365. Editorial Note

On October 10, 1963, Soviet forces detained a U.S. convoy of 18 military vehicles at the Marienborn and later the Babelsberg checkpoints in the German Democratic Republic. Secretary of State Rusk told Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin in a meeting in Washington the next day that the action had been a “unilateral attempt by the Soviets to change well-established procedures” that set back “all the efforts we have been making to solve issues between us.” For text of the Departmentʼs report of the meeting in telegram 1155 to Moscow, October 11, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume XV, page 594.

In a meeting with his senior advisers on October 11, President Kennedy decided on a course of action which included urging France and the United Kingdom to participate in assembling Free Style forces (a platoon-sized force to probe Soviet intentions on access) and in delivery of a [Page 795] tripartite protest note to the Soviets. For text of the record of action, see ibid., page 600. That afternoon Ambassador Kohler reported to the Department of State in telegram 1223 that he had met with Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Zorin, who argued that the Soviets had instituted no new procedures; rather, U.S. troops had refused to comply with established procedures. Zorin “stressed that Sov side had no intention create difficulties and that if this true of US side, all would be well.” Later the same day, Kennedy met again with his advisers and decided that assembly of Free Style forces should begin but appeared to take a wait-and-see stance on further action. For text of telegram 1223 and the memorandum of Kennedyʼs meeting, see ibid., pages 601604.

Ambassador at Large Thompson and Dobrynin in Washington, Kohler and Zorin in Moscow, and Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko and Rusk held further discussions by telephone on October 11 and 12, with the Soviets arguing that the U.S. convoy had violated established procedures, while U.S. officials protested alleged Soviet violations. For records of their conversations, see ibid., pages 605609. The convoy was allowed to proceed on October 12 without further incident.

In telegram Topol 481 to the U.S. Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, October 15, the Department expressed the opinion that the delay of the convoys did not mark a shift of Soviet policy “with respect Soviet efforts to secure general easing of international tensions.” The telegram continued, “we believe USSR did not intend to bring about major confrontation last week, and train events may have been set in motion by no higher ranking a person than Marienborn checkpoint commander,” who in turn was supported by higher level Soviet authorities who may not have been fully informed concerning U.S. convoy procedures. This interpretation, however, did not “absolve Moscow from responsibility for continuing Soviet efforts to erode Western rights in Berlin and on access routes.” For text, see ibid., pages 610611. The President, in a meeting October 21 with key advisers, decided that the Soviet Union should be informed of U.S. convoy procedures and that the procedures “should be passed to Ambassador Dobrynin to give the Soviet political leadership rather than the military authorities control of the matter from the start.” A text of the memorandum for the record is ibid., page 615.