107. Memorandum of Conversation0



Paris, France, December 16–18, 1958


  • United States
    • Asst. Secretary Merchant
    • Ambassador Bruce
    • Mr. W.R. Tyler
  • Germany
    • Foreign Minister von Brentano
    • State Secretary Van Scherpenberg
    • Ambassador Grewe
    • Ambassador Blankenhorn
    • Ambassador Duckwitz
    • Herr Weber (interpreter)


  • Berlin

Von Brentano said he had just been to see Spaak about this afternoon’s Foreign Ministers meeting, and its relationship to the NATO Council meeting. The question was whether the draft communiqué prepared by the working group yesterday could form a basis for discussion this afternoon.1

Mr. Merchant said that he thought it could be a basis of discussion. He did not think the Secretary was likely to accept it entirely in its present form, our inclination was to keep the substantive content to a minimum, reserving a more detailed declaration for a communiqué to be published by the NATO Council. This draft, he thought, should be somewhat more factual and less declaratory.

Von Brentano said Spaak had pointed out that we should be aware of the fact that since 1954, NATO had assumed its own commitments with regard to Berlin, which had been renewed in December, 1957.2 Von Brentano said he agreed with Spaak’s point and that we should avoid giving the impression that in today’s meeting, the Foreign Ministers had in any way prejudiced the Council’s position or decision. Von Brentano [Page 198] went on to say that, while he understood Spaak’s views, German and world opinion would react in an unfavorable manner if no strong or convincing public declaration were made by the Foreign Ministers today. There would not be much point merely in saying that they were united. The press would interpret this as meaning that the reason why they had confined themselves to speaking about unity was precisely because they were not united.

Mr. Merchant said the Secretary feels the Four should state they agree that the Soviet proposals should be rejected as being totally unacceptable. It was desirable to eliminate from the communiqué anything which would have an adverse effect, in view of the sensitivity of NATO members.

Von Brentano went on to say that he was adopting this course with some hesitation. He said he thought there was a danger that, because of the different views and attitudes of various members of NATO, the NATO communiqué would represent the lowest common denominator of these views, just as the speed of a convoy is that of the slowest ship. He said he thought there were two decisions to be taken today: First, an internal decision among the Four with regard to their common position, which would remain “in the desk drawer” until Tuesday; second, a decision on the declaration to be published today, in which it would be stated that the Foreign Ministers would report to the Council on Tuesday.

At this point Ambassador Blankenhorn intervened to say that Spaak had insisted that, in order to preserve NATO unity, a final communiqué must on no account be published today. He summarized Spaak’s ideas on what should be said today as follows: “The Three (or the Four) Foreign Ministers are agreed that their legal position in Berlin should be upheld. There is no legal reason to accept the Soviet proposal. However, the Soviet note carries with it certain political implications which should be discussed within NATO, because it has assumed certain obligations with regard to Berlin in 1954 which have been renewed in 1957.”

Mr. Merchant said he hoped that this afternoon’s communiqué would essentially meet Spaak’s concern but would make it clear that the Soviet proposal was unacceptable.

There followed some confused and confusing comments by Von Brentano, Blankenhorn and Van Scherpenberg on how many papers needed to be prepared. Out of this confusion Mr. Merchant clarified the situation as follows: He said he did not think we needed to envisage more than two papers. What was required was (1) today’s Foreign Ministers’ communiqué, which should not go into too much detail, and should protect NATO’s legitimate interests in the subject; (2) during the NATO discussion of the Berlin item, one, or perhaps even all four Ministers, [Page 199] would present an oral report along commonly agreed lines. This report would end by saying that the essential points of the position agreed on by the Four had been summarized in a paper which would then be handed to Spaak for incorporation in the NATO communiqué as the part on Berlin.

Blankenhorn said there was, nevertheless, a danger that the paper which NATO might draw up would be weaker than the position taken by the Four.

Mr. Merchant said, speaking personally, he felt the Four should reserve the right to publish their own statement independently of the NATO communiqué, in the event that the other members of the Council should insist on watering their position down too much.

Von Brentano said he hoped that the other members would go along with the position taken by the Four.

Blankenhorn expressed himself as not being entirely sanguine on this point, and referred to the possible effect of yesterday’s Soviet note to all the members of NATO.3

Von Brentano said he had talked with Prime Minister Hansen of Denmark on December 12, and that the latter’s position at that time was perfectly clear and sound.

Mr. Merchant observed that the Soviet note to the members of NATO was practically standard operational procedure immediately preceding meetings of the Western powers.

Blankenhorn said Spaak had suggested that the discussion on Berlin take place in secret session first thing in the morning session on December 16, in order that the whole day should be available for this purpose.

Von Brentano said he agreed with Spaak that the Berlin question should become Point I on Tuesday. It was desirable that any differences that may exist should be smoked out at once and not be allowed to subsist undiscussed.

Mr. Merchant agreed and said he would make recommendations to the Secretary along these lines. He observed that the longer discussion was postponed and a public position taken, the more the press would speculate. He thought it might be a good thing to issue a special communiqué on Berlin by Tuesday evening.

Grewe said he thought the working group communiqué could stand some shortening, but that, essentially, it meets Spaak’s concern.

[Page 200]

Mr. Merchant agreed that it pretty well met the criteria just discussed.

At this point Blankenhorn made some comments suggesting that he did not agree with this, and that he was in favor of cutting the present draft down and reserving the substantive part for the NATO communiqué.

Von Brentano raised some procedural questions with regard to this afternoon, and Mr. Merchant said he thought it might be a good idea to start the meeting by discussing the working group communiqué.

In conclusion it was agreed that the German Delegation would draft a preliminary text of a communiqué for discussion in NATO, and would have it ready in time for the 4:30 meeting this afternoon.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1169. Drafted by Tyler. The meeting was held at the Hotel Bristol.
  2. Not found, but see Document 106.
  3. For text of the NATO Heads of Government communiqué, December 19, 1957, see Department of State Bulletin, January 6, 1958, pp. 12–15.
  4. A translation of this December 13 note was transmitted in telegram 1262 from Moscow, December 13. (Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–PA/12–1358) The Russianlanguage text was transmitted as an enclosure to despatch 341 from Moscow, December 15. (Ibid., 396.1–PA/12–1558)