9. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Wilhelm G. Grewe, German Ambassador
  • Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary

The President opened the conversation by inquiring with respect to Ambassador Grewe’s plans. The latter said he would leave on Saturday and make four speeches in Boston before leaving for Europe on Tuesday. He expected to return about March 25 or well before the Chancellor’s visit. Some discussion ensued as to the nature of the speeches the Ambassador would be making and the audiences he would address relating particularly to the speech scheduled to be made at Ford Hall in Boston.

Referring to the Adenauer visit the President said that the Vice President was anxious to have the Chancellor come to Texas during his visit.2 The Vice President had suggested that the Chancellor visit a new medical school, then come out to his ranch for a reception. The President said we would of course make the arrangements and provide the transportation. The Chancellor could fly out in the morning by jet and return either late that evening or the next morning. The President thought that if the Chancellor had the time he would find this trip interesting. The Ambassador took note of the suggestion and said he would be glad to take it up with the Chancellor.

Ambassador Grewe then referred to his discussion with Mr. Ball with respect to the US statement on the recent revaluation of the German mark.3 He observed that the use of the phrase, “useful but modest step,” in the US statement had created difficulties in Germany since it led to speculation that the revaluation would be followed by further appreciations of the value of the mark. The President expressed appreciation for this problem, which he was sure had not been intended by the Treasury. The statement had not been brought to his attention before issuance and[Page 22]he personally felt that it would have been better simply to say that this was a “helpful” action. The President said the Ambassador could certainly assure the German Government that the United States did regard this action as “helpful”. He added, however, he felt that the Dutch action following upon the German revaluation had confused the issue and added to speculation. He agreed that efforts must now be made to convince people generally that this was a finished operation.

The Ambassador then commented on the statement of Ambassador Harriman during his visit to Germany to the effect that the United States Government did not consider itself bound by the previous negotiations with the Soviets with respect to Germany and Berlin.4 He himself understood exactly what this meant, that it referred to compromise proposals which had been put forward, and that sort of thing. However there had been some speculative interpretation in Germany to the effect that the statement meant that the new Administration was reviewing and might change fundamental positions on Germany. He suggested that perhaps the Brandt visit would offer the occasion for the issuance of a communiqué which would clarify the US stand. The President and Mr. Kohler both commented in this connection on Secretary of State Rusk’s press conference the previous day5 and the Ambassador agreed that this had gone far toward putting Mr. Harriman’s statement in context both as regards US policies toward Germany and Berlin and as regards our specific intention to maintain Allied rights in Berlin.

The President said we would consider the question of what we would say to the press on the occasion of the Brandt visit. However he reminded the Ambassador that his government had been anxious, while remaining firm and determined with respect to Germany and Berlin, not to seem to be throwing out a challenge to the Soviet Government. He felt that it was better to let the challenge or threat come from Soviet Prime Minister Khrushchev.

Ambassador Grewe then gave the President a brief report on the Khrushchev letter to Chancellor Adenauer of February 17 and attached memorandum setting forth in adamant terms the Soviet intention to move ahead on Germany and Berlin along the lines of their established position of a peace treaty and “free city.” In this connection he referred [Page 23] to the consultation which had taken place by the quadripartite ambassadorial group in the Department with respect to this memorandum.6

The President expressed his interest and was assured that the Khrushchev memorandum to Adenauer had been sent to him by the Secretary of State for his information together with the Western analysis agreed by the ambassadorial group. He requested that he also be provided with some of the Soviet press commentaries on this subject which Mr. Kohler undertook to do.

The President then brought up the subject of the conversations which had taken place with respect to the US balance of payments and German surplus positions. He commented that the appreciation of the mark in fact would increase the cost of support of our troops in Germany which at the rate of $350 million plus per annum was one of the major factors in our balance of payments accounts. He said that during the past couple of weeks our gold losses had been stemmed but that we had lost a lot during January and that the problem remained with us. He very much hoped that the Germans would move forward toward helping to alleviate this problem referring in particular to possible reductions in costs in Germany and German procurements in this country. He repeated that the fact that the Dutch had followed suit in appreciating the value of the guilder had removed some of the good done by the mark appreciation but again repeated that this had been “helpful” and that it was now necessary to make it clear that there would be no more changes. The President again referred to the importance of a continuing German aid program to the lesser developed countries and Ambassador Grewe hastened to assure him that while the amounts involved were subject to Parliamentary action he was authorized to confirm Foreign Minister Brentano’s commitment to a continuing aid program.

