80. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • The Secretary
  • Donald Cook, Chief of the London Bureau, N.Y. Herald Tribune
  • Assistant Secretary Andrew H. Berding


  • Background Conversation

Mr. Cook concentrated his first questions on the new passes issued by the Soviet Union to U.S., U.K., and French military liaison officers in East Germany.1 The Secretary said he did not consider these passes the equivalent of the Soviet threat to turn over all control of access to Berlin to the East Germans, but it was one step short of that. We will now seek to find out what the main purpose of the Soviets is in issuing these new passes. We are discussing what to do with the British and the French. We may have to close our military mission in East Germany and require [Page 198] the Soviets to close out their missions in West Germany. We are now evaluating the utility of our missions. (Mr. Cook said his information was that our missions are not very useful in gathering information in East Germany and that we get better information from other sources.) The Secretary agreed with Mr. Cook that the British had hoped to reach some accommodation by going along with the Soviet passes, but the French and ourselves are opposed to accepting them. However, agreement between us and the British on a position concerning the passes is now a question of wording rather than of substance. We cannot permit this matter to drag out any longer, and need to make our position clear soon. The U.S. position is that we cannot accept the passes as presently drawn up. We do not consider that this move by the Soviets is sufficient to warrant calling off the Summit Conference with Khrushchev. We have been embarrassed by the fact that the newspapers have discussed this matter before we were in position to take it up with the Soviets. We intend to take a firm stand and will be much interested to know the Soviet response to our stand.

Mr. Cook commented that the British are willing to accept de facto recognition of the East German government and therefore are willing to agree to such steps as the passes which move in the direction of ever greater de facto recognition. The Secretary said he was glad that the question had arisen with regard to passes and not on access over the Autobahn.

Mr. Cook commented that there seems to be a gradual move toward the acceptance of actions which would constitute more recognition for the East German government. He mentioned that correspondents were previously able to go to Berlin with military automobile tags and passes and now they have to have East German government visas. Some correspondents already had 30 or 40 such visas.

The Secretary said that the East Berlin government is breathing down Khrushchev’s neck all the time to get Khrushchev to take further action to bolster the prestige of the East German government.

The Secretary said that Khrushchev’s position with regard to Berlin as the Summit Conference approaches is fairly hard. Certainly the statements Khrushchev has made would seem to make it very difficult for him to take anything but a hard position. On the other hand the Soviets may be seeking to build up an atmosphere in advance of the conference and there could be no telling what they will actually do at the conference itself. Such has been their method of maneuver at times in the past. It would be surprising if a Berlin agreement could be reached at the Summit. As to whether Khrushchev would take some unilateral action following an unsuccessful summit conference, it is possible that he might seek to do so in the period between the national conventions and the elections, when he might feel that there was a lack of unity in the [Page 199] Western camp. In this respect however Khrushchev would be vulnerable if it is obvious that there has been some degree of negotiations on Berlin at the Summit.

On disarmament, the Secretary said he thought we would get a Western disarmament position by the time we meet with the Soviets in March. This position would include nuclear disarmament. There have been different lines of approach between the five Western members of the Ten Nation Disarmament Committee. The Secretary talked to the British delegate, Ormsby-Gore, after the Secretary’s talk at the National Press Club2 today, and they agreed that anything concerning disarmament was extremely complicated since one problem led to many others. The French delegate, Moch, has been inhibited because of his restricted instructions.

The Secretary said he did not know what the French attitude would be, following the French atomic explosion in the Sahara, with regard to suspension of nuclear testing. The Secretary expected to be in Paris on May 12 for a Foreign Ministers meeting preceding the Summit Meeting. He thought the Summit would last about one week. It is questionable whether the Summit Meeting could start all over again from the beginning of the Geneva conference last summer. However there is every likelihood that Khrushchev would present a proposal for separate peace treaties for two Germanies, which would mean that the Summit Conference would start with the beginning of the Geneva conference.

It is possible that the Summit Conference will arrive at nothing more than certain general principles, and then pass these on to the Foreign Ministers to work out concretely.

Mr. Cook asked if we would be willing to settle for a temporary agreement on Berlin at the price of our de facto recognition of the East Berlin government. The Secretary said no, and we would never come anywhere near this. He recalled that Gromyko had suggested at Geneva that we sign a separate peace treaty with the East German government and that Gromyko would not regard this as de facto recognition and we could call it something else.

In answer to a question as to whether we had any date in mind for the settlement of outstanding issues with the Soviets, the Secretary said there was one date and that was the Berlin [German] elections in 1961. Adenauer has been inhibited in agreeing with Western proposals because he does not feel he can make any concessions prior to the German elections. Our hope therefore has been that we could find something in the way of a temporary agreement which would get over that hump [Page 200] until a new German government came in which would perhaps be willing to take more chances. Adenauer is pretty much of a one-man government. We had the experience at Geneva of seeing Von Brentano propose something and then Adenauer completely reverse him. In some respects it is like dealing with the Russians in that it is a one-man government.

Mr. Cook prospected the idea that we might find De Gaulle winding up everything for the West by making a deal with Khrushchev when Khrushchev visits Paris next month. The Secretary agreed that this was a possibility and agreed with Mr. Cook that De Gaulle’s statement last year with regard to the Oder–Neisse boundary3 was a far-reaching one which would have drawn great wrath upon us if we had made it. The Secretary agreed with Mr. Cook that De Gaulle’s statement in a letter to Khrushchev 4 with regard to the Yellow Peril was likewise a far-reaching one. He granted Mr. Cook’s supposition that we might find the diplomatic situation entirely changed by the time we got to Paris for the Summit Conference. But we might well be glad towards have De Gaulle try to settle the difficult question of Germany and Berlin if he could.

The conversation closed with Mr. Cook expressing his admiration for the outstanding job being done by Amb. Whitney. The Secretary concurred.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199. Official Use Only. Drafted by Berding and approved by Herter. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s office.
  2. Regarding the question of passes for the Western Liaison Military Missions in East Germany, see Documents 283 ff.
  3. For text of Herter’s address to the National Press Club and the question-and-answer session that followed, see Department of State Bulletin, March 7, 1960, pp. 354–361.
  4. For text of De Gaulle’s press conference on March 25, 1959, at which this statement was made, see Statements, pp. 41–51.
  5. Not identified further.