416. Message From Prime Minister Macmillan to President Eisenhower0

Dear Friend, I have been trying during the last day or two to take stock of the Geneva position. It is not very easy to follow developments there from a distance. I am now much clearer in my own mind after [Page 939] hearing Selwyn’s explanation of the developments during the last few days before the conference recessed. I was very glad to learn how closely Chris Herter and he have been working together throughout. I thought that Herter’s general exposition of our case upon his return to Washington was admirable.

We shall never know for certain why on June 10 Khrushchev appeared to revert to the method of ultimatum and repeated it in his speech of the 19th. Gromyko’s latest paper of June 19 is obscure. Read in conjunction with Khrushchev’s speech it could still contain a concealed ultimatum insofar as it implies that the Western presence in Berlin is only tolerated on sufferance, and by reason of an interim agreement, and might cease to have any justification at the end of the interim period or when a peace treaty had been signed with East Germany. I think, however, that it is meant to be slightly more accommodating towards us. This may well be a sort of clumsy response to your initiative with Khrushchev.1 I believe he was in fact impressed by what you said, and made an effort at least to appear to meet your conditions for a Summit. His intemperate speech may, on this hypothesis, have been a tactical move to cover his retreat.

The question now is, what are we to do next. I have read Selwyn’s messages to Chris Herter, and agree with them. It seems to me that we have some fundamental questions to consider. Are we likely to get a settlement of the Berlin question now, which we can expect to last until “the reunification of Germany”? I do not think myself that there is any chance of the Soviet Government actually underwriting our occupation rights. In any case, the Russians have many physical and geographical advantages where Berlin is concerned, and could always exert economic and other pressures which it would be difficult to pin-point. Brandt, for example, told Selwyn that if there were 200,000 unemployed in West Berlin, the high morale there would rapidly disappear.

I wonder therefore whether there is not a good deal to be said for aiming now at some interim settlement which will be relatively easier for the Russians to accept and which they will be likely to honour. This at any rate would gain us substantial time. A settlement of this kind must, of course, be such that at the end of the interim period we are no worse off than at the beginning, in the sense that there must then be a new negotiation about all the topics in dispute. Moreover, it would have to be such that, while the new negotiation was on, no unilateral action would be taken by the Soviets. The Russians must not therefore be able to point to any phrases in an interim agreement which imply that at the end of the period we should have less justification for keeping our [Page 940] troops in Berlin than we had at the beginning. We must not expressly or impliedly seem to set a term to our position in Berlin. The interim settlement must be a pause—though a prolonged pause—in the negotiations.

If the idea of an interim arrangement were accepted in principle, there would of course be argument about its duration. But this, not being a matter of principle, ought to be capable of negotiation. We ought also to be able to negotiate without much trouble a final formula about the use of West Berlin for propaganda or subversion, the exclusion of atomic weapons and the level of troops. The main difficulty about an interim settlement is whether we can devise some means by which contact between the two sets of German representatives can be arranged under acceptable conditions. If we could find an appropriate form for such contact, I doubt if we have anything to fear from the substance of the discussions. I should have thought there were quite a lot of subjects on which the West Germans could well take the offensive, e.g. religious freedom, free press, exchange of information, human rights and all the rest.

Perhaps I can add some general thought. We must maintain a public posture in which we can rally our people to resist a Russian attempt to impose their will by force. All the same, it would not be easy to persuade the British people that it was their duty to go to war in defence of West Berlin. After all, in my lifetime we have been dealt two nearly mortal blows by the Germans. People in this country will think it paradoxical, to use a mild term, to have to prepare for an even more horrible war in order to defend the liberties of people who have tried to destroy us twice in this century. Nevertheless, there is a double strain of idealism and realism in these islands to which I believe I could successfully appeal if we had first demonstrated that we have made every endeavour to put forward practical solutions and that the Russians were unwilling to accept any fair proposition. The corollary to this is that we and our allies should do and should be seen to do what ordinary people would think reasonable. For instance, it would not seem reasonable to ordinary people that West Germans who profess to desire closer contacts and reunification with the East Germans should refuse absolutely to discuss these matters in any forum with the East Germans.

I wish of course that we could meet and talk. It is so difficult to put on paper all that one feels. I hope therefore you will not mind my sending you these frank thoughts. Do tell me what you think.

With warm regards, As ever,

  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. Top Secret. This message was an enclosure to Document 415.
  2. See Document 395.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.