339. Memorandum of Conversation0




  • United States
    • Secretary Herter
    • Secretary McElroy
    • Mr. Merchant
    • Mr. Becker
  • United Kingdom
    • Foreign Minister Lloyd
  • France
    • Foreign Minister Couve de Murville
  • USSR
    • Foreign Minister Gromyko
    • Mr. Soldatov


  • Berlin

Secretary Herter opened the conversation by stating that we would be very interested to hear the basis for the Soviets’ dissatisfaction with the situation in Berlin. We understand that the Soviet Union wants a change in the situation. The Western representatives would like to have Mr. Gromyko discuss the problem of Berlin and they desire a frank and open discussion of the problem. We are willing to live with the present situation and desire to know what the Soviets want.

Mr. Gromyko opened by stating that he had tried to explain this several times and moreover Mr. Khrushchev had made a number of statements on the same subject. Mr. Gromyko would, however, be glad to repeat the substance of these statements. He noted at this point that it was his plan the day after tomorrow to speak at some length at the plenary on this subject.

Mr. Gromyko stated that the present situation in Berlin is unnatural. Berlin is an island surrounded by the territory of the GDR which has an entirely different regime from that existing in Berlin. Moreover, around West Berlin and Berlin are located Soviet troops and GDR forces, both the Soviet Union and the GDR being members of the [Page 774] Warsaw Pact. Now an island occupied by foreign troops—those of the Western Powers—located in the center of the GDR, created an unnatural situation. It was unnatural from the geographical point of view. Moreover, the present occupation regime in Berlin cannot be justified under present conditions. The Soviet Government recognizes that the Western Powers do have rights and that they have these rights under agreements to which the Soviet Union was a party. But fourteen years have elapsed and conditions have changed radically, including, among other things, the creation of two new sovereign states, namely, the GDR and also the GFR. To put it briefly, the occupation has outlived itself. That is the second consideration, aside from geographical considerations. Third, Mr. Gromyko went on to state, the present situation in Berlin is a dangerous one. There may be unexpected incidents, incidents which are not wanted by either side, by the Western Powers, by the USSR, or by the Germans. The Soviet Union does not want such incidents which would arise from the presence of Western troops in an occupation status in Berlin. Mr. Gromyko commented, you will say, of course, that nothing has happened for fourteen years. But all of us bear a great responsibility and it is not wise for us to continue to maintain a delicate situation. Mr. Gromyko then continued to his fourth point which he introduced by stating that it was not the most important one. West Berlin is a center for subversive activities, military intelligence activities on behalf of the forces of the Western Powers, also espionage, propaganda, radio stations. He believed that to some extent the West Germans were involved in this. You know better than I do, said Mr. Gromyko, what these activities are. As a passing example, he referred to the underground tunnel which had tapped the land lines of the Soviet Union forces,2 but emphasized that this was only a past illustration. One cannot consider this situation normal. Mr. Gromyko went on, once again, to emphasize that this last point was not the most important of the considerations to have in mind regarding Berlin. If the Western Powers say that they can correct these things, the Soviet Union would answer that they do not constitute the essence of the Berlin problem.

Mr. Gromyko continued that if we understand our responsibilities and act in a responsible way, we wiil not continue an occupation having all of these dangers. Mr. Gromyko noted that the Western Powers would ask whether West Berlin under the Soviet proposals would fall to the Soviet Union or to the GDR. The Soviets do not need West Berlin. As to the question of whether the GDR will change the regime in West Berlin, Mr. Gromyko’s answer was an emphatic no. He stated that the GDR [Page 775] does not want West Berlin any more than does the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, he stated, wants to negotiate with you and is prepared to give guarantees for the continued status of West Berlin. It is prepared to permit West Berlin to keep the same social order. With respect to communications between West Berlin and the outside—i.e., West Germany—one of the most crucial problems—the Soviet Union is prepared to give guarantees. It will even call in the United Nations to take part. On this point the Soviets are open-minded. It could be a combination of the UN and the Four Powers. The Soviet Union has exchanged views with the GDR and the Soviet Union fully understands its responsibilities. The GDR is prepared to take part in the guarantees proposed by the Soviet Union and they will keep their word and carry out the agreement. When they sign they will carry out their agreement and the Soviet Union and others will also keep their word. The Soviet Union does not want to provoke tensions and it is extremely serious on this. With respect to communications, Mr. Gromyko went on, the guarantees should not be in a form inconsistent with the sovereignty of the GDR. Mr. Gromyko then emphasized that he was expressing his views very frankly.

Mr. Gromyko then stated that if you and your governments think that we are not sincere in our proposals respecting West Berlin, you will be making a great mistake. We mean what we say. If you believe us, we shall be able to work out a solution, not only of this problem but of other problems as well. Berlin is the first problem calling for a radical solution which would really be in the interest of lessening tensions. This can be done without sacrifice, of principles or of the interests of the Western Powers regarding West Berlin.

