24. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1
2887. In order repeat interested missions this message not highly classified but trust will be handled with great discretion. I shall give abbreviated account British, French and German colleagues.
Yesterday AM Kuznetsov phoned to say K would be attending American ice revue and hoped I would be present. On arrival my wife and I were taken directly to his box. He was accompanied by Furtseva, Kuznetsov, Troyanovsky, and his son and daughter-in-law. At intermission we sat down to supper in adjoining room and did not return to revue.
K said frankly he had seen enough ice shows and invitation was excuse for discussion forthcoming meeting with President. He said he expected leave Sat or Sun by rail stopping in Kiev for some relaxation as well as Lvov and Bratislava where he would spend 30 hours. He expects arrive Vienna about noon June 2. He will be accompanied by wife and daughter-in-law.
Conversation ranged over wide field and as I could take no notes sequence following report may not be exact but essentials were as follows:
He revealed plainly he was troubled by problem how deal with President on question Berlin. He would not make same approach to President as he was now making to me although he knew I would report our current conversation. This was different matter however than for him and President to have discussion on this delicate problem in front of their assistants. In general he took same line with me as he had with Kroll stating if no agreement reached on Berlin they would sign separate peace treaty in fall or winter after German elections and probably after Party Congress. This would end our occupation rights and East Germans would control communications. He realized this would bring period of great tension but he was convinced would not lead to war. German reunification was impossible and in fact no one really wanted it including de Gaulle, Macmillan and Adenauer. He said de Gaulle had told him not only should Germany remain divided but would be even better if it were divided in three parts.
I told him with utmost seriousness it was my duty as Ambassador to see that he was under no misunderstanding of our position and that if [Page 67]he signed separate treaty and force was used to interfere with our communications it would be met with force. He replied if we wanted war we would get it but he was convinced only madman would want war and Western leaders not mad though Hitler had been. I said our prestige was deeply engaged in our pledge to people of Berlin and we would carry out our commitment. When he plugged their free city proposal I said frankly we were bound to be suspicious of emphasis they put upon changing basis of our rights there and reduction of our troops. When he said nothing would really be changed I asked about our access and he replied frankly this would be prevented except by agreement with East Germans. When he denigrated importance of Berlin I inquired why then should he take such risks over it and observed while he might not want Berlin, Ulbricht clearly did. I pointed out he had himself observed our troops had no military value. He repeated many times throughout conversation it was 16 years after war and necessary put end to occupation. Under my pressing he said one reason for action was that so long as question remained in present status Adenauer would aspire to make Berlin capital of West Germany. In this connection he referred to talk of Bundestag meeting in Berlin. I probed further to find out what elements of problem were of greatest importance to him and mentioned refugees. He brushed this aside and said Berlin was running sore which had to be eliminated. I said although problem had existed for 16 years we had survived that period without too great difficulty. We could not stop him from signing peace treaty but important question was whether our rights were interfered with. He repeated categorically our access would be prevented. He said they would not touch our troops in Berlin but they might have to tighten their belts.
He said however they would not impose blockade. When he reverted to question of frontiers and said this was of great importance to Poles and Czechs and was disturbing factor I expressed personal opinion that if this were heart of problem it would not be too difficult to handle. He expressed great interest in this but I refused to be drawn further. At one time when he was again talking of horrors of war but his determination to face it if necessary he said he could not believe we would bring on such catastrophe. I pointed out it was he who would be taking action to change present situation. To this he replied we would be ones who would have to cross frontier. To emphasize seriousness our position I said I thought in West we looked at matter in following way. If we gave in to his pressure we would lose West Berlin and this would probably lead to loss of West Germany and Europe. When he challenged this position I said psychological effect would be disastrous to our position. He said their proposal had been designed to save our prestige. I said it would not do so. He referred to proposals they had made to Adenauer and said they were prepared to accept temporary Berlin solution to [Page 68]allow two German sides negotiate but said clearly if they did not agree at end of given period peace treaty would be concluded with two Germanies. He knew we would not agree and he would sign separate treaty.
Perhaps one of his most revealing remarks was when I suggested situation might be left as it is. He declared with some heat that we apparently wished to damage their prestige and said matter could not go beyond fall or winter this year. He reminded me his original plan had been to act within 6 months. Thirty months have now passed. He threw out possibility of our each reducing our troops in Germany by say one-third. [5-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]
He seemed to be groping for some possible way out of impasse and I therefore put forward in guarded terms as purely personal suggestion my thought that we might agree to put matter off for number of years on basis of our Geneva package proposal. He repeated matter could not wait and that this was problem which was spoiling all our relations. He was convinced if this problem could be solved we could make much progress on our many other problems. These other problems were serious but none of them was vital as was German problem. When I said our Geneva proposals had not been bad he said in any event Western Ministers had withdrawn them. I thought it best not to deny this but also not to confirm it. In presenting my suggestion I said this would give us time to approach disarmament question calmly and success in this would facilitate solution of German problem. He said frankly disarmament impossible as long as Berlin problem existed. He ignored my question how long Ulbricht needed to consolidate his regime to point where he could face free choice of people, making remark it was question of different social systems. In this part conversation he referred to fact we had prevented Soviet Union from collecting reparations from Germany but we agreed no point raking over past history.
Early in conversation K stated he had read President’s remarks to Soviet journalists2 and said he approved of them. He expressed admiration for President but said with obvious pleasure that President had made error in Cuban affair. When I observed Cuban affair put President in even more difficult position in tackling German problem he said he fully understood this. He also referred several times to his talk with Eisenhower and said he had strong impression Eisenhower understood Berlin question could not be left unresolved and had it not been for U-2 agreement might have been reached at summit meeting. He referred frequently to items in our press commenting on what he would and wouldn’t do about Germany and said he was convinced Allen Dulles’ [Page 69]agents were heating up Berlin problem deliberately. I of course denied this categorically.
In discussing his Berlin proposal he said they asked only addition of symbolic Soviet forces in West Berlin. He categorically rejected my mention of possibility an all-Berlin solution.
Other subjects and comment in septels.3
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/5-2461. Confidential; Niact; Limit Distribution. Repeated to London, Paris, and Bonn.↩
- For an account of President Kennedy’s remarks to group of Soviet journalists on May 22, see The New York Times, May 23, 1961.↩
- In telegram 2890 from Moscow, May 24, Thompson added that Khrushchev seemed “most anxious” that the talks with President Kennedy should “go well,” and stated that he was convinced that Khrushchev was “deadly serious” about concluding a separate treaty. Telegram 2898, also May 24, transmitted a list of minor items discussed with Khrushchev. (Both in Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/5-2461)↩