7. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Current Status of Berlin and Problem of German Reunification


  • Governing Mayor Willy Brandt, Berlin1
  • Senator Günter Klein, Senator for Federal Affairs, Berlin
  • Mr. Albrecht von Kessel, Chargé d’Affaires, German Embassy
  • The Secretary of State
  • Mr. Raymond E. Lisle, GER
  • Mrs. Eleanor Lansing Dulles, GER

The Secretary, after greeting Mayor Brandt, said that we are fully aware of the importance of Berlin and of the impressive strength, industry and courage of its people. He recalled that his last visit had been in 1954, but that he had also been there during the airlift. He said that Berlin had shown tremendous firmness in its position against Communism, but unfortunately the Soviets seemed also firm in their position.

He stated, however, that the President and he have made it a practice, on every possible occasion, to refer to the reunification of Germany.

[Page 16]

He believed that constant pressure on this point and hammering away at the Soviet position would lead the Soviets, at some time, to find that it was in their interests to yield a point and that this might be reunification. Experience with the Austrian Treaty had been along these lines. After hundreds of meetings and constant pressure, they had suddenly decided to grant the State Treaty.2 They had done this, in some measure, to secure a Summit meeting.3 At the present time, unfortunately, they probably did not believe they need pay such a high price for a Summit meeting in view of the manner in which many countries were willing to give it to them without a price and were not likely to yield in the German case. Unfortunately, the German problem, unlike the Austrian case, is not an isolated problem, but is related to that of other countries, notably Poland. The Soviets clearly fear the impact of yielding on other countries, particularly those between West Germany and the Soviet Union. Khrushchev is a very dangerous man and the Minsk speech showed the brutality of the Stalin days and many of the doctrines of Lenin.4

The Secretary said that he tried last fall, in a long talk with Gromyko, to persuade him that this country did not wish Russia to be surrounded by unfriendly countries. The concept of the Cordon Sanitaire would not work in the case of a strong nation like Russia. He told Gromyko that, unfortunately, their actions were such as to create enemies, rather that friends in the nations surrounding them and that, unless they yielded before the point of no return had been reached, the Soviet Union might become the most hated country in the world.

He had been discussing these matters recently, he said, with Ambassador Thompson 5 who stated that there were, in his opinion, many weaknesses and signs of change within the Soviet Republic. He believed that Hungary and Poland, where the young had shown their rejection of Communism, were indications of the unsettled state of affairs and referred, in this connection, also to the refugees flowing from East Germany to the West. He asked the Mayor what he thought of the purge in East Germany.6

Mayor Brandt replied that he believed that Wollweber had tried to look to the Soviets to circumvent Ulbricht, but the Soviets had concluded, [Page 17] quite logically, that they could not tolerate a Gomulka-type7 solution in East Germany. He stated that a nationalistic solution, in a divided Germany, could not be acceptable as a safe situation for the Soviets because it would certainly go toward the Federal Republic. Since, however, Ulbricht is the most hated man in all of Germany, they must rely more than ever on their twenty-two divisions.

Mayor Brandt added that they had recently shown their fear of the poison of contact with the West by making it even harder for the people in East Germany to travel to the West and trying to bar students, in particular, from contacts with their friends and relatives in the Federal Republic. Berlin, he said, was, in this case, in the period when it was hard to make substantial progress toward reunification, the one place where we can show our conviction of the final solution of a reunified Germany. It was important, therefore, to establish and increase the links and to strengthen the political connections between Berlin and the Federal Republic and thus maintain Berlin in its assured position with respect to its meaning for the future of Germany.

The Secretary answered that the United States was absolutely prepared to take a strong position with respect to Berlin. He said, unfortunately, the situation was often clouded by technicalities and minor details which made it difficult to make our position known. We would welcome an appropriate opportunity of showing our firmness.

The Secretary then said that he did not know whether the Mayor would agree, but that he believed that the Soviets would never accept a solution of a neutral Germany. He said he based his view, in part at least, on conversations with Molotov, whose ideas still prevail, although he has disappeared; with Zorin in London; with Gromyko, and others. He said a genuinely neutralized Germany would be regarded by the Russians as dangerous and likely to play one party against another in a political game which would bring with it tremendous risks. It was his opinion, he stated, that the Soviets would prefer a Germany under the control of the institutions of the West, WEU, Common Market, and other restraining Western influences to one which was completely uncontrolled. If they could not themselves exercise control, they would prefer to see Germany subject to the restraints of Western European organizations.

The Mayor replied that he understood, indeed, the point made by the Secretary. The Mayor of Free Berlin could not advocate a weak Germany. A Germany which was a part of Western Europe could only be safe in a strong Europe. A Germany which was unstable and not included in the systems of the Western world would, in fact, lead to an [Page 18] unpredictable and risky situation. He was not sure, however, that the system with which Germany should be linked need be exactly that of the present Western European alliance. He said that there might be adjustments or modifications which would lead to solutions and that one must keep trying to find such solutions.

The Secretary stated that he, too, felt that some modifications of present organization and mechanisms of cooperation could be found. The offers of security and the European Security Treaty of 19558 and the pledges that had been contemplated at that time had never been fully appreciated and, he believed, some changes could be made which would make the search for solutions more profitable.

The Secretary concluded by stating that he was well aware of the astonishing capacity shown by the people of Berlin and that he understood that they were very fortunate in having the leadership of the Mayor.9

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/2–1058. Confidential Drafted by Eleanor Dulles.
  2. On November 22, 1957, Mayor Brandt announced that he would visit the United States in February 1958 as a guest of Lufthansa Airlines. Following his announcement the Department arranged a series of meetings in Washington for the mayor. Brandt arrived in Philadelphia on February 7 and, after his conversations in Washington, he visited New York and Boston. Documentation on planning for the visit is ibid., 033.62A11.
  3. For documentation on the negotiations leading to the signing of the Austrian State Treaty, May 15, 1955, see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol V, pp. 1 ff.
  4. For documentation on the Geneva Summit Conference, July 18–23, 1955, see ibid., pp. 119 ff.
  5. An extract from Khrushchev’s speech at Minsk on January 22 is in Pravda, January 25, 1958, pp. 2–3.
  6. Ambassador Thompson had been in Washington for consultations in January and early February.
  7. On February 8 the German Democratic Republic announced that Wollweber, Schirdewan, and Oelssner had been expelled from the Central Committee and Politburo of the Socialist Unity Party for opposition to Ulbricht.
  8. Wladyslaw Gomulka, First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party.
  9. Presumably Dulles is referring to the proposal made by the Soviet Delegation on October 31, 1955, at the Geneva Foreign Ministers meeting.
  10. In a seven-line memorandum drafted on February 11, McKiernan noted that Brandt was “strongly in favor of the Federal Government’s proposal for opening Berlin to international air traffic, provided there should be no adverse effect on Allied air access to Berlin.” (Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/2–1158)