68. Record of Secretary of State Dulles’ Press Conference0

Secretary Dulles: I am ready to receive your questions.

Q. Mr. Secretary, have the United States, Britain, France, and West Germany agreed on plans to meet any contingency which may arise in East Germany and Berlin?

A. The basic position of the three Western powers and, indeed, of the NATO powers is pretty well defined by prior decisions and declarations.

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You ask whether we have plans to meet any contingency. Of course, I can’t anticipate all the contingencies that there are, but I think that it is fair to say that there is basic agreement, and I do not anticipate any event that could arise which would give rise to disagreement.

Q. Mr. Secretary, what is the position of the United States and the other powers on the question of dealing with any East German official who might be in a position previously held by a Soviet official?

A. The position of the United States, and I think I can fairly say of the United Kingdom and of France, is that there is an obligation, an explicit obligation, on the part of the Soviet Union to assure to the United States and to the other allied powers and, indeed, to the world generally, normal access to and egress from Berlin. And that is the responsibility of the Soviet Union. It was expressed explicitly at the time of the Council of Foreign Ministers meeting held in Paris in June of 1949,1 following, you will recall, the end of the Berlin blockade and the consequent airlift. At that time the Four Powers exchanged what were formally called “obligations” to assure these rights. We do not accept the view that the Soviet Union can disengage itself from that responsibility. And, indeed, that responsibility was in essence reaffirmed at the time of the summit meeting of July 1955, when the Four Powers recognized their “responsibility” for the German question.2 That phrase, “the German question,” has always been held to include the question of Berlin. And so, again, you had a reaffirmation by the Soviet Union of its responsibility in the matter. We do not accept any substitute responsibility, in that situation, for that of the Soviet Union.

Question of Dealing With East German Authorities

Q. Mr. Secretary, what if, despite this responsibility, the Soviets go ahead and turn over to the East German authorities the check points on the autobahn and control to the land, sea, and air routes? Now the question would arise: Would we deal with the East German officials who would man the check points, for example, even as—

A. Well, we would certainly not deal with them in any way which involved our acceptance of the East German regime as a substitute for the Soviet Union in discharging the obligation of the Soviet Union and the responsibility of the Soviet Union.

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Q. Does that mean that we might deal with them as agents of the Soviet Union?

A. We might, yes. There are certain respects now in which minor functionaries of the so-called G.D.R. [German Democratic Republic]3 are being dealt with by both the Western powers, the three allied powers, and also by the Federal Republic of Germany. It all depends upon the details of just how they act and how they function. You can’t exclude that to a minor degree because it is going on at the present time and has been. On the other hand, if the character of the activity is such as to indicate that to accept this would involve acceptance of a substitution of the G.D.R. for the present obligation and responsibilty of the Soviet Union, then that, I take it, we would not do.

Q. Mr. Secretary, can you deal with them in such a way as to make a distinction between dealing with them as agents of the Soviet Union and dealing with them in such a way as to imply a kind of de facto recognition of their existence?

A. I think that that certainly could be done. We often deal with people that we do not recognize diplomatically, deal with them on a practical basis. Of course, we do that with the Chinese Communists in a number of respects. And, as I pointed out, both the Federal Republic of Germany and the rest of us have, in certain practical matters, for many months been dealing with minor functionaries of the G.D.R. with respect to what might be called perfunctory, routine matters.

Q. Mr. Secretary, you say we might deal with the East Germans as agents of the Soviet Union. Is that a matter of agreed policy between the three Western powers and the Federal Republic or only something that is possible?

A. I think that it is agreed between us that we might. But, as I say, the question of whether we would or would not would have to depend upon the precise circumstances which surrounded the action, and that can’t be anticipated in advance of knowing what, if anything, the Soviet Union is going to do.

Q. Mr. Secretary, supposedly authoritative dispatches from Bonn in the last few days have reflected a concern on the part of Chancellor Adenauer’s government that the Western Big Three would not “hang on tough,” so to speak, in Berlin. On the other hand, it has been widely speculated in dispatches that many Western officials want more de facto recognition of the East German regime, and as an evidence of this has been cited the renewal of the trade agreement that has just been signed this week. Can you clarify that situation a little bit?

