250. Memorandum of Conversation0



  • Minutes of the Quadripartite Foreign Ministers’ Meeting of April 1, 1959 (Morning Session)
[Page 562]


  • US
    • The Acting Secretary
    • Mr. Murphy
    • Mr. Reinhardt
    • Mr. Merchant
    • Ambassador Burgess
    • Ambassador Bruce
    • Mr. Berding
    • Mr. Irwin
    • Mr. Knight
    • Mr. Hillenbrand
    • Mr. Timmons
    • Mr. Vigderman
  • Federal Republic
    • Heinrich von Brentano
    • Albert van Scherpenberg
    • Georg Duckwitz
    • Georg Count Baudissin
    • Hans-Juergen Dietrich
    • Gunter von Hase
    • Hermann Kustrer
    • Ambassador Grewe
    • Franz Krapf
    • Rolf Pauls
  • France
    • Maurice Couve de Murville
    • Ambassador Alphand
    • Charles Lucet
    • Jean Laloy
    • Pierre Baraduc
    • Jacques de Beaumarchais
  • UK
    • Selwyn Lloyd
    • Ambassador Caccia
    • Sir Frank Roberts
    • Lord Hood
    • Peter Hope
    • Anthony Rumbold
    • Patrick Hancock
    • Denis Laskey
    • John Drinkall
    • Donald Logan

The Acting Secretary began the meeting by suggesting that the Ministers should, during the course of the day, agree on (a) a Minute of the four Foreign Ministers giving further direction to the work of the Four-Power Working Group, (b) a report to the North Atlantic Council on the Western position in a meeting with the Soviets, and (c) a communiqué.

The Acting Secretary then raised the question of the extent to which we considered that the Russians were ready to enter into a serious negotiation, particularly with respect to the reunification of Germany. The answer to this question had special importance as concerns public opinion in our own country and in the rest of the world. Mr. Lloyd responded that the British estimate was that the Soviets would be disposed to do business at a Foreign Ministers’ meeting if they were reasonably certain it would be followed by a meeting at the Summit. If the Soviets did not have that conviction they were likely to take unilateral action in matters concerning Berlin and to break off the Foreign Ministers’ Conference without serious negotiation. On the whole, Mr. Lloyd considered that the Soviets would come to the meeting intending to have a serious discussion of the items in the agreed-upon agenda. Mr. Lloyd stressed the importance of avoiding public sessions of the Ministers and refraining from handing speeches at the Foreign Ministers’ Conference to the press.

[Page 563]

The Acting Secretary expressed his agreement that the Foreign Ministers’ meeting should not become a public spectacle.

Couve de Murville suggested that we must not play with the idea that the Foreign Ministers’ Conference would be an empty ritual. He was convinced that the Soviets were ready to be serious. The question was what we were likely to be discussing with the Soviets. As he saw it, the first discussion would center on the question of Polish and Czechoslovak participation. This would be followed, he thought, by a general discussion making clear the position of each side on German problems. This brought us back to the matter of the Working Group Report.1 The Soviets plainly do not accept reunification on any terms acceptable to the West. We could not accept any regime which acknowledged the permanent partition of Germany. The problem was therefore how we reach an acceptable modus vivendi with the Soviets. We need some kind of arrangement about Berlin, and something in the military field. We must be prepared to be in a position to expand our ideas on a possible German settlement. Our position must be so stated as to demonstrate that we are not being negative.

The Acting Secretary pointed out that an interim solution for Berlin was required if it was expected that the reunification process was to take place in stages over a three-year period. He then asked the German Foreign Minister if he was ready to describe his ideas of a suitable reunification plan which the Minister had promised to provide following his criticism of the reunification portion of the Working Group Report.

Dr. von Brentano said he had not had much time to develop his thought in detail and what he was about to present should not be considered as the last word. He recapitulated the ideas he had advanced yesterday2 by saying the idea of a mixed commission to prepare elections was a good concept. It went a certain distance to meet two fundamental Soviet points, namely that reunification was a matter for the two Germanies and that free elections could be the first step in the reunification processes.

Dr. von Brentano said (1) that the mixed commission must be kept distinct from any idea of the “confederation” of the two Germanies, (2) that the principle of parity between the two sections of the mixed commission must be rejected because this violated fundamental democratic principles and (3) that the function of the commission should be limited to preparation for free elections. The mixed commission could, however, make proposals for increasing technical contacts between the two [Page 564] parts of Germany and could study how the human rights articles of the Soviet draft peace treaty could be implemented. The important thing was that the commission should not have any executive or administrative functions. Finally, the composition and functions of the commission had to be considered with extreme care because the commission would have a decisive influence on the working out of reunification.

