396.1/11–2753: Telegram

No. 285
The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Bohlen) to the Department of State 1
secret priority

624. Soviet note2 represents important shift in tactical handling of German question and general subject negotiations with West. There is nothing in note itself however which would justify conclusion that it represents any basic shift in Soviet attitude towards German or Austrian problems. Chief point of interest is what circumstances or considerations induced or forced Soviet Government [Page 678] to accept in principle on November 26 what it uncompromisingly rejected on November 3.

While full motivation of necessity obscure it is probable that principal cause of shift Soviet tactics was due to recognition of damaging impression created by Soviet note November 3, particularly among their adherents and supporters in Western countries. Reaction to Molotov press conference (Embtel 5783) probably convinced Soviet Government that if it was to provide its adherents abroad with ammunition to fight EDC something more than mere negative attitude was necessary.

In this connection it has been noted that present peace conference in Vienna4 has been marked by extremely feeble and negative attempts by Soviet followers to bridge glaring contradiction between Soviet refusal to meet and constant reiteration of desire to reduce international tension. It is likewise possible that chief preoccupation of effect four-power discussion on Germany on position East German regime so clearly visible in November 3 note (Embtel 5495) has been eased by at least partial rehabilitation position that regime as reported Berlin’s 474 and 476 to Department.6 On balance therefore Soviet Government has apparently decided that general over-all effect refusal to meet was more disadvantageous to its general position than risks of discussion on Germany. It is likewise possible that even domestically and in satellite area basic contradiction referred to above was becoming embarrassing to Soviet Government.

Chief substantive difference in Soviet reply is of course abandonment of condition inclusion of Communist China as price any meeting which can hardly be pleasing Chinese Government no matter how much reciprocal dishonesty there has been in previous insistence participation Communist China. Next to last paragraph clearly sop to Chinese in endeavor offset effects this shift.

Note is furthermore marked by absence of vituperation and abuse (with exception attacks on West Germany in this case milder and limited to generalities such as militarists and revanchists without mentioning Bonn Government or Adenauer) in contrast not only to contents November 3 note, but to recent line in Soviet press. In fact, except for one passing reference to foreign bases this [Page 679] favorite subject is passed over in silence and no mention is made NATO. Substance of note furthermore, is confined entirely to Europe and emphasizes extreme danger to peace of setting one group of European states off against another, with unusual reference willingness Soviet Union to cooperate with all European countries, regardless their social structure, for achievement European security.

Suggestion of Berlin as place of meeting is very diffidently phrased, and it is not quite clear how insistent Soviet Government will be on that place alone, which conceivably might raise certain awkward problems in view of division of city and location behind Iron Curtain.

Fact that chief point of note was given on Soviet radio almost simultaneously with delivery contrary to past practice, makes it clear that this shift is primarily designed for public consumption, both domestic and foreign. Since there is no reason to believe that basic Soviet policy of support East German regime has changed and that present shift merely represents for reasons given above, shift in tactical handling of problem, I consider we have everything to gain and nothing to lose by agreeing to Soviet proposal, which constitutes distinct victory for Western diplomacy, and bring them to a conference as soon as possible after Bermuda and NATO meetings. If there are serious difficulties as to Berlin as site of conference (and West German reaction on this point will be very important) I would suggest that rather than reject Berlin out of hand in reply, it might be worthwhile considering informal sounding out of Molotov by one of three Western Ambassadors as to exactly what lies behind Soviet suggestion on Berlin. Greatest advantage to Soviets in circumstances would be to enter into arguments as to date and place, while allowing Soviet shift in position to obtain maximum propaganda value in order to delay or obstruct EDC.

  1. Repeated to London, Paris, and Bonn.
  2. Supra.
  3. Telegram 578 reported that Molotov’s press conference on Nov. 13 had probably been held to counteract the unfavorable Western press commentary on the Soviet note of Nov. 3. (961.61/11–1453)
  4. A Soviet-sponsored peace conference was held at Vienna at the end of November.
  5. See footnote 5, Document 281.
  6. Telegram 474 is printed as telegram 542 to Bonn, Document 758. Telegram 476 attempted to determine future Soviet policy in Germany based on the situation reported in telegram 474. (762B.00/10–2253)