98. Memorandum of Conversation1



Paris, August 4-9, 1961


  • United States
    • The Secretary of State
    • Mr. Kohler
    • Ambassador Bohlen
    • Mr. Lampson
  • Germany
    • Dr. Von Brentano
    • Professor Carstens
    • General Schnez
    • Dr. Ritter
  • United Kingdom
    • Lord Home
    • Field-Marshal Festing
    • Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh
    • Mr. John Killick
  • France
    • M. Couve de Murville
    • M. Charles de Carbonnel
    • M. Charles Lucet
    • M. Jean Laloy
    • M. Froment-Meurice


  • Third Quadripartite Meeting on Berlin and Germany

The French Foreign Minister opened the third quadripartite meeting by referring to the discussion at previous meeting about timing of negotiations.2 Lord Home asked whether the others had thought over the Secretary’s final suggestion at the morning meeting that our answer to the Soviet Note of August 3 might express readiness to meet with [Page 304] Gromyko while he was in New York attending the UN General Assembly to discuss the possibility for arrangements for negotiation. He pointed out that this might give the West a little leeway by postponing the next round until after the German elections.

Brentano said he thought it would be inappropriate to mention German elections in any reply to the Soviets because this would be of little interest to the USSR. He said they should not play a part in the considerations of the West in regard to the timing of the next move. However, he questioned the advisability of proposing to discuss the Berlin question with Gromyko while he was at UNGA. There was danger that such a step might create an unintentional impression that the West was thinking of bringing the Berlin question into the UN.

Couve agreed. He thought that it would be better to speak about negotiations in Western replies without making any specific suggestions as to timing. Substance and tactics were very much mixed up together. They must be careful not to have the Russians misjudge our intentions or give them an opening which might embarrass us. He would prefer not to commit us to talking with Gromyko on Berlin in New York. There would be an opportunity at that time to decide whether this would be a wise thing to do. To commit West in advance to such discussions seemed to be going too far. It would be unwise to make a precise offer to negotiate before we have even discussed substantive positions. It would be premature to send a note between August 20 and the end of the month taking such a step. This would be far ahead of the schedule which we are told Khrushchev is going to follow. In mid-September we still would have time to take any necessary steps. We are not in an easy situation at present time. The Soviet note was the most violent one we have received. We are awaiting Khrushchev speech tomorrow which is likely to be very violent, especially after the new Russian success in space. Couve questioned whether this was the proper time to make such a gesture. No doubt it would be much welcomed by many persons in the West but how would it be judged in the East? The latter question is the one which should mainly concern us.

The Secretary pointed out that more than sixty Foreign Ministers would be at the General Assembly in September. There was bound to be a great deal of talk about Berlin during the session. The Soviet representatives will certainly talk a great deal about it. If we are wise we will do so also. The major matter we will be asked about will be our willingness to negotiate. The Secretary said that he could not add to points he had made in the morning session as to an initiative with the Soviets for negotiation. He did not suppose the Foreign Ministers could reach agreement at this meeting on this point. The question would be taken up through diplomatic channels between Governments. He could not agree to postponing an initiative on proposing negotiations or arrangements [Page 305] for negotiations until September. He then emphasized the importance of having the Ambassadorial Group move on swiftly in the task of defining negotiating positions. He also asked whether it was necessary to answer the Soviet note at present. It might be preferable not to answer it for the time being unless we could put forward a position.

Couve agreed it might not be necessary to answer the note now but thought it useful to send an answer as soon as we could agree on one.

Home pointed out the danger of too many public statements. Statements tended to harden our positions. Meanwhile our military buildup would be progressing. This might make trouble with uncommitted countries who would think we were being bellicose and unreasonable. For example, there might be trouble with Nehru. He said he had been emphasizing in speeches the advantages of pursuing explorations with Soviets through the quiet unobtrusive channels of diplomacy. It might be possible to hold the line in this way until September. He threw out this idea but rather thought that it would not be enough.

