175. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • The President
  • Secretary Rusk
  • Ambassador Thompson
  • Ambassador Dowling
  • William Tyler
  • McGeorge Bundy


  • Berlin

The President raised for discussion our response to Gromyko’s proposal to Ambassador Kohler for the resumption of bilateral discussions on Germany and Berlin. The President said he was concerned because the Germans and the French were not in favor of further exploratory talks and, given Chancellor Adenauer’s present mood and suspicions, the Chancellor could at any time attempt to exploit these discussions to our detriment.1 The President said for our own protection it was necessary to have the French and the Germans as fully locked into these talks as possible. He suggested that if this were not possible, we might tell the Soviets that we could not carry on with the talks in the absence of Allied support.

The Secretary argued that discussions with the Soviets on Berlin were necessary if only to keep the Berlin situation under control. Moreover, it was important to keep the channels of communication with the Soviets open to determine what was in the Soviet mind. In any event, he did not think it possible to refuse to discuss Berlin with the Soviets on the ground that our Allies were opposed to such talks.

The President, however, wondered whether there was any advantage in moving ahead without the Germans fully in tow. Unless they were fully locked in, the Germans would be in a position to take advantage [Page 487] of the accomplishments of the talks, but remain ever ready to criticize us if things went wrong. The President also questioned whether there was any real advantage in putting ourselves in an exposed position vis-a-vis our Allies in the absence of indications that the Soviets were prepared to come up with constructive Berlin proposals. He asked whether a more profitable course might be to try to get from Gromyko some indication of Soviet thinking before again raising the question of Berlin discussions with the Allies. Unless the Soviets were prepared to be forthcoming, he saw no useful purpose in continuing a dialogue bound to arouse the suspicion, even the antagonism, of our Allies.

Ambassador Thompson interjected to say that it would be awkward for the U.S. to say it was not prepared to continue exploratory talks with the Soviets on Berlin. Moreover, if we refused to meet the Soviets’ request now, they could heat up the situation and put us in a position where we would be forced to discuss the problem under pressures they deliberately created.

After further discussion, the President laid down the following course of action:

He asked that Foy Kohler be instructed not to reply to Gromyko’s overture on Berlin until we had a further opportunity to attempt to reconcile our position with that of the Germans.2 (Ambassador Dowling thought he might be able to discuss this matter with the Chancellor on Tuesday.) If Ambassador Kohler had to speak to Gromyko before we talked with the Germans, Kohler should say he was awaiting instructions.
He directed Ambassador Dowling to see the Chancellor immediately on his return to Bonn to discuss the question of further exploratory talks on Berlin with the Soviets. He asked that Ambassador Dowling make it clear to the Chancellor that we did not relish the idea of talking with the Kremlin if the Germans objected to our doing so. If the Chancellor objected to the talks in the context of the Gromyko proposal, the President would again review the situation.3
In this connection, the President suggested that Ambassador Dowling assure the Chancellor that the President attaches great importance to close and mutual cooperation with him and make clear that if there are to be further exploratory talks with the Soviets on Germany [Page 488] and Berlin, we would like to be sure the German Government considers such talks worthwhile.
The President also suggested Ambassador Dowling tell the Chancellor that Ambassador Thompson thought that if we refused to speak with the Soviets now, they might apply new pressures on Berlin and force us to talk with them under less favorable circumstances. The Secretary undertook to instruct Ambassadors Kohler and Dowling accordingly.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings with the President. Secret. Drafted by David Klein. The meeting was held in President Kennedy’s office.
  2. At the Ambassadorial Group meeting on February 14 Ormsby Gore reported that the United Kingdom favored an affirmative answer to Gromyko. Alphand and Knapp-stein, while not in favor of talks on Berlin, indicated that France and Germany would not oppose further exploratory conversations with the Soviet Union. Ambassador Thompson stressed how awkward it would be for the United States to say it was not ready to talk and informed the group that Kohler would be instructed to discover the Soviet position before proceeding further. (Telegram 4344 to London, February 14; Department of State, Central Files, POL 28 Berlin)
  3. Instructions to Kohler along this line were transmitted in telegram 1712 to Moscow at 2:10 p.m. on February 15. (Ibid., POL US–USSR) On February 16 Kohler reported that he had been noncommittal when Gromyko had approached him about Berlin at a reception the previous day and that he had indicated he would ask Gromyko for a meeting the following week. (Telegram 1995 from Moscow; ibid., POL 38)
  4. See Document 176.