333. Memorandum of a Conversation, Geneva, November 7, 1955, 3 p.m.1



  • The Secretary of State
  • Herr Ollenhauer, Head of the German Social Democratic Party
  • Dr. Grewe, German Delegation
  • Mr. Merchant
  • Mr. Kidd

Herr Ollenhauer opened the conversation by asking whether the Secretary had any hopes that progress would be made at this Conference with regard to German reunification within the framework of European security.

The Secretary said that he always entertained some hope, although the attitude of the Soviet Delegation so far had not given much ground for expectation that agreement would be reached at this stage. However, it must be borne in mind that when Soviet agreements were forthcoming, this usually happened at the last minute, and therefore one could not yet speak conclusively with regard to the results of the Conference.

Herr Ollenhauer said that the Socialist Party naturally attached the greatest importance and had given much study to the question of how to bring about free elections for all Germany. The Socialist Party wondered whether there was much chance of getting the Soviets to state their real position with regard to free elections and unification until there had been some prior clarification of Germany’s eventual military status. They wondered therefore whether it would be possible for the Western Ministers to press the Soviets for an answer with regard to the final military status of Germany, in order to clear the way for a clear-cut answer with regard to free elections.

[Page 696]

The Secretary said that one could indeed always ask questions of the Soviets, but it was more difficult to obtain an answer. He said that the Soviets were falling back more and more upon the position of protection of the “social gains” in Eastern Germany. The plain truth appeared to be that they were against any solution which would involve the liquidation of Pankow. He thought that they took this position because of the dangers to their entire satellite system if they once permitted free elections to be held anywhere within that system. If one tried to pin them down on the military conditions which would justify their consent to free elections, the Soviet Delegation would probably reply that that question could be gone into after we had established relations between East and West Germany. They would be elusive.

Herr Ollenhauer agreed that this appeared to be the case at present. However, he wondered whether the Soviets were really committed to saving Pankow at all costs. He thought that it might very well be even more important for them to maintain the possibility of better relations or some sort of an agreement with the US, and for this, under certain circumstances, they might be prepared to recede somewhat from their support of Pankow. He did agree that the question of the satellites was probably decisive for them at present, and that they wish to avoid anything which could be used as an example against their control of the satellite states. But in that event, he wondered whether the Western Powers could not be a little more positive in demonstrating the length to which they were prepared to go with regard to reunification. For example, they might point out that under their plan for free elections united Germany would have a free choice and was not committed to any military alliance in advance.

The Secretary asked Mr. Merchant whether we had not already come close to doing just that. He said that we had stated the general proposition; it was now up to the Soviets to reply. If the Soviet Delegation answered the question, they would probably say that some form of neutrality was what they had in mind, with limitations upon German national forces. The Secretary doubted that they would say even that now, but would continue to evade the issue by references to the social gains made in the GDR. The Secretary said that it should not be very satisfactory to the Soviet Union to look forward to a neutral Germany in the center of Europe with bargaining power to play off East and West against each other. This would certainly not be conducive to peace in Europe. The Secretary said that both the President and he believed very strongly in the necessity of some form of European unity or integration for the future. It was of course a juridical fact that the new all-German state would have freedom of choice, but he could frankly state that he would not be happy if the [Page 697] reunited Germany should exercise this freedom of choice to disassociate itself from the West. Some degree of unity among the Western European states was almost necessary for the future. Therefore, although the choice would exist, we should certainly not wish to push Germany toward a choice which would represent disaster for Europe.

Herr Ollenhauer said that he hoped the Secretary would believe that the Socialist Party also had not thought of Germany’s being put into a vacuum. That seemed to them entirely unrealistic. The question, however, that had occurred to them was whether it might be possible for united Germany to take part in some form of security arrangement which would not necessarily be the same as the existing arrangements. What they had in mind was something which would not imperil the security of the West, but might satisfy the security concern of the Soviet Union sufficiently to obtain its consent to free elections.

