190. Telegram From the Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Regional Organizations to the Department of State 0
Polto 2445. Re: NAC meeting (private) February 28. Summary: Meeting called at UK request to present Macmillan’s “preliminary impressions” Russian attitude. Macmillan found no signs weakening Russian intention turn over to East Germany May 27 control access to Berlin and sign peace treaty. Khrushchev did not give Macmillan prior notice Feb 24 speech but covered much of ground subsequently covered in speech. Re disarmament, Khrushchev showed no keenness resume surprise attack talks1 but hoped heads of govt could reach agreement on security which would benefit both sides.
In discussion following UK report, Spaak stated now clear West would be faced with crisis May 27 and he worried re slowness development Western position and lack preparation Western public opinion for May 27 showdown. Discussion also brought out possibility there would be no four-power conference on Germany or Berlin. Need for full discussion in NAC emphasized. US stressed importance firm Western position in face situation likely to arise on May 27. End summary.
UK Perm Rep stated he had been asked by Macmillan give NAC impressions which not necessarily final views, at conclusion formal talks with Khrushchev. Unlikely further discussion scheduled for March 2 would add anything new. Felt Russians still obsessed by sense insecurity, bogey encirclement and apprehension re neighbors—this in spite of their new power. Soviet leaders convinced West putting pressure on them since Stalin’s death in belief Soviet weakened internally.
Re Germany and Berlin, in addition to points noted above, Khrushchev claimed he distrusted Western proposals as putting too many questions together and designed draw Soviets into long inconclusive discussions. Russians insist on their proposals. Khrushchev apparently chose regard Macmillan’s statement UK would stand firmly by Western Allies and uphold Western rights in Berlin as threat. Had reiterated intentions re turn over access to Berlin and signature peace treaty. Said “Soviet Govt would regard any subsequent violations of DDR as act of war”.[Page 397]
On disarmament, Macmillan detected some slight give. Khrushchev skeptical of disarmament commission but thought Heads of Govt might find “mutual interest in some system of security of advantage to both sides”. Was suspicious that inspection scheme merely device for espionage but concerned at possible acquisition of nuclear weapons by other powers.
Non-aggression pact not mentioned to Macmillan by Khrushchev.
In response to Spaak question, UK Perm Rep said Khrushchev had not indicated whether West would get formal replies to notes November [January] 10. In response Belgium question, said Khrushchev had not raised with Macmillan subject of summit talks. Khrushchev also told UK Delegation he intended trip to Berlin and Leipzig after conclusion UK visit.
US thought it very wholesome NAC considering new situation in such serious fashion, pointed to very thorough and serious consideration being given to problem by govts, and thorough public discussion. Recognized we had already advanced several concessions, as Belgian Perm Rep noted, which had had no response. Speaking personally thought there seemed evidence Soviets do not want conference and even if one held might not help Berlin situation. Therefore Alliance must face firmly what may happen on May 27. Thought major importance attached to insuring that Alliance strong and united enough to find way to deal with that situation.
Re preparing Western public opinion, admitted govts have not revealed positions but called attention to extensive public debates in Parliament, Congress and elsewhere which certainly focused public attention on problem. Thought four powers fully recognized importance of preparing Western public opinion.
Council agreed that response inevitable press enquiries re subject this hastily called NAC session, would be “no comment”.
Canada agreed with Spaak’s general remarks. Thought Canadian Govt would take line no question of procedure should stand in way of meeting with Soviets before May 27, or at least setting date for such meeting. Felt there was something to Khrushchev’s remark that too many questions being put to him. Priority may have to be given negotiation of Berlin question. Concluded this may be last time West can discuss German problem in four-power context.
Spaak underlined importance Canadian statement and warned that at some point there will be great temptation place problem before UN. If this happens, UN can only work out compromise which not in [Page 398] accord with Western position. Did not blame UN but it is its business to work out compromises.
Belgium noted West had hinted concessions re free elections and some degree recognition GDR. Asked why we could not make concession of giving Russians summit meeting they wanted. Emphasized Russians had already rejected four power meeting and wondered whether Khrushchev would not continue to insist on including Czechs and Poles.
Spaak, in addition to points noted in summary above, observed it was clear negotiations with Russians impossible. Soviet position legally inadmissible but difficulty was no court existed before which West could argue case. Must admit that when Khrushchev alleged there was nothing in Western reply of February 16 he was not entirely wrong for that note procedural only. Admitted NAC had been given ample time comment on Western reply but nobody had done so.
Lack of Soviet good faith makes difficulty for West in dealing with its public opinion. We must prepare this opinion for Soviet move May 27. Folly to face Western opinion with grave situation without preparation. Worried lest little progress in developing substantive position be made during working group sessions Paris and noted Ministers now not meeting until first part April.
UK thought on contrary working group would make considerable progress.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 033.4161/2–2859. Secret. Transmitted in two sections; repeated to London, Bonn and Moscow; and pouched to all other NATO capitals.↩
- Documentation on the surprise attack talks at Geneva, November 10–December 18, 1958, is scheduled for publication in volume III.↩