingent.

The German Foreign Minister confirmed the Secretary of State’s statement, indicating that the Federal Republic much preferred to see their share of UN troops in the form of British, French or American troops. Germany was truly skeptical, however, about UN forces as such.

The Secretary of State stated that we did not assume, by any means, that such UN forces would replace the forces of the Three Western Allies. Nor—as the President interjected—assume our responsibility.

The Secretary of State continued that the stationing of a UN contingent would make it much more difficult for the Soviets to resume their pressure on Berlin. Moreover, if UN organizations and activity were brought into West Berlin, the significance of the city would be greatly increased and this measure might put a stop to further harassment by the Soviets. It was no guarantee, however.

The German Foreign Minister pointed out that if it were possible to bring UN authorities and activity into West Berlin this would be highly desirable, but he would first see whether this is really possible before he would consider placing a UN contingent there. The stationing of a UN contingent in Berlin would really be contrary to the usual UN practice. Usually, the host country is expected to guarantee the safety of the UN activity in a given locality. In this case, it would appear as though the UN itself were having to protect its own organization. Thus, he would prefer that the matter of stationing UN activities in Berlin be taken up first, and the UN contingent left for later eventualities.

The Chancellor interjected at this point that he considered the establishment of UN activities in West Berlin extremely important, especially as a psychological measure, since it would convince the Berlin [Page 608] population that there was no intention of ever sacrificing them to the Soviet Union. UN soldiers, on the other hand, did not constitute such a guarantee.

The Secretary of State indicated that this was not a matter which the U.S. felt we should press. It remained to be seen whether some UN contingent might be advantageous, but it was a question to be left open.

The President then asked whether the Chancellor would like to comment on the points thus far covered.

The Chancellor indicated that the first point, i.e., the constitutional status of Berlin, is what he considers most important of all. While Western Germany is ready to do everything in its power for the benefit of the Berlin population, he feels that what is right is right and must be upheld. He himself was the chairman of the Constitutional Committee that drafted the Basic Law. He was, therefore, well acquainted with what had happened in connection with the suspension provisions concerning Berlin’s status. He realized that certain things had happened subsequently, which were not quite in accord with these provisions, but the Allies had not objected, since they had not considered these matters particularly serious. Only in one instance had they vetoed a measure thus undertaken. But, from the standpoint of international law, the Chancellor felt, the status of Berlin was very clear and had to be upheld—including the suspension provisions.

The Secretary of State pointed out that there had been general agreement in the earlier morning meeting to do everything possible to uphold West Berlin’s freedom of action and its right to maintain its ties with Western Germany, since these were fundamental to Berlin’s well-being.

The German Foreign Minister recalled a discussion carried on during the earlier morning meeting about the existence of about 80 Federal German Agencies in West Berlin. While the Federal Republic did not consider many of these particularly important, it felt nevertheless that as long as they were there, their removal would be a psychological blow to the Berlin population, who were very sensitive on such matters. Thus, if the Federal German coat of arms were to be taken down in even one of these offices, it would be interpreted by the Berlin population as a sign of retreat and withdrawal. Thus, the Foreign Minister reiterated this matter was a psychological rather than a constitutional one.

The Chancellor on his part reiterated that he considered this a purely psychological problem, and he wanted to hear no further talk about the removal of coats of arms. He felt certain that in their talks with the Soviet Union the US would be called upon to make certain concessions. If this were so, the US could insist on the introduction of UN activities [Page 609] in Berlin as a sort of replacement, and this would help the situation.

The President confirmed that we should start negotiating on the basis of a position, such as outlined by the Secretary of State, which would insist on the complete freedom of Berlin to maintain its relations with West Germany and with whomever it pleases. He had understood that Ambassador Kroll told Khrushchev that the ties between West Germany and West Berlin were not negotiable. Nevertheless, before we were through negotiating, there might of necessity develop some limitations on the freedom of Berlin.

The German Foreign Minister reiterated what he had said in the earlier morning meeting; namely, that if the negotiations with the Soviets would result in greatly improved and more secure access this might ease many of the other Berlin problems, which would then be viewed in a somewhat different light.

The President then stated he understood that point five had not been covered in the earlier meeting and he proposed that he and the Chancellor withdraw to his office for a private conversation, while the remaining members of the two delegations went over the unresolved points of the agenda.3

At this point (11:45 a.m.) the President and the Chancellor withdrew to the President’s office.

The Secretary noted that, in his discussions with Gromyko he had the impression that the latter was not only talking about the external boundaries of Germany but also about the internal demarcation line. It is clear that we are not going to recognize this demarcation line as an international frontier nor are we going to recognize the GDR. As to the external boundary, we see no way of changing the Oder-Neisse line in the foreseeable future. Admittedly this point should not be given away free, but we should have it in the background as a possibility for discussion if something valuable could be gained thereby. The Secretary did not see how in this country we could keep open the question of moving the frontier further to the East. We recognize of course that in the past the Federal Republic has renounced the use of force in this context and is willing to repeat this assurance. We on our side are prepared to consider postponing any formal recognition until reunification and the Peace Treaty can be worked out but support of revision of this line to a point further east is not our policy.

