185. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State 0

702. For Herter and Wilcox from Lodge. Reference: Berlin.

Pursuant Acting Secretary’s authorization to acquaint SYG with gravity with which US Government regarded possible developments re Berlin, I saw Hammarskjöld yesterday noon.1 Conversation turned out to be, on this subject, equally desired from Hammarskjöld’s side.
After relating deep concern in highest civilian circles of US Government that Soviets might, from unobjective assessment of US opinion, miscalculate regarding basic unity of American people with regard to foreign policy in general and Berlin situation in particular, I expressed in strongest possible terms what I understood to be firm determination to stand on our rights in Berlin and, if necessary, to defend them even at risk of war.
Hammarskjöld, without batting an eyelash, expressed view that any hostilities in Western or Central Europe could not possibly be limited and would inevitably lead to outbreak of full-scale war. SYG said he did not for a moment himself misunderstand American opinion regarding Berlin. He said he had “become enough of an American” since being here to realize and discount domestic political game and not mistake it for basic cleavage in outlook where national interests were concerned.

SYG said his own desire to discuss this with us had come from his reading of two articles in NY Times Sunday and Monday2 on Berlin situation. He noted in both articles an apparent intention to involve UN without, so far as he was aware, any explicit appreciation of what was possible. He said he saw UN’s role in Berlin controversy in two categories: (a) as constructive forum or springboard for action such as four power talks or other negotiations which could lead to an end or easing of present crisis; or (b) as kind of cloak for action already determined on which could, as an abuse of UN, both mark beginning of end for UN itself and neither lessen present tension nor contribute to any real solution of problem. SYG was concerned that, at this stage, both Russians, in their off-hand references to UN role in Berlin, and West, as reflected in Washington and Bonn NY Times stories, seemed to be taking latter road.

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He strongly hoped this was not case and urged we do everything possible avoid misusing UN in this fashion, or putting UN in what he called “false position”. He stressed that using UN as cover and nothing more would produce adverse reaction in majority of members.

He felt nothing of clear nature could be known re Russian intentions before conclusion of Macmillan’s visit to Moscow. In his opinion, “pipe and tweed approach” of Macmillan could not fail to produce something present attitude regarding Berlin. At another point he referred to conversations with Mayor Willy Brandt, who, he said, did not for moment doubt there were “back doors” in Soviet position.
Having given matter considerable thought, SYG’s guess as to Soviet motivations was that East Germans have been “nagging” Soviets and are seeking to wring some concession, by way of increased status for their regime, from USSR. SYG further believes Soviets basically do not want to risk all-out war. Therefore, he surmises, problem as seen from Soviet eyes is how much of concession Moscow can make to East Germans without endangering their basic “no war” policy. SYG sees many shadings in possible concessions Russians might give to East Germans. Their action might be confined simply to turning over East Berlin to GDR, without any role for GDR in connection with access of Western Powers to Berlin. Next on scale could be grant of certain low-level functions to GDR at checkpoints without any real authority. Beyond such minor measures, Soviets could of course grant more extensive powers to East Germans. Hammarskjöld inclined believe Russians will try to get away with minimum concessions necessary to keep East Germans happy.
SYG said he will undoubtedly be faced with considerable discussion of Berlin situation while he is in Moscow. In order to be of value in development of situation, he feels he ought to be acquainted as much as possible with thinking of Western Governments at latest possible moment before his arrival in Moscow on 24 March. Dixon (UK) has promised provide him with full report on Macmillan’s visit. He hoped US might for its part be able to give him last minute assessment either in sealed written form through Swedish channels in Washington or by calling it to Ambassador Thompson in Moscow if time did not permit pouch delivery from Washington before his arrival. By then, he said, we would have been able to assess results of Macmillan visit as well as having taken into account any nuances detectable in further Soviet utterances this subject.
As far as UN role is concerned, he will for present continue to take, as he has so far, line that it is too premature to go into. He said he could not at present moment, given his present lack of information on [Page 390] what is basically at stake, come up with any concrete suggestions as to any role UN might play in Berlin.
In closing this part of conversation, SYG reiterated his concern, as indicated above, that UN could be placed in “false position.” Having emphasized this point so strongly, he seems to us to want to be kept fully in picture as our planning may progress on use of UN. He also seems genuinely concerned at possibility we would hide behind UN’s skirts and then proceed to direct action, using as justification our having gone to UN and exhausted all possible remedies short of use of force.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/2–2459. Secret; Limited Distribution.
  2. On February 21 Herter had authorized Lodge to inform Hammarskjöld of the extreme concern that the United States had about the Berlin situation. (Ibid., UNA Files: Lot 61 D 91, Berlin)
  3. February 22 and 23.