A. I doubt if I can clarify it very much. There have been, as you point out, dealings on a de facto basis, particularly on an economic basis and [Page 124] in terms of transit back and forth between the Western sectors of Berlin and the Federal Republic of Germany. There has been an appreciable degree of de facto dealing with the G.D.R., and there is this trade agreement, whereby the Federal Republic gets particularly brown coal and things of that sort from the eastern part of Germany in exchange for certain manufactured goods. As to any differences within the Federal Republic about that, I am not in a position to throw light upon it. I am not aware of any differences which are of sufficient magnitude so that they have come to my attention.

Communist Probes To Be Expected

Q. Mr. Secretary, can you give us your view of why the Berlin crisis was reactivated at this time? I mean the Berlin situation between the East and the West. Do you have any idea of what the Communists had in mind?

A. I was not surprised by it at all. I think that the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communists—what Khrushchev calls “the international Communist movement”—is disposed periodically to try to probe in different areas of the world to develop, if possible, weak spots—to develop, if possible, differences. I think that the probing that took place in the Taiwan area was one such effort. Now it is going on in Berlin and could go on at other places. The effort is, I think, periodically to try to find out whether they are up against firmness and strength and unity. If they find that, then I think the probing will cease. But we have got to expect these probes coming from time to time. As I say, I was not surprised that this Berlin probe took place. Indeed, I thought it probably would take place.

Q. Mr. Secretary, you seem to draw a limit beyond which we would not go in dealing with the East Germans even as agents of the Soviet Union. Could I ask whether we would refuse, for example, to accept an East German demand that special credentials would be required from the East German Foreign Office in order to allow the traffic to continue?

A. I think it would be unwise for me to try to give categorical answers to very particular illustrations, because, obviously, this is a situation to be dealt with upon a tripartite or quadripartite basis. I think I had better just stand on the proposition that in my opinion it is the combined judgment of all four of us that nothing should be done which would seem to give the G.D.R. an authority and responsibility to deal with the matters as to which the Soviet Union has explicitly assumed an obligation to us and a responsibility to us.

Q. Mr. Secretary, the Mayor of West Berlin said today that this crisis might provide an opportunity for a new discussion with the Soviets on German and European security questions. Sir, do you see any possibility of renewing that discussion in view of the past deadlock, and are there any new thoughts here [Page 125] on tying the Russian idea of negotiating a peace treaty with German unification?

A. I would hardly think that the present mood of the Soviet Union makes this a propitious time for such a negotiation. Actually, of course, we would in these matters be largely guided by the views of the Federal Republic of Germany, which is primarily concerned and which has a government with which we have the closest relations and in which we have the greatest confidence. Their views in these matters would carry weight with us. I have had no intimation of this kind from the Government of the Federal Republic.

[Here follow questions and answers on unrelated subjects.]

Q. Mr. Secretary, to return to the Berlin question for a moment, there have been a number of reports while you were away that the United States and the allies, rather than accept dealing with the East Germans, might resort to another airlift to supply the city. Is this being considered, or is our policy essentially one of keeping the ground communications open, come what may?

A. Well, we have at the present time flights and facilities which we are using which involve various media. There is the air, which is used; there is the autobahn, which is used; there is a railroad, which is used; to some extent canals which are used. We do not intend to abandon any of our rights as regards any of these particular ways. Now, in just what proportions they would be used, that I can’t say. Indeed, I don’t know today in just what proportions the four different ways are being used. But I would think you can say that we would not abandon any of the rights which were explicitly reaffirmed in the agreement of June 1949.

Q. Mr: Secretary, in the beginning Poland identified herself with the Soviet Union’s position on this Berlin matter. However, Poland wants more aid from us, and she has a vested interest in her western frontiers. Do you figure there is any possibility that Warsaw has given this position a second look, and, if so, is it remotely possible that this may be a partial explanation for Moscow’s delay in executing it?