Mr. Gromyko went on to state that the first and most radical solution of the Berlin problem was to have all troops withdrawn in the interests of lessening tension. If, however, the Western Powers are not prepared to agree to this, the Soviet Union would consent to having small symbolic units remain there. He noted that both the West and the Soviet Union knew that the troops in Berlin were only symbolic anyway. By leaving symbolic units there, there would be no affront to the prestige of the Western Powers and the Germans would be satisfied. The Soviet Union is prepared to discuss what number would constitute a symbolic unit. The Soviets are open-minded about this. He then referred to the possibility of mixed units in West Berlin and apparently suggested Soviet participation in the symbolic units to be left in West Berlin. He went on to repeat that the Soviet Union would prefer to have all troops out of West Berlin but would consider the second alternative that he had mentioned. A third alternative referred to by Mr. Gromyko was to have other “neutral” troops in West Berlin, “neutrality” not necessarily being determined on ideological grounds. They could be any nonparticipants in NATO.

[Page 776]

Mr. Gromyko repeated that he did not mention the number of troops although he felt that the less the better.

Mr. Gromyko expressed the view that there is a possibility of a solution to this problem, because the Western Powers have so many choices. It should be possible for us to find a solution if we really wish to do so. The Soviet Union has given relatively flexible proposals and the Western Powers should not be rigid. It would be wrong to take that attitude. The Soviet Union desires to work out a solution at this time and will go as far as possible in attempting to do so although its very proposals had taken into account possible varying attitudes on the part of the Western Powers. Mr. Gromyko commented that Mr. Khrushchev had done the same in talking to Mr. Macmillan.3 He wanted to make a solution easier.

Mr. de Murville asked what would come next if we reach an arrangement at Geneva, Will you make a peace treaty with the GDR even though we reach agreement on West Berlin. You have repeatedly said that if we do not agree to a German peace treaty, you would enter into a separate peace treaty with the GDR. Mr. Gromyko’s reply was to state that if we reach agreement on West Berlin, we do not have to face a situation where the Soviet Union is not performing its obligations. In that event there will be no complications. Moreover, the GDR will be a signatory of the agreement and will make no trouble. Secretary Herter inquired whether, if we Four Powers reach agreement, will the GDR separately give a declaration.

Mr. Gromyko answered that the GDR will sign the agreement or may make a separate declaration. Mr. de Murville asked whether the GDR and the Soviet Union would make an agreement noting that the Soviet Union already has an agreement with the GDR (referring to the Bolz-Zorin letters).4 Mr. Gromyko noted that in the 1949 agreement5 the Soviet Union had undertaken certain obligations and that in its agreement with East Germany it reserved these obligations. Now the Soviet Union is proposing to make a new agreement with respect to these obligations. Mr. de Murville pressed his point, again asking whether the Soviet Union would make an agreement with the GDR and Mr. Gromyko answered vaguely that they would make some agreement. Mr. de Murville then asked why the Soviet Union desired to give up its obligations. Mr. Gromyko answered that the situation was outmoded. They were unable to explain this to the GDR and moreover there were Soviet troops in the vicinity.

[Page 777]

Secretary Herter noted that some of the things which Mr. Gromyko had said were very important and we would like to have them in writing so that there can be no misunderstanding. We desire to study these statements very thoroughly.

Mr. Lloyd interjected that the basic difficulty was with Mr. Gromyko’s second reason. The first one, geographical, was tiresome and could not be helped, and the others were more important. The third, relating to incidents, was not very important in that the Four Powers are really in control and can minimize incidents between East and West Berlin. With respect to Mr. Gromyko’s fourth point, subversive activities, that could be discussed. The real difficulty was with respect to Mr. Gromyko’s second point, namely, that the time has now come to end the occupation of West Berlin. It is the position of the Western Powers that this can end only when we reunite Germany. Failure to agree on reunification means a continuance of the interim period. We cannot sacrifice our rights in Berlin unless and until there is some agreement on reunification. Mr. Lloyd said that it was hard to stomach Mr. Gromyko’s statement that the time has come to end the occupation without any agreement on reunification. There is no real difference of views on the question of whether West Berlin should continue to maintain its existing social system on access, etc. But why go into the doctrine of ending the occupation status. Mr. de Murville noted that the juridical basis of occupation did harm to no one and it did not change anything. Mr. Gromyko’s retort was to say that the Western Powers were asking for something for nothing. Mr. Lloyd said that the Western Powers would be glad to examine the causes of tension in Berlin and on access and want to satisfy the Soviet Union on these points. Mr. Gromyko inquired whether or not the Western Powers were interested in continuing the social order in Berlin. Why, otherwise, are troops of the Western Powers situated there. Messrs. Lloyd and de Murville interjected at this point that such troops were symbolic. Mr. Gromyko answered that in that event they were there to maintain social order.