Foreign Minister Schroeder said that the Federal Republic was prepared to consider repeating to the Soviet Union its undertaking never to have recourse to force to modify the boundary of Germany or to achieve [Page 610] reunification. It is prepared to accept a guarantee of this by the three Western Powers. However, if it were to go beyond this it would be giving up the last thing which could play a role in East-West negotiations. Something which could be used for profit would be abandoned without profit in unfavorable psychological circumstances. Moreover, he did not believe we could get much from the Soviets for acknowledgment of the Oder-Neisse boundary. He was aware that, in 1946, Secretary of State Byrnes had stated that the United States would support a revision of German frontiers in Poland’s favor. However, the extent of the area to be ceded to Poland was to be determined only in the final peace settlement. This left open the question of how far any border rectifications had to go. In summary then, Schroeder continued, the Federal Republic was opposed to going beyond renunciation of the use of force. It was opposed to narrowing down the field of future maneuver at the time of a peace settlement without benefit at the present time.

The Secretary said he was not at all sure that this was a point which gave us great bargaining value. The Soviets know that, in general, the Western countries are not prepared to support a movement of the line to the East. There has been the de Gaulle statement, and public opinion in most Western countries would agree with it. Therefore we could probably not get much for a final definition of the boundary in any event. If, however, the impression were left that despite its declaration of renunciation of force the Federal Republic intended to pursue an active policy with respect to its Eastern boundary, this would become an element of instability in Central Europe. It would enable the Soviets to keep Central Europe stirred up regarding German long range intentions. He believed it correct to say that Germany’s reconciliation with the West after World War II was of utmost importance in historical terms. The Eastern countries regarded this process in a different light. They did not believe in the purely defensive purposes of the Alliance or the peacefulness of German intentions.

Foreign Minister Schroeder said he understood the points the Secretary had made. If we were now at the stage of an East-West détente, then we could discuss frontier questions quite intensively. But today Germany is divided and the Eastern boundary of the country is within the GDR. The East German regime has solemnly recognized this boundary. The subject of discussion with the Soviets at the present time is Berlin—a question which the Soviets unnecessarily and artificially raised. To discuss the boundary question in this context would be to discuss it in the wrong context. It would create serious political difficulties within the Federal Republic. It would effect a boundary settlement unaccompanied by any other normal aspects of a peace settlement. To sum up, Schroeder concluded, this was the wrong time, place and context for resolution of the Oder-Neisse question.

[Page 611]

Defense Minister Strauss asked facetiously whether it would not be a violation of GDR sovereignty if the Western Powers attempted to guarantee one of its borders.

The Secretary commented that, as far as we are concerned, we have emphasized to the Soviets the problem of buying the same horse over again. The President had put it in terms of their attempting to sell an apple for an orchard. We do not believe we should once again be called upon to purchase our basic rights in Berlin. The Soviets will, however, surely raise the boundary question, and he did not believe that the American people were interested in any change in the Oder-Neisse line.

Foreign Minister Schroeder said he could accept what the Secretary said. If the Soviets were really prepared to make a satisfactory Berlin arrangement, then the question would arise whether the matter of peace treaty negotiations were [would] not become pertinent, but outside of the forum of Berlin discussions. If, however, the West gave up in advance, all questions related to the peace treaty, then the Federal Republic would have nothing to gain from a peace treaty. This would destroy the theory we have, which is that a Germany unified on a basis of self-determination is in the best position to negotiate a peace treaty. Although it is true that many people in the world consider the Oder-Neisse line settled, certain facts also remain on the other side of the argument. He could also agree that the longer the West waited on this the weaker its position became, but he had grave reservations relative to settling the Oder-Neisse question within the Berlin context.

The Secretary asked the Foreign Minister whether he would be willing to present his thoughts as to how he saw the future of reunification. We on our side believed it important to sustain the principle of unification and self-determination in Germany. He wondered how Foreign Minister Schroeder saw movement coming in this direction. How could a solution be advanced?

Schroeder said that the basis for reunification is a free Germany and a piece of this free Germany is our battle over Berlin. If the Federal Republic could “radiate” its influence this would prevent a further decline of the GDR into total communism. Maintenance of psychological connections was important. To reiterate, the Foreign Minister continued, it was necessary to increase possible contacts with the GDR. It was clear, of course, that a totalitarian system such as that in the GDR could only be eliminated from the outside, but the West could not contemplate forceful intervention in the GDR. A difficult historical process was involved, for which no schedule could be set. But, Schroeder continued, we have experienced an acceleration of historical developments in the past because of a shift in the basic forces involved. In 1953, he recalled, Defense Minister Strauss and he had come to Washington, and the main subject of discussion then had been the Saar problem. This seemed beyond solution [Page 612] at the time. Yet 8 years afterwards no one even mentions the subject. Certainly the Saar question is more simple than the present problem, but it was nevertheless a complicated problem in its own right with deep and difficult historical roots. Schroeder referred to the fact that he had used the word “contacts”, but he wanted to point out that he meant it in a somewhat different sense than that normally attributed to it by the US. He did not believe you could overcome a system such as that in the GDR by administrative contacts, if the system was not already shattered internally. The Federal Republic was however, prepared to increase its economic and cultural contacts, even if it did not believe these would bring on reunification. Such a program was not entirely lacking in danger. If such contacts tended to make GDR leaders seem socially acceptable, then the people of the GDR would hold responsible those who contributed to this. In addition to the factors he had already mentioned, Schroeder concluded, a long term program for reunification also required maintenance of Western strength and unity.

