6. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • East-West Relations, Berlin


  • The Secretary
  • Ambassador Gavin
  • Mr. McGhee, S/P
  • Mr. Davis, EUR
  • Mr. McBride, WE
  • Mr. Beigel, WE
  • Ambassador Alphand
  • M. Lebel
  • M. Winckler
  • M. Manet
  • M. Pelen

Ambassador Alphand said that the French Government was perfectly satisfied that there should be US-Soviet bilateral discussions on outstanding problems but thought that there should be prior agreement among the three Western Powers and accordingly that there should be tripartite discussions on this range of matters. He expressed appreciation to the Secretary for the US views which had been conveyed to him and to Ambassador Caccia on February 22.2 He added that the French Government had the same view as ours with regard to a Summit Meeting and felt strongly that there should not be a second Summit failure and that such a meeting should not be scheduled unless at least some small progress could be envisaged.

Ambassador Alphand continued, saying that while there were critical problems in Cuba, Laos, Congo, and throughout Africa, nevertheless in the French view Berlin remained the number one problem even though the Soviets have been silent on this issue recently. Ambassador Alphand referred to Khrushchev’s recent letter to Adenauer which the French thought was important.3 He noted that although the tone had been polite, the substance of the letter had been very tough. The French had an extensive summary of the letter and it appeared to reiterate the two-Germanies concept and the free city of Berlin idea. Also the French were under the impression that the letter underlined the[Page 13]necessity and urgency of an agreement on Berlin and Germany. He thought that the Soviets, in effect, had asked for talks on this subject with the Western Powers. He said that Gromyko had recently indicated the need for reaching a German settlement in 18 to 24 months.

Ambassador Alphand continued saying that the French view was that the two-Germanies concept and the free city of Berlin idea remained basic to Soviet thinking and that they were anxious to achieve these ends. The French thought that there might be an interim arrangement to be followed by a more definitive settlement. If this did not happen the French feared that the Soviets would conclude a separate peace treaty with the East Germans and then arm this Communist regime to greater extent than at present.

Ambassador Alphand continued, saying that Berlin was our first worry and that the French feared some major Soviet move before the German elections. Khrushchev needs to demonstrate some progress on Berlin. He then asked what the US view was with regard to talking with the Soviets on Berlin and whether we thought it would be necessary to enter into such discussions before next fall. He then asked what was our appreciation of the possibility of a unilateral Soviet action to sign a peace treaty with East Germany and also whether we believed we should oppose by force interference with access from West Germany to Berlin. He wondered if the views of the new Administration on these questions were different from those of the previous Administration.

The Secretary, in replying, agreed with the overriding importance of the Berlin question, especially to the Federal Republic. He said that while the new Administration has not thus far had to comment in detail on the Berlin question this did not mean that we did not attach a tremendous measure of importance to this problem. At the present time we were in a period of civility with the Soviets even on the Congo. In fact it was a wait and see period. However, he agreed with Ambassador Alphand that the Soviets would probably not leave the Berlin issue alone for long. He noted that Ambassador Menshikov, prior to President Kennedy’s inauguration, had been seeing a number of political figures and indeed had been extremely active. On the whole in these contacts Ambassador Menshikov had made rather gruff and blunt statements regarding Berlin and had stressed the urgency of the problem. However, since the inauguration the Soviets have not mentioned Berlin to us here nor have they mentioned it to Ambassador Thompson in Moscow. He reiterated that while Ambassador Menshikov has not raised this problem with us, we did not expect this situation to last. Berlin as a subject was tabula rasa since January 20. We did not think it particularly wise to challenge the Soviets on this issue when they were not pressing.

Ambassador Alphand inquired if we were also acquainted with the Khrushchev letter to Adenauer. The Secretary replied in the affirmative. [Page 14] Mr. Davis noted that we had a brief summary of this and expected to receive the text soon.

Ambassador Alphand said that in fact we could really consider that the Berlin question was again on the table because the Soviets had raised it with the Germans. He said the French were not entirely clear whether the Soviets would make any more formal requests for talks with the Germans or with the three Western Powers. In any case he thought there would be some move before the German elections and he repeated that Gromyko had stated that the Soviets would conclude a separate peace treaty unless there were an agreement within the period of 18 to 24 months.

The Secretary asked if the French believed that the Germans had any different appreciation of the Berlin question from that of the three Western Powers. Ambassador Alphand replied in the negative. The Secretary asked if the recent Franco-German talks4 had led the French to believe that there could be any further development of de facto talks between the East Germans and the West Germans. Ambassador Alphand said that they had held some discussions and that more might develop but that it would probably be insufficient to bring about any Berlin settlement. He said the West Germans had told the French that they were prepared to continue de facto talks. The Secretary said that if the Soviets could not obtain any concessions it was of course possible that they would conclude a separate peace treaty. He wondered if the talks between the East Germans and the West Germans threw any light on the degree of danger of such a treaty. Mr. Davis said that such a treaty would be dangerous both because it would enhance the status of East Germany and because it would lead East Germany to have certain greater freedom of action on the access question.