Brentano thought that there might be some possibility of arranging for preliminary talks. Our reply to the Soviet note might merely express readiness to discuss the questions of time and place. He thought the strongest argument against proposing talks with Gromyko in New York was the implication regarding action in the UN. However, although he had reservations he was prepared to withdraw his objections if the others agreed this was the right thing to do.

In reply to a direct question from Home whether the matter could be contained in diplomatic channels for the time being, the Secretary replied he was not sure these contacts would deal with enough substance to support this approach for long.

Home then outlined some possible advantages of such a method. By advocating diplomacy through quiet ambassadorial exchanges the Governments might lead people to expect little by way of publicity. He agreed, however, that the line could not be held for long in this way. We would be pressed too hard to explain how we are responding to Soviet offers to negotiate.

The Secretary summarized the discussion by pointing out that the Foreign Ministers had agreed to instruct the Ambassadorial Group to work on possible negotiating positions. As to timing they were really not too far apart. It seemed that negotiations would probably take place in mid-October or early November. They agreed that they should be on the Foreign Minister level. The principal unresolved question was under what conditions and at what time we should publicly seek such negotiations. In an attempt to meet the views of the others he had proposed the idea of telling the Soviets that they would talk about the matter with Gromyko in New York. There is no doubt that Berlin will be [Page 306] intensely discussed in New York. The Secretary said that he would raise the whole question with the President. Then he explained the U.S. Government’s concern with the need for maintaining the confidence of the American people, the Alliance and people throughout the world. Possibly others evaluated this matter differently. We looked upon it as a highly important element in the functioning of a large and disparate democracy. The reactions of the American people to world opinion should also not be overlooked. The Secretary ended his recapitulation by repeating that he could not agree to postponing decisions on when to negotiate in the way that had been proposed in their discussions.

Home said he found the Secretary’s position sensible. He had very much the same point of view.

The Secretary then said he hoped that the difference of view on this one question would not obscure the very large amount of agreement which had been reached between them. The disagreement was really over rather a narrow point.

Home emphasized that they must all be careful not to give the appearance of serious disagreement. He threw out the suggestion that perhaps people did not ask questions in France or if they did they did not receive answers. Couve replied the French were like everybody else.

The Ministers then discussed the question of whether there should be a communiqué. The Secretary pointed out the difficulty of issuing a communiqué which had any substance in it before he had reported to NATO. The North Atlantic Council was very sensitive to being made to look like a rubber stamp. The Ministers agreed that a formal communiqué should not be issued. They decided to call in the information officers at the end of the meeting to furnish them a common line for giving background information to the press.

Couve then discussed the work of the Ambassadorial Group in Washington. In his view the work in Washington should be carried on by the same persons who had been doing it in Paris—or as nearly so as possible. They had more expertise generally on this subject than Embassy staffs. Brentano agreed this would provide much needed continuity but was not sure how much he could spare Carstens from the Foreign Office. Home was unwilling to promise that Shuckburgh could work without interruption in Washington, but thought the Washington group could be reinforced from time to time. The Secretary commented they did not want anyone who could be spared.

Couve thought that the planning and preparation of an information program could be done in Washington. The Secretary turned attention back to a substantive question—namely a plebiscite in West Berlin which had important information aspects as well. This was quite different from making plebiscite proposals to the Soviets. The aim was to give [Page 307] the Berlin population an opportunity to demonstrate again, as they had in the 1958 Berlin elections, their overwhelming support for Allied presence and Allied rights in Berlin. This would greatly strengthen the Western posture. He thought this would be very helpful. He asked for German views.

Brentano said that he had discussed this with Mayor Brandt. Both thought it an excellent idea. He said that they would be able to make a definite recommendation to the Ambassadorial Working Group in ten days. The Berlin election was now very remote in time and it would be excellent to give the Berliners a chance to vote again. No doubt they would vote overwhelmingly in favor of the present status of the city. The best way to impress world opinion would be to invite observers from all countries to come to watch the plebiscite. It would have a very strong effect.

Home said it would be wise to have the plebiscite supervised by some impartial plebiscite commission in order to convince non-committed people that the vote had been genuinely free. He doubted, however, that the UN would be willing to take on the job of supervision.