Ambassador Grewe then brought up the recent story in the Star based on Secretary Rusk’s letter to Secretary McNamara hinting a possible change in US approach to military strategy. He expressed appreciation for the clarifying statement which the Secretary had issued the following day but emphasized the great interest of the FRG in this question.7

[Page 24]

The President said that he hoped to send a statement to Congress within a matter of days on the strengthening of American military programs and posture.8 He continued to say that he had been examining the state of our contingency planning with respect to Berlin and that this was a subject which he would want to discuss with Chancellor Adenauer. He said he also wanted to discuss this with Prime Minister Macmillan and with the French to be sure that we are all firmly agreed as to what we would do in case we have a Berlin crisis again this year.

The President then went on to say that he had read an article in the Washington Post this morning which purported to find anti-German sentiment on the increase in the United States. He said that while he recognized that there was some anti-German sentiment here he was sure that there was much less than in most other countries notably the UK. He said that in fact he had been impressed by the fact that the US press had for the most part taken the side of the Germans in the controversy that arose on the occasion of the visit to Bonn of former Treasury Secretary Anderson. He said also that it was generally overlooked how many Americans there are of German origin who have good will toward Germany. Ambassador Grewe observed that he thought the President’s role with respect to this matter was decisive. He felt that American sentiment very closely reflected the views expressed by the leadership of the country. The President said he thought that if we continued to seek agreements on the problems under discussion and announced the results from time to time that this in itself would help to improve the feeling in the United States toward Germany. He himself wanted to see the most harmonious relations prevail between the two countries. In this connection he said that he had been surprised to find that there are many Germans in the Vice President’s section of Texas. Chancellor Adenauer was greatly admired in the United States and was regarded as the symbol of a new Germany. He thought that the Chancellor’s travel to Texas might be a very useful demonstration and he hoped that it would be possible for the Chancellor to do this. Ambassador Grewe agreed and repeated that he would certainly discuss this with the Chancellor probably toward the latter part of next week.

The Ambassador asked if the President could then summarize the subjects which he would like to discuss with the Chancellor. The President then itemized: (1) Germany and Berlin; (2) Contingency planning; (3) Economic and financial problems; (4) Aid to the underdeveloped countries and (5) Western strategy. He added that the Secretary of State might have others to suggest.

[Page 25]

At the end of the talk Ambassador Grewe reverted to the question of a statement to be made on the general views of the new Administration toward Germany and Berlin, either on the occasion of the Brandt visit or on another appropriate occasion. He said he would put forward a personal suggestion that this statement might refer to and confirm the Administration’s support of the Paris treaties of 1954. This would in fact cover all the main points without making it necessary to go into detail in a public statement. Moreover since these treaties were the results of discussions which had gone far forward under the Truman Administration such a reference would have the effect of leaving the impression that the US policy on the problems of Germany and Berlin was really bipartisan in nature.

The President indicated that he would consider this suggestion and would wish to review the Paris treaties in this connection.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany. Confidential. Drafted by Kohler and approved by the White House on March 20. Grewe mentions this meeting briefly in Rückblenden, p. 461.
  2. For a transcript of President Kennedy’s press conference on March 1, during which he announced that Chancellor Adenauer would visit Washington March 12-13, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 135-143.
  3. Ball made this statement in an address before the Chicago World Trade Conference on March 7. (Department of State Bulletin, March 27, 1961, pp. 449-454) Grewe’s discussion with Ball has not been further identified.
  4. Harriman visited Bonn and Berlin March 6-8 for talks on a wide range of subjects, but primarily on NATO. Reports on his discussions were transmitted in telegrams 1403-1405 and 1416 from Bonn, March 8 and 9 (Department of State, Central Files, 123-Harriman and 611.62A/3-861) and telegram 487 from Berlin, March 9. (Ibid., 123-Harriman)
  5. For a transcript of Rusk’s press conference, see Department of State Bulletin, March 27, 1961, pp. 431-439.
  6. At Grewe’s request the Four-Power Working Group on Germany Including Berlin met on March 8 to discuss the Soviet memorandum. Grewe stated that the memorandum contained no new Soviet proposals, that it was mild and non-polemical, and that it should not be regarded as an ultimatum. The Working Group members approved this analysis and agreed to seek the views of their governments on a reply that would also be based on the outcome of any Khrushchev-Thompson talks on Berlin. (Memorandum of conversation, March 8; Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/3-861)
  7. Grewe is referring to a story on the front page of The Washington Star, February 27, 1961; for text of Rusk’s statement, see Department of State Bulletin, March 20, 1961, p. 399. Rusk’s letter to McNamara, February 4, is published in Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume VI.
  8. For text of the President’s special message to Congress on the defense budget on March 28, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 229-240.