216. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting between President Kennedy and Chancellor Adenauer in the President’s Office


  • Germany
    • Chancellor Adenauer
    • Heinz Weber (Interpreter)
  • United States
    • President Kennedy
    • Mrs. Lejins (Interpreter)

The Chancellor recalled the recent incident involving German Ambassador Kroll. Khrushchev had called Mr. Kroll to come to see him to tell him how Ambassador Kroll envisaged further developments in the international situation.2 The Chancellor had carefully investigated what transpired and had asked Ambassador Kroll to come to see him. He now felt fully convinced that Ambassador Kroll could not have acted differently and could not have avoided the conversations with Khrushchev. There had for some time been a rather close relationship between Khrushchev and Kroll. Mr. Khrushchev had invited the latter repeatedly, even to his summer home, to discuss matters with him and it was therefore no surprise that he called Kroll on this occasion. The problem was that Kroll had not been fully informed of everything that had transpired in Washington in the meantime and, therefore, he had given some different versions of what developments might be. To be sure, he had done so purely as his personal opinion and much more had been made of this incident than was warranted. Following his discussion with Khrushchev, Ambassador Kroll had, that very same day, informed Ambassador Thompson and the other Western Ambassadors and had made no statement to the press himself. Shortly thereafter certain information leaked out in the press and the question was where the leaks had come from. From Russia? Or from one of the other three Western Allies? In any event, Mr. Adenauer felt that much more ado had been made about this than was justified.

[Page 591]

The President stated that Ambassador Thompson was convinced that the leak had come from the Soviets themselves.3 The President felt that an advantage of the meeting between him and the Chancellor would be that the next time Ambassador Kroll was called by Khrushchev to be questioned on what the position of the West or of Germany or of the US would be, Ambassador Kroll’s task would be easy since he would know exactly what answer to make. Therefore, a concerted stand should be worked out in these meetings. Under the circumstances, the President said that Ambassador Kroll had done the best he could. For this reason, he felt that his meeting with the Chancellor and the latter’s subsequent meetings with General de Gaulle and Prime Minister Macmillan should result in a firming up of a joint Western position so that there would be no doubt what Ambassador Kroll or Ambassador Thompson or any other Western Ambassador should answer if Khrushchev should question him in this matter.

The Chancellor fully agreed and stated that he felt obliged to admit, for the sake of the truth, that the German Foreign Office was not blameless in the matter, since it had not kept Ambassador Kroll fully informed on developments with reference to the Working Group in Washington. Ambassador Kroll speaks Russian fluently, which makes it on the whole rather easy for him to maintain good relations with the Soviets. However, Ambassador Kroll has strict orders never to speak with Khrushchev without any interpreter, so that the Foreign Office will have at all times a full transcript of everything that has been said based on the interpreter’s notes. The Chancellor was sure that he would have a visit by Ambassador Smirnov soon after his own Washington visit. Smirnov would no doubt come to sound him out on future developments. Smirnov had come to see him before the elections by order of Khrushchev, as he had told him. He had discussed many matters, and the Chancellor had a transcript of everything that was said. Smirnov had said nothing about Berlin, however. The Chancellor had then asked him about the Berlin wall, and Smirnov had evaded a reply. After the Chancellor repeated his inquiry and expressed his interest in this matter, Smirnov had said that he would be back after the elections. Therefore, the Chancellor expected that he would have a call soon. He then added that he recalled Ambassador Kroll telling him that Khrushchev had told the latter that the Berlin wall was his (Khrushchev’s) idea. Ulbricht’s shoulders were much too narrow for that kind of a burden. Khrushchev admitted that the wall was an ugly thing but he felt he had had to do it. The President, at this point said, yes, he supposed to cut off the stream of refugees. Adenauer replied that is the impression you have here, that [Page 592] the wall was put up to cut off the stream of refugees. But that is not the true reason. The stream of refugees increased to sizeable numbers only about two weeks before the wall was put up. Actually, shortly before any measure [was] put into effect by the Soviet Union the stream of refugees suddenly increased. This was the best indication that something was about to happen. Somewhere, somehow, the people get wind of some new oppressive measure and that is what sets off the stream of refugees. This, the Chancellor felt, brought him to the topic of Berlin, which is of such great concern to both the US and Western Germany. In this connection, he wished to state his frank opinion on a number of points which might be on the agenda at tomorrow’s meeting involving a military briefing. He would not care to express these opinions in a larger circle. The Russian Note regarding Berlin had been delivered in November of 1958,4 in other words, about three years ago. Since Mr. Khrushchev did not really insist on a solution of the problem within any very short period of time, the West had been inclined to believe that Khrushchev did not consider the Berlin question a very important one, otherwise he would not have left it pending for three years. This was a completely wrong assumption, however, since Mr. Khrushchev had made good use of the time to build up his conventional arms. Furthermore, when Khrushchev now speaks of no need for discussions this year or for some time to come, he is simply being very clever and sly.

