281. Telegram From the Embassy in Germany to the Department of State1
920. Chancellor today held press conference which 35 foreign correspondents were invited to attend. His conference seems to have been mainly a rehash of his conference of last Friday in which he defended the results of his Moscow talks. After the conference he asked the American correspondents to remain. A total of seven did, including Handler of Times, Coblenz of Herald Tribune, Bell of Time-Life, Long of Newsweek and Agoston of INS. The conference was off the record. There follows in some detail what the Chancellor said according to notes taken by Agoston and Handler:
“There have been hard words on the State Department statement2 and I am advised that they did not use the term ‘misleading public opinion’ but it seems that some US channels in Moscow are under what we believe an erroneous impression about the proceedings. Throughout our stay in Moscow, we kept the US Ambassador and his two counterparts fully briefed. On Sunday night we told them we regarded the situation as hopeless and sent for our planes, making it clear that we were expecting to leave on Tuesday. Monday night came the twist. It is our belief that the proceedings that night were misunderstood by the US Ambassador in Moscow. Blankenhorn had his last talk with Bohlen Tuesday. This occasion was charged with electricity and has undoubtedly touched off an atmosphere. Bulganin told us that in one year one thousand and sixty (1060) balloons launched in West Germany had landed in the Soviet Union. We were told these balloons endangered aircraft travelling in international airways. Mind you, there was no complaint about the actual material disseminated; they only stressed the danger of interference with international airways. I told them I had never heard of these balloons and wanted to see one. Within thirty minutes they brought one in for me. I couldn’t help noticing that they were made in the USA. It was there for anyone to see. They asked me to look into this situation; they were launched from West German territory and I told them I would talk with the US Government about this. My own feeling is that, of course, these leaflets have no effect. Most people are too scared to pick them up and therefore I am not concerned with this aspect of the matter. When Blankenhorn told Bohlen about [Page 590]this, Bohlen got very excited, told Blankenhorn that he had betrayed the US Government. Blankenhorn told Bohlen that this was unfair and, after all, the balloons clearly were marked ‘made in the USA’. Blankenhorn informed Bohlen that he had not known about the balloon campaign. The entire conversation, I am told, was conducted on somewhat undiplomatic lines. I am not certain but I wonder whether this dispute did not influence the Ambassador’s reporting of the conference to Washington.
“Chancellor was asked if he thought these leaflet operations were useless and, if so, did he feel they should be abandoned? Answer: ‘I have no doubt that they endanger international airways, would knock out an aircraft if it happened to bump into it.’ He then reiterated, ‘If you knew atmosphere Soviet Union, how scared people are; I cannot imagine that anyone would dare touch 30 kilos of leaflets and distribute them.’
“Chancellor was then asked what he thought of the Suydam statement. Chancellor replied, ‘the State Department evaluation is not as incorrect as it was made out to be provided the statement is made to apply to the Federal Republic only,’ and then Chancellor referred to statement made by Minister Tillmanns during Cabinet session when this matter was discussed. Chancellor quoted Tillmanns as saying that the Soviets have definitely changed their tack regarding Germany and that he was satisfied that the Soviets have decided to give up their immediate aim of communizing the Federal Republic.
“Several of the American reporters put questions to the Chancellor after his statement about Mr. Bohlen. When these questions were answered, Handler asked the Chancellor, in German, for permission to speak in English. Handler wished to raise the issue of the Chancellor’s remarks about Mr. Bohlen in such a manner so that there would be no misunderstanding. He therefore chose to speak in English.
“He said, ‘I wish to refer to your remarks about Mr. Bohlen. I have known Mr. Bohlen a long time and I cannot accept as fact that he would accuse the German Delegation of having betrayed the United States. It is not in his character.
“‘Mr. Bohlen is one of our best diplomats, if not the best in our service. His reputation is based on his objective reporting and his absolute loyalty. He could not possibly have made the remarks attributed to him.’
“‘I am not challenging the accuracy of what you, Mr. Chancellor, have said to us here but the accuracy of the information given to you about the scene in the American Embassy.’
“‘I was not in Moscow but I do know that when Mr. Bohlen appeared at the Moscow airfield to bid you goodbye he was approached by American correspondents for his opinion of the Moscow [Page 591]negotiations. I can assure you that Mr. Bohlen did not offer one word of criticism of the Moscow negotiations to the American reporters present.’
“Bell (Time) raised his hand and said to the Chancellor, ‘Mr. Chancellor, I was present at the Moscow airfield with Mr. Bohlen and I can assure you that Mr. Bohlen did not say one word of criticism of the Moscow conference to us.’
“The Chancellor was obviously taken aback and he replied to Handler, ‘I am glad that you have raised this point. Mr. Blankenhorn is in Paris and when he returns I shall discuss the matter with him. I do not want any misunderstanding with Mr. Bohlen.’ Handler remarked thereupon to the Chancellor, ‘it is because I feel it would be unfortunate for a misunderstanding to arise between the German Government and a man of Mr. Bohlen’s quality that I have spoken about this matter here.’”
It is difficult to conceive why the Chancellor at this time chose to make this attack on Bohlen. From all indications, he has been upset by what he believes to have been unfavorable foreign reactions to his Moscow trip. It may also be that some members of his entourage may have put him up to this. Also, he may have been confused by Reston’s story in the Times of September 15.
I propose to discuss matter tomorrow with Hallstein who was at the conference.3
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 661.62A/9–2055. Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Berlin for Conant and to Moscow.↩
- Reference is to a statement by Henry Suydam, Chief of the News Division, on September 14. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, September 26, 1955, pp. 494–495.↩
- On September 21 O’Shaugnessy reported that he had been unable to talk with Hallstein. (Telegram 931; Department of State, Central Files, 661.62A/9–2155) On the following day the Embassy in Bonn was informed that Ambassador Krekeler would be told that the Department of State regretted the Chancellor’s complaint to the American newsmen, “particularly in view of the close relations between the Federal Republic and the United States.” (Telegram 838; ibid., 511.61/9–2255)↩