217. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Negotiations on Berlin


  • American
    • Secretary
    • Mr. Ball, Mr. Kohler, Mr. McNamara, Ambassador Dowling,
    • Mr. Bohlen, Mr. Nitze, Mr. Hillenbrand
  • German
    • Foreign Minister Schroeder, Defense Minister Strauss,
    • Under Secretary Carstens, Ambassador Grewe, Mr. Krapf,
    • Mr. Schnippenkoetter, General Schnez, Mr. Simon,
    • Mr. Hille

Starting with the status of Berlin, the Secretary said he did not know whether the variance in legal interpretation between us and the Germans would make much difference in respect to what we said to the Soviets. He supposed we might try at the outset to get some sort of all-Berlin arrangement and try to bring down the wall. There was no reason to think this would succeed. We might then insist on the status quo, maintaining our rights or moving towards some sort of independent city of West Berlin free to make its own arrangements with the rest of the world. We would not contemplate anything which would weaken its ties with the Federal Republic.

[Page 597]

Foreign Minister Schroeder said the Germans thought it would be best to maintain the occupation rights as the source of rights. There was no reason to change the position of the three occupying powers, as the Soviets demanded, since there was no legal basis for the Communist claim that this would take place. On the basis of the maintenance of occupation rights the relationship between Berlin and the Federal Republic could be built.

The Secretary asked whether the Foreign Minister could comment on how he saw this working out in actual discussions with the Soviets. If the Soviets said that there was nothing to be discussed in regard to East Berlin, then the harder we would presumably stress the point that they would have correspondingly less right to have a voice in the affairs of West Berlin.

Schroeder observed that the Soviets accept the fact of the Western presence in Berlin on the basis of the right of conquest. There was no reason to eliminate this. The relations of the Federal Republic to Berlin had to be associated with this right of conquest. If the existing status were changed, then the West would be starting from a zero point and all relationships with Berlin would have to be established from the beginning. The West should, therefore, start with what it had now in any negotiations.

The Secretary indicated we could agree that in negotiations we should start with occupation rights. Any fresh arrangement would be superimposed on occupation rights which would remain in the background to be called upon if required. Schroeder agreed this was the German view. In dealing with the Soviets, the Secretary continued, we may find that agreed practical arrangements may turn out to rest upon different theories. For example, in agreeing on an independent city, the Soviets could claim their view while we would maintain occupation rights in the background. Schroeder pointed out that, from the aspect of international law, the West must emphasize legal occupation rights because this was the most convincing public argument open to it. The Secretary said he did not see how we could agree to a de facto incorporation of West Berlin into the Federal Republic and at the same time find a solid basis for access to West Berlin. Schroeder commented that there were mixed views in Germany on complete incorporation of West Berlin in the Federal Republic. His government took the view that, at least for the time being, there could be no full incorporation for the reason indicated. The Western source of access rights was linked directly to occupation rights and the Germans had no share of those rights.

The Secretary observed that we did not want to make too much a point of this, but he might mention that there was no question but that West Berlin was now our specific responsibility. The American people understood this. If West Berlin were incorporated into the Federal Republic, [Page 598]then we would in a sense become gendarmes for the Federal Republic. This would not be easy for the American public to understand. Schroeder said he fully agreed. Allied rights must overshadow the rights of the Federal Republic which must remain in the background. The Secretary wondered if we could not agree that what we are saying with respect to the status of West Berlin is essentially for ourselves. What we may say to the Soviets may go beyond this. For example, we might propose an all-Berlin solution, or we might say that, if you claim East Berlin is gone, then West Berlin is gone for you. We will strive very hard to protect the full freedom of action of West Berlin to maintain ties with the Federal Republic.

Schroeder indicated that the question of a plebiscite might arise in negotiations with the Soviets. If it did, it should first be proposed for all of Berlin, and only later for West Berlin.

The Secretary said he wondered if it made any difference to the Federal Republic if these relationships which were under discussion took the form of contractual arrangements or agreements. Schroeder commented that this, in fact, did create a problem because of the West German constitution. If relationships were put on a contractual basis then an amendment of the constitution might be necessary and this would be difficult in an internal constitutional sense. The Berliners and the West Germans would consider it the “status quo minus.” The problem was essentially a psychological one. The answer also depended partly on whether any great improvement of access could be achieved. If so, this would perhaps make handling of the constitutional problem somewhat easier. The Secretary asked if there could not be an understanding between West Berlin and the Federal Republic introduced by the statement that pending reunification or full implementation of the constitution, the Federal Republic and West Berlin would establish the following relationships. Schroeder said he believed the decision of the Supreme Constitutional Court was that Berlin was a Land of the Federal Republic, apart from certain Allied reservations. The Secretary's question could not be answered without further study. If, in a complete arrangement on Berlin, access thereto were improved, the status question would lose importance. This might be a means of bringing pressure on the Soviets. These legal questions were not so important from the viewpoint of the Federal Republic, but the Berliners' feeling of security depended on (a) the Allied guarantee, and (b) maintenance of vital ties with the Federal Republic. The Berliners were especially sensitive regarding the latter, and the psychological factor was, therefore, more important than the purely legal. There were many Federal offices in Berlin—some eighty in all. From the viewpoint of the Federal Republic these were perhaps not so important, but from the viewpoint of West Berlin the departure of any of them would be interpreted as the beginning [Page 599]of a general exodus. Removal of the Federal coat of arms from a building would be taken as a signal of withdrawal by the Berlin population. Mr. Kohler commented that we agreed the ties would stay as they are. The question was how to do this. The Ministers might even find independent status for the city consistent with our legal position, but this was obviously related to the improvements we could get. The question should be further studied.

