114. Memorandum of Conversation0



Paris, France, December 16–18, 1958


  • United States
    • The Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Houghton
    • Mr. Merchant
    • Mr. McBride
  • France
    • Foreign Minister Couve de Murville
    • Ambassador Alphand


  • Berlin

The French Foreign Minister said that we should now proceed to the drafting of our reply to the Soviets. The Secretary said that he had a draft now based on the French draft which had been expanded to add certain material regarding the historical events of 1939.1 Mr. Merchant noted that the Working Group was meeting this afternoon. It was proposed to work until December 24 and then recess for about a week, and have a draft the first week in January. The Secretary said he had no objection to proceeding sooner. He added there was some difference of opinion as to whether the reply should be delivered before or after the Communist Party meeting in January. He personally believed that to wait until the latter part of January to deliver our reply would give the impression of vacillation on our part. Couve de Murville said French public opinion would not understand a long delay in replying, and he thought the Germans felt the same way. He thought we should make known our firm position promptly. The Secretary agreed and said he thought we should go ahead, and have a draft by the end of the year.

M. Couve de Murville referred to the discussions of last Sunday,2 and asked for a further explanation of our ideas with regard to access to Berlin. The Secretary explained that at present our road convoys normally go through without armor. If GDR agents were to take over and [Page 219] were to stop these convoys, our thought was to have them go back, and then attempt to go through again with a certain amount of armor. They would not attempt at this point to force their way through as we don’t have sufficient [armor] for that, but would serve to test the Soviets fully. If convoys were stopped under these circumstances, we would then consult again and reconsider courses of action such as adding additional armor, an air lift, etc. The purpose of our Point D3 was to make a show of force to see if the Soviets were prepared to meet force with force. We would not initially establish a self-blockade which might prove to be unnecessary. An air lift was not automatically the answer either.

Couve said he presumed that if GDR agents replaced the Soviets in the BASC, our civilian aircraft would ignore them and fly in anyway. Under these conditions, these planes would probably be interfered with. In that case we could supply them with military escort and force the Soviets to take the first overt action. The Secretary said we of course wished to maneuver the Soviets into shooting first. Our Point D was intended to test the Soviet intentions and not lead to fighting.

Couve asked what percentage of our Berlin traffic involved road transport, since virtually all of the French traffic was by rail. Mr. Merchant said we used both rail and road while the British used virtually all road traffic. The test of the Soviets’ intentions would of course come through our utilization of road traffic and not rail.

The Secretary said that he was convinced these actions will not lead to war, since the Soviets do not wish a war. They are in a period of relative weakness, and are between the bomber phase and the missile phase. They have economized and Khrushchev recently stated they had ceased bomber production while they had an inadequate supply of missiles at present. The Secretary added that, if we made a show of force, we would probably get through. He did not want to have a self-imposed blockade unless the Soviets resisted a show of force, in which case we would want to consider the situation again.

Couve asked if discussions on these points would be held in Bonn. Mr. Merchant said that we thought discussions on Point D should be held in Washington, to which Couve expressed no objection. Since Points B and C were agreed, the detailed implementing instructions could now be sent to Bonn. Couve said he personally had not previously known about the contingency planning for Berlin. The Secretary said this had been agreed in 1954 and confirmed in 1957 but that he personally had not previously been involved in this subject either.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1169. Confidential. Drafted by McBride. The meeting was held at the Embassy residence.
  2. Neither draft has been further identified.
  3. December 14; see Documents 108 and 109.
  4. See Document 98.