23. Telegram From Secretary of State Rusk to the Department of State1

Secto 27. Bonn pass USBER Berlin info 4. Following based on uncleared memorandum of conversation:2

Lengthy quadripartite discussion of Berlin last night revolved around three points noted Secto 13.3

On timing of German reply to Soviet memorandum February 17, von Brentano agreed this could wait until after President’s visit to de Gaulle. Pointed out, however, that too much delay in reply might give German political opposition basis for charging that Government deliberately stalling. Meanwhile quadripartite consultations on text should proceed.

Ministers generally agreed that there was no basis for Western initiative to open negotiations with Soviets on Berlin. Von Brentano stressed that any change in status of Berlin likely to be deterioration and that peace treaty between Soviets and GDR could have no legal effect but might serve as instrument to achieve greater recognition of GDR among noncommitted countries. In response to Lord Home’s query whether there were any price Germans prepared to pay to prevent peace treaty, such as interim arrangement for 18-24 months while West and East Germans tried to settle question, Von Brentano strongly opposed any idea of all-German talks. Apart from problem of sitting down with GDR regime which lacked meaningful mandate, such talks could only lead to anything if FedRep prepared to make concessions which would jeopardize freedom of West Germans and threaten entire Western Alliance. However, Von Brentano did not exclude possibility of eventual Four-Power negotiations in response to Home’s conclusion that implication of discussion was that even if Soviets offered negotiations and put forward seemingly attractive proposal, West would have no negotiating position and could do no more than simply say to Soviets they should go ahead and sign their peace treaty and face consequences.

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Couve made point that German fear of initial interference with civilian rather than Allied military access did not correspond to likely development of situation. Civilian access already controlled by GDR, and arrangements could be worked out by East and West Germans as before. Direct threat following signing of peace treaty was to Allied military traffic which thereafter would presumably no longer be processed by Soviets. He reiterated his belief that Soviets were completely serious about Berlin as of vital interest to them and West must accordingly expect them to proceed with announced intention of signing peace treaty and turning over responsibility to GDR. Couve saw no reason why West could not negotiate with Soviets on Berlin as in 1959 at Geneva. Essential basis preservation freedom of West Berlin was continuation Western military presence, but this need not be at present force levels.

Ministers agreed that possible misconception on part of Khrushchev re Allied firmness of intentions on Berlin, as indicated his recent conversation with German Ambassador Kroll,4 could be highly dangerous and that means of correcting this should be given serious consideration.

In response Secretary’s query, Von Brentano vigorously denied that determination of West Berliners had softened with increasing prosperity or that interest of West Germans in Berlin not passionate. Loss of Berlin would have disastrous effect in FedRep, he mentioned, and hence on entire Western Alliance. At several points Von Brentano made strong plea for full German participation in Western contingency planning to which he felt FedRep had important contribution to make. This would not derogate from basic tripartite responsibility for Berlin. Secretary noted would be helpful to have from Germans exposition of what they felt to be responsibility of FedRep for Berlin including legal respects. Noting NATO interest this subject at Ministerial Council meeting in afternoon,5 he also made point that Western Powers should move ahead on contingency planning so report could be made to NATO.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1860. Secret. Drafted by Hillenbrand on May 8 and authorized by Kohler. Repeated to Bonn, Paris, London, and Moscow. Rusk was attending the North Atlantic Council Ministerial Meeting in Oslo.
  2. A copy of this 9-page memorandum of conversation (US/MC/10) is ibid., CF 1862.
  3. Secto 13, May 8, transmitted a summary of a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of France, the United States, and the United Kingdom at 9:30 p.m. on May 7 at which they agreed to discuss with Brentano the following three questions: 1) timing of the German reply to the Soviet memorandum of February 17; 2) should the West take the initiative for negotiations with the Soviet Union; and 3) should the West try to correct Khrushchev’s apparent mistaken view on Western firmness on Berlin. (Ibid., CF 1860)
  4. See Document 19.
  5. Summaries of the discussion of the international situation by the North Atlantic Council on May 8 were transmitted in Sectos 15 and 19, May 8 and 9, respectively. (Department of State, Central Files, 396.1-OS/12-861 and 396.1-OS/12-961)