81. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Preparations for Discussion of Germany Including Berlin at Summit


  • German Ambassador Wilhelm G. Grewe
  • Assistant Secretary Foy D. Kohler
  • Mr. Martin J. HillenbrandGER

Ambassador Grewe said he was going to be away a week at Squaw Valley but felt it desirable to have a prior discussion with Mr. Kohler [Page 201] regarding the present state of preparations for Summit discussion of Germany including Berlin. He referred to the Reston article in this morning’s New York Times relative to a possible proposal for a plebiscite to be made at the Summit.1 He described it as unfortunate that this had to appear in the newspapers before any decision had been taken on it. After referring to the press line which the Department spokesmen were taking at the noon briefing, Mr. Kohler noted that this kind of thing always seemed to go on. That was why we thought that, if any new positions were to be developed by the West, they could be discussed safely only just prior to the Summit. Ambassador Grewe then referred to the “unfortunate” article of Drew Middleton in this morning’s New York Times referring to the Four-Power Working Group. Mr. Kohler noted how people tend to suspect that much more is going on in the way of discussions and preparations—particularly of a Machiavellian character—than is actually the case. Actually if they thought about it, people would realize that the Western position is pretty much established and that spectacular initiatives could scarcely be expected to emerge from the Working Group exercise.

Ambassador Grewe said he felt it was now necessary that the countries in the Working Group come to an understanding with respect to the basic direction in which the negotiations with the Soviets should go. There were really only three major alternatives, he observed: (a) maintenance of the status quo; (b) an interim arrangement based on the status quo involving agreement on the exercise of Western rights; and (c) a new legal basis for the Western Powers in Berlin. The Western Powers should now agree on their position in order to avoid press speculation regarding disunity as well as to avoid public statements implying that they were taking different positions.

Mr. Kohler commented that, in the Four-Power Working Group, much of the discussion had revolved around the French paper on principles.2 There could be no doubt about the US position. We want, for example, to bring the Germans closer to tripartite contingency planning. It appeared that we and the Germans might have slightly different estimates of what would happen if the Western Powers stand pat at the Summit. We felt that there was a prospect, under these circumstances, of a real crisis. We were prepared to face such a crisis, but we must also be sure that the others were prepared to do so. Ambassador Grewe agreed that this should be cleared up, and emphasized that the Germans did [Page 202] require some knowledge of tripartite contingency planning in order intelligently to evaluate the situation.

Mr. Kohler mentioned that, in one way, the Germans had already participated in a phase of contingency planning. He recalled the discussion of recent years with the Germans over the necessity for adequate authority in the Federal Republic to take alert measures. It was hard to persuade anyone that the West was adequately and seriously prepared when the necessary legal basis for emergency measures did not exist in the Federal Republic. Although we might well come back to French Principle No.1 on maintenance of the present juridical position in Berlin, we were not prepared to freeze on it now. If this were done, the Working Group could disband now, and its work be transferred to the Contingency Planning Group. We have the impression, Mr. Kohler continued, that the Germans think all we need to do can be confined to the declaratory field. We do not feel quite that comfortable about the situation. Our Ambassador in Moscow feels the Soviets would go ahead and sign their peace treaty in the absence of a modus vivendi, or some machinery for continuing negotiations, although not before President Eisenhower’s visit to the Soviet Union. In the case of the military pass incident we have given evidence of our basic attitude. We saw an analogy in the situation to the problem of access to Berlin, but it was only with some difficulty that we got the other countries to come along. At the same time, Mr. Kohler pointed out, we feel committed by the Camp David communiqué to negotiate with the Soviets on Berlin. That does not mean negotiations on the basis of the Soviet free city proposal, or on the basis of their peace treaty proposal, but it does seem to imply a willingness to explore the possibility of a modus vivendi or of the establishment of some continuing consultative machinery. We also want to explore the possibility of keeping a unified front among our Allies, Mr. Kohler continued. We all suspect, for example, that the British may be less willing to face up to a new crisis than the others. They apparently believe there are possibilities for finding another legal basis for our staying on in Berlin. We are prepared to explore this possibility with them and with the Germans and the French. We do not believe at this point that there are any such possibilities, but we must go through this exploratory process with the British if they are to be brought around. Therefore, we believe we must go through the exercise in the Working Group. We will not change our position unless something really better emerges. The fact, for example, that, until yesterday’s Working Group meeting,3 there was great deal of confusion about the applicability of the [Page 203] NATO guarantee to Berlin under various circumstances illustrates the need for a full exploration of the facts. Ambassador Grewe agreed that the Western Powers have apparently been operating under a misconception as to the relationship of the NATO guarantee to continuing occupation of the city, and said he also agreed with Mr. Kohler’s general appreciation of the situation. He would like to see the Working Group discuss possible proposals even if they were not realistic. This was the purpose of the German paper of yesterday.4 [5 lines of source text not declassified]

Mr. Kohler said that we had no surprises up our sleeve. He agreed that it was desirable to lay any proposals which might now exist on the table so that they could be examined and the pros and cons agreed. We must know that our Allies are really firm, he continued, and not just paying lip service. Ambassador Grewe said that his Government did not feel happy about the prospect of a crisis with the Soviets, but could not see what would be gained by postponing a crisis through some sort of interim agreement to last for a year or so. He felt that there were some reasons why the Soviets might be reluctant to go ahead and sign a separate peace treaty with the GDR. It would, for example, prejudice an all-German peace treaty. It was difficult to say, of course, Mr. Kohler noted, but we are inclined to believe that we can forestall such action by the Soviets if a reasonable modus vivendi can be found. If not, if the Western Powers seem unwilling even to go back to their Geneva formula, Khrushchev’s commitment to his own people, to the East, and in terms of his own prestige, is such that he will probably be obligated to go ahead. Mr. Khrushchev was not quite comparable to Mr. Stalin, and did not have the same measure of arbitrary control that the latter had. While he had much greater flexibility than we, of course, he did not have complete maneuverability. Moreover, a basic principle of our own contingency planning was to be prepared for the worst. Apart from mere declarations, Mr. Kohler continued, our whole attitude here should remove apprehensions in Bonn. Ambassador Grewe said that up to now nothing had happened which might disturb Bonn. They were concerned that no real progress had taken place in the preparatory talks so far, and would like to know what the others had in mind. Mr. Kohler noted that we could speed up things, of course, simply by accepting the French principles, after which the Working Group could pack up and go home.

Ambassador Grewe said that it was obviously unrealistic to expect to go to the Summit and refuse to discuss Berlin. This did not mean, [Page 204] however, that the West must take the initiative in making proposals. Since the Soviets had precipitated the Berlin crisis, it was up to them to make proposals. Mr. Kohler responded that this was essentially a tactical question. Once the Soviets did make proposals, the West would have to know what they could accept and what they might wish to make in the way of counterproposals.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/2–2460. Secret. Drafted by Hillenbrand and initialed by Kohler.
  2. The Washington Post also had an article on the plebiscite on February 24, by John Hightower.
  3. See footnote 1, Document 76.
  4. The U.S. summary record of the seventh meeting of the Working Group on Germany and Berlin (II WWG/9.7) on February 23 is in Department of State, EUR/SOV Files: Lot 64 D 291, Germany.
  5. Not found. According to the record referred to in footnote 3 above, the paper was designated II WWG/1.11 and concluded that the status quo in Berlin was preferable to any change now considered possible.