242. Memorandum From the Legal Adviser (Chayes) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Next Steps on Berlin
Time is not on our side in Berlin. The Western position there is disappearing—not with a bang but with a whimper. Unless we take affirmative steps, the process will continue. The Communists will both publicize and accelerate it with an abundant repertory of harassing tactics.
For the moment, the West continues to have a limited power of initiative. A sufficiently positive move towards negotiations would stabilize the situation for the time being. However, the Soviets could eliminate this remaining room for maneuver by minor unilateral action (e.g., inviting delegates to a peace conference). We could not act in response to the direct pressure of a unilateral change in the status quo.
The French should not have a veto over this initiative. We have consulted openly and frankly over a period of more than four months in a more than conscientious effort to meet French objections. Our obligation as an ally is fully discharged. It does not require us to permit the French to block a course suggested by our own appraisal of our national interest and in which the rest of the alliance unanimously concurs.
Further probing by Ambassador Thompson in Moscow is not an effective initiative. Unless he moves into the range of outright negotiation, the talks will be unproductive. Even so negotiations at the ambassadorial level pursued quietly and as a matter of routine leave considerable latitude for unilateral pressures by the Soviets. Thus, they do not effectively stabilize the situation.
Bilateral negotiations at the foreign ministers level would be an effective alternative. In calling for such a meeting we should put forward our proposals for improving access and securing Western presence in Berlin, without necessarily responding to any of the Soviet demands. We [Page 695] would undertake to secure the adherence of our allies if the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. could reach agreement. In practice, we would consult very fully during the negotiations with the Germans and the British and, to the extent they permit it, the French.
Rusk-Gromyko negotiations would have the following advantages:
They would be overt enough to stabilize the situation, but small enough to be relatively private.
They would be at a level which would satisfy both our own public and the allies that we had made a serious try for a negotiated solution.
The British would be spared the need to join up with us against the French.
We could smoke out the Russians without being fully committed on our side thus retaining some of the characteristics of probe.
Although there are disadvantages for the Russians, the prospects of engaging us in bilateral talks may be sufficiently attractive to bring them along.
If such a course is to be followed an announcement should be made soon to pre-empt any Soviet initiative. The forthcoming consultations with Prime Minister Macmillan afford a good opportunity for discussing the possibilities. A decision could be made at the end of the talks, permitting a Christmas announcement which might have certain psychological advantages. In order not to give the appearance of an Anglo-American plot, both the French and the Germans should be notified in advance if we plan to discuss this kind of initiative in the Bermuda talks.2
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/12-1961. Secret. Drafted and initialed by Chayes and sent through McGhee and Kohler.
  2. On December 20 Kohler, in a memorandum to Rusk, commented that while a meeting with Gromyko did offer one of the few available alternatives, he preferred to start with a probe by Thompson. (Ibid., 762.00/12-2061) On December 23 McGhee also sent a memorandum to Rusk, indicating that both Bohlen and Kohler favored an approach by Thompson, and stating that his basis for judgment did not allow him to take a contrary position. (Ibid., 762.00/12-2361)