5. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US-German Relations


  • US
    • The President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Walter C. Dowling, Ambassador
    • Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary
    • Pierre Salinger, Press Secy
    • Mrs. Nora Lejins, Interpreter
  • Germany
    • Dr. Heinrich von Brentano, Foreign Minister
    • Dr. Hilger van Scherpenberg, State Secretary
    • Dr. Hasso von Etzdorf, Ministerial Director
    • Mr. Heinz Weber, Interpreter

In his preliminary remarks the President stated that he was very much interested in arranging a meeting with Chancellor Adenauer. He hoped that Von Brentano would convey to the Chancellor the appreciation of the US Government for the cooperation and friendship of the German government during the past years. The new Administration hoped that this cooperation would continue also in the future and that all mutual problems would be worked out satisfactorily.

The Foreign Minister in turn thanked the President for his recent communication to the Chancellon.2 Lack of time had prevented the Chancellor from replying so far. He wanted the President to know, however, that the President’s letter was of great assistance to Chancellor Adenauer, coming as it did, the day before his departure for the Paris talks.

President Kennedy then briefly mentioned some of the points he wished to discuss with von Brentano. First among them, of course, was the Berlin question. He was anxious to have the Germans understand the reason why his Administration had so far been silent on the Berlin[Page 9]question except for a comment made in answer to one question during a press conference. This did not by any means signify a lessening of United States interest in the Berlin question. As long as there was a lull, however, he had not wanted to provoke either action or comment in the matter. But the President expected renewed pressure by the Soviets in the coming months. He asked the Foreign Minister for his comment and suggestions concerning possible effective means with which to counter the subtle pressures which the Soviets were expected to exert.

Von Brentano assured the President that Germany fully understood the stand taken by the US and was in complete agreement with the President’s procedure in the matter. Moreover he, too, felt sure that there was no need to raise the question now. We would have to deal with it sooner or later. Von Brentano expressed his belief that Soviet pressure would again be exerted, if only in response to pressure by the Soviet Zone of Germany. The leaders of the Soviet Zone cannot tolerate the symbol of a free Berlin in the midst of their Red zone. This is completely unacceptable to them, and therefore they will do all in their power to stimulate the Soviet Union to action with regard to Berlin. Von Brentano feels that such pressure will be dangerous only if it should result in a blockading of Berlin. For instance, this might be the result if the Soviet Union were to sign a separate peace treaty with Eastern Germany. The Foreign Minister himself is of the opinion that the Soviets will hesitate to take any drastic steps with regard to Berlin as long as they know that the Western Allies will not tolerate any such steps. Under such circumstances the Soviet Union may continue to threaten but will not take any actual steps for some time to come.

The President further probed to get the Foreign Minister’s thinking as to the possibility of the Soviet Union signing a separate peace treaty in spite of the fact that it is clear that the West will not tolerate any infringement of Western rights in Berlin, and then using this as an indirect means for increasing pressures on Berlin. Von Brentano agreed that this, no doubt, would be the intention of the Soviets, but he doubts that the Soviet Union will take the final step in this direction as long as the West remains firm. The President came back to this point several times, indicating the gradual development of Soviet action, that is, first signing a separate peace treaty—while continuing the status quo in Berlin for a certain length of time—and then resorting to further and more drastic action. The Foreign Minister agreed that this danger definitely existed and that the signing of a separate peace treaty would result in a step by step development, eventually leading to drastic action with reference to Berlin. The first step would be the signing of the treaty. Secondly, the Soviet Union would give instructions to the East Zone to continue Berlin traffic and other arrangements very much as at present, if anything according the Allies even better treatment than now. This, however,[Page 10]would be followed by a change and definite action. While the Foreign Minister considered this a possibility, he appeared to feel very strongly that there would be no action on the part of the Soviets as long as they knew that the Allies would not stand for any disruption of the present Berlin arrangement. He admitted, of course, that the danger existed and was latent.