Mr. Lloyd said that if the Soviets desired to change the Berlin situation which had arisen as a result of the events of 1945, why were they not prepared to go back and give up to the Western Powers the territories that the Soviet Union had acquired as a result of that same set of circumstances. Part of the agreement through which the Soviet Union acquired these territories was the status of Western Berlin. He felt that the Soviet Union was being one-sided.

Secretary Herter then noted that Gromyko had made an important statement regarding our rights. We say leave them unimpaired. We desire to stabilize the situation within the framework of our rights. Mr. de Murville raised a question as to the existing status of West Berlin. It now is a government and sends people to the Bundestag who act as observers [Page 778] and have no vote. Mr. Gromyko answered that the same system would apply under the plan offered by the Soviet Union. Mr. de Murville noted that the Socialists were in charge of West Berlin. Secretary Herter commented that East Berlin would also vote for Mr. Brandt if it had a chance, but Mr. Gromyko’s only reply was to say that East Berlin is East Berlin.

Mr. de Murville inquired as to the relationship of East Berlin and the GDR. Mr. Gromyko answered that East Berlin is the capital of the GDR, whereupon Mr. de Murville asked whether East Berlin is a part of the GDR. Mr. Gromyko replied that it is the capital. Mr. Lloyd then noted that under the same line of reasoning, West Berlin is a part of West Germany and Gromyko’s only reply was in the nature of “ugh”.

Mr. Herter noted that all Berlin had the same status. Only if East Berlin is not a part of East Germany is West Germany not a part of West Germany. Mr. Gromyko insisted that West Berlin was in the center of East Germany, whereupon Mr. Merchant noted that Alaska is also situated in a way of speaking in the center of Canada.

Secretary Herter returned to the point that Mr. Gromyko admits that we have rights and we should be able to make an adjustment within these rights.

In answer, Mr. Gromyko noted that there are so many problems between us that we should not neglect an opportunity to solve this one. Mr. de Murville noted that we already agreed to discuss it. Mr. Gromyko’s answer was to say that this can be a beginning. In answer to Mr. de Murville’s question as to whether Gromyko had a draft of his Berlin statement, Mr. Gromyko replied that if understanding is reached, it will be easy to work out the details.

Mr. Lloyd noted that Mr. Gromyko had given us the Soviet proposal respecting Berlin. He inquired what was Mr. Gromyko’s second position. Mr. Gromyko replied that the Western Powers are the rigid ones. The Soviet Union has demonstrated flexibility and given alternatives in advance. It did its very best to understand the Western position and gave alternatives to the Western Powers in order to make it easier for them to agree to a solution. It is not enough to say that the proposal of the Soviet Union is no good. The Soviet Union tried to make the position of the Western Powers easier and told them exactly why. Mr. Gromyko implied that the Soviet proposals were their last word, subject to willingness to negotiate on the points he had mentioned.

Mr. de Murville commented that Mr. Gromyko had emphasized that a number of incidents might arise from the existing situation in Berlin although this had not eventuated in fourteen years. Mr. de Murville felt that the absence of Western troops might well increase the likelihood of incidents because of the direct confrontation of the East and West Germans. Mr. Gromyko insisted that the Western Powers must [Page 779] take responsibility. The Soviet Union and the East Germans will take the same position on this question.

Mr. Lloyd then commented that Mr. Gromyko said that the time had come to call off the agreements because they were outmoded. What assurance did the Western Powers have that, say in five or ten years, the Soviet Union would not say that the guarantees were outmoded. We, said Mr. Lloyd, believe that agreements should be kept but the Soviet Union denounces them unilaterally. How do we know that you won’t denounce these new agreements. Mr. Gromyko replied that if he were talking about unilateral action, he would not be discussing these matters in the plane.

Mr. Lloyd noted that the Western Powers will do anything reasonable to relieve tensions, they were prepared to go far, but Mr. Gromyko replied that this was of secondary importance. Mr. Lloyd insisted that Mr. Khrushchev put the relaxation of tensions as of the first importance in the Moscow talks.6 Mr. Gromyko insisted that it was only secondary—the real question is the existence of an occupation regime in the center of the GDR.