Dr. Carstens asked whether the Soviets would not, in talks, say that the Berliners should decide their economic and cultural relations, but would strongly object to the maintenance of political ties. He, therefore, questioned whether this whole approach was useful. If we discussed relationships, the Soviets would try to impose all sorts of conditions on their agreement. The Secretary commented that if the Soviets insisted that East Berlin could not be discussed, then we would say that West Berlin could not be discussed. We cannot accept the claim that what's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable as a basis for discussion. But we may need some formula so that the Soviets could say that this is what they were talking about.

With respect to access, the Secretary stated that, in his talks with Gromyko, he had emphasized that there could be no diminution in our access to West Berlin. We have the impression that the Soviets will try to apply pressure to uncontrolled forms of access, especially air. We have taken the view that both military and civilian access is a part of our occupation rights. We have taken the position that civilian access is important. We would not accept East German censorship on air access; they would use this to suffocate the city. We have also taken the position that our access rights are not subject to negotiation between the Soviets and the GDR. The Soviets cannot give away something they do not have. If we could improve or reinforce our rights, so much the better, but it seems that the West Germans want to add to our rights by specific coverage of civilian access. Schroeder said the Federal Republic would like to see the agreement specifically cover civilian rights of access. He could see that there is a difference in view. The Federal Republic says that civilian rights depended on Allied rights. This was recognized in the Jessup-Malik agreement of 1949.2 The IZT agreement of 1960, which was the first to link the trade agreement to Berlin access, used very vague language to the effect that any concern that traffic might be disturbed or impaired by either of the participating parties was completely unfounded. A permanent solution to the civilian access problem could only be reached if this were blanketed into occupation access rights.

[Page 600]

The Secretary observed that our position was that the right of the occupying powers is that Berlin have free access. Any mention in the IZT of civilian access was in addition thereto. The Secretary asked whether the Germans could see any practical effect in covering German access in an agreement. Dr. Carstens said an agreement should include civilian access. After some discussion it was agreed that the term “civilian access” rather than “German access” should be used for purposes of clarity.

Mr. Kohler observed that the problem seemed to be more a semantic one than a substantive one. What we want is at least one uncontrolled means of access. If this can be obtained on the Autobahn so much the better, but at least it should be uncontrolled in the air. But we can never establish this as a formal right in an agreement at the present time. As in the period of the air lift, under crisis conditions we would assimilate civilian access into military access. Ambassador Grewe commented that the crucial problem is in the wording of the access guarantee. We cannot refer only to Allied personnel. German civilian traffic must be covered as well. The Federal Republic was not seeking express guarantees or a formula seeking new rights. Mr. Kohler made the point that the longer civilian traffic could be covered by the IZT the better. We do not want the present practical arrangements for civilian access to be disturbed. If after the peace treaty the East Germans want to deal with the Federal Republic on a government-to-government level regarding trade, they would have to consider the question before throwing the responsibility for access to the Allies. Schroeder said that the Federal Republic had no agreement on access with the East Germans outside of the IZT. It could not be assumed that this would suffice in the long run. Civilian access had to be covered by the Allied mantle to avoid pressure in the years to come.

The Secretary said that if you and we are clear that we will not accept any dimunition in our access rights and these include both military and civilian access, and at least one important means of access must be beyond East German control, then it did not seem necessary to go beyond this. He asked Dr. Carstens and Mr. Kohler to try to arrive at an agreed formulation of the discussion.

