42. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Berlin Situation


  • Ambassador Wilhelm C. Grewe, German Embassy
  • The Secretary
  • Ambassador David K.E. Bruce
  • Mr. Martin J. HillenbrandGER

At his request and under instructions from his Government, Ambassador Grewe called on the Secretary today to discuss the Berlin situation. He began by saying that the Chancellor and the Foreign Minister had authorized him to express the gratitude of the Federal Republic for the prompt and very clear position taken by the American Government after the first Khrushchev statement in Moscow on November 10. He noted that the Federal Government did not believe this to be an improvised step, but one prepared for a long time. There had been articles and statements for nearly a year in the East German press and various GDR scientific publications presaging the language and argumentation which Khrushchev used. The Federal Government believes, therefore, that the situation has to be taken seriously, and that inevitable concrete developments will follow the Khrushchev statement. The Federal Government had noted that, if the Soviets denounced the Potsdam Agreement (which it was realized was not the basis of the Allies’ right to be in Berlin) this would also have some effect on the German unification problem. For example, there is reference in the Potsdam Agreement to a peace settlement with one German Government.

The Federal Government recognized that there was a dangerous possibility that the Pankow representatives would have to be dealt with on routine matters if there were no Soviet authorities available. As the Secretary was aware, Ambassador Grewe continued, the Federal Republic has current technical contacts with the GDR. These might have to be intensified in a dangerous way. The Federal Government feels that the Three Powers may be forced to deal with GDR representatives at the check points if there are no other means to maintain the flow of traffic. It foresaw special dangers in the field of air access. His Government was not certain what the consequences would be if the Soviets withdrew [Page 77] from the Berlin Air Safety Center, but it seemed likely that civil traffic would end if there were to be any real difficulties. This would, of course, affect the flow of tourists and private passengers who would be afraid to travel to Berlin. Ambassador Grewe requested American views regarding possible counter-measures, adding that he had already been told during the recent conversation with Mr. Elbrick 1 that there were tripartite plans in existence for handling different possible situations. As to a tripartite or NATO statement on Berlin, the German Government did not feel that this was an urgent requirement, at least for the next few days, but believed that one should be prepared for possible emergency use.

The Secretary noted that there were two aspects to the problem: the effort by the Soviet Union to turn over its responsibilities to the East Germans, and harassment by the Soviets of our transit movements, for example, as in the recent incident involving military truck traffic. The Secretary said that he assumed the Ambassador’s queries related more to the first rather than to the second type of problem. However, our people in Europe, especially the military, took a serious view of the recent incident on the Autobahn. Ambassador Grewe commented that he had no information regarding this incident from the Foreign Office, and he did not have the impression that it had been taken very seriously there.

The Secretary said that we are having some discussions with the British and French as to the position to be taken relative to Soviet efforts to pass their responsibilities on to the GDR to compel recognition of the latter. He added that we would, of course, be very anxious to learn what the Federal Government thinks our position ought to be, since this is obviously a matter of great concern to it. Sometimes the United States has the impression that we are inclined to react more strongly to such situations than the British, French, or the Germans. Last May, the Secretary continued, when he was in Berlin2 and the question of tariffs and canal tolls was being discussed, he noted a certain complacency on the part of the Federal Republic and an unwillingness to take counter-measures of any kind. He did not necessarily question the decisions finally taken, but could not help but note the fact that there was this reluctance to take counter-measures which would disturb economic relations between the Federal Republic and the GDR. However, the Secretary had noted the Chancellor’s statement of last week3 indicating that he might be considering the possibility of counter-measures in the present situation.

[Page 78]

Ambassador Grewe said that, in his own experience, which involved participation in governmental groups studying the possibility of counter-measures, it was difficult to find such measures which would really have a permanent effect on the GDR. The Secretary’s impressions regarding the waterways issue were correct, but he believed the present attitude of the Federal Republic to be more decisive and to involve stronger feelings about the threat to Berlin.

The Secretary stated that, as far as having certain practical dealings with people purporting to be GDR officials were concerned, he personally did not feel too strongly one way or the other. One could treat them as agents of the Soviet Union or just deal with them. After all, we deal with the Chinese Communists when necessary in certain practical situations. We do not recognize them politically, but do recognize them as a force to be dealt with, as for example, at the time of the Korean Armistice negotiations, the negotiations over Indo-China in Geneva, and in our efforts to get civilian prisoners released. The Secretary referred to the kidnapper analogy used at the time of the helicopter case.4 He said that when someone kidnapped your child, you deal with the kidnappers to get the child released. Such dealings need not have any political implications. The Secretary added that his remarks should not be interpreted as representing any definitive view, since we had not yet had any complete exchange with the British and French on the subject. If the Federal Republic has strong views on the matter they would of course have to be taken into consideration.

