109. Telegram From the Delegation to the North Atlantic Council Ministerial Meeting to the Department of State 0

Secto 9. After opening remarks by French Chairman, quadripartite ministerial meeting, which began 16:45 hours today, got underway with long introductory statement by von Brentano. He said maintenance of Berlin as free city depended on continuing willingness of three governments to defend their position there. Ultimatum like demands of Soviet Union raised grave issues. Soviets did not propose negotiations to improve situation in Berlin, but at most were willing to elaborate their demands for basic revision Western position. Proposal for free city of West Berlin meant that present dual division of Germany would become triple division, and solution of German reunification problem would become ever more difficult as GDR moved towards complete recognition. Free portion of Berlin would have to sever ties with Federal Republic and its further development would be completely dependent on benevolence of Soviet Zone. So-called international status of West Berlin would be illusion and Soviets would find occasion to intervene. If link to Federal Republic severed, Berlin economy would quickly collapse. Mood of Berliners was still good, but could change overnight if they thought Western support not firm. Foreign Ministers should therefore show their determination, and NATO Council should subsequently reaffirm association with Berlin guarantees. Berliners would regard what happened in next few days as test of Western steadfastness. If West failed on this issue, other countries of free world would begin to doubt firmness of purpose and would look for new ways to protect themselves through direct talks with Soviets. West must therefore respond firmly to [Page 204] Soviet demands or else surrender to force. Consideration should also be given to accompanying display firm resolution by appeal to Soviet Union and entire world to rally forces interested in saving peace. He was convinced that Soviet Union would not carry through its plans if faced by determined resistance of free world. Soviet Union was intensifying war of nerves and if we were not firm, we would all go down together.

At this point, Governing Mayor Brandt of Berlin entered room and was welcomed by Couve who asked him to make statement on behalf of Berlin. After expression gratitude for help of Western countries which had assisted in reconstruction of Berlin during past decade, he emphasized all this was now threatened by new Soviet move. Berliners had much self confidence as well as confidence in their Allied friends as evidenced by elections of December 7 in which Communist Unity Party obtained only 1.9 percent of total vote. He felt that this election had been a real plebiscite in rejection of Soviet proposals. Soviet proposal only superficial solution with ultimate aim really complete absorption of Berlin into Soviet controlled area. Some damage had already been done to economic life of city, but people were prepared for difficulties. It was not appropriate for him to give advice to Foreign Ministers, but he wished to make appeal in accordance with feeling of population of Berlin that fight must be continued for freedom of city. After expression of sympathy and support by Couve, Brandt left room.

Discussion then moved to four-power communiqué. French circulated draft which had been prepared before meeting by tripartite working group.1 Von Brentano said he also had draft to submit.2 After brief discussion, another drafting group was set up to refine German draft as basis for four-power communiqué.

Using map for illustrative purposes, Secretary said he would like to make a point often forgotten. He noted that 1944–45 agreements which Soviets now proposed to repudiate had been relied on by us in falling back from Saxony and Thuringia which we had occupied by end of war. Modest quid pro quo which we received was entry into three Western sectors of Berlin which at that time was little more than pile of rubble. He had noted no suggestion from Soviets that they should give up this area which we had left, whereas they were asking us to surrender our sectors of Berlin. Secretary thought it might be worthwhile to make this point to NATO Council, since people tend to forget historical basis of agreements. Couve said point should be made publicly, and Lloyd added it [Page 205] would also be very good to include in reply to Soviets. Brentano nodded assent.

Ministers then spent considerable time examining draft submitted by von Brentano of suggested communiqué or declaration to be issued by NATO Ministerial Council. Secretary objected to final paragraph as unnecessary at this stage since it pre-supposes that replies would contain counter-proposals. We did not yet know whether they would or not. At present point, we were confronted with Soviet note purporting unilaterally to repudiate obligations. They had given us six months ultimatum. Whether under these conditions we would want to make proposals not clear. It was not good practice to negotiate under threat of an ultimatum, and perhaps first thing to do was to get ultimatum withdrawn. In any event, we would be reluctant to see question foreclosed by having language included in communiqué expressing hope that proposals be set forth in Western replies to Soviet notes.

Foreign Ministers agreed that last paragraph should be stricken. Couve made point that document issued by NATO Council should not, in effect, summarize future reply of Western powers to Soviet Union. This could only be finally determined when replies drafted. It was agreed that expert group would be set up to draft suggested communiqué for issuance by NATO Ministerial Council. This was not to be presented in advance, but slipped in towards end of Berlin discussion, although it might be shown previously to Spaak who also had submitted possible text of NATO communiqué to Four Foreign Ministers.3

Discussion then considered series of questions and answers prepared by quadripartite working group which had met twice December 13.4 Ministers accepted recommendation that portion of Soviet note containing specific proposals ought to be subject of identical replies, but that other portions of replies dealing with refutation of propaganda arguments need only be coordinated. It was understood that reply of Federal Republic would necessarily differ in form from other replies in view of its different juridical position, but that in substance FedRep reply would be on same lines.

