251. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State1

1840. I made almost literal presentation my instructions2 para 1 through first part para 11 except I did not stop after para 4 and made appropriate change in para 9 in order be certain opportunity get in remarks about developments in Berlin.

Gromyko prefaced response with statement my presentation required serious thought and consideration, but he was prepared to give preliminary reaction. Referred to my statement emphasizing importance access as main problem and disagreed stating main question is conclusion German peace treaty in order write finish to World War II. He agreed access important but only as part of general question peace treaty, it is not possible, therefore, discuss access in isolation. He added that to agree discuss access without linking it with other relevant questions and primary question peace treaty would be tantamount accepting viewpoint other side as prerequisite to discussions, at least as far as order of points is concerned.

Gromyko then referred to his discussions with Secretary and President pointing to “complicated formulations” used by them in referring to results these talks and their suggestion procedure and not substance was center of these discussions. However, he stated, conversations covered many important questions all related to drawing a line under World War II. He continued that it follows from these statements Soviet Govt wants agreement on peace treaty which would be signed with both German states which would be in common interest all sides and in support of peace. In these conversations, he stated, it was made clear if no agreement possible, Soviet Union together with other states is prepared sign unilateral treaty with all ensuing consequences for West Berlin and Allied access thereto. If no agreement possible and unilateral treaty signed, Allied powers would bear responsibility make arrangements for access in agreement with GDR.

Gromyko stressed that at same time USSR has declared more than once that they do not rule out agreement on basis four-power agreement, to be concluded prior to signature of a peace treaty, which would [Page 721] establish status for West Berlin. After that Soviet Union would conclude peace treaty with GDR to which prior West Berlin agreement could be appended. Soviet Govt agrees such an agreement reached prior to a peace treaty would include Allied access to West Berlin. “This would not as far as I could determine in my New York and Washington talks be contradictory to Western position and wishes regarding access. Best resolution would of course be conclusion peace treaty or peace treaties with both German states but other courses possible. Gromyko emphasized if understanding reached on status West Berlin, would be possible resolve access question on basis satisfactory to all parties, i.e. West, Soviet Union and GDR. However when understanding devised, arrangements would be necessary to reflect and ensure respect for sovereign rights of GDR.” Gromyko reiterated his desire emphasize that prior agreement on status would open possibility for access agreement. “Therefore it would seem prospects now open for satisfactory solution access question which is of primary interest to Western powers”.

Gromyko stated he considers it possible reach agreement on this as well as on other questions which were touched on in discussions with Secretary and President and with which he was sure I was familiar. He wished to emphasize, however, access question could not be isolated from resolution other questions. We knew very well they were in favor strict guarantee for access. Other questions to be resolved concern both Berlin and Germany and wider question European security which was raised by Secretary Rusk himself.

Gromyko then addressed himself question recognition GDR stating apprehensions raised in his mind by my statement that during New York talks he had seemed recognize fact US cannot recognize GDR de jure or de facto. In actual fact, he stated, you already recognize GDR de facto. He cited Khrushchev that most correct solution this question would be UN membership and diplomatic recognition both German states but Soviet Govt recognizes this is question for each govt to decide itself. However he stated it is impossible resist fact of existence of GDR. Pointed to fact Soviets do not have relations with Portugal or Ireland but do not deny their existence. “We urge US take more sober position more in line actual situation.” Stressed that objectively it is possible reach agreement on questions of interest to both sides on basis satisfactory to both sides, but it is essential realistic position be adopted on these issues.

Gromyko then commented on my statements regarding developments in Berlin including construction of the wall. Stated would not dwell at length on this question since Soviet and GDR positions well publicized. “So-called wall” and other GDR measures were taken in response to threats emanating from West Berlin and US desire use West Berlin as center of diversion against GDR and other socialist countries. Regarding checking documents US personnel desiring enter East Berlin, [Page 722] this stems from GDR sovereignty. “Our appropriate personnel are willing present documents in order enter West Berlin,” and it is only logical both sides have similar procedures. We do not consider that any of these measures such as checking identification should lead to complications in Berlin. There exist more important questions to resolve “in order avoid any collision”.

Gromyko continued it would be wrong to draw conclusion they are prepared to leave West Berlin situation unchanged. This is quite impossible in view threat present situation in Central Europe. “It was announced at Party Congress that we decided not to look upon Dec 31 as fatalistic date. This so-called deadline is now behind us and we took this decision in order to facilitate understanding with the Western powers.”

Gromyko expressed surprise over my references to possibility all-Berlin solution. He stated if plan exists to raise question in this manner, no discussion will be possible. “I have to repeat, this question cannot be discussed.” He continued, East Berlin is completely integrated into GDR. West Berlin is the problem precisely because its social system is different. “Western powers recognize this when you speak of desire to preserve freedom West Berlin, in other words, special social system in West Berlin.” Gromyko stressed contention Soviet position obviously designed facilitate agreement with Western powers.