[Here follow five pages of discussion of the future of the Soviet Union,NATO, Soviet-Finnish relations, and Austria.]

The President thanked the Chancellor for his views. He reminded the Chancellor that ever since 1945, and especially during the past ten years, the US had been very much concerned with strengthening Western Europe and cooperating ever more closely with the European community. The Chancellor had done more than anyone else toward solidifying Western Europe, and the US was now planning to pursue the type of economic policies and trade policies that would bring the US closer together with Europe. The present problem however, was to decide what to do vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and what to do with regard to negotiation. The President was of the opinion that the US and NATO were stronger from the nuclear standpoint now than they would be in another two to three years. This did not, he felt, apply to conventional weapons, but the ultimate type of weapon. Therefore, he felt, we might do as well or better in negotiating now than later. At the same time, the President was not overly optimistic concerning the success of the negotiations concerning Berlin; as a matter of fact he felt that the chances [Page 593] were rather our achieving success by these means. Nevertheless he felt that we must try to negotiate. Not only is there the problem of bringing our Allies along with us in the matter of Berlin, since they are not as committed to Berlin as we are, but we have our own nationals to deal with too. At the same time we cannot permit Khrushchev to go about voicing his desire for a peaceful settlement by way of negotiations without responding to it. Our task at the present time, as the President sees it, is first to decide whether to negotiate; secondly, how to associate the British and the French with these negotiations; thirdly, what to negotiate about; and fourthly, under what conditions to negotiate.

The Chancellor at this point made reference to the exploratory discussions carried on so far and indicated that they represented a fine attempt, the further usefulness of which was doubtful, however. He did not feel that there was much more room for additional discussions of this nature. He did not remember who originated the idea, but he had heard the suggestion that the Three Western Foreign Ministers meet with the German Foreign Minister in Paris in December to discuss the Western stand. He felt that this was a good idea and a step which must be taken. The Chancellor does not believe that Khrushchev wants war. He has so many troops deployed that he feels strong in case of a conventional war. At the same time, the Chancellor does not feel that Khrushchev wishes a nuclear war, since he knows that this would lay waste the Soviet Union and this he does not want to do. Khrushchev has emerged from the 22nd Party Congress at the height of his power within the Soviet Union, and there is an element of vanity in what he does because of his fabulous rise. The Chancellor felt that one must neither show fear to Khrushchev nor be impolite to him. He hopes that there can be negotiations on Berlin and he feels confident that such negotiations can be brought to a conclusion which will justify the expectations of the West by maintaining the freedom of Berlin, upholding Allied access to Berlin, and maintaining Western Germany’s economic, financial and other ties with Berlin. The Chancellor feels that this is possible.

The President then asked whether the Chancellor was of the opinion that if the Three Western Foreign Ministers met with the German Foreign Minister in Paris and completed the development of a Western position, that the time was then ripe for the Foreign Ministers to meet with the Soviets for further discussions. The Chancellor answered yes. The President indicated that he agreed with the Chancellor’s views on the limitations of further exploratory talks. He felt that these preparatory talks were not altogether satisfactory and must now move to a new forum. General de Gaulle had so far been unwilling to take part in any meetings for the purpose of working out a concerted Western position and talks with the Soviet Union since he maintained that all this was taking place under duress, to which he refused to yield. Since the deadline [Page 594] had now been removed the President felt the element of duress should be considered less at the present time, even though certain tensions continued. The President believed that the military briefings tomorrow (Tuesday, November 21) would convince the Chancellor that we would not need to talk from a position of military inferiority. But it was important to persuade General de Gaulle to take part in formulating a concerted stand, or the Alliance would be at odds and pulling in different directions. The only one who could really help us influence the General was, the President stated, the Chancellor.

The Chancellor promised to try and he hoped that he would succeed.

The President indicated that it would be disastrous if the West were to be divided. If General de Gaulle would not wish to go along with the West then the others might have to go on without him, and this was an unsatisfactory solution. Or else, the Western Allies would come to a complete standstill and that would give the initiative to the Soviet Union. The President was of the opinion that General de Gaulle was not opposed to negotiations with the Soviet Union as such, but he was afraid that such negotiations might not sufficiently take into account the interests of Western Germany and that consequently such negotiations might weaken the ties of the European Community and of the Atlantic Community. The President was of the opinion, first, that we should not enter into any negotiations which might threaten to weaken the ties between the Federal Republic and the West. He agreed with General de Gaulle that such negotiations would only help Khrushchev and not us. But he did not feel that we needed to enter into that kind of negotiations, since our military situation was not a critical one and therefore he felt we did not need to make concessions on that score. Secondly, while de Gaulle appears to feel that the mere will to negotiate is a confession of weakness, the President feels that this is not so. Moreover he feels that no advantage can be gained from a refusal to negotiate. He does not feel that the situation regarding Berlin will be improved by permitting it to continue for another year or two. The status quo in Berlin is not a happy one and it lays the population of Berlin open to further and continued harassment. This in itself is bad. We must negotiate in order to improve the lot of the Berlin population.

