206. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Berlin: Next Step with the Soviets


  • Sir David Ormsby Gore, British Ambassador
  • The Secretary
  • Assistant Secretary Foy D. Kohler
  • Joseph Sweeney—BNA

Sir David Ormsby Gore opened the discussion by pointing out that his Foreign Minister thought it was becoming rather dangerous to wait much longer before continuing the probe with the Soviets. It was dangerous in the British view to wait until the Adenauer visit had been completed. It was doubted whether we should wait on the conclusion of the Friedrichstrasse difficulty. The British did not feel that we should wait until we received a reply from the Soviets.

The Secretary observed that we are not sure we will get one. Mr. Kohler pointed out that we think we might, and in any event they owe us a reply. Mr. Kohler said the President might do a little probing on his own on this aspect at his press conference tomorrow.3

Sir David asked whether we wanted a reply. Mr. Kohler explained that with our present stance we just about had to have a reply. Sir David relayed the impression that British Ambassador Sir Frank Roberts had received following a lunch with Sobolev to the effect that the Russians might become impatient. The Secretary asked if this was the case why didn't the Soviets ask some questions of us?

Sir David observed that he understood Ambassador Thompson feels debarred from discussing this matter at the moment. It was his impression that Ambassador Thompson felt he should stick to Friedrichstrasse at the moment and get that out of the way first. Mr. Kohler confirmed that was the way he was instructed. Sir David reported [Page 563]that Lord Home wondered whether perhaps Thompson should not be instructed to go ahead and have talks with the Russians. If this were done Ambassador Roberts could follow up with talks and this would hold the position until at least late November and Adenauer would have been here and we would know the Western position.

The Secretary said it was risky to allow delay but also risky to go too fast until we see the color of the eyes of the French and Germans and have determined the negotiating posture of the West. Sir David suggested that our present stance will look fairly strange to the Russians. We have, as he put it, bounced them off the 31st of December deadline and he wondered what they would think of this delay. The Secretary asked if he did not think the line we took on the Adenauer visit as an obvious reason requiring delay would hold them off. Sir David answered that perhaps this would, but he feared the Soviets might take the line that the Americans always do what Adenauer wants them to do.

Sir David then suggested there was a danger that the Friedrichstrasse problem will prove larger than we had thought. The Secretary pointed out that he had told Gromyko there should be no unilateral action. Furthermore, the Secretary pointed out, the Friedrichstrasse problem with the aspect of civilians and identification-showing so undermines the position the U.S. and the U.K. had taken that this was a source of worry to the allies, and he suggested the Soviet action may have been taken for just that purpose. What better action could the Soviets take with the French and Germans than to say we told you so?

The Secretary asked Sir David if he had heard the Humphrey discussion of Berlin on TV.4 Sir David said no but he had read the account. The Secretary explained this stand seemed to be growing in our country: namely that we should not be the “fall guy” for people who do not want to get hurt. The Secretary smilingly suggested that perhaps we should not use the expression, “fall guy”, but Sir David could translate that before sending it to London. The Secretary informed Sir David that there was some force in the point he had made and we would take it under consideration and would let him know.

Sir David added that Lord Home was rather nervous because he felt that the real point was not the date of Friedrichstrasse but the date of the probe and he feels that nothing is happening. The Secretary observed that all that has happened during the past two or three weeks does not encourage us to probe too far. Mr. Kohler said that for every Sobolev lunch, and he didn't know how well informed he was, there [Page 564]were many other indications that the Soviets were not exerting pressure. Sir David suggested that their national celebrations on at this time might be a factor in not exerting pressure, but we might expect pressure after these celebrations and he observed that there was a suggestion of pressure in Khrushchev's wind-up statement about “not stringing us along”. The Secretary reiterated that we will take a quick and thorough look and Sir David would hear from us within the next day or so.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/11-861. Secret. Drafted by Sweeney, initialed by Kohler, and approved in B and S on November 21.
  2. Although the source text is dated November 8, the reference to the President's press conference in the second paragraph indicates that the conversation took place on November 7. On November 6 Lord Hood had held a similar conversation with Kohler. A memorandum of this conversation is ibid., 762.00/11-661.
  3. For a transcript of the President's press conference on November 8, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 701-709.
  4. For a summary of Senator Humphrey's remarks on November 6, see The New York Times, November 7, 1961.