Couve raised the problem of the relationship of a plebiscite to Western rights. It was very important to see to it that a plebiscite did not create the impression that our presence in Berlin was based from something other than our rights derived from the defeat and surrender of Germany. The Soviets would try to exploit this possibility. He also questioned whether it would not have to be the Allies who initiated the proposal.

Brentano said it was very important from the public opinion point of view that the initiative seems to come spontaneously from the Berliners. He saw no legal difficulty in this. The Berlin Senate and House of Representatives could propose this to the Berlin Kommandatura which would not exercise its veto and then the plans could go forward. He pointed out the disadvantages of proposing a UN supervision of the plebiscite because this would certainly lead to a UN debate on Berlin. He believed invitations to observe would do the trick. This should create a great impression. Nothing like this had ever been done in the Communist Bloc. Brentano reassured Couve that there could be no question as to the result.

Couve returned to the difficulty of having a plebiscite under an occupation. Brentano said that the Berliners and the Federal Republic would work out a possible question and submit it to the Ambassadorial Group for approval. He then emphasized the importance of keeping secret the fact that the idea had been put forward by the Working Group. It was essential that it appear to be a spontaneous idea of the West Berliners. They must take the first public step. He urged the greatest caution and thought it might be better to wait until he had returned to Germany [Page 308] before the idea was launched in Berlin. Then there would be less danger of it appearing to have been arranged in Paris. Home again urged that some sort of supervision be arranged so that it would not look like a put-up job. The Secretary pointed out it was a question of observation not supervision. Brentano suggested as a possible question: “Do you wish the Western Powers to continue to exercise their rights in Berlin and continue to protect the freedom of the population of Berlin?” He said that he would recommend a question after consultations in Berlin. Couve again warned against casting any doubts on the validity of Western rights.

The Secretary asked whether the Report of the Working Group on Information3 could be put before NATO. The Ministers agreed that it could and approved the report. They also agreed to submit to NATO Sections I and V of the Working Group Report (The Soviet Intentions and Economic Countermeasures papers respectively), but Section II Tactics and Section III Substantive Political Questions would not be given to NATO. Section V was approved after amendments to paragraphs 3 through 7 were accepted.

The Ministers agreed that the questions discussed in the section entitled Substantive Political Questions together with the agreed German addendum should be further studied by the Ambassadorial Group. The problems of military preparations should be discussed in NATO. This was NATO business. The Secretary said he hoped other Permanent Representatives of the other Three would tell NAC of their military plans after he had finished speaking on Tuesday. He would be speaking only for his own Government. He was going to give NATO more than was in the President’s speech.

The Ministers then called in the information officers and discussed how to handle the press. Brentano argued against a communiqué on the ground that every word would be compared with previous communiqués. Any variations noted would result in endless speculation in the press.

The Ministers agreed to have no formal communiqué. They worked out a common line for background press briefing with emphasis on complete unity of approach. Couve suggested that the answer to questions about what is a reasonable basis for negotiation should be: no preconditions and freedom for each party to discuss his position. The Secretary suggested as a definition of an unacceptable basis for negotiation the phrase in the President’s speech, “What is mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable.”

[Page 309]

The Ministers agreed to say that the possibility of a summit meeting with Khrushchev had not been discussed. If asked whether there would be another Western Foreign Ministers meeting they would reply they would undoubtedly be seeing one another in New York.

The Secretary made the point that this meeting should be treated as part of a process of continuing consultation which had gone on previously and would continue for weeks and months ahead. There was nothing sudden or climactic about it.

Home wondered how questions on preparatory measures should be handled. He did not want to describe them too far in advance of their implementation. The Ministers agreed to use the phrase that they had “agreed on the necessity of certain preparatory measures.” The meeting closed with the Secretary stressing the desirability of emphasizing unity. The Ministers agreed to use the phrase “complete unity of approach.”

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330. Secret. Drafted by Lampson and approved in S on August 8. The meeting was held at the Quai d’Orsay.
  2. See Document 96.
  3. This report is Tab N to the Report of the Four-Power Working Group. (Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1945)