The Secretary demonstrated by a sketch on a yellow pad the type of zonal arrangement which the Western Powers had proposed. He explained that under the Western proposals there would not be a high level of military forces within this zone, but a comparatively low level. There was no intention that Germany would be built up as a military power. It was left open for discussion what level of forces would be maintained within the zone. The Western case was so strong that there was not much room left for the Soviets to argue about their security apprehensions, and in fact the broad principles of such a security arrangement seemed to be acceptable to both sides. The result was that military considerations were no longer a major obstacle to reunification. The Western proposals had forced the Soviets to base their objections to reunification not so much on military grounds related to security as upon political grounds, the alleged social gains in the Eastern Zone. The Western Powers had put forward proposals on security which were so reasonable and flexible that it could not be claimed that military considerations were the obstacle. The Secretary added that it seemed to him that from the security standpoint there was much more danger for the Soviet Union from a divided Germany than from the security system which the West had proposed. Although Molotov continued to talk about NATO, when pressed as to just what it was that worried him about reunification he had no answer except to point to the necessity of protecting social and economic “gains”. The Secretary said that he felt that this narrowing of the issues represented progress in the Conference. He supposed that whether the Soviets would give in on other aspects depended largely upon the extent to which they were willing to undermine Pankow. The GDR seemed desperate to stay in power, and the Soviets now seem to be backing them up fully. We should not really know whether there was any give in this situation [Page 698] until the end of the Conference. The Secretary thought that the key to the situation lay in the political relations of Moscow to Pankow and the satellites.

Herr Ollenhauer stated that the Soviet proposals with regard to an all-German council were as unacceptable to the Socialists as to the Government. They were united in this view. However, the Socialist Party wondered whether it would not be possible to arrange technical level contacts between Bonn and Pankow by means of a mandate given by the Four Powers to the two German Governments. The Socialist Party did not wish to recognize Pankow, but they believed that with the division of Germany continuing, it might be possible to facilitate contacts between the two parts of Germany, which would maintain the moral unity of the people, without prejudicing the Western position concerning recognition of Pankow or increasing political difficulties in Germany.

The Secretary commented that the Soviet proposal about an all-German council contained no word with regard to free elections and amounted to merely establishing a quasi-diplomatic relationship between two separate states. He said that we assumed that if agreement could once be reached with regard to elections, contacts would as a matter of course take place between representatives of the two Governments with regard to carrying out that decision. He asked whether the responsibility in such matters did not lie largely with the Federal Republic.

Mr. Merchant mentioned the example of the road tolls case, where discussions at the technical level have taken place.2

The Secretary added that trade agreements were also a field in which he understood that contacts took place at the technical level. We had never put any obstacle to this type of contact.

Dr. Grewe said that if he might be permitted to depart from the role of translator for a moment in order to state the viewpoint of the Federal Government, he could say that much reflection and study had been given to the proposals of the SPD. However, the Government felt that the GDR was in a position to bring various forms of pressure upon the Federal Republic. The Government felt that if the Four Powers gave any such mandate for discussions between representatives of the two Governments, this would not suffice to solve the problems but would probably involve the eventual recognition of Pankow. Hitherto the Three Western Powers had refused to recognize Pankow, and the Federal Government considered it politically important to maintain this position, whether there was a mandate or not. Dr. Grewe felt that the SPD view might have been quite correct [Page 699] for the conditions prevailing in 1949 but now that there were claims of sovereignty on both sides, the recognition problem could not be avoided.

The Secretary said that we should of course not wish to get into internal German matters. He thought that the Western Powers would not wish either to impose or to prohibit such contacts so long as they did not impair Quadripartite responsibility. Herr Ollenhauer would no doubt recall the position that we had taken with regard to maintenance of Quadripartite responsibility for Berlin. The Secretary felt that there might be certain disadvantages in calling on the two German states to take action in this or that specific field, since this would appear to put them on a parity. He felt that it was perhaps better to conduct these technical-level contacts on a de facto rather than de jure basis.

Herr Ollenhauer said that he had no more questions. The Secretary, calling his attention to the map on the wall, discussed for a few moments the extravagance of the Soviets’ efforts to bring about disunity in this small area of Western Europe in comparison with the enormous expanse of territory which constituted a unified bloc from the Baltic to the Pacific. He recalled again his astonishment last July when Bulganin had stated the Soviet aim of bringing Europe back to the condition in which it was in 1939. Herr Ollenhauer agreed.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 60 D 627, CF 578. Secret. Drafted by Kidd on November 9. In a briefing memorandum for Merchant, dated November 7, Kidd cautioned that Ollenhauer’s meeting with Dulles represented “a big Socialist play for the benefit of their position in internal German politics,” and that the Secretary of State should give it the most careful treatment. (Ibid., Central Files, 396.1–GE/11–755)
  2. Reference is to tolls imposed by the German Democratic Republic on access roads to Berlin.