Dr. von Brentano thought that the selection of the members of the commission should not be left, in effect, to the East German Volkskammer on the one hand, and the West German Laender parliaments on the other. This method of choice was invidious to the Bundestag of the Federal Republic. It was better to envisage the selection of the members of the mixed commission on the one hand by the Government of the Federal Republic, and on the other by the authorities of the so-called German Democratic Republic.

If the mixed commission, so constituted, had the right to make proposals as to increased contacts between the two parts of Germany for the protection of human rights and freedoms, this would force both parts of Germany to take a position on these questions and would put up to the Soviet Zone authorities the need to make their views on these questions known.

Dr. von Brentano said that the idea of an all-German committee as envisaged in the Working Group report was not a happy one, nor was the notion of the Laender selecting nominees for the Committee, particularly since the Laender in the Soviet Zone existed only on paper. Moreover, the selection of, for example, five nominees from Laender with a population of 5,000,000 provided too little representation and could easily produce accidental results.

Dr. von Brentano said that the commission should have the task of preparing an election law. The election must be genuinely free. The Commission could not be entrusted with guaranteeing the freedom of the election. This should be the task of the United Nations. The West should not be concerned about putting forward maximum demands, for public opinion would understand the reasonableness of the Western position. If we come forward with minimum requests on our side we will have lost our room for maneuver. The Federal Republic would further elaborate its ideas on the reunification process and would give them to the Working Group as soon as the Federal Cabinet had approved them. Dr. von Brentano said he would like to make two further observations: (1) that it was extremely important that the West present its proposals as a package. There should be no dealing with isolated problems. (2) That his thoughts on the reunification processes were preliminary only and would be supplemented by more definitive German proposals.

[Page 565]

The Acting Secretary said we would, of course, wish to examine the German proposals in greater detail, and asked if what Dr. von Brentano had sketched out was to be accomplished in one phase or in several phases. To this, Dr. von Brentano explained that his proposals were a part of the package. Mr. Lloyd raised the question of when it could be expected that the Federal Cabinet would approve the German reunification proposal. Dr. von Brentano said that he expected to see the Chancellor on April 8.

The Acting Secretary raised the question of the disassociation of the global disarmament portion of the Working Group report from the problem of Germany. Couve said that the Working Group report covered two kinds of disarmament proposals. The first was general disarmament, and the second was specific measures in a special security area comprising Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and perhaps Hungary. The idea of some general disarmament, expressed as a limitation on the forces of the Four Powers, appears in all three stages of the Working Group Plan. The limitation of forces is only a small part of the 1957 disarmament package. The Working Group report does not touch nuclear armaments, the question of control, or the limitation of conventional arms.

Couve asked what value there was in such an approach. He presumed it was for the benefit of public opinion but he did not think it was a very convincing proposition.

The Acting Secretary said he understood the Germans were anxious to have regional disarmament limitations tied to global limitations.

Couve asked whether we could propose that during the various stages of German reunification disarmament discussions could be proceeding simultaneously, conceivably in a UN committee. This would have the effect of putting the reunification process in the general context of global disarmament and in this way phased progress towards both goals could be achieved. Dr. von Brentano approved this idea. The Acting Secretary said we could examine it further.

Mr. Lloyd said we must appear to have constructive proposals of our own on the subject of ceilings on forces and armaments. We must have something by way of proposals to draw fire from proposals for disengagement, for disengagement was a very dangerous idea which would inevitably lead to the neutralization of Germany.

Couve reverted to the various items in the Working Group report which singled out subjects which were part of the 1957 global disarmament package, and voiced objection to the inclusion in the Western negotiating package of any global limitation on the forces of the Four Powers.

Mr. Lloyd agreed. He thought discussion of disarmament should be put in a wider framework. He knew that Mr. Khrushchev agreed that [Page 566] the 81-nation United Nations body charged with the disarmament question was a hopeless proposition. We could make proposals for getting disarmament discussions started on a more sensible basis. The Acting Secretary then proposed, and it was agreed, that the Working Group should be charged with defining the relationship between disarmament and reunification.

Couve said that as concerns the forces in Central Europe, these were of two kinds: the national forces and the visiting forces. He considered that as concerned national forces, it might be well to propose that the limitations on German forces and arms should be those prescribed in the London and Paris accords. These limitations could apply to a reunified Germany. This proposal would make for a very good presentation to the Soviets.

