180. Memorandum From the Ambassador at Large (Thompson) to Secretary of State Rusk0


  • Berlin negotiations

The timing of the Soviet proposal to reopen talks on Berlin is somewhat curious, since there are many reasons which would favor a delay. The following occurred to me as possible explanations of their motives:

Khrushchev may miscalculate what his possibilities are of obtaining an agreement along the lines of his statements to Ambassador Roberts and others involving a major U.N. responsibility.
Khrushchev may have felt compelled because of commitments made to Ulbricht and possibly others, to keep the question alive.
The Soviets may simply intend to exploit known differences of opinion between the Western Allies.
Khrushchev may have decided that it would not be advisable and possible to reach a modus vivendi satisfactory to both sides.
Khrushchev may have decided that an agreement on Berlin which he could accept is hopeless, and that the present round of talks is designed to prepare for a break following which he would take some action such as signing a separate peace treaty, but in a manner which would avoid a military confrontation.

On the assumption that at an early stage in the talks the Soviets will put forward their “NATO flag” proposal, I suggest that you should concentrate at first on bringing out the “bugs” for us in any such scheme. You might probe hard on two points; namely

The extent to which they envisage a real change in the status of our forces and in giving the U.N. command responsibilities, and
The length of time they envisage for the arrangements proposed.

So long as they maintain an unacceptable position on these two points, I suggest we should avoid getting drawn into any discussion of what kind of U.N. presence we would accept. While I agree with the general line in the IO paper,1 I believe that for us to get drawn into a discussion of possible U.N. arrangements in the absence of a Soviet willingness to be realistic about points that are not negotiable for us would merely upset our Allies to no good purpose, would tend to prolong the discussions, and possibly mislead the Soviets into thinking that our position on these matters was not as firm as it actually is. I suggest, however, that without obtaining a Soviet backdown on these points we could, if they are disposed to do so, discuss such matters as access arrangements.

In probing on the Soviet U.N. proposal, you might usefully explore, or expose, what they have in mind and what their objectives are. You could stress that Berlin is not a NATO base, and ask them to explain why they consider it necessary to change the status of our forces there. They have repeatedly stated that they have no military value and that if war were to break out, the more we had there, the better from their point of view, since they would all be easily captured or destroyed. Until Germany [Page 495] is reunified, it can be argued that these troops would be less likely to bring on a conflict than would be the case if East and West German troops were facing each other alone.

In what way do they think their removal or weakening would contribute to stability? It is not an answer to this question simply to state that this would draw a line under World War II or would remove a NATO base. These troops cannot be used offensively, and the Soviets know it. We cannot help but think that they would like to have the Western presence in Berlin weakened in order that the East Germans could bring pressure on the West Berlin population, discourage them psychologically, and probably eventually arrange for a complete take over. If asked why we consider it necessary to keep them there, the answer might be in the first place to fulfill commitments we have made and, in particular, to see that measures of force, under the guise of strikes or other subterfuges are not employed to subvert or overthrow the present setup in Berlin. By pressing the Soviets to say what it is specifically in the present situation that disturbs them, you may be able to show that what they are working toward is a setup in which they, or the East Germans, could change these things unilaterally—for example, RIAS activities, etc.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 28 Berlin. Secret. Drafted and ini-tialed by Thompson. Copies were sent to Tyler, Hillenbrand, Guthrie, and Cleveland.
  2. Presumably Thompson is referring to a 2-page memorandum from Cleveland to Rusk, drafted on March 1, which summarized a longer paper (attached) entitled “UN Involvement in Berlin Settlement.” Cleveland’s memorandum noted that the paper had been discussed by Thompson, Tyler, Hillenbrand, and other interested officers in the Department of State, and was now agreed. A copy of the memorandum is attached to a March 5 memorandum from Klein to Bundy in the Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Germany, Berlin.