188. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Delivery of Letter to the President from Chancellor Adenauer


  • United States
    • The President
    • McGeorge Bundy, The White House
    • Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary
  • Germany
    • Ambassador Wilhelm Grewe

The President opened the conversation by inquiring about the Chancellor. Ambassador Grewe replied that the Chancellor was busily engaged in political activities, constructing his Government following the elections. In this connection he said that there was in Bonn, however, basic agreement on the lines of foreign and defense policy and on the steps to be taken to increase the German military effort. He said he had just received a new instruction from Bonn this morning, the essence of which he would like to communicate to the President. The Federal Republic intended, he said, to fulfill all the commitments in the military field which had been discussed with and given by Defense Minister Strauss with respect to manpower build-up and increases in the military budget. He said he would omit the details. However, in general terms the Federal Republic reaffirmed the memorandum which had been delivered to the US Government in May following the Chancellor’s visit with the President.2 The Federal Government realizes that the present situation involves a risk of war; it is prepared to face this risk and indeed to go to war to defend the freedom of Berlin. The Federal Government considers that it is important to reach a common understanding on our military and strategic concepts. Differences had existed on this in the past. However, the Federal Government would not insist on the adoption of maritime measures as an alternative to larger ground and air operations on the continent. However, it considered that such operations would only be convincing if we were prepared to follow them with a preemptive nuclear strike if that became necessary. If such operations were not followed up the Federal Government saw considerable dangers in large scale conventional operations with the possibility that [Page 528] Soviet forces could cross the border and occupy considerable areas of Federal Republic territory, thus leaving the West at a considerable disadvantage. The decision to use nuclear weapons must be made clear to the Soviets as well as the fact that the Soviet Union itself would be a target.

The President inquired whether this meant any change in the German approach to the consultations taking place in the Ambassadorial group. The Ambassador replied that it did not, but it meant simply that the German representatives were prepared fully to participate in the development of military planning. However the Federal Government wanted further discussion of the military and strategic concepts in order to ensure a common position. In this connection Mr. Kohler cited the statement he had made yesterday to the Ambassadorial group to the effect that the United States Government had been considering its own concept of the preferred sequence of military courses of action and that it expected to be discussing these with its allies in the near future.3

Ambassador Grewe then handed to the President the Chancellor’s letter together with an English translation (attached) prepared with the assistance of the State Department.4 After reading the communication, the President asked what the Ambassador’s views were as to when a meeting might take place between the Chancellor and himself. The Ambassador replied that because of the political situation, probably not until after the first week in November. After some discussion of possible dates which indicated that Indian Prime Minister Nehru would be here November 6, 7 and 8, the President indicated that the best time would probably be the week following that visit, or tentatively around November 11, 12 or 13. The President commented that he thought it was important that he have a chance to meet with the Chancellor. It appeared that there were differences between the positions of the Federal Republic and the French and those of the British and ourselves. He personally thought we must see whether there were ways in which the situation with respect to West Berlin could be improved. Perhaps this would not be possible but he felt that we should explore all avenues. If negotiations with the Russians should break off then we would be faced with a very [Page 529] dangerous situation. The President considered it essential we at least be able to say before reaching that point that we had done everything possible to try for a peaceful solution. He felt it was important to probe Mr. Khrushchev further on his statements about the freedom of West Berlin and of access. He personally would feel much better if we did this before we got to the nuclear stage. The President deplored the press speculation and exaggerations about differences. In fact he said we were not really discussing substance, on which there were no essential differences, but rather differences as respects tactics and procedures.

Ambassador Grewe replied that the Federal Government had never opposed negotiations—indeed he was frequently annoyed by reports which equated the German and French positions—nor had it any objection to exploratory talks. The Germans were even prepared to work on the French to get them to participate. At this point the President remarked that he had had a letter from General de Gaulle who apparently felt that every move toward the Soviets was a manifestation of weakness.5 Ambassador Grewe resumed, saying, however, that the Federal Government had not been very well satisfied with some of the talks between us. They felt that there had been some change in US policy regarding Germany in recent weeks. He would cite particularly the question of reunification. The United States seemed now to be following another approach on this subject and were urging an increase in contacts between the Federal Republic and the East Germans in connection with reunification instead of supporting the reunification by free elections. Of course the Germans had realized all during the past ten years that there was little prospect of achieving reunification. However it was essential not to abandon this policy. In this connection he cited the restraint that the Federal Government had shown with respect to discouraging East German refugees. This was only possible so long as the hope of free reunification were held out. Thus there seemed to be a divergence between us regarding the question of increased political contacts between the Federal Government and the GDR. The Federal Republic does not think that such contacts would tend to bring the two parts of Germany together, but rather that it would involve dangers like those involved in the Chinese situation in 1947. Moreover the Federal Republic considered that it would be prejudicial to future political settlement if it were left more or less alone as regards this question. Mr. Bundy said that he knew of nothing in US policy which could lead to the conclusions being stated by the Ambassador and asked what specifically the Ambassador was referring to. The Ambassador somewhat embarrassedly cited discussions he had had with the Secretary and [Page 530] Mr. Kohler along these lines. Mr. Bundy observed that these seemed to be related to questions like the proposed technical commissions.

The President then said he thought we should be looking for new approaches. He hoped there could be some formula found to improve the status of West Berlin without changing West Berlin’s ties with the Federal Republic or with the United States. He saw no real prospect of achieving reunification in the foreseeable future. He then asked what the Ambassador’s second difference was. The Ambassador replied that the second difference he saw was in the matter of European security. He said that the explanations in the President’s letter to Chancellor Adenauer6 had been helpful but still had not been sufficient to quell all the German uneasiness. He cited particularly US references to US-Soviet confrontation in Europe. The Germans regarded the confrontation of Soviet and American forces as a desirable situation rather than as a bad one. Some discussion ensued in which it was pointed out to the Ambassador that these references did not contemplate any disengagement but rather a reduction in the mass of the confrontation.