Dr. von Brentano agreed that as concerned the measures in paragraphs 21 to 23 of the Working Group Report,3 this was a good proposal, but he asked whether the inspection system should not be made dependent on the implementation of Stage III. There was a danger in inspection being permitted to the Soviet Union until the completion of Stage III. The Acting Secretary said that Couve’s proposal was logical, but he did not see how it fitted into the proposal for German reunification.

Discussion then turned to Berlin, and the interim arrangements for Berlin proposed in the Working Group Report. Couve said the problem was what we say on Berlin in presenting our proposals. He thought we should not say much since Berlin was a part of the package and its special status would disappear with the reunification of Germany. We must have interim solutions for difficulties which may arise during the stages of the reunification process, and we should be prepared to consider adjustments during that period. The real problem, however, is finding a modus vivendi for Berlin in the absence of reunification. Couve agreed with the Working Group analysis that Four Power control was better than UN control in Berlin; that any solution must guarantee continued freedom of access; that there should be no modification of the rights of access; and that the West could accept the substitution of the East German authorities if the Soviets explicitly made them their agents.

Dr. von Brentano agreed with Couve and said that the legal basis of the Western position must continue to rest on the conquest of Germany. We should not change this legal basis by any new agreement with the Soviets for three reasons: [Page 567]

Any new agreement would be subject to interpretation and the consequent familiar erosion of our position by the technique of Soviet “interpretation”;
For any new arrangements the Soviets would demand the participation of the Soviet Zone authorities;
The NATO guarantee for Berlin was valid only on the basis of the existing position. NATO might not be ready to extend its guarantee if new arrangements were entered into with the Soviets.

Mr. Lloyd said all this depended on what sort of a new treaty we could get. The Soviets and the East German regime had the power to make the Western position awkward, without any specific hostile act. Our position was quite unsatisfactory, for the Communists had the power to interfere with life in Berlin in many ways. The question was, therefore, whether we could improve our present position. We should at least try to do so. Rights based on conquest gave a good title but the question was for how many generations would it remain a good title. From the point of view of public opinion should we not now offer to enter into new arrangements in order to put the Soviets a little more on the defensive. We should make it clear that we were not abandoning our rights based on conquest but we were willing to talk about a new status. This would have distinct public opinion advantages. We might consider how UN personnel could be used to supervise the new arrangements.

Dr. von Brentano said he saw no contradiction between his views and those of Mr. Lloyd. We must continue to maintain the existing legal basis for our rights, but we could come to an agreement as to how those rights were to be exercised. In this we could show some flexibility. Mr. Lloyd said we must have new ideas on reunification and a new plan for Berlin. We must appear to have a positive approach.

Couve asked whether Mr. Lloyd was talking about West Berlin only, or all Berlin, in his suggestion for a new status. Mr. Lloyd said he would start with Berlin as a whole and then fall back to a new status for West Berlin.

The Acting Secretary asked how it was possible to maintain the legal concept that our rights were based on occupation and at the same time to appear to be giving them up. He also asked what the situation would be as concerns the NATO guarantee in the new arrangements envisaged.

Mr. Lloyd replied that he would hope NATO would endorse the new status and extend its guarantee to it. As concerns the legal position he was sure that our draftsmen could take care of that point. The preamble to the new agreement could say that the Soviets reject the concept that the West has rights by conquest and that the West insisted on those rights. The new arrangement would be without prejudice to the position of either side, and we were therefore ready to negotiate a new arrangement which would not cancel out the existing legal status. As concerns [Page 568] the problem of relationships with the East German regime, if a new arrangement were to be entered into, Khrushchev had told the British that he did not consider it necessary that there be any direct relationship between the East German regime and the Federal Republic, nor was it necessary that there be a direct juridical relationship between the West and the East German regime.

The Acting Secretary suggested that the British prepare a paper elaborating their ideas, and meanwhile the lawyers would look into the question of whether Mr. Lloyd’s proposal was legally feasible.

Couve said we all agree that it would be better if we could keep the present legal status, and he would accept the Lloyd suggestion only as a fallback position. He inquired whether Mr. Lloyd wanted to begin negotiations with the Soviets on the new basis. Mr. Lloyd replied that the prospect of the reunification of Germany had grown more remote. The West’s position in Berlin was, to say the least, inconvenient. Whenever the Soviets wished to be bloody minded they can choke off life in Berlin. We had to ask ourselves whether we could get more of an international presence in Berlin and get an international underwriting of the responsibility for keeping Berlin free. The idea of using UN personnel to ensure freedom of access would appeal to public opinion, and it would embarrass the Russians to be put in the position of refusing this proposal. The new arrangements need not extinguish our present rights.

