264. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State 1

1936. Eyes only for Secretary. Gromyko opened our meeting by reading lengthy written declaration2 prior to handing me drafts for proposed statute for free city West Berlin and protocol embodying guarantees therefor.3 (Translations documents reported Deptels and documents pouched Department for Kohler January 12.) Declaration reiterated that talks have brought to light certain indications agreement is possible on Berlin and other questions. It stated that although Soviet Government believes best solution would be conclude peace treaty and granting UN membership both German states, Soviet Government ready conclude agreement on status West Berlin prior to peace treaty. Stressed however that questions of formalization of existing German borders, respect for sovereignty GDR, prohibition nuclear arms for both [Page 752] German states, non-aggression treaty between NATO and Warsaw Pact must be considered simultaneously. Other problems such as strengthening European security by withdrawal or reduction foreign troops, establishing atomic free area are all vital points to be dealt with by negotiations after conclusion of West Berlin agreement. Declaration rejected concept international authority Berlin Autobahn as violating GDR sovereignty and in effect establishing a state within a state. In response my questions in first talk it stated Soviets by “free access,” mean completely free access in accordance with accepted international standards for such communication. Also repeated demand for participation of Soviet troops in event Western troops remain in West Berlin on temporary basis and proposed UN membership for West Berlin.

Interpreter then read statute and protocol.

I opened by reading almost verbatim from para 1 instructions4 but pointed out that I was not so sure initial talks had clarified issues after Gromyko’s remarks today. I omitted para 3 and presented para 4, 5, 6 and 7 (with exception of first sentence) in toto. Omitting para 8 and 9 I continued beginning with the third sentence of para 10, but omitted penultimate sentence referring to “numerous cases of transit across territory.”

I told Gromyko that on basis his remarks it would seem that we have come full circle and in some respects have taken a step backwards. I pointed out that now it even appeared that an agreement between us on access would have to be followed by an access agreement between GDR and proposed free city. (I made it clear that free city proposal is not acceptable to us.) I noted that he even reiterated Soviet insistence on introducing Soviet troops into West Berlin although it has been made clear on highest level that this would be unacceptable to us. I expressed regret his reaction to international authority for West Berlin access to avoid friction and tension.

Referring to remarks in declaration re Soviet prestige, I reminded Gromyko US prestige also involved and such things as construction of wall in Berlin constitute serious violations our rights. I informed Gromyko I would of course transmit documents he presented but desired stress this does not mean we are prepared consider Soviet concept of free city.

In response Gromyko’s criticism occupation rights I pointed out Allied troops in West Berlin do not interfere in life of city. I added only two areas in which they have intervened were to prevent inclusion of West Berlin into West Germany and to preclude appearance of West German [Page 753] troops in West Berlin. I added they also could act to prevent break [outbreak] of provocative actions in West Berlin.

I then read from para 14 of instructions, before concluding with statement Gromyko had stated Soviets would not be traffic policemen and our proposal international authority would have removed this difficulty. I added hope that Gromyko would keep open mind and consider this proposal further.

Gromyko responded with discussion of GDR sovereignty stating we can only reach agreement on basis which would not prejudice GDR sovereignty. He added, “when we speak of this we have in mind genuine respect for GDR sovereignty not just words.” He criticized Western powers as ready to reach understanding ruling out interference in GDR sovereignty, but at the same time trying to exempt access from this understanding. He could not agree to concept of excluding access from rights of GDR. He regretted I had again raised international authority because “we cannot agree establish a state within a state and this idea is unacceptable to USSR.”

Gromyko then restated Soviet agreement against contention that access is key question, repeating that it is only one of many questions and cannot be resolved independently.

He then reacted sharply to reference to plebiscite (instructions para 7) rejecting proposal as serving no useful purpose. Stated Germans not asked when troops entered and will not be asked about their withdrawal. Plebiscite he stated “is not logic it is sophistry.”

