173. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Soviet Overtures on Berlin


  • Germans
    • State Secretary Karl Carstens
    • Ambassador Karl Heinrich Knappstein
    • Counselor Swidbert Schnippenkoetter
  • Americans
    • The Secretary
    • Assistant Secretary William R. Tyler, EUR
    • Ambassador Walter C. Dowling, Bonn
    • Mr. Robert M. Brandin, EUR/GER

The Secretary said it was necessary to consider the recent overtures about Berlin which the Soviets had made to Ambassador Kohler, noting that these would be discussed in the Ambassadorial Group later in the day.1

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Dr. Carstens cautioned against any haste. There seemed to be no present danger of a separate treaty. The posture of Western unity was not imposing at the moment. Moreover, as the President had said in November,2 the USSR must clearly accept Western presence in Berlin. On this last point the USSR was still rather evasive, apparently having said nothing about it.

The Secretary clarified that what the President meant in November was that no arrangement could be concluded that did not accept Western presence in Berlin. The President did not insist that such recognition be a precondition to discussions. We seemed to feel we should not talk under pressure and that it was not necessary to talk if things were quiet.

Dr. Carstens said this was the situation we all had to live with in view of Berlin’s exposed and isolated position. This tactic had been successful so far.

The Secretary asked whether there was a danger of steady erosion in Berlin in the absence of clarification of its status.

Dr. Carstens replied that an improvement in the situation of Berlin would have a good effect, but it was doubtful we could achieve such improvement. Therefore, it was better to live with what we had. He did not think there was a danger of serious erosion in Berlin. The population had decreased slightly, but this was an inevitable consequence when cities were isolated from their natural hinterlands.

Mr. Tyler wondered what the effect would be within the Western Alliance if we did not respond to the Soviet overtures to Ambassador Kohler.

Dr. Carstens thought there was little hope of finding an agreed basis for negotiations among the members of the Western Alliance as a whole.

The Secretary noted there was a difference between expecting or hoping for a solution and keeping channels open. Our idea in proposing that the Berlin problem be discussed by Deputy Foreign Ministers was simply to keep discussions going, as in the case of Austria.

Ambassador Dowling said the conversations with the USSR had helped to prevent an erosion of the situation. He thought we should keep the talks going along quietly without being adamant or hasty.

The Secretary stressed the importance of a united front to keep Khrushchev from getting the wrong ideas. The Secretary referred to Gromyko’s hint that talks should be on a broader basis. Khrushchev had also said that West Berlin was not important to the Allies who were only echoing Adenauer. There was also a report that De Gaulle had told Khrushchev that France did not need West Berlin. To deal with these [Page 484] Soviet tactics, the United States had always stressed its own national interest in Berlin.

Dr. Carstens said there was a question of what should be discussed with the USSR—the German problem or the Berlin problem. There was much in favor of reintroducing the German question.

The Secretary recalled this possibility had been discussed among the Foreign Ministers in December.3 Soviet propaganda emphasized that the USSR alone was making proposals. Perhaps we should present counterproposals at all levels—e.g., All-Germany, All-Berlin, modus vivendi, etc. There was a danger of a psychological erosion in the attitude of the rest of the world toward the Berlin question. If the USSR proposed changes in the status quo for its purposes, why should we not propose changes for our purposes?

Dr. Carstens said such an approach would have the advantage of reintroducing the proposals made by the West in 1959 about Germany. He emphasized that there was more confidence in West Berlin now as a result of Cuba than there had been at any time in the last four years.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 28 Berlin. Secret. Drafted and ini-tialed by Brandin and approved in S on February 7. The meeting was held during breakfast at the Department of State. Carstens visited Washington February 4–7 at the request of the German Government, primarily to discuss the U.S. reaction to the French-German Treaty signed January 22. A memorandum of his conversation with Secretary Rusk, February 5, is in vol. XIII, Document 71.
  2. During this meeting Tyler read Gromyko’s statement (see Document 170), and Kohler added that he believed this was the most serious Soviet approach on Berlin since 1958. In response to Tyler’s invitation for comments, the British and French representatives stated that they were without instructions, and Carstens repeated the points made in the conversation with Secretary Rusk. (Telegram 4175 to London, February 6; Department of State, Central Files, POL 28 Berlin)
  3. See Document 153.
  4. See Document 163.