Mr. Lloyd continued that the fact was that the present legal basis of our rights was flimsy. The agreement of 19494 only ensured the return to the status quo—whatever that was. It is unclear what the civilian rights of the inhabitants of West Berlin are. Were these people the subjects of the occupying powers?

The Acting Secretary acknowledged that our present agreements were imprecise. He pointed out that in the 1948–1949 blockade we used these rights as justification for our supplying Berlin. Mr. Lloyd responded that there was no doubt that the Russians had it in mind to constrict activity in Berlin by many methods, including the shutting off of raw materials. We must plan to do more than keep Berlin alive. The situation today was quite different from the situation in 1948 when Berlin was much less prosperous than it is today. The Acting Secretary proposed that the Working Group study the juridical position of the West.

Couve said it was basically important that our rights were based upon conquest and not on agreements with the Soviet Union. This was not to say, however, that we could not make adjustments. We should be prepared to consider some limitations on our position in Berlin, as for [Page 569] example, by a limitation on our forces in Berlin, and by restricting or eliminating some of our activities in Berlin. He cited specifically the periodic meetings of the Bundestag in Berlin.

Mr. Lloyd said that if the Soviets would underwrite that the East German regime would respect the new arrangements this would solve the problem of the physical association of the East German regime with the Western right of access.

The Acting Secretary then said we might adopt the legal theory that the Russians, by signing a peace treaty with the East German regime, were abandoning their rights, and that these rights therefore reverted to the other Three Powers. There were elements in the United States Government which support this view. A logical consequence would be the installation of Western sentry posts to control access. Couve said he doubted whether this idea would gain much acceptance.

Upon the question of the UN role in Berlin, Mr. Lloyd said that he understood that the representatives of the Three Powers at the UN had made agreed recommendations. The Acting Secretary said that they had examined the role of the UN only on a hypothetical basis. Couve said that he had been informed by Hammarskjöld that Khrushchev recognizes that there could be no UN presence in Berlin, for the UN wouldn’t have the troops for it.5 Mr. Lloyd said that the problem of paying for the troops was serious.

The Acting Secretary asked whether Mr. Lloyd envisaged the stage at which the UN should be brought into the problem. Mr. Lloyd replied that this depended on what we want the UN to do. Couve considered it would be dangerous to bring the UN into the problem, because once the affair is in the hands of the UN it would be difficult to predict what would happen. Mr. Lloyd considered that if the Russians surrendered their rights and obligations it would be a good idea to substitute UN posts for controlling access. This would be a sound public position, although Khrushchev certainly wouldn’t accept it. The Acting Secretary remarked that he would be glad to see the specific proposals of the British in this regard. He pointed out that Mr. Dulles was of the opinion that we could not negotiate a new arrangement for Berlin without effectively losing our rights based on conquest. Couve suggested that the Working Group must study the threat to the communications of the civilian population of Berlin.

Mr. Lloyd repeated that West Berlin was geographically surrounded and physically isolated. He did not want to end up with a self-imposed blockade. If there was to be a military operation to free Berlin it was most important for the public to understand that we had tried everything before resorting to force.

[Page 570]

The Acting Secretary then reverted to the question of the introduction of a peace treaty in the negotiation with the Soviets. He said that the United States was prepared to agree that the principles of a peace treaty should be offered, and if they should be accepted we would then table the draft of a treaty. To this the other Ministers agreed.

The meeting adjourned at 12:20 p.m.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 560, CF 1227. Secret. Drafted by Vigderman and approved by Herter. A summary of this conversation was transmitted to Bonn in telegram 2308 at 11:31 p.m. on April 1. (Ibid., Central Files, 396.1–GE/4–159)
  2. See Document 242.
  3. See Document 249. A memorandum submitted by the German Delegation on the preliminary steps to the reunification of Germany, which follows the lines laid out here by Brentano, is in Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/4–159.
  4. These paragraphs dealt with security measures.
  5. For text of the final communiqué of the Paris Council of Foreign Ministers, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. III, pp. 10621065.
  6. Regarding Hammarskjöld’s visit to Moscow, see footnote 2, Document 246.