91. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Kennedy1


  • Berlin Negotiations and your Meeting with Mr. Rusk at 4 PM

The Secretary of State yesterday gave you two papers on Berlin negotiations,2 and they raise certain questions which you and he need to decide before he goes into the Foreign Ministers Meeting over the week end. The papers have not yet been read by any members of the Steering Group except the Secretary and myself, but some of the issues received preliminary discussion there on Wednesday afternoon.3 Your last talk with the Secretary will be at four o’clock this afternoon. He leaves at midnight.

The two papers are thoughtful and careful, and in their basic outlines much alike. One comes to the Secretary from Dean Acheson and the other from George McGhee’s staff. Both are heavily influenced by the indefatigable staff work of Henry Owen. The issues which need to be decided today are relatively small. Some larger questions may need further planning and thought.

Both papers divide the Berlin problem into three phases:

  • Phase I. From now to the German elections on September 17th.
  • Phase II. From the German elections to the possible signing of a separate peace treaty.
  • Phase III. After the peace treaty.

The immediate questions pertain largely to Phase I, slightly to Phase II, and in only one respect to Phase III.

Phase I

There is general agreement on the following points in this Phase:

There should be no actual negotiations of a formal sort. We need time to concert our military build-up, and public substantive negotiations before the German elections would create turmoil in West Germany.
At some time in this period the Western states should make a proposal for negotiations in a four-power Foreign Ministers meeting to [Page 262] be held any time after 1 October—presumably after the 22 Congress, not before. (The Congress opens on October 17th, for approximately ten days.) No one wants a full-scale summit at this stage, but any level below the Foreign Ministers would probably be ineffective.
A Foreign Ministers meeting should probably be preceded by a Western Summit for the purpose of concerting a Western negotiating position. The French and German Governments in particular are very rigid, and even modest modifications in the existing Western Peace Plan of 1959 will require direct negotiation among Western Heads of Government.

Undecided questions about Phase I are as follows, and all of them need attention at your meeting this afternoon:

Should there be a “quiet approach” to the Soviets before the German elections? The Acheson paper suggests that someone like Chip Bohlen might drop a plainly serious hint to some Soviet colleague suggesting that while we are now strengthening our position, this military course of action is not of our making, and whenever the Soviet Government wishes to end the crisis which it has created, we are prepared to make this possible, in serious discussion. This quiet approach would not be discussed with any of our allies—otherwise it could not remain quiet. My impression is that most of the professionals in the Department approve this approach but the Secretary has not yet indicated his own view. What he does approve and will probably mention to you, is exploratory conversations by Thompson with Khrushchev, designed to find out whether the Soviets have anything further to say yet on their own side at this stage. My own hunch is that unless Thompson is in a position to send up some new signal of his own, all we shall get at present is a repetition of what everyone has been hearing since Vienna. Certainly McCloy got nothing new on the negotiating side.
If there is agreement on a Western proposal for a Foreign Ministers meeting, when should this proposal be made? The Acheson paper says not later than the end of August. In the Steering Group yesterday, after the Secretary left, there was a strong preference for moving quickly. This is the view of McNamara, of USIA, of Taylor and myself. The argument is that we gain both at home and abroad by taking the initiative in proposing the negotiations, and that if we do not get a proposal on the table soon, the Soviets will beat us to it. This view is shared by Thompson, and Dowling reports from Bonn that it will not make the Germans nervous, in the light of the general firmness of our position. The Secretary has not yet indicated his own preference.
When and how should our position on paper stamping be made clear? Our internal decision is made, and it was agreed last week that the Secretary will make it plain in Paris. It is also agreed that long before Phase III it will be important to have it well known, so that our acceptance [Page 263] of East German paper-stampers would not be a great prestige defeat. But how soon do we clarify this point publicly? This question has not had adequate discussion, and perhaps you should flag it by asking the Secretary for a definite recommendation.
The timing and location of a Western summit deserves some thought. The Secretary’s current notion is Bermuda in early October. He quite rightly wants it to be far enough from Europe so that Khrushchev cannot wedge himself in. My own question is whether Washington would not be better, or even, conceivably, Hyannis Port if you wanted relative privacy and a really small working group. The hazard of a Western summit is that it will be a big and untidy affair, when the real purpose is to bring your personal authority and leadership to bear on a handful of men.
On one further matter there is no disagreement but your own leadership and pressure are important—propaganda. It is agreed that we should use the next two months energetically to advance understanding of our position and of the low character of the Soviet effort. It is also generally agreed that leadership here should be placed in USIA (although the Acheson report suggests a new Special Assistant to the Secretary of State). The real problem is that the center of international sympathy should be directed toward people of West Berlin and not toward the official position of the U.S. Government, and this takes some doing. The Acheson report states well and strongly the four central themes of freedom, peace, faithful trusteeship and self-determination. We are for all four, and the Soviets are currently in fact against them all on Berlin.

Phase II

The execution of our plan of negotiations would be the main business of Phase II. I do not think you need to go into detail on this with the Secretary this afternoon. In essence the two papers before you suggest that at the beginning we should adopt a slightly modified version of the Western peace plan. The modifications will take some negotiation with our allies, but they should make the program look more forward-looking, while safeguarding our main interests. It is agreed that we should insist upon discussing both Germany and Berlin.

Until you have time to study and master the details of the two proposals, I doubt if you and the Secretary could usefully get very far into this question. It may be best if you simply ask him how far he means to go in the discussion of the substance of negotiating proposals in Paris. My own response to a study of these papers is that they are sensible within their limits. They do not, in my judgment, adequately examine wider alternatives like calling a peace conference, or proposing that the United Nations have a role in Berlin.

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Phase III

In Phase III, the questions all turn around this general problem: what form of interference with access to Berlin triggers what form of response? These questions are very hard ones, and the consensus of the Steering Group yesterday was that they need not have first priority attention for the coming meeting. But as General Taylor points out, it is going to be important to have a clear view on some of these issues fairly soon, and certainly before any Western summit we should have views of our own and they should have been argued in the appropriate forum—possibly that of the Defense Ministers.

McG. B.4
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany, Berlin. Top Secret. Also published in part in Declassified Documents, 1982, 2259.
  2. Documents 86 and 89.
  3. See Document 90.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.