84. Memorandum of Conference With President Eisenhower0


  • Secretary Herter, Mr. Merchant,
  • Mr. Bohlen, Mr. Kohler, Mr. Gates,
  • Mr. Douglas, Mr. Irwin,
  • General White,
  • General Goodpaster

[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters.]

At this point the remainder of the group (except for Mr. Douglas and Mr. Irwin, who came in a few minutes later) joined to discuss a new development regarding our plan of action to institute high level flights to West Berlin.1 Mr. Herter recalled that we had, with some difficulty, obtained the agreement of the British and the French to sending a message to the Soviet commanders in Berlin on the initiation of these flights. Almost immediately, there was a serious leak of information to Joseph Alsop who wrote a column about it, highly accurate except for his indication that this note had in fact actually been sent. Concurrently Secretary Douglas was considering the matter for the first time, and had major questions as to the desirability, for operational reasons, of initiating such flights. The JCS concurred that initiation was neither necessary nor desirable for operational reasons.

Mr. Herter recalled that the State Department, when this whole question was raised some months ago, had taken the position that they would interpose no objection if Defense made a firm statement that there was an operational necessity for these flights and that the flights would be conducted on a regular basis. Defense had made such a statement, State had gone ahead with consultations with our allies, and now we find that the U.S. is somewhat out on a limb. He anticipated some problem with the British and French if we now change our stand. The President said he thought we should simply tell them that we made a mistake and do not wish to compound it. He said the only reason he would see for going ahead is that we feel there is a need to take some action respecting Berlin that would show our independence. Mr. Gates said there had been a lot of publicity about our new intentions following [Page 213] the leak, and Mr. Herter said it would look like backing down in the face of Soviet pressures by the Soviet press. The President said the matter is simple in his judgment. Until the action of sending the note to the Soviets has been taken, the whole matter is in a study phase.

Regarding the question of operational need, General White said that there would be an operational requirement for flight at altitudes above 10, 000 feet if another airlift had to be instituted to Berlin. The President said this consideration had been very much in his mind. However, he thought that we have made clear our right to do so and that if the necessity for an airlift arose, we would at that time do whatever we needed to do. He added that if this change in position causes the State Department any distress, the Secretary of State could tell the British and the French that the President, on considering the matter, had decided there is no operational necessity.

General White said he should add a further view of the JCS—that they believe this is the time to start flights at altitudes above 10, 000 feet if we are going to do this at any time. This would be a cold war tactic. The President said that these considerations fell outside the military sphere, and were of concern to the State Department. He reiterated that the Secretary of State might say that on final review of the question of operational need, following the President’s return form South America, he decided not to initiate this action.2

[Here follows discussion of unrelated matters.]

A.J. Goodpaster3
Brigadier General, USA
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Staff Secretary Records, State Dept. Secret. Drafted by Goodpaster.
  2. A memorandum for the President, March 8, which sets forth the position on high altitude flights to Berlin as related by Secretary Herter, is in Department of State, Central Files, 762B.5411/3–860.
  3. At 6:10 p.m., Merchant telephoned Ambassador Heeney to inform him that the high altitude flights to Berlin had been postponed until such time as operational considerations required. (Notes on a telephone conversation, March 8, attached to a March 10 note; ibid., PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, Germany) Presumably, similar calls were made to the British, French, and West Germans. Secretary Herter reiterated this position at his press conference on March 9; for the transcript of the conference, see Department of State Bulletin, March 28, 1960, pp. 487–493.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.