82. Minutes of Meeting of the Interdepartmental Coordinating Group on Berlin1


  • The President, the Secretary of State, Mr. Dean Acheson, Mr. Kohler, Mr. Nitze, Under Secretary Fowler, Mr. Hillenbrand, Mr. Owen, Mr. Bundy

The President opened the meeting by asking about progress on our negotiating position. The Secretary responded saying that timing was a major problem. Should we propose a meeting before the 22nd Congress? The Germans might not approve, and he thought the topic should be one for discussion in the Paris working sessions.

The Secretary asked if Mr. Acheson had supplementary comments. Mr. Acheson said the problem was tough. He would advise against calling a peace conference, since that would bring many too many countries into the act. He also believed that it would be wrong at this stage to go to the United Nations.

[Page 228]

Acheson believed that the outlines of any proposal would amount to a dressed-up form of the status quo, that such a dressed-up status quo might eventually include a four-nation agreement that they are not going to fight over Berlin, perhaps endorsed by NATO and by the members of the Warsaw Pact. (This endorsement would give a certain indirect role to the DDR.) At a later stage in the negotiations, Mr. Acheson said later, we might go a little further—(1) there could be a discouragement of movements of population as distinct from acts of genuine political refuge; (2) there might be new trade arrangements; (3) we might give assurances on the Oder-Neisse boundary. Mr. Acheson advised against using this last counter unless it buys agreement, because in the view of the Germans it is a substantial issue. The Secretary of State argued that we might accept something like Solution C, in which each side might maintain its own theory with respect to an agreed factual situation.

The President asked whether, in addition, we could agree to a UN presence and perhaps to token USSR participation in such a UN force. The Secretary of State suggested that we might suggest such a UN force for all of Berlin, but that any USSR participation would have to be miniscule, and thus in all probability unacceptable. In further discussion of timing, the Secretary and Mr. Acheson agreed that sometime after the German election but before the 22nd Congress, the United States should propose a conference to convene after the 22nd Congress. The Secretary of State saw a disadvantage in an earlier meeting in that Khrushchev will not want to spin out such meetings and we might come toward a further stage in the crisis sooner than we wish. (Outside the meeting, other students of the crisis have argued that in order to forestall the Soviets, it may be important to have a public Western proposal for negotiations at a future date not later than the end of the Foreign Ministers meeting in Paris.) In any event, before we prepare a proposal for negotiations, there should be speeches and propaganda papers, and in response to questions from the President, Mr. Kohler stated that there will not be energetic exploitation of the propaganda themes in the President’s speeches and the U.S. aide-mémoire. The Department is also completing its White Paper on Berlin.2 The President asked again about a plebiscite in West Berlin, and the Secretary of State said the matter was under discussion in the Department of State.

In further comment on the timetable of discussions, the Secretary of State remarked upon the need for conversations between Thompson and Khrushchev, in which we might try to find out further what is on the Soviet leader’s mind. Mr. Acheson commented upon the later stages [Page 229] of negotiations, remarking that the first round of discussion would certainly fail and that in the second round we might wish to bring up an incomplete proposal which would give us room for a few final concessions at the end. Such an intermediate proposal might include the notion of joint trusteeship of Berlin and of a four-power agreement not to fight.

Discussion then turned to the “paper stamping” issue. Mr. Kohler presented the elements of the argument developed in his memorandum on the subject. The President indicated his own preference for the opposite position, stated in Mr. Acheson’s memorandum (attached).3 Mr. Nitze indicated that the Defense Department preferred Mr. Acheson’s position, on the practical ground that it allowed for a later decision on military action. It emerged from discussion that Mr. Acheson’s recommendation is very close to the actual position of the U.S. until the fall of 1958, when Mr. Dulles changed it. In Mr. Acheson’s view, we should simply insist that there be no change in present procedures. We could hold to this line sharply, but under the procedures currently approved and supported by Mr. Kohler we should be making a change, in refusing to accept an act of stamping which we had accepted before. Yet we should be doing this for a reason that we had already admitted as invalid until 1958. Mr. Kohler later remarked that after all the fundamental change here is the Soviet withdrawal from participation in the four-power occupation, but Mr. Acheson’s argument won the President’s approval. Upon inquiry, the President was informed that the act of paper stamping is not in fact an act of approval, but rather one of bureaucratic registration of times of entry and departure, and on this understanding he thought that it would not make sense for us to sustain a position of refusing to permit such stamping.

Mr. Acheson believed that if this new U.S. position were made clear in advance, there would be no question of a concession and the earlier position would simply disappear. Both he and Mr. Nitze were sure that the United Kingdom would not hold to the current position, and the President agreed that we could not press the British on this point. Accordingly, it was agreed that the U.S. would allow the British position to prevail, without making an explicit concession during the working [Page 230] group sessions. The moment of decision will come during the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries. It was recognized that this change might not in fact make any difference in the Soviet position.

During the course of these discussions, Mr. Nitze reported that Brown of the British Labor Party thinks we ought to be prepared to go further than the currently proposed decision and be prepared to talk with the East Germans about the terms and conditions of access to West Berlin.4 At the President’s request, Mr. Acheson stated his objections to this position; it was not a legal objection but a strong opposition to an obvious attempt to humiliate the United States. We should demean ourselves if we talk to these hired men, and he was certain that if the positions were reversed the Soviet Union would certainly not accept any such relationship. The President asked how we distinguished the Chinese Communists from the DDR, and the first answer was that we are not discussing operational issues with the Chinese; the second and more persuasive was that the Chinese Communists do after all represent a very large and powerful de facto political authority and are no man’s puppets.

The decision, then, was to change the current United States position, in the course of appropriately managed diplomatic discussions, terminating in the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries; the new decision would be allowed to become public, or at least known to the Soviets, in ways which were not decided at this meeting.

McGeorge Bundy
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings with the President. Top Secret. Prepared by Bundy on July 31. Published in part in Declassified Documents, 1984, 2753.
  2. This White Paper, entitled Berlin—1961, was released on August 18.
  3. Not printed. On July 26 Kohler had sent Rusk a memorandum transmitting a summary paper on Berlin access, dated July 25, and a 2-page undated paper by Acheson entitled “The Problem of the Breaking Point on Access.” These papers indicated that Acheson favored accepting existing procedures and announcing, if the East Germans took over for the Soviet Union at checkpoints, that these procedures had worked satisfactorily for many years and that the West would not permit them to be changed. Current tripartite planning called for changing procedures to prevent stamping of documents by the East Germans. Acheson argued that British support for the changed procedure had been attained under “great duress,” and that they would not be inclined to make paper-stamping a casus belli. (Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/7-2661)
  4. McNamara and Nitze had discussed Berlin with Brown on July 24, following a meeting with Norstad the previous day. (Ibid., 741.5/7-2861) The discussions with Norstad had taken all day and dealt with both NATO and Berlin. A memorandum of the morning session (I-18803/61) is ibid.; a memorandum of the afternoon session (I-18893/61) is in the Washington National Records Center, RG 330, FRC 64 B 2382, 092 Germany.