94. Tosec 55 to Geneva, March 151

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Text of President’s letter to Macmillan March 10 follows: QTE Thank you very much for yours of March 9. I have already talked with some of our technical people about your sweeping proposal, and we shall certainly be glad to have a further hard look at it. Their first reaction—and this comes from people who are deeply in favor of a workable agreement—is that the lower capabilities of external detection would tend to make for an increased inspection requirement, so that on balance such an arrangement might be less acceptable to the Soviets. But further study may show that they are wrong, and the experts on both sides should certainly study it out.

Meanwhile, I am giving David Ormsby Gore an account of the modifications that have been worked out on our side, including an abandonment of the threshold, and I believe that our 1962 model will show a proper and forthcoming response to our new understanding [Facsimile Page 2] of what is and is not important.

On Berlin I have indeed been thinking hard and some of the results Rusk will be sharing with Home tomorrow. But I should like also to give you a few private comments which I think should stay out of our two bureaucracies. My view is that we must find a way of making very sure that Khrushchev knows we are willing to work out a reasonable settlement, if it is. This is the old problem you and Home put so well [Typeset Page 280] in Bermuda: he must be given a good smell of the dinner he can have if he leaves Berlin alone, and the problem is how to do it without getting the Germans in an uproar.

My conclusion is that the thing to do is to suggest a written modus vivendi with no time limit under which the real situation would go on as it is while all sorts of problems are discussed in a continuing body of foreign ministers’ deputies. We are prepared to indicate informally to Gromyko that in that framework we think there could be progress on limiting nuclear dispersal, on technical meetings of the East-West Germans, on declarations of non-aggression, and on boundary stabilization. Some things could be said right away, and other would come out of the continuing discussions. We believe that in this way we can avoid restatements of positions which are in flat [Facsimile Page 3] conflict on such matters as our troops in Berlin and the formal status of the city. Moreover, if the real situation can be stabilized in a written modus vivendi, we think the Russians might be able to have their peace treaty without serious consequences to our own position, though we do not plan to say so directly. And on “respect for sovereignty” we are inclined to argue that time is the best and safest instrument the Soviets have—although if they want to make real and rapid progress all they have to do is fire Ulbricht and put a more civilized man in his place. And finally, I am of a mind to say that if serious progress could be made on this sort of thing, I would of course be glad to go to a meeting of Heads of Government to get it settled.

None of all this is sure to work. If the Russians want a further test of will and strength, they will probably pay no attention, at least at present. But I hope it may tempt Khrushchev if in fact he wants to cool things off for a while. And at least we shall feel that we have done our best to dissuade him from more dangerous courses.

This at least is how my own mind is going, and Rusk is authorized to make quite private explorations in this direction at Geneva. I will let you know what, if anything, he gets back, and meanwhile I should be glad to have your comments and advice. UNQTE.

  1. Text of President’s March 10 reply to Prime Minister Macmillan’s March 9 letter. Top Secret. 3 pp. Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, KennedyMacmillan, 1961–1962.