Mr. Herter noted that Mr. Gromyko must know, from reports from his Embassy in Washington, that there was a strong U.S. public opinion on the points at issue. The American people are not prepared to give up their rights unless something is gained in replacement of them. They are unanimous on that—all parties and all points of view in the United States and France. Mr. de Murville concurred in this statement. Secretary Herter then continued that accordingly we should seek to work out a solution in the framework of existing rights. Mr. de Murville noted that the existing situation does not harm anyone as far as the juridical situation is concerned. Mr. Gromyko replied that he could not distinguish the juridical situation from the facts. You have troops in Berlin. Mr. McElroy noted that the Soviet Union had many troops in East Germany. In answer to Mr. de Murville’s question of what was meant by “symbolic” troops in West Berlin, Mr. Gromyko said that they were prepared to discuss this point. Mr. McElroy then sought to clarify the point as to whether or not Soviet troops would be included in those located in West Berlin assuming we were able to reach agreement on a symbolic number. Mr. Gromyko said that this would be the case only in West Berlin; East Berlin is the GDR. Secretary Herter then asked about our rights with respect to greater Berlin and referred to the agreements that had been made in this regard. Mr. Gromyko asked how long such agreements were to continue in force. There had also been a Potsdam Agreement. He insisted that time had somehow changed the situation and that [Page 780] East Berlin was out of the picture. Mr. de Murville then commented that the Soviet Union could not, in that event, challenge the right of the Western Powers to give West Berlin to the GFR because that could be done on the same basis as that on which the Soviet Union purported to give East Berlin to the GDR. Mr. Gromyko’s only answer was to insist that East Berlin was out of the question.

Mr. de Murville inquired as to the basis on which Mr. Gromyko proposed to station Soviet troops in West Berlin and Mr. Gromyko replied that he wanted some new basis there.

Mr. Lloyd said that Messrs. Gromyko and Khrushchev had mentioned rights of the Western Powers in West Berlin. What exactly did they mean by that. Mr. Gromyko replied that the situation had changed. Mr. Lloyd stated that the rights of the Western Powers stemmed from the defeat and occupation of Germany but Mr. Gromyko insisted that such rights were derived from agreements. Now the situation has changed. There are no longer occupation zones. There are two sovereign German states. Mr. Gromyko then went on to state that if the Western Powers are interested in keeping the social order in West Berlin, that will be guaranteed. If they are interested in access, that will be guaranteed. After all, why are the Western troops in Berlin. They have no military importance. Messrs. de Murville and Lloyd noted that they were symbolic. Gromyko said that the Soviet Union was, although reluctantly, prepared to accept troops. Mr. Lloyd insisted that in 1964 the Soviet Union might well again say that the situation had changed and that the agreement of guarantee was outmoded.

Secretary Herter inquired why the Western Powers could not ask the Soviet Union to give up some of its rights and give the Western Powers more rights. Gromyko did not answer directly, but said that if the Western Powers wished a guarantee of troops in West Berlin, even though there was no need for them, the Soviets would consider this, notwithstanding the fact that the situation was unnatural.

Secretary Herter inquired of Mr. McElroy whether Berlin had any military advantage. Mr. McElroy replied that it was only symbolic. The troops in Berlin couldn’t support themselves if the Soviet Union took action but if the Soviet Union did act, our troops would be involved and we would be involved. He stated that he did not know how many troops make a symbol. He did note, however, in respect of number, that the situation in Berlin was stabilized and he could not conjecture as to the effect of any reduction in those forces. The reduction in forces there might provoke incidents. In any event, Berlin had no place in a war plan. The real problem is the unilateral feature of the Soviet proposal. The real answer to how long the situation should continue is how long it will take to reach another agreement.

[Page 781]

Mr. Herter then commented that if there were agreement on unification, the situation might be different. Mr. Gromyko replied that the situation existing as a result of acceptance of the Soviet proposals would be temporary and only last until the reunification of Germany.

Mr. Gromyko then turned to Secretary Herter and asked if he had any ideas about European security. Mr. Herter replied that the Western Powers had outlined phased measures designed to maintain European security in connection with their peace plan involving reunification of Germany. Mr. Gromyko then said that he thought the Western Powers might have some more realistic ideas, some separate proposals which could be discussed. Secretary Herter then referred to the all UN disarmament committee and noted how difficult it was to accomplish anything with so many nations involved.

The conversation then lapsed into generalities although several times later in the evening Mr. Gromyko inquired when the Western Powers were going to recognize East Germany. Mr. de Murville also noted later in the evening that we were desirous of settling the Berlin problem but this would not be easy if the Soviet Union maintained its present position. Mr. Gromyko replied that it would be easy if the Western Powers were reasonable.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–GE/5–2859. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Becker and approved by Herter. Transmitted in Cahto 48 from Geneva, May 20, with unnecessary words omitted. (Ibid., 762.00/5–3059)
  2. The conversation was held on board the plane carrying the Foreign Ministers back to Geneva.
  3. Regarding the Berlin tunnel used to tap Soviet communications lines in 1956, see the editorial note in Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XXVI, p. 551.
  4. See Documents 183 ff.
  5. See footnote 5, Document 31.
  6. For text of the final communiqué of the 1949 Council of Foreign Ministers Meeting at Paris, June 20, 1949, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. III, pp. 10621065.
  7. Presumably the Khrushchev-Macmillan talks; see footnote 3 above.