With respect to “dealings” with the GDR, Foreign Minister Schroeder said here was a subject on which the Federal Republic had considerable skepticism. One overestimated the capacity of the Federal Republic if one imagined that anything reasonable could come out of negotiations between the West Germans, acting on behalf of the Western powers, and the East Germans. The Federal Republic has no real means of exercising pressure on the GDR. The Allies must therefore keep matters in their own hands without regard to how unpleasant this might be in terms of dealing with the GDR. He cited his own experience [Page 601]as Minister of the Interior to show how the GDR could bring pressure on the Federal Republic with respect to Berlin access. The Federal Republic was not able to tighten border controls directed against the GDR because it feared reprisals against Berlin access. This weakness arose from the pure facts of geography. If the GDR deliberately disturbed Allied access, the Federal Republic could not do very much. It was ready to help on technical difficulties. The Secretary commented that we have said to the Soviets that we will not negotiate with the GDR on access. We have said such negotiations must be between the three Allied powers and the Soviets. Under the circumstances such an understanding might be superimposed on the Soviet-GDR peace treaty. This could clarify the access problem, but the sanction behind access would still be our presence in West Berlin as well as the Federal Republic's trade with the GDR. What we are concerned about is the situation which would result if there is a peace treaty and the Soviets simply leave the access checkpoints. No one will then be there except East German officials. We had assumed that the Federal Republic would prefer to handle technical arrangements with the East Germans through West Germans.

Schroeder commented that the GDR would respect the Allies more than the Federal Republic. It would be a difficult situation if the Federal Republic were to discuss procedures and formalities with the GDR and then arrived at agreements which affected the Allies. He could understand the Allied principle that the Western powers did not speak with the GDR. The solution, therefore, was to set forth the arrangements so clearly in an agreement with the Soviets that everything thereafter would be automatic and no further discussions would be necessary. The Secretary observed that perhaps some measure of misunderstanding arose out of a different view as to the kind of dealings we had in mind. These would not involve the question of our rights but such matters as traffic control. If our rights were established, we had thought the Federal Republic would prefer to do that sort of thing rather than have us do it directly. Schroeder said he could understand how the US could say that it is in the interests of the Federal Republic to deal with the GDR rather than the Allies. But the other side was full of tricks. If you have an agreement on access the GDR will want to codify this. It will make additional demands which are not acceptable to the West. The Federal Republic could not reduce these demands and the Western powers would have to intervene. This would put the Federal Republic in an impotent and laughable position. He referred particularly here to such matters as inspection, documentation, etc. Ambassador Grewe said the Federal Republic would always be willing to talk to the East Germans as far as controls applying to civilian traffic were concerned. Allied traffic was now being discussed. If the Soviets disappeared, a problem would be to whom the Allies might talk. The difficulty was that Federal Republic [Page 602]discussions with the GDR on control procedures at the checkpoints, documentation, stamps, inspections left the Federal Republic in a weak position because these matters were too intimately connected with Allied access rights.

The Secretary said that we needed to make our understanding with the Soviets sufficiently clear. We would hold them responsible under the agreement. If differences arose and no satisfaction was obtainable, then we would complain to the Soviets. Indeed if the West Germans made an unacceptable agreement for us, we would say we did not like it. The point really was whether, with respect to the some 5% of total traffic involved, the Germans would prefer that we make the arrangements at the checkpoints or the Federal Republic would prefer to do this as a part of the total picture. Schroeder commented that he thought it would be better for the Allies to do it despite the unpleasant implications for recognition. This was more consistent with the German position on civil traffic which they wished to have protected under the Allied umbrella. In this instance the legal point on non-recognition was less important than effective maintenance of access. Dr. Carstens observed that if there were physical interference, for example, damage to a bridge, this could be taken care of by the Federal Republic. If, however, it were a question of checkpoint procedures, control of luggage, identification of personnel, etc., there was no purpose in having West Germans talk to East Germans about this. This was the very issue to be discussed with the Soviets. The principle was that the Federal Republic would talk to the East Germans so far as it could. For the rest, the Western powers should talk to the Soviets. The Secretary noted that talking in Moscow would not help much when a practical problem arose at the checkpoints. Dr. Carstens observed that if the East Germans made trouble it would only be with Soviet approval. The Secretary said we may be using “talk” in a different sense. We would not negotiate with the GDR regarding our rights of access, but if a car breaks down and needs help or there are traffic questions that would be something different. Dr. Carstens said he thought this point required more study. It was necessary to distinguish between the different types of cases which might arise.

[Page 603]

The Secretary suggested that perhaps UN assistance on the access routes might help solve some of these problems. International civil servants might serve a useful function in this connection. Dr. Carstens commented that they would also add to the difficulties of the situation. If an International Access Authority were obtained that would solve the problem. Even without such an Authority, the Secretary observed, international officials at the key points might provide the answer. Schroeder said he saw no trouble in this. Dr. Carstens, however, indicated he did not have much confidence in such a solution. The Foreign Minister maintained his view that, if this point arose in discussions, the Federal Republic could not object. The Secretary said the Soviets might claim that this would interfere with GDR sovereignty. He said an agreement might attempt to specify a little more in detail the kinds of arrangements now in effect with the Soviets at the checkpoints. In any case there could be no negotiations with respect to Allied rights of access.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/11-2161. Secret. Drafted by Hillenbrand and approved in S on November 26. The meeting was held in the Secretary's Conference Room at the Department of State.
  2. For text of this agreement, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. III, p. 751.