Gromyko then repeated his January 2 arguments declaring any consideration all-Berlin solution unacceptable. He stated East Berlin is organic part of GDR as well as its capital and introduction of this issue is artificial.

Gromyko also responded to my reference to Berlin wall, denying Ulbricht had virtually admitted wall was to prevent West [East] Germans from fleeing. He added that in Soviet view August 13 measures constitute legitimate action to protect GDR borders.

Regarding relationship GDR sovereignty and West Berlin access, Gromyko explained Soviets striving for understanding which would meet interests of both sides. He stated “In our opinion it is possible combine right of unhampered access with respect for GDR sovereignty”. However, he warned, “If you believe we will sign agreement improving and perpetuating your occupation rights you are wrong and all talk will be in vain.” He claimed GDR already has made concessions involving its sovereignty. Pointed to “permission” for West Berlin, “which is located on GDR territory”, to become an independent political entity, and GDR agreement to an arrangement to cover military access for those [Page 754] troop contingents temporarily remaining West Berlin as guarantors for free city. He pointed out this usually included the issuance of visas.

Gromyko then recalled Soviet decision withdraw peace treaty deadline. “We took that step only in order to facilitate agreement on logical basis. If this were understood in any other sense, we would regret it very much”.

Gromyko then shifted to criticism of Allied reluctance request East German permission for access to Berlin, “just because US was one of Allies which defeated Germany”. He cited Soviet example in requesting transit rights from FRG, France, Denmark, et cetera, and recalled reports US intended to establish relations with Outer Mongolia. “Do you intend then to request corridor to reach Outer Mongolia?” Gromyko concluded with statement he wanted only to emphasize free city status and unhampered access to Berlin “are proposed on basis of respect for GDR sovereignty rights and not at expense thereof.”

I expressed regret at apparent change reflected in Gromyko’s statement regarding access and GDR sovereignty. I said I had understood access agreement between USSR and West would be accepted by GDR “which you regard as sovereign, and this would fulfill requirements of sovereignty.” I continued, it now seems that even after agreement between us GDR would decide whether access in accord its sovereignty rights. I said we assumed Soviets were sincere in stated intention of permitting a viable and supportable existence for West Berliners. Soviets must realize that this requires continuation of their relations with outside world on really free basis not subject to control of any third party and particularly not one which had showed itself hostile to their interests.

I stated best solution German problem in our view would be reunification and peace treaty with one Germany. Since this apparently is not possible, I continued, we had hoped agreement between us on access would avoid future friction. I said we can see no reason why GDR could not agree to West Berlin having unhampered communication with the West, since it is in everyone’s interest to remove friction over this problem. One of the rights of sovereignty is to make derogations from it and the current situation certainly justifies special arrangements. I concluded that US Government regards main point is not to draw a technical line under World War II but to avoid World War III.There was considerable discussion of buying a horse twice when in reply to his question as to who owned it I said that “we did”. He took it that I was referring to West Berlin but I explained that I was talking of access which was a right we already enjoyed.

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Gromyko ended by stating that he hoped that when documents and his remarks studied I would realize I had been hasty in saying they constituted a step backward.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 662.001/1-1262. Confidential; Priority. In telegram 1932 from Moscow, January 12, 6 p.m., Thompson briefly summarized his conversation with Gromyko and stated that the Soviet position was completely negative. (Ibid., 762.00/1-1262) In his next telegram Thompson speculated that the tough Soviet position might be 1) a usual negotiating tactic, 2) an attempt to draw out the talks, 3) a desire for an impasse in order to talk directly with the Germans, 4) a desire for an impasse in the hope of forcing a summit meeting, or 5) a Soviet preference for a breakdown in order to proceed with a separate treaty. (Telegram 1933; ibid.)
  2. The text of the declaration was transmitted in telegram 1937 from Moscow, January 13. (Ibid., 662.001/1-1362)
  3. Translations of the 11-paragraph statute and the 7-article protocol are ibid., Hillenbrand Files: Lot 84 F 53, Box 1, Folder 8.
  4. Document 259.