The President then asked whether Brentano thought that United States difficulties in the Congo, Laos, and in Latin America would increase the chances of trouble in Berlin. The Foreign Minister thought so. He then indicated that the Soviet Ambassador to Bonn, who had been recalled to Moscow and had not been expected to return to Bonn before the end of March, had just returned. He was to see Chancellor Adenauer this evening at 6 p.m. for the purpose of delivering a message from Khrushchev.3 While Von Brentano did not know the content of the message, he felt that it was most likely an answer to the Chancellor’s letter concerning the repatriation issue. The Foreign Minister would not be surprised, however, if Khrushchev’s message were to contain a proposal for bilateral German-Soviet talks. The Foreign Minister wanted it understood that Germany had no intention of engaging in such talks.

The President then inquired into the prospects of future German-Polish relations. The Foreign Minister replied by calling attention to the primary problems complicating German-Polish relations:

The Oder/Neisse frontier question. Millions of former residents of the area east of this line, now living in West Germany, bitterly oppose the acceptance of this frontier.
A much more difficult problem to solve is the following: Germany has maintained the principle of not entering into or maintaining diplomatic relations with any country recognizing the Eastern Zone of Germany and thereby accepting the Soviet concept of two German states. Germany has no intention of giving up this principle and proved this in its action vis-a-vis Yugoslavia. The Foreign Minister feels that Germany acted correctly, for if nothing had been done when Yugoslavia recognized the East Zone of Germany, other countries might have followed suit.

Within these limits, it is Germany’s intention to do everything possible to improve German-Polish relations. As a beginning—if Poland agrees—Germany wishes to establish a trade mission in Poland, which would maintain constant contact between the two countries. Since Poland is the freest and most accessible of the Iron Curtain countries, Germany also wishes to intensify its cultural contact with this country in the[Page 11]hope of eventually influencing political thinking thereby. The Foreign Minister has some doubt as to the success of this venture since preliminary talks, carried on in Copenhagen between the Polish and German Ambassadors stationed there, were not very promising. The Polish Ambassador was most negative in his reaction.

The President asked whether the initiative for the Beitz talks had come from the Chancellor or the Foreign Minister, or whether it had been that of Beitz himself. The Foreign Minister indicated that the initiative had been Beitz’s, but that he had kept in touch with the Chancellor and the Foreign Minister both before and after the talks. The President inquired whether additional similar talks were scheduled. He stated that the United States, too, is very much interested in more cordial relations with Poland. In view of the uncertainty of success in this respect, the President was very much interested in knowing how Germany fared in this area. The Foreign Minister stated that Germany was definitely desirous of continuing the efforts to establish closer relations with Poland by continuing further talks in Copenhagen. He pointed out that there are at present fairly substantial trade relations between Germany and Poland and that some effort will be made to utilize these relations, which moreover are to be further expanded and improved, to increase German political influence as well. (Dr. van Scherpenberg interjected at this point that the German-Polish trade talks were, of course, perfectly normal procedure on a governmental level. Moreover, Germany was presently envisaging a long-term trade agreement with Poland.)

Secretary Rusk asked at this point whether many Polish students were presently studying in Germany. The Foreign Minister replied that there were a small number of Polish students in Germany and a small number of German students in Poland.

[Here follow five pages of discussion of the U.S. balance of payments, disarmament, and the communiqué. For final text of the communiqué, see Department of State Bulletin, March 13, 1961, pages 369-370.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.62A/2-1761. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Kohler and Lejins and approved in S on March 5 and in the White House on March 7. Brentano was in the United States to attend the German-American Conference February 16-19. For the briefing paper outlining the German and U.S. positions for this conversation, see Catudal, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall Crisis, pp. 302 ff. Memoranda of Rusk’s conversations with Brentano on the afternoon of February 16 concerning French-German relations and Berlin are in Department of State, Central Files, 651.62A/2-1661, and Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330. For Grewe’s account of Brentano’s visit, see Rückblenden, pp. 458-460.
  2. For text of Kennedy’s February 7 message on the Atlantic Community and NATO, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. XIII, Document 94.
  3. At their meeting on February 17 Soviet Ambassador Smirnov delivered to Adenauer a letter from Khrushchev on repatriation and an aide-mémoire from the Soviet Government on the Federal Republic’s relations with the Soviet Union. Extracts of the aide-mémoire are printed in Documents on Germany, 1944-1985, pp. 723-727, and Documents on International Affairs, 1961, pp. 272-277.