Ambassador Grewe said he had noted the New York Times report of yesterday indicating that, under certain limited circumstances, the United States might be prepared to deal with GDR officials holding them as agents for the Soviets. Apparently Bonn was not too happy about that. The feeling there was that the GDR would soon begin to formulate their documents so as to make it impossible to regard their checkpoint officials merely as Soviet agents. As to the idea of direct negotiations similar to those in the Red Chinese case, Ambassador Grewe personally felt this was a possible course of action, but he recognized that in Bonn it would create great psychological difficulties. For many years people had been taught that, if you deal with the GDR it means recognition; now they would have to be told that it does not really mean this.

The Secretary said we have a theory, as in the Red Chinese case, that you can have dealings with these people without implying recognition. The situation was obviously one where the considered views of the Federal Republic should be carefully weighed in the scales.

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The Secretary went on to say that we must think through the entire problem to see if we are prepared to accept the consequences. We apparently are prepared to accept more serious consequences than the British or French. The Secretary, himself, believed in the principle that where the Soviets probed to find weaknesses, there we should show strength. This policy had been fairly successful, for example, in the Far and Middle East. He had always assumed that Berlin was a logical place for a probe by the Soviets. The problem is what can be done in specific cases. The United States is not alone here. The British, French, and also the Federal Republic are involved, and we will not come to any final decisions without ascertaining the views of the Federal Republic as to contemplated courses of action. The Secretary added that he, himself, doubted the practicability of total non-recognition of the existence of something which is a fact. He felt that, if something is a fact, we have to recognize this fact even if we don’t like it. In time of war we recognize the existence of the enemy as a fact. To pretend the enemy does not exist is not a very realistic or practical policy. However, the United States will be found to be prepared to be as tough as anyone else in this situation, but not alone.

The Secretary continued that we are also concerned with interference to our trucks and whether to make a major issue of it or not. We will need to take account of French, British, and Federal Republic views in this matter. We should perhaps give more weight than in the past to the views of the Federal Republic, and the Federal Republic should perhaps assume more responsibility in these matters.

The Secretary said we had no clear view as to whether the subject should be discussed in NATO. It would be in line with our policy of encouraging political consultation to do so. If Quemoy and Matsu were proper subjects for discussion in NATO, then the Berlin situation certainly seemed to be also. One could not say that NATO is not interested in this problem. There must probably be some discussion in NATO but the final responsibility for decisions must rest with the Three Powers that had juridical responsibility. This responsibility could be shared perhaps with the Federal Republic.

Ambassador Grewe said he felt that Berlin should be mentioned in the NATO communiqué to be issued at the December Ministerial Meeting. It was mentioned last year, and also in the 1954 communiqué on the Paris Agreements.5 He would like to suggest that the existing Quadripartite Committee in Bonn deal with the question of counter-measures [Page 80] and the related problems. He felt that this was an adequate, body for such consultation.

Before leaving, Ambassador Grewe indicated he had one further short question to ask. He said his Government had, of course, followed with close attention the recent statement of Defense Secretary McElroy and the subsequent statement issued by the State Department.6 He noted there might be some fear that American forces would be weakened in the Federal Republic under the McElroy scheme. The Secretary said he did not think there would be any substantial repercussions. We are, of course, constantly re-examining our forces here and in Asia to meet changed requirements, but no change in policy so far as Europe was concerned was intended.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/11–1758. Secret. Drafted by Hillenbrand. For Grewe’s account of this conversation, see Rückblenden, pp. 364–365.
  2. See Document 29.
  3. See Document 11.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. Reference is to the crash of a U.S. helicopter in East Germany on June 7.
  6. For texts of the NATO communiqué, December 19, 1957, and the Paris communiqué, October 23, 1954, see Department of State Bulletin, January 6, 1958, pp. 12–15 and November 15, 1954, p. 732.
  7. For texts of Secretary McElroy’s statement on U.S. global military strategy including a reduction in U.S. military manpower, November 13, and the Department of State statement on it, November 14, see McElroy, Statements, vol. IV, pp. 1742–1761.