52. Memorandum for the Record1

Discussion at NSC meeting June 29, 1961

[Here follows discussion of security control of documents and Kuwait.]

3. Berlin—The Secretary of State gave a summary account of the current state of the Department’s work on the aide-mémoire,2 on briefing [Page 161] books and on international and other immediate aspects of Berlin planning. He then asked Mr. Acheson to discuss his report.3 Mr. Acheson did just that. In addition, the following significant comments were made by Mr. Acheson: he gave special emphasis to the idea of the trust of Berlin and the peace which exists there, and argued that the real themes should be that Khrushchev is a false trustee and a war monger, and these themes should be hammered home.

The President asked whether really it was to our advantage to press the argument for unification, feeling that our position lacks appeal. Mr. Acheson argued that this position should not be abandoned but he did not wholly convert the President until the Secretary of State reminded him that self-determination is a better ground than unification, a position Mr. Acheson cheerfully accepted.

The President asked about the value of a plebiscite in Berlin and after general agreement that such a plebiscite would be useful, the Department of State was asked to concert a plan for discussion of such an enterprise with the Germans in appropriate ways, since the initiative ought to come from them.

The President questioned Mr. Acheson about the reciprocal effect of military build-ups on each side. Mr. Acheson agreed that this is a most important point and that planning should be so arranged as to avoid such back and forth challenges as far as possible.

Mr. Acheson made clear his own doubt that interference with civilian traffic will be an early step by the Soviets. Mr. Dillon later noted that in earlier Berlin planning this interference had been rated as a very grave danger and asked what Mr. Acheson’s specific recommendation was in such a case. Mr. Acheson, reiterating his feeling that the Russians’ own propaganda made such a move difficult now, said that in the event that such an interference did occur, he would propose an attempt at airlift and a prompt resort to other measures described in his report.

Admiral Burke made plain his opposition to the scale of the “probe” recommended by Mr. Acheson and his opposition also to an airlift unconnected with a probe. In reply to the first point, Mr. Acheson emphasized his belief that force must be large enough to carry the clear conviction to the enemy that if the fighting continues, nuclear weapons will be used.

The President noted the difficulty of sustaining a strong political posture and posed the question, as an example, of finding the right answer if Khrushchev proposes a Summit this summer. Mr. Acheson, remarking that it is hard to answer any specific proposal ahead of time, nevertheless believed that it would not behard to find answers as we go [Page 162] along. In reply to a summit proposal, for example, the President could readily suggest that conversations be undertaken first at a lower level. Mr. Acheson believed that there were plenty of “elderly unemployed” people like himself who could be sent to interminable meetings. He thought it important to understand that we could converse indefinitely without negotiating at all, and he asserted that he could readily do this himself for three months on end.

Mr. Dillon raised the question of possible domestic economic effects of a mounting crisis and of a possible need for legislation to give the President necessary powers. In reply the President asked him to assume the leadership of a study of this problem.

It was decided not to make substantive decisions on the basis of this first discussion, and the President directed Mr. Bundy, in consultation with Mr. Kohler and others, to prepare a list of departmental assignments which might be carried forward in preparation for further discussion and appropriate decision in two weeks.

[Here follows discussion of Laos.]

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda, NSC Meetings. Top Secret. The source text bears no drafting information.
  2. On June 28 the French had tabled a draft of the reply they wanted to make to the Soviet aide-mémoire. In the discussion on June 28 it became apparent that any effort to combine the French and U.S. drafts would encounter serious difficulties. (Memorandum from Hillenbrand to Kohler, June 28; Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/6-2861) Following meetings on June 29 and 30, the four powers agreed to send similar but not identical responses. (Telegram 2412 to Bonn, June 30; ibid., 661.62B/6-3061)
  3. Document 49.