295. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Berlin Air Access and Fighter Escorts


  • France
    • Ambassador Alphand
    • Mr. Lebel, French Embassy
    • Mr. Winckler, French Embassy
  • US
    • Mr. Kohler, EUR
    • Mr. Holloway, GER

Ambassador Alphand prefaced his remarks by stressing the determination of the French Government to re-affirm Allied rights in the Berlin Air Corridors. He then referred to the differences in the past between the French and the US/UK positions on the introduction of fighter escorts into the air corridors. While the incidents now taking place on the air routes to Berlin are not exactly those envisaged in our past planning (in that blockage is not complete), the French would like to revert to the idea of governmental declarations prior to the introduction of fighter escorts. To that end, he wished to introduce a draft declaration which, he felt, could be coordinated here rapidly in case of an incident which would call for introduction of fighter escorts and would then be issued by the three governments. Fighter escorts would not be introduced until some hours after this declaration was issued.

Mr. Kohler replied that he felt coordination of such a declaration would require a 24-hour delay which would be unacceptable to the US. He referred to the Jack Pine operation of February 9 when the French insistence on prior governmental approval resulted in a 24-hour delay in the availability of French transport planes for a probe. As General Norstad had US/UK authority to use their transports immediately, he was able to order a prompt and effective response. In the type of serious incident which would call for escorts, a delay of 24-hours would weaken a Western response appreciably. Mr. Kohler also referred to the Soviet demands at BASC this morning at 2:45 a.m. Washington time which might have required immediate action that could not have been taken had we been under obligation to prior governmental approval for a response. Mr. Kohler said we would, however, be prepared to review the declaration in the Contingency Coordinating Group but with no commitment [Page 818] on the US part to delay any reaction which General Norstad might now be authorized to take immediately.

The Ambassador asked if we would consider a declaration if incidents arose which were outside the scope of our present contingency planning. Mr. Kohler said we would consider the response to such an incident to be a new governmental decision for which we would be prepared to consider a declaration, particularly if time would permit.

The French Ambassador asked if the declaration proposal should be raised tripartitely or quadripartitely. Mr. Kohler replied that German participation (air fields, radar, etc.) thus far in Jack Pine made the Quadripartite forum more appropriate; the Ambassador agreed.

Mr. Lebel asked if General Norstad had authority to orbit planes at the end of the air corridors. Mr. Kohler said he did, but that he had not used this authority as yet because the situation in his judgment did not warrant it. Mr. Kohler pointed out that the Jack Pine command post had been activated and that we were to all intents in a war situation as far as communications went. It was no longer a question of telegrams reaching desks, but rather of fighter aircraft being deployed by command posts directly. In such a case, the judgment of the man on the spot must be the decisive factor. This was especially true for any definitions of what constituted physical interference with access. Here, General Norstad had to have the decisive decision.

Ambassador Alphand then referred to a message of General Norstad’s2 which indicated that if the latter lacked authority to commit French fighter escorts at the time of an incident requiring this, he would use US fighters as escorts for French transports as well. This, the French could not accept without a prior French government decision. However, the French position did not take into account the possibility posed by Mr. Kohler that General Norstad would authorize US fighters to perform a rescue mission of a French plane caught in a corridor incident prior to any French suspension of flights or governmental decision to introduce fighters. Mr. Kohler said we would authorize such a mission without question; the Ambassador agreed to present this contingency to Paris.

In response to Ambassador Alphand’s question on Soviet motivation in the air, Mr. Kohler said he was inclined to think the Soviets were engaging in a tactical exercise in reply to our insistence throughout four talks with Gromyko that access is the main issue. They may be attempting to demonstrate to us that air access, our only uncontrolled means of access, is really a tenuous matter and that we would be wiser to settle for what the Soviets offer us in the way of guarantees rather than attempt to [Page 819] maintain or improve (through the International Access Authority proposal) the status quo. Beyond that, the Soviets might also be attempting to increase tensions for other purposes, particularly an effort to push us to a summit.

Mr. Kohler concluded that we were satisfied with our response thus far; it has been firm, prompt and appropriate. We were also convinced from this that our delegation of authority to General Norstad had been correct and should not be diminished.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.5400/2-1562. Secret. Drafted by Holloway and initialed by Holloway and Kohler. The meeting was held in Kohler’s office at the Department of State.
  2. Not further identified.