34. Record of Conversation1


  • Prime Minister Macmillan
  • Foreign Secretary, Mr. de Zulueta
  • President Kennedy

Lord Home said that the Foreign Office had examined the Soviet Aide-mémoire about Berlin2 which Mr. Khrushchev had given to President Kennedy in Vienna. The general effect of this Aide-mémoire on public opinion might be substantial since on the face of it it appeared [Page 99] fairly reasonable. President Kennedy said that this was why he felt it important to consider what answer should be made to the Aide-mémoire. Lord Home suggested that it was desirable to work out as soon as possible an Allied negotiating position. He did not suggest that negotiations should begin at once, but consideration of the Allied position ought to start forthwith. The Prime Minister said that the President was to make a speech in the United States on June 6 and this might be an opportunity for restating the West’s moral position as protectors of the people of West Berlin. It would be useful to have such a statement on the record, especially if, as seemed likely, the Aide-mémoire soon became public property. President Kennedy pointed out that any Allied negotiating position should be quadripartitely agreed. The Prime Minister said that the President and he had felt that for the West to offer negotiations now might seem to be a sign of weakness. It might be better to try to get Laos settled first. The Foreign Secretary agreed that this might be a helpful line. The President said that it would be of help to him if the United Kingdom could draft a possible reply to the Aide-mémoire which he could consider together with other suggestions. The Prime Minister agreed that the United Kingdom would try to prepare such a draft and said that he felt that in this a restatement of the West’s moral position would be of value. The President pointed out that the West’s moral position rested on the defense of the people of West Berlin and he had wondered whether in this connection a suggestion for a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the West Berliners might have some public appeal. Lord Home suggested that the idea of a plebiscite had been used rather frequently in the past and might not be thought to be a serious contribution. This idea should be studied; it would, however, seem unwise for the West to become committed to holding a plebiscite.

The Prime Minister asked if it was the President’s impression that Mr. Khrushchev proposed to summon his Peace Conference immediately. President Kennedy said that he could not be sure. His impression was that Mr. Khrushchev was most likely to hold his hand until the Party Congress in October at which time he might say that he had put his proposals for Berlin to President Kennedy in June and had had no answer.

Lord Home suggested that it would be impossible in any case to hold negotiations before the West German elections. He was not sure whether or not it would be wise now to offer to negotiate in the autumn. In any case, negotiations should not be about Berlin only, but should be about “the problem of Germany and Berlin.” It would be difficult to make an entirely negative reply to the Soviet Aide-mémoire. The West should perhaps respond in some way; this might involve agreeing to negotiate or putting forward counter proposals about Berlin. The Prime Minister suggested that work should begin at once on the nature of any [Page 100] counter proposals. Lord Home agreed but was not hopeful that any satisfactory counter proposals could be worked out. The Prime Minister said that one possibility might be to try to negotiate something for West Berlin which looked good at least on paper and then to prepare to react against any attempt to overturn such a settlement by physical attack. President Kennedy said that the difficulty about this approach would be to say what the West would gain from such an arrangement. There was a danger of the West appearing to have been defeated. Lord Home suggested that the Soviet proposal that their troops should be stationed in Berlin together with those of the Western powers might not be essential to the Russians. There might also be some possibility of exploiting the Soviet suggestion of a guarantee of “unobstructed contacts” to protect the West Berliners. The idea of a United Nations presence might also be used. The President asked what the real objections would be to such an arrangement. Lord Home said that any guarantees would in fact only be effective if they were given by countries which were prepared to act to uphold them if necessary. But in a sense this was already the position of the Western rights. President Kennedy pointed out that on this basis the West would have lost their rights of occupation in Berlin. He feared that the Russians would insist on their troops being present in West Berlin. In addition, the Soviet plan would involve Western recognition of the D.D.R. The Prime Minister agreed and said that after such a settlement had been reached, the next step might be for the D.D.R. to say that the existence of West Berlin was intolerable to them. West Berlin would then become a Danzig and the West would have to go to war on that. However, the real situation might be no worse than it was already. The difficulty was that meanwhile the West would have seemed to have been weakening. The President agreed and asked what advantages the West could claim from such an arrangement. The Prime Minister suggested that the only possible gain would be in the security of the civilian population of West Berlin. At the moment the Allies had no legal rights to insist on unobstructed access for civilian supplies to West Berlin. This position would be theoretically improved if the freedom of civilian traffic were to be guaranteed by treaty.