The Secretary commented that he was not at all sure that there was much difference between us when we speak of “contacts”. There is some evidence that the people of central and eastern Europe feel themselves part of the tradition of Western civilization. They are attracted to the West. In the case of Poland we feel that the multiplication of our contacts tends to move the Poles in a direction we want to see them move. We have trade with Poland and a lively exchange program. We assume that this great underlying sense of wanting to belong to the West also applies to East Germany. Our effort therefore is to get in to contact with the feelings indicated, even if it involves some official dealings.

Foreign Minister Schroeder said it was sometimes easier for the Federal Republic to do this with foreigners under an ideological system completely different than with the GDR. In other words, were it not for the Oder-Neisse question, the Federal Republic would find it easier to have relations with Poland than with the East German system. There was no doubt of course that 90% of the population of the GDR opposed the regime, but the iron band of the power system in control made all the difference. If the West did anything to encourage an uprising in East Germany, it must be prepared to help the uprising. Otherwise such action would be irresponsible. This consideration set a limit on the kind of activity which the Federal Republic can undertake.

In response to the Secretary’s query as to whether the frequently heard statement that there is no alternative to Ulbricht meant that the Soviets could not rely on the bureaucracy or the governmental structure of the GDR, Schroeder indicated that comments on this subject had to be largely based on speculation. People often think of the Ulbricht problem in terms of his special relationship with Moscow as a result of his many years there. He believed that any successor would not conduct policy in [Page 613] a greatly different fashion or basically alter the structure of the government. What would take place would be a pure power struggle. The regime in the GDR was a fairly stable one.

Turning to the subject of European security, the Secretary pointed out that the US is not interested in disengagement. We had had an experience in Korea with disengagement and the results were unhappy. As the Secretary had previously indicated, this would involve an abandonment by the US of its responsibility as a member of NATO. We expect to have a continuing substantive commitment of US power to the NATO Alliance. We were not interested in discrimination against the Federal Republic. In the past the point had been made that, in the essential, confrontation of the East-West power blocs physically occurs in Germany. Attempts to reduce this confrontation were interpreted as aimed at the Federal Republic. This is not what we have in mind. He wondered whether Schroeder saw anything in the disarmament field which might help reduce the scale of Soviet forces in East Germany. Did he see any basis on which the concentration of Soviet forces could be reduced?

Schroeder observed that the Federal Republic considered that the subject of European security could only be discussed in the context of German reunification and should not be raised purely in a Berlin context. The principle is the same as in the case of the Oder-Neisse line. As to the confrontation question, he did not believe that a reduction in Soviet troop strength would change the basic political situation in the GDR, or solve any of its other problems, even if the Soviets were willing.

Defense Minister Strauss said he agreed with Schroeder’s general assessment of this question but one aspect was worth further study. Decrease or withdrawal of Soviet forces from the area could be considered if a change of the political situation in the area affected would automatically or gradually be introduced from the outside. Kennan had asked this question. However, he (Strauss) considered it an optimistic speculation that withdrawal of Soviet troops from the area would prevent their speedy return. NATO was not in a position to prevent the re-entry of the Soviet armies because of its basically defensive nature and the grave risks of nuclear war which would be involved. Disengagement is a useful means to reduce tension when both sides are prepared to give self-determination to the people in the area of control. Under current circumstances, however, he did not believe that it would lower tension but would instead create a political vacuum which would bring all sorts of military and political dangers with it. He did not believe that Khrushchev was merely a Russian nationalist interested in securing the frontiers of Russia. He saw Germany as a strategic objective necessary to the further onward march of Communism. Co-existence was merely a methodology to achieve this. If the Soviet Union could pry loose Germany from NATO it would have achieved its next step of marching to [Page 614] the Rhine. As long as the Communists speak of world conquest and act on the basis of that objective the prerequisite of disengagement is lacking. The Communists are not interested in moving their influence back. At this point Strauss produced a map which, he explained, showed that the Western European potential was equal to that of the Soviet bloc up to the Urals. However, 90% of the European potential was concentrated in an area containing only 25% of the Communist potential. Europe could not be backed up any further without suffering mortally. Therefore a firm line of defense was essential.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Adenauer Visit. Secret. Drafted by Hillenbrand and Lejins and approved in S on November 26 and in the White House on November 29. The meeting was held in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Prior to this conversation with the President, Adenauer talked with Dean Acheson. A 2-page report on their meeting is ibid.
  2. See Document 217.
  3. See Document 219.