Ambassador Alphand said the French felt that the Soviets and East Germans would attempt progressively to sever access to West Berlin after the signature of a separate peace treaty. He said that this whole problem had been discussed extensively both here and in Bonn and that contingency planning had been in progress to cover the actions we should take in the event of progressive steps against the access routes. He said this planning was not completed in the countermeasures field. He thought we should discuss further the moves which might be taken in the trade field, navigation, etc., against the East Germans in the event of a separate peace treaty in order to prove that we are serious on these problems. However, our experts need new instructions. He said that the US and French positions were somewhat more in favor of a positive line on countermeasures than were the British. He said he considered this an [Page 15] urgent problem. Mr. Winckler said that there had also been planning for a probe on the Autobahn if necessary but said that this was of course a dangerous operation. However, this was being considered in the event that the Soviets did sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany and then move against the Berlin access routes. Mr. Winckler also thought it was important to take clear and coordinated actions around the world in this event in order to show our firmness before Khrushchev’s prestige was engaged and to give him an opportunity to back down. He thought it was important to take measures of this type before any military showdown. In response to Mr. McGhee’s question, Mr. Winckler said he thought these could be in the travel field, in shipping, and in control of aircraft. He said it was very important that these measures should be coordinated to show our seriousness and perhaps lead to the Soviets backing down. The Secretary inquired if the French thought that the Soviets attach more importance to preventing the reunification of Germany or to the liquidation of the Berlin situation. Are they more interested in establishing East Germany firmly than in a Berlin settlement on their terms which would lead to a crisis? Ambassador Alphand referred to Khrushchev’s talk with de Gaulle in which the Soviet Premier had stressed that the division of Germany must continue.5 Ambassador Alphand said he personally could not really give priority to one of these problems over another in the Soviet view but that certainly the reunification of Germany under conditions of freedom was unacceptable to the Soviets because it would wreck their position in the Satellites. However, he did not think that the Soviets could continue to stand the Berlin situation indefinitely either but stressed the importance of Western firmness.

The Secretary agreed that we must continue our planning work here. He said the US Administration was studying this problem and then would want to have tripartite talks. He said we were not planning any initiative with the Soviets on Berlin. Ambassador Alphand said the French were not planning any initiatives either since we did not want anything from the Soviets but merely wish to retain our rights. The Secretary said we were in Berlin rightfully and legally. However, the Soviets could make difficulties and we did not want to dramatize these to the point which would require military action. He wondered if even more important than the military problem was the question of maintaining the life of the city of Berlin. He thought that if the Soviets moved against Berlin they would take almost imperceptible steps to tighten the noose around Berlin. A sophisticated approach of this type would of course be [Page 16] hard to react to. We thought this was much more likely than any blunt action.

The Secretary noted that Ambassador Menshikov in his talks around town had stressed the urgency of some action because of Khrushchev’s personal situation. He wondered as to the meaning of this. Ambassador Alphand thought that perhaps Khrushchev wished to prove to the Chinese Communists and to the Satellites that his policy paid. Therefore he needed some success. Furthermore he thought that Khrushchev was under pressure from East Germany to get rid of the Berlin showcase. The Secretary said Ambassador Menshikov had given some impression that there were pressures on Khrushchev to achieve a settlement. In any event, he concluded that the Berlin problem would not sleep for long. Ambassador Alphand said that perhaps there was a Chinese problem although he believed that the leaks on Soviet-Chinese differences had been well organized.

The Secretary concluded that the Berlin problem was a most serious one and that we should pick up our contingency planning and consult urgently together. He thought it was important to tell Khrushchev soon that we were serious about Berlin even if the situation remained fairly quiet. He said it would appear that there was no division of policy between the United States and France on this issue. Ambassador Alphand agreed but said that the British position was slightly different. The Secretary said we would discuss this problem with Macmillan here soon and that Berlin unfortunately fundamentally would remain a pressure point on which the Soviets could exert pressure on us because of the difficult situation on the ground.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/2-2361. Confidential. Drafted by McBride and approved in S on March 7. Memoranda of the parts of the conversation on the European Economic Community and French-U.S. relations are ibid., Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330.
  2. A memorandum of this conversation, in which Rusk explained that Ambassador Thompson was returning to Moscow with instructions to begin discussions on U.S.-Soviet bilateral problems but not on the more general international problems including Berlin, is ibid.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 5.
  4. For Adenauer’s account of his visit to Paris, February 9, see Erinnerungen, 1959-1963, pp. 80-88.
  5. For de Gaulle’s account of Khrushchev’s visit to Paris March 23-April 3, 1960, see Memoires d’Espoir, pp. 237-246; for Khrushchev’s account, see Talbott, Khrushchev Remembers: The Last Testament, pp. 417-442.