A. Yes, that is possible, because, if the Soviet Union takes the position that the Potsdam agreement is nonexistent, the consequences of that would be not to destroy our rights in Berlin, because they don’t rest upon the Potsdam agreement at all, but it might greatly compromise the territorial claims of Poland, which do rest upon the Potsdam agreement primarily.

[Here follow questions and answers on unrelated subjects.]

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Means of Access to Berlin

Q. Mr. Secretary, is it right to infer from what you said to Mr. [Chalmers]4 Roberts [Washington Post and Times Herald] about not abandoning any of these means of attempts to get into Berlin that we would use these means, all of them, even if the East Germans or the Russians might try to block us?

A. Yes, I think we would use all of them. Let me say, however, that nothing that has been said recently indicates that there is any intention or desire on the part of either the Soviet Union itself or the puppet regime, the G.D.R, to stop access to and from Berlin. The only issue that seems to have been raised is whether or not the Soviet Union can itself dispose of its responsibilities in the matter and turn them over to the G.D.R. But there has not been any intimation of any kind that the result of that would be a stoppage. It would be a shift of responsibility and authority.

Now, you will recall that at the time when we recognized the Federal Republic we reserved, in order to be able to carry out our obligations vis-à-vis the Soviet Union as regards access to and fro, we reserved out of the sovereignty which was restored to the Federal Republic the rights which we had as regards Germany as a whole and as regards Berlin, so that we did not disenable ourselves from carrying out the undertaking which had been expressed in the June 1949 agreement. And when the Soviet Union recognized the G.D.R., it made a somewhat comparable reservation so as to keep itself in the position to carry out its obligations under the June 1949 agreement.

And really the issue now is whether the Soviet Union can, by restoring all of these rights to what it recognizes as the government of East Germany, disenable itself from carrying out its obligations to us. And I think that, at least so far as it is exposed, the motivation at the present time would be not a purpose to drive us out of Berlin or to obstruct access to Berlin but to try to compel an increased recognition and the according of increased stature to the G.D.R.

Q. Mr. Secretary, the last time this issue was up, without giving up any of our rights we did restrain ourselves from going forward on the ground, even though General Clay at that time favored such a policy. And am I right in understanding you are now saying that we would go forward on the ground if we were blocked?

A. I’d rather put it this way, that nothing that has been said or intimated indicates that that issue will arise. We do not intend to waive, either in fact or in law, any of the rights which we have. But I prefer not to speak in terms of a military threat, you might say, in relation to a situation which we have no reason to believe will occur.

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Q. Mr. Secretary, supposing that the question of a blockade did not come up but the East Germans insisted upon being dealt with as an independent nation rather than as agents of the Soviet Union, would we still insist upon using the three routes?

A. I really think that I have clarified our position on these matters as far as it is useful for me to try to do it at this time, bearing in mind this is a tripartite or quadripartite matter. While I can state and have stated the common principles that are held and upon which we stand, I don’t think it’s wise for me to try, just on behalf of one of the four countries involved, to be more particular.

Q. Can I ask the question, Mr. Secretary, have we ruled out the possibility of using force to back up our right to unimpeded access to Berlin should the East Germans seek to stop us?

A. We have not ruled out any of our rights at all. All I have said is that nothing that was said, which Khrushchev or anybody else in recent weeks has said, suggests that there is now any purpose on the part of either the Soviet Union or the G.D.R. to impede or obstruct our access by the various media that are available to us to and from Berlin. Therefore it seems to me that the question as to whether, if they did it, we would use force is an academic proposition because, as I say, nothing has happened to indicate that there is any present intention on their part to do that.

Q. Thank you, sir.

  1. Source: Department of State Bulletin, December 15, 1958, pp. 947–953.
  2. For background, see Bulletin of July 4, 1949, p. 857. [Footnote in the source text. The text of the final communiqué of the Paris Council of Foreign Ministers Meeting is printed in Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. III, pp. 10621065.]
  3. For text of the Directive to Foreign Ministers, see ibid., Aug. 1, 1955, p. 176. [Footnote in the source text. The text of the Directive to the Foreign Ministers is printed in Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. V, pp. 527528.]
  4. Brackets in the source text.
  5. All brackets in this paragraph are in the source text.