I then discussed question sector controls imposed on Allied personnel, pointing out actions by East German authorities amount to effort to force us to recognize GDR sovereignty in East Berlin. As Gromyko aware in latest development, even our Commandant has been prevented from visiting his Soviet counterpart. This is a serious problem although separate from the one we are talking about today. Regarding peace treaties, our position is well known. We believe there should be one treaty with one Germany. As far as access question is concerned, I recognize one could not reach complete and final agreement without knowledge prospects other aspects of problem.

However, I continued, access question important whether or not we reach agreement on Berlin. I stated in his talks with the Secretary, Gromyko had mentioned necessity to respect sovereignty of GDR. We would be interested in knowing what this means. For example, would GDR have right determine who travels from West Berlin to West Germany and back?

I pointed out as Secretary had stated, we do not desire be in position buying same horse over and over again. If Berlin agreement reached and access not secure, arrangement would not be satisfactory in our eyes. One way resolve this question would be to establish corridor under our control. However, we have also given thought to possibility establishing international authority responsible for Berlin access facilities, without exercising sovereign right over territory of FRG or GDR [Page 723] authorities or West Berlin. I quoted from BQD 37,3 pointing out authority would include Berlin-Helmstedt Autobahn and traffic in the Berlin air control zone and discussed composition of authority governing body. I stressed such an authority would greatly reduce possibility friction between us and hoped proposal would receive Soviet Govt’s serious consideration.

In closing, I pointed out our belief all-Berlin solution preferable and if rejected would naturally have serious effect on our view as to how far arrangements regarding West Berlin could go. I agreed we were, of course, prepared to discuss questions other than access but these would be dependent upon nature access arrangement and that is why issue raised first.

Gromyko responded first to the question regarding GDR sovereignty. What he meant was in course of arrangements GDR would give its consent and become one of parties who would agree to respect obligations of the prior agreement. “I am not speaking of what form this obligation would take, only of the substance. If we reach agreement, GDR by accepting obligations under this agreement would thereby protect its sovereignty.” It goes without saying any agreement would have to include specific clauses regarding protection GDR sovereignty.

Regarding corridors, Gromyko stated Soviet position on first alternative suggested well known. Such proposal would be entirely incompatible GDR sovereignty. Regarding second, as he called it, variation, Gromyko stressed he couldn’t speak definitively but his impression is it would create a state within a state. However, he added, this is something requiring detailed study and he reserved right make additional comments regarding it. Gromyko then returned to what he termed inacceptability isolating access from rest of West Berlin problem. He stressed that in his talks with Secretary Rusk and the President neither side attempted to limit area conversation. He stressed this question linked with other problems and particularly major problem of writing a finish to World War II. Gromyko asked whether international authority would have to have a specific highway at its disposal. I responded that we had thought of Helmstedt-Berlin Autobahn but had also considered possibility construction new road. I made clear arrangement did not contemplate unauthorized entry or exit East Germany and referred to possibility mixed traffic. I also referred to control air corridors and operation air safety center as coming under such an arrangement.

In response to my question, Gromyko confirmed Soviet position it is possible reach agreement on freedom of access and that this could be respected by GDR along with free city of West Berlin. I then stated I desired [Page 724] to be particularly clear about what Soviets have in mind by “free access.” I pointed out if this is what we understand, it would mean people are free to travel back and forth between Berlin and West Germany. It would be very important to us and agreement on it would facilitate our moving ahead on other questions. Gromyko reiterated that proposed prior agreement on West Berlin status would specifically include access question and GDR would recognize this agreement. I pressed for specific understanding that free access would envisage freedom for anyone to travel back and forth. Gromyko responded that in principle it is possible reach agreement on access question provided agreement reached on other points “in which we are interested.” He refused to be further pinned down on this.

I concluded with statement that if he rejected question all-Berlin agreement this would greatly restrict possibility for discussion conditions in West Berlin, and I stressed importance reaching an agreement on access, even in the absence of agreement on other matters, if serious collision were to be avoided. I noted Gromyko had referred to West Berlin free city proposal. Although I did not propose go into that aspect today he would doubtless be thinking over our conversation and I did not want him to think that omission indicated their proposal acceptable to us which it was not. Gromyko said that if there was to be no change in the status of West Berlin what was the point of discussion. I replied the point was to avoid a very dangerous situation. Gromyko concluded that Soviet Union certainly opposed seeing further complication of situation and big powers bear heavy responsibility avoid such a course.

Gromyko expressed readiness continue talks today or any time in future stating we have much to discuss.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.0021/1-262. Confidential; Priority; Eyes Only; Limited Distribution. Repeated to London, Paris, Bonn, and Berlin. In telegram 1832, January 2, 3 p.m., Thompson sent a preliminary report on his conversation with Gromyko, which noted that the only item Gromyko expressed some interest in was the international access authority. (Ibid., 762.00/1-262)
  2. Document 248.
  3. See footnote 8, Document 248.
  4. In a memorandum to Secretary Rusk on January 3 Bohlen noted that there were no shifts in Soviet policy on Berlin, but stated that Soviet failure to mention placing its troops in West Berlin probably occurred because the status of West Berlin was not discussed. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/1-361) On the same day Bohlen briefed the Ambassadorial Group on the talks. (Topol 940 to Paris, January 4; ibid., 762.0221/1-462)