Re timing of reply, Couve pressed for as early a date as possible, perhaps even before Christmas. Lloyd was reluctant to move ahead so fast and pointed out that NATO consultative processes required some time. Von Brentano and Secretary both supported moving ahead with reply as rapidly as feasible. Secretary pointed out we would be subject [Page 206] to criticism if we seem to fritter away time. Accordingly, it agreed that special quadripartite drafting party would begin work in effort to achieve replies along lines indicated above as soon as possible.

Further discussion of whether notes should be short or long, or include historical references in text (as desired by British and Germans) or in annex (as preferred by French), led to conclusion that this really a matter to be decided in terms of needs each country. Lloyd made point that it was easier for Soviets to suppress annex than a single unified text. Hence, British favored putting historical arguments in body of note, which might have some chance of being published in Soviet Union.

It agreed that there should be no provisional reply to Soviet notes, and that further meeting of Foreign Ministers to approve work of experts not required. There was also agreement that NATO Ministerial meeting should reaffirm action taken re Berlin in 1954, and that Couve would make report to Ministerial Council re four-power meeting today. Decision was deferred as to whether quadripartite working group similar to that which met in 1957 and 1958 should be established to draw up proposals for procedure and further action re Berlin crisis. Experts had pointed out that such meeting would be necessary if reply were to envisage possibility of discussion of German problem as a whole. Ministers also agreed that propaganda measures to be taken to counter Soviet proposals should be handled by individual action of four governments.

On question of substance, Couve mentioned that French draft which already prepared made no reference to counter-proposals, although it implies that discussion on German problem as a whole was always possible. Couve said he hesitated to qualify Soviet proposal as ultimatum in Western replies. He would rather ask Soviets if they had intended to issue ultimatum, and tell them, if this were case, that it was not acceptable. Secretary agreed, remarking that it was important to leave Soviets a way out. Lloyd concurred.

Lloyd mentioned that, in talks earlier today, it agreed that agency argument as applied to GDR officials needed careful handling.5 Western powers say that GDR officials are stooges of Russians, but agree that they will not permit substitution of such officials for Soviets. If GDR representatives were to say they are acting as Soviet agents, that would be acceptable, but as they say they are acting for themselves, Western position must be one of refusing to deal with them. Von Brentano pointed out that agency theory no longer pertinent in view of assertion of GDR sovereignty. It would only be possible to maintain theory if Soviets were using GDR officials as agents to carry out their obligations, but note of November 27 states Soviets no longer have such obligations. Lloyd said [Page 207] there was no disagreement on this point. All he meant was that if GDR officials were to claim they were acting as Soviet agents we would have no reason to object. Von Brentano agreed.

Secretary queried whether Spaak should be asked to modify agenda for Ministerial meeting so that Berlin could be discussed on Tuesday morning. Von Brentano indicated that Spaak had already said this would be acceptable.

Ministers reworked at some length text of four-power communiqué as prepared by drafting group (sent separate message).6

Before meeting terminated, Couve asked what should be said to press. Lloyd suggested journalists might be told that Ministers had been discussing replies to Soviet notes. Von Brentano argued strongly against any statements going beyond communiqué on ground that different answers to various questions which might be posed would cause speculation about possible differences of views. It agreed Ministers would make no statements on meeting except generalities to effect that it had been profitable and harmonious, and that subject would again be discussed in NATO Ministerial Council.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–PA/12–1558. Secret; Priority. Transmitted in two sections and repeated to London, Moscow, Bonn, and Berlin.
  2. The draft under reference has not been found, but see Document 108.
  3. A copy of the German draft communiqué is in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1174.
  4. Neither of the drafts under reference here has been found. The expert group comprised Bruce, Daridan, Steel, Grewe, and their advisers. (Ibid., Bruce Diaries: Lot 64 D 327)
  5. See Document 106.
  6. See Document 108.
  7. In Secto 6 from Paris, December 14, 11 p.m. (Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560) For text of this communiqué, which reaffirmed the determination of the three Western powers to maintain their rights and position in Berlin and stated that unilateral repudiation by the Soviet Union of its obligations in Berlin was unacceptable, see Department of State Bulletin, December 29, 1958, pp. 1041–1042.