The Chancellor strongly agreed, stating that, unless the lot of the Berlin population is improved, their hopes will go down, capital will leave Berlin, and the situation will further deteriorate. The Chancellor intends to discuss these implications with the General and hopes to convince him that matters cannot be permitted to continue in this manner.

[Page 595]

The President expressed his opinion that further inaction on the part of the -West gives Khrushchev further psychological advantages. Mr. Spaak visited the President only today and at one point expressed the opinion that France would have to be isolated if de Gaulle held to his views.5 But France, in the President’s opinion, is the key to Europe and therefore every effort must be made to persuade de Gaulle.

The Chancellor was emphatic in stating that it would be wrong to isolate de Gaulle and France, and that, instead, both must be won over to the views of the other Western Allies.

The President agreed with this, stating that Spaak had expressed this opinion only in the event that such efforts were unsuccessful, but agreed that every effort must be made to win de Gaulle over. Again the President reiterated that the chief hope for winning over de Gaulle is the Chancellor. The General experienced some difficulties during World War II which have created certain reservations in him vis-à-vis the Anglo-Saxon world. de Gaulle is primarily a European.

In explanation of de Gaulle’s attitude, the Chancellor asked the President whether he knew the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Mr. Bech. Mr. Bech had told Adenauer about his experiences interpreting during the war for Churchill, de Gaulle, Roosevelt and even General Eisenhower. He indicated that de Gaulle was very badly treated by these gentlemen, and de Gaulle had confirmed this to the Chancellor. de Gaulle will never forget this. Moreover, the Chancellor reminded the President that the hostility existing between Britain and France is centuries old, much older, in fact than the enmity between France and Germany.

The Chancellor was very gratified to note that a real feeling of friendship and mutual appreciation has been created between the French and the German peoples.6

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1994. Secret. Drafted by Lejins and approved in the White House on November 27. In an unedited draft of the memorandum, the President and the Chancellor initially discussed leading political figures in each country. These 3 pages were not included in the source text. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 210.
  3. Thompson had transmitted his views in telegram 1517 from Moscow, November 13. (Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/11-1361)
  4. For text of the November 27, 1958, Soviet note, see Pravda, November 28, 1958; for an English translation, see Department of State Bulletin, January 19, 1959, pp. 81-89.
  5. A memorandum of Spaak’s conversation with the President at 10 a.m. is in Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/11-2061.
  6. The unedited draft of this memorandum of conversation concludes with the following three paragraphs:

    “The Chancellor stated that he wished to say only one more thing before joining the others in the Cabinet Room, but he wished the President to know that he felt very seriously about this. If it came to any clash between the West and the Soviet Union, then the West, including the US, could be stronger than the Soviet Union only if nuclear weapons were used from the very beginning. Otherwise, the West could not succeed.

    “President Kennedy replied by stating that the US position is that we will use nuclear weapons only if there were indications that they would be used against us, or it were apparent that conventional forces were defeating our conventional forces. This included the type of seizure of territory that the Chancellor had had reference to. Under the above circumstances the US was prepared to use nuclear weapons. That was the reason why we had so many nuclear weapons in Western Germany. They were for tactical as well as strategic purposes. The President continued by saying that even though we might have an agreement on the use of nuclear forces, we must continue to strengthen our conventional forces, if only to give more credibility to the strength and existence of our nuclear power. If Khrushchev does not see evidence of any conventional weapons of any consequence in our possession, then he will not believe that we have any nuclear weapons or intent to use them. For this reason the additional six billion dollars appropriated for military purposes since January have been spent one half on nuclear weapons and one half on conventional weapons.

    “The Chancellor expressed the hope that during his present visit he might have the chance to discuss nuclear weapons further. The President indicated that this might be particularly profitable after the military briefings.”

    At the conclusion of their private meeting the President and the Chancellor met with their senior advisers and reviewed the main points of their own discussion. The Chancellor suggested that he write immediately to President de Gaulle summarizing his conversation with the President and indicating his desire to discuss Berlin with him. The President thought this was a good idea. (Memorandum of conversation; ibid., Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1994)