94. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • US–USSR Economic Strength; Aerial Inspection Zone; Self-Determination and Berlin Plebiscite


  • Dr. Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor, Federal Republic of Germany
  • Dr. Heinrich von Brentano, Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Ambassador Wilhelm G. Grewe
  • Mr. Weber, Interpreter
  • Secretary Herter
  • Under Secretary C. Douglas Dillon
  • Under Secretary Livingston T. Merchant
  • Ambassador Walter C. Dowling

[Here follows discussion of U.S.–USSR economic strength. For text, see Document 257.]

The Secretary then changed the subject by saying that there was one matter which the President had discussed alone with the Chancellor the day before1 on which he wished to satisfy himself that there was a common understanding between us. He said that the Chancellor would recall that the President had spoken to him about the desirability of promptly and seriously examining, with a view to presentation to the Soviets, a proposal for an inspection zone in Europe which would include but not be confined to Germany, linked with the offer of an inspection zone covering Alaska and a part of eastern Siberia. The Secretary went on to emphasize that this would not be a disarmament measure but that it would serve the purpose of gaining experience with inspection methods and probing the extent of Soviet good faith.

The Chancellor reacted violently and said that in his conversation with the President there had been no mention whatsoever of an inspection zone in Europe. The only talk had been concerning one in Siberia and Alaska which he thought would be useful as a test of Soviet intentions and if accomplished might be valuable by reason of the great capability of modern cameras from the air.

The Secretary said that there must be some confusion and asked Mr. Merchant to report what the President had told him of his talk with the Chancellor immediately after the White House luncheon. The Chancellor continued to deny that in his recollection the President had ever mentioned Europe or a zone affecting Germany. He made clear that such a proposal was objectionable to him. The Secretary concluded this phase of the conversation by reiterating that a misunderstanding obviously existed and suggesting that the Four-Power Working Group might be charged with an examination of these ideas. The Chancellor neither agreed nor disagreed with this suggestion.

At this point the question of self-determination came up in the context of the Chancellor’s Press Club proposal for a plebiscite in West Berlin prior to the Summit.2 The Secretary said that we should consider this matter by looking further ahead to the wider application of self [Page 238] determination. There was no doubt that a vote held in West Berlin on the maintenance of the present position would be a free vote and overwhelming in favor of the maintenance of existing arrangements. But we all know that an unsupervised vote in Communist-held territory would produce an impressive vote quite contrary to the true wishes of the inhabitants. This argued for inviting supervision, as for example by the United Nations, over any expression of popular will in western territories in order that the principle of such impartial supervision would apply to any plebiscite in Eastern Germany or in East Berlin.

The Chancellor reacted violently against this suggestion. Any election in West Berlin would, of course, be fair and free. The three Western Military Commandants could certify this. It would be derogatory of democracy if outside neutral supervision were asked. Moreover, there would be no time for arranging it before the Summit, and he visualized his proposal for a vote at Berlin as necessary before the Summit in order to confront Khrushchev with the evidence of how the West Berliners overwhelmingly felt. The argument continued but the Chancellor was adamant in his point of view. At one point, he said in effect that votes and plebiscites would never accomplish the freeing of the Soviet sector of Germany. This would come through what he described as political actions. The Chancellor also made some obscure reference to the acceptance of the original boundaries of Germany, but it was not exactly clear what he meant.

Throughout the discussion of the last two topics Dr. Von Brentano frequently interrupted the Chancellor to argue with him, but with no apparent success. On several occasions, the exchanges were so rapid as to leave the interpreter far behind. Dr. Grewe was largely silent throughout, but it was perfectly apparent that the Chancellor’s advisers would have modified substantially many of the Chancellor’s statements, had they been able to do so.

The group broke up shortly after 11:30 and the Chancellor departed in a friendly mood. There seemed little doubt, however, that he was extremely disturbed by the inspection zone proposal and by the suggestion of any modification of his limited plebiscite proposal to be confined to West Berlin and conducted before the Summit meeting in May. What also seemed to emerge was the concentration of the Chancellor on maintaining the status quo in West Berlin and his relative lack of interest as of any practical concern in measures designed to keep the emphasis on the reunification of Germany in the impending negotiation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 64 D 559, CF 1610. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Merchant and approved in S on March 24. The conversation took place after dinner at Secretary Herter’s residence.
  2. See Document 90.
  3. For text of Adenauer’s address to the National Press Club at 2 p.m. on March 16, during which he proposed a plebiscite for West Berlin to answer the question of whether the Berliners wanted their present status changed, see Dokumente, Band 4, 1960, Erster Halbband, pp. 515–518.