88. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Various Subjects in the Context of the Impending Visit of Chancellor Adenauer


  • Ambassador Wilhelm G. Grewe, Federal Republic of Germany
  • Mr. Livingston T. Merchant, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
  • Mr. Alfred G. Vigderman, GER

Ambassador Grewe called to learn from Mr. Merchant something of the atmosphere prevailing in Washington on the eve of the Chancellor’s visit.

Mr. Merchant said that he saw the Chancellor’s visit as an opportunity to reassure him on the fundamentals of U.S. policy. There is no lack of firmness in the U.S. Government as concerns the forthcoming summit meeting but we do want, for negotiating purposes, a little bit of flexibility. We expect to make clear that our attitude toward NATO and Germany is unchanged. We have not been persuaded by anything that Khrushchev has said that there is any change in his purpose or tactics. We are not going to weaken on Berlin. We will maintain troops there as long as they are required, and the people of Berlin want them there. As long as our troops are there, there will be freedom of access for our forces, the relationships between Berlin and the Federal Republic will [Page 222] remain as they are, and the people of Berlin will continue to live in freedom. This seems a better statement of our position than merely restating that we will maintain our rights in Berlin. We shall in the coming negotiations seek to improve the present situation.

Mr. Merchant assumed that the President will also canvass the subject of disarmament with the Chancellor.

Mr. Merchant went on to say that on the subject of high altitude flights to Berlin we found on re-examination that the technical basis for such flights did not stand up. For that reason we made the decision not to launch such flights because we could not contemplate high altitude flights which rested on a purely political basis. If operating requirements for such flights should develop we will certainly fly at levels over 10, 000 feet because the right to do so indubitably belongs to us.

Ambassador Grewe agreed but deplored the psychological repercussions of the recent discussions of this matter in the press. Mr. Merchant rejoined that while the newspaper stories had indeed been unfortunate, in the serious business of foreign policy one should not be influenced by leaks and press comment. In the long run the matter would straighten itself out. Ambassador Grewe inquired whether the French and British had shared our views in the discussions which took place in connection with the prospective high flights and the ultimate decision not to launch the flights. Mr. Merchant assured him that they had shared our views all the way. Mr. Merchant reiterated that if the situation should change because of differences in types of aircraft or volume of traffic we would not hesitate to exercise our rights. The Chancellor should have no doubts on this score.

Ambassador Grewe then adverted to the proposals of July 28, 1959, made at Geneva on the problem of Berlin. The Germans have been reexamining these proposals. There was perhaps a difference of view in the evaluation of the tolerability of particular proposals. This could be only decided by a practical examination of each proposal. Since the Working Group has not reached the stage of settling on proposals for Berlin, there was still considerable uncertainty in the German mind on this point. Mr. Merchant responded that we expected to go back to Khrushchev on the problem of a divided Germany. If that were to be solved no problem would exist. If we are forced to talk about Berlin we have no inclination to begin on the basis of the July 28 proposals. Since the Soviets had not accepted these proposals we would have to make a new start. Mr. Merchant thought the July 28 proposals went to the limit of what we could agree to but he continued to believe that the proposals as a whole were good ones. They were relatively limited and well worth the price if we could get in exchange clear-cut guarantees on civilian access [Page 223] to Berlin since civilian access was a weak point in the Western position in Berlin.

Ambassador Grewe said that the time problem in any agreement with the Soviets was the most serious. If, for example, such an agreement were by its terms to last for 18 months only it would really be dangerous. There would be no assurance what would happen after the agreement expired. The people in Berlin would be calculating how much survival time they had left and the Soviets would be alert to exploit this uncertainty to the full.

To Ambassador Grewe’s request for information on the contents of the letter delivered by Ambassador Menshikov to the President,1 Mr. Merchant responded he was not at liberty to say anything.

Ambassador Grewe reminded Mr. Merchant that it had been agreed that there would be informal talks among the three Western Powers and Germany in Washington at the Ambassadorial level at the time the Germans had agreed to the fading away of the Summit steering committee. Mr. Merchant acknowledged that procedures should be set up to arrange for such talks.

Finally Ambassador Grewe touched on the subject of the return of the German vested assets, pointing out that the matter had taken an unfavorable turn. He was very worried about the subject as a source of controversy between the two Governments. He thought it was better to have it out than to leave it indefinitely pending. He thought it was poisoning the atmosphere. There were many disturbing articles in the German press. It was particularly disturbing in the light of recent incidents which tended to suggest some psychological estrangement between Germans and Americans. A settlement of the assets issue might provide needed moral support to the Germans as evidence that we have put aside any prejudices against the Federal Republic. It would be a valuable psychological help.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 559, CF 1610. Confidential. Drafted by Vigderman and approved in M on March 16.
  2. On March 8, Soviet Ambassador Menshikov delivered to the President a letter from Khrushchev, dated March 3, that expressed concern about the United States giving atomic weapons to its Allies. A copy of the letter is ibid., Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204.