The President suggested that in fact civilian supplies only went in freely at the moment because of the presence of Allied troops and the threat of Allied intervention if the supplies were obstructed. It would therefore be very difficult to appear to make a good bargain on the basis of a favorable change in the legal position of civilian supplies. The Prime Minister asked if there would not be great difficulties even now if civilian supplies were to be obstructed. The President agreed that there would indeed be great difficulties. He supposed that supplies for the garrison would have to be flown in together with as much civilian supplies as could be carried. The Foreign Secretary inquired about contingency [Page 101] planning. The Prime Minister said that the President and he had felt there should be political contingency planning as well as military. The President agreed and said that he felt that as a practical measure of preparation, military stock piles in Berlin should now be increased. It might be desirable also to decide on the type of military probe which might be necessary and possibly to agree that if this was turned back, an airlift should be organized. Lord Home pointed out that if there was an airlift the West might well be forced into negotiations if only because in the event of a Western aircraft being shot down by the Russians the situation would be brought to the United Nations by someone. It might be more difficult for the West to negotiate in such circumstances. The President said that he was not sure about this. He could see that the Russians might make propaganda capital out of action to maintain Western troops in Berlin but if they shot down an aircraft, they would not be in a good moral position.

The Prime Minister suggested that it might be worth considering telling Mr. Khrushchev that the West had no objection to his making a treaty with the D.D.R. if he wanted to, but that they could not accept any change in the position of West Berlin. Such a position would at least avoid the need for a negotiation with the Russians which could be represented as an attempt to prevent the signature of a peace treaty. Lord Home said that he had been wondering if the West could tell the Russians that they had no objection to the Soviet treaty with the D.D.R. provided the Russians guaranteed Western access on present terms for a period of time.

The Prime Minister said that all these possibilities certainly ought to be examined. The first point was to decide if and how to reply to the Aide-mémoire. Then the West should work out their real political position together with a military contingency plan to correspond to this. He felt that the contingency plans should include an examination of what the West’s political response might be if the Russians signed their treaty but did nothing to interrupt the communications of West Berlin or alternatively did interrupt the military or the civilian supplies or both. As regards the political position, an important question was what the West could be said to gain from an agreement with the Russians; the possible gain in the security of civilian supplies was the only advantage which he could immediately see.

President Kennedy said that he was concerned about what he should say in his speech on June 6. It would be very helpful if he could have any British ideas before he left for Washington. One difficulty was that the Federal German Government would have seen the Russian Aide-mémoire but would not have seen the record of the conversations in Vienna in which he had rebutted Mr. Khrushchev’s arguments. He therefore felt that he must state clearly the West’s obligations to the people [Page 102] of West Berlin and make it plain that the West could not accept that their rights could be unilaterally abrogated. If such unilateral action were to be permitted, no guarantees for the future would have any value.

The Prime Minister said that the simple position for the West to take would be to say that the Russians could do what they liked about a treaty with the D.D.R., but the West stood on their rights and would meet any attack on these with all the force at their command. The President said that it was certainly this threat which had stopped Soviet action up to now. Unfortunately, there were some grounds for believing that after recent events in Laos and elsewhere, the West seemed to the Russians to be weaker and Mr. Khrushchev might no longer believe in the West’s firmness of purpose. After all, even in 1949 when the West had a nuclear monopoly they had not been prepared to force their way into West Berlin, and the Russians knew that they were now relatively stronger than they had been twelve years ago.

Lord Home said that he feared that Mr. Khrushchev was being forced into some action over Berlin by his difficulties with the D.D.R. and with the other satellites. Refugees were still coming to West Germany at the rate of about one million a year. Mr. Khrushchev might feel that he had to find a way of stopping this. The Prime Minister said that the truth of the matter was that whatever might be happening in other parts of the world, in Berlin the West was winning. It was a very poor advertisement for the Soviet system that so many people should seek to leave the communist paradise.

The meeting ended at about 1:25 p.m.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1901. Top Secret. The source text bears no drafting information. The meeting was held at Admiralty House. In a private meeting from 10:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. the President had briefed Prime Minister Macmillan on his meetings with de Gaulle and Khrushchev. (Note of the Points Made During the Private Discussion, June 8; ibid.) For Macmillan’s account of the briefing and the President’s visit to London, see Pointing the Way, pp. 355-359.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 32.
  3. Following this meeting, at the President’s suggestion, Home, Hoyer Millar, Caccia, Ormsby Gore, Bruce, Bundy, and Sorensen met to consider the contents of the President’s speech and to discuss political and military contingency plans. They agreed that the speech should include a reaffirmation of Western rights and responsibilities, a brief statement of Khrushchev’s views, and a strong reassertion of the fundamental Western obligation to sustain the right of choice of the people of West Berlin. (Memorandum by Bundy, undated; Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1907)