Returning to the subject of Berlin, the President commented that he would argue with General de Gaulle’s assumption that the present situation in West Berlin was a satisfactory one on which we should just stand pat. He himself considered it unsatisfactory in many respects and wanted to examine whether there were not some way in which it could be improved. Ambassador Grewe said he would agree with this in principle, but that he saw no prospect of being able to achieve any improvement. Rather he thought that we were faced with a situation in which the Soviets sought concessions from the West in return for a status quo minus in Berlin. He then cited the great impact of the events of August 13 in Berlin. He had visited Berlin during his trip to Germany and Mayor Brandt had told him that instead of a daily average of 500,000 border crossings before August 13 these were now reduced to about 500. The results of the building of the wall had been reflected in the results of the September 17 elections in Germany. All political analysts agreed that the Chancellor’s party had lost votes as a result of the Chancellor’s reserved and moderate position on this question.

The President then said he was sure that the German Government realizes that if negotiations on this subject fail there is a real prospect of a military engagement with the Soviets. Consequently he agreed that he and the Chancellor ought to meet and try to develop a uniform position. In this connection he cited an editorial in a German paper on his address at the UN which had read all kinds of non-existent “iffy” conclusions into his statements. The United States was not going to give Berlin away. [Page 531] However he wanted to be sure that when we come to the end of the road there will be no illusion and no basis for charges that a satisfactory arrangement could have been worked out if the West had tried negotiations instead of resorting to force.

Ambassador Grewe commented that he felt there was no misunderstanding in Germany about the US position. All Germans were satisfied as regards American determination with respect to what we define as the three vital interests. However he would point out that this is a narrow definition which does not include a range of interests which the Germans consider vital to them. He thought Khrushchev had been sufficiently warned and would be very careful not to take actions which would impinge on these three vital interests, but would rather seek to make inroads on German interests short of these.

The President commented that if the Chancellor saw dangers in the various proposals which were being discussed he would like to see the Federal Government put up proposals of its own which it would regard as acceptable. Perhaps we could then say what we considered to be wrong with those instead of just seeing our own ideas shot down. The Ambassador replied that the Germans did see possibilities but for the most part did not consider them realizable. In this connection he cited the statement he had made to the Ambassadorial group yesterday with regard to free access, Soviet recognition of West Berlin’s ties with the Federal Republic and the possibilities of an international autobahn. Mr. Bundy inquired about the German views on an all-Berlin proposal. The Ambassador replied that the Germans did not consider that these were realistically attainable, but felt that an all-Berlin proposal would be a useful opening in any negotiation and embarrassing for the Soviets to deal with. The President asked whether the Ambassador did not think that even if there were not good prospects for their realization, the West should put forward Western proposals which Khrushchev might reject. He felt that this might help to improve our position with our NATO allies. The Ambassador agreed that this could be true. However he said that he wanted to cite the record on the Western side which had been good. He had recently re-read the debates in the Bundestag in 1951-52 when the Soviet proposals for German reunification and neutralization were under consideration. He referred particularly to the speeches of Bundestag Deputy Fleiderer about the need for imaginative proposals. As a matter of fact in the ensuing years the West had put forward every proposal which had been conceived at that time which were wide ranging and imaginative. However he would agree that they had not been well publicized, perhaps because in the very nature of things Western proposals had become more complex.

The President then returned to the subject of his disagreement with the position of General de Gaulle. He cited the views which had been [Page 532] put forward by our NATO allies, mentioning in particular Norway, Belgium, Italy and the UK as expecting an effort at peaceful settlement. He understood, however, that the Federal Government favored a continuance of this effort with the Soviets. The Ambassador replied in the affirmative, but said the Federal Government hoped that common ground could be found among the four and limits of our position fixed. He then asked how Ambassador Thompson would proceed in Moscow in view of the French position. The President replied that he thought there would not be much profit in further discussions with the Russians until after he had met with the Chancellor. Ambassador Thompson could perhaps have one or two exploratory conversations, but he thought it important that he have a talk and reach agreement with the Chancellor.

As the meeting broke up Ambassador Grewe said he wanted to cite a small situation in Berlin which illustrated the problem of morale there. He then told the story of an installation in the center of West Berlin belonging to the East controlled railway which had been painted red and decorated with the GDR insignia and which was very upsetting to the West Berliners. He said the Western commandants had not yet decided what could be done about this. The President indicated that this would be looked into by the State Department.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762A.00/10-2561. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Kohler and approved by the White House on October 27.
  2. Regarding the Chancellor’s visit to Washington April 12-13, see Documents 1617; the memorandum under reference has not been further identified.
  3. A report on the Ambassadorial Group meeting on October 23 is attached to a memorandum from Kohler to Rusk of the same date. (Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/10-2361)
  4. Not printed. Dated October 21, the letter stated that the time had come for consultations on whether a basis for negotiations with the Soviets existed, and after reviewing the question of nuclear weapons, the Chancellor suggested that he discuss the issues personally with the President. (Ibid., Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204) Grewe had shown this letter to Rusk at a meeting on October 22 and discussed German policy along the lines of his conversation with the President. A memorandum of that conversation is ibid., Central Files, 762.00/10-2261. For Grewe’s account of these conversations, the drafting of the letter, and extracts from it, see Ruckblenden, pp. 507-511.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 187.
  6. See Document 176.