182. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Berlin


  • US
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Thompson
    • Mr. Hillenbrand
  • USSR
    • Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Ambassador of USSR
    • Georgi M. Kornienko, Counselor, Embassy

After an initial exchange of pleasantries, Ambassador Dobrynin read a prepared statement along the following lines (translation from Russian text handed us informally):

“In connection with the agreement reached with the Ambassador of the United States in Moscow, Mr. Kohler, the Soviet Government has instructed me to continue, taking into account the exchange of opinions which took place in 1961 and 1962, the discussion of concrete questions in connection with a German peace settlement and normalization of the situation in West Berlin. For its part, the Soviet Government will strive to make the discussion of these questions constructive. It would like to express the hope that this attitude toward the matter will also be shown on the part of the United States and that the exchange of opinions will be concluded in the nearest future with the achievement of the agreement necessary in the interests of strengthening peace and security in Europe.

“In the course of the earlier exchange of opinions the parties succeeded in reaching definite results on well-known questions in connection with a German peace settlement. There was also achieved definite mutual understanding concerning the necessity for normalization on this basis of the situation in West Berlin taking into account actually existing conditions which came about on German territory as a result of the past war.

“The main question on which it was not possible to overcome differences is the question of the presence of foreign troops in West Berlin. The Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, N.S. Khrushchev, has pointed out repeatedly that the Government of the USSR in [Page 498] principle is not against the presence in West Berlin of troops of the three powers, if the Western powers attach importance to this at the present time. However, the troops which may be stationed in West Berlin for purposes of guarantees must be there not under the NATO flag, but under the UN flag. Their stay in West Berlin, of course, must not be permanent. The occupation regime in this city has outlived itself, and it must be liquidated. In order to impart a truly international character to the guarantees for West Berlin it is necessary, as the Soviet Government has emphasized many times, to include in the composition of UN troops in West Berlin also military units of certain other UN member states, according to an appropriate agreement.

“The Soviet Government is convinced that this proposal is a good basis for reaching an agreement on this most difficult and acute question. Unfortunately, the Government of the USA still has not expressed its attitude toward this proposal, and this proposal still has not been subjected to concrete discussion.

“The Soviet Government, as in the past, maintains the opinion that the most sensible solution of the question of the normalization of the situation in West Berlin, and a solution which corresponds most to the conditions of peace time, would be its transformation into an independent political entity—a free, demilitarized city. Such a solution would also take into account the wishes of the Western powers with regard to freedom of access to West Berlin consonant with requisite respect for the sovereignty of the GDR and guarantee to the population of this city the right to decide by itself questions of its social-economic system, to retain that way of life which it most prefers.

“Naturally, we proceed from the fact that in appropriate form those positive results will be realized which were achieved by the previous exchange of opinions by the parties on the questions of: finalizing and strengthening of the existing German borders; guarantee of free access to West Berlin; respect for the sovereignty of the GDR; precluding the armament of the FRG and the GDR with nuclear weapons; conclusion of a non-aggression pact between NATO and the Warsaw Treaty organization.

“We hope that the resumption of the Soviet-American exchange of opinions will be a step forward in the direction of a solution of the problem of drawing a line under the Second World War, the fundamental improvement of the situation in Europe and the consolidation of universal peace.

“An agreement on a German peace settlement and a normalization on this basis of the situation in West Berlin would have great significance also from the point of view of creating more favorable conditions [Page 499] for solving the problem of disarmament and strengthening confidence between the USSR and the USA, as well as among other states.

“We understand that, in such important international questions as the question of a German peace settlement and normalization of the situation in West Berlin, there are many aspects which have to be considered in working out agreed decisions. But given the presence of good will and a sincere desire for reaching agreement, without a doubt it would be possible to overcome existing difficulties and to come to an agreement which would take into account the interests of all parties.

“The Soviet Government anticipates that the results of the exchange of opinions will be fruitful and, after they have been agreed upon by each of the parties with its allies, arrangements can be made concerning the manner and method for definitive formulation of agreement.”

The Secretary commented that, as far as we are concerned, we are prepared to explore the present situation. Although Berlin is a subject which is a vital matter to both sides, we thought it should not be allowed to assume crisis proportions. Although there were some in the West who questioned the value of these discussions, as far as the President was concerned, we were willing to explore the subject further. It should be no surprise that we do not accept the specific Soviet formula regarding a peace settlement and the normalization of the Berlin situation on that basis as an appropriate description for the exercise. We would describe it in more general terms. We think there is a point in exploration, if thereby the question can be reduced in size and importance. This does not mean that the subject is less serious to us than before as a major US responsibility. Ambassador Dobrynin was familiar with the inherent difficulties in the problem.

The Secretary continued by asking whether, in Ambassador Dobrynin’s judgment, there had not been a reduction in the tensions surrounding Berlin during recent weeks and months. There seemed to be somewhat less tension in the GDR and the relations between the Germans themselves likewise seemed to be somewhat less tense. We were interested in the agreement between the Federal Republic and Poland for the establishment of trade offices as indicative of a reduction of tension in the area. Ambassador Dobrynin said he could accept this assessment but would not over-emphasize the easing of the situation. Basically the situation was still an uneasy one since it was unbalanced with the essential issues remaining unsolved. He said he would like to explore with the US the Soviet proposals for the replacement of the NATO flag in Berlin by the flag of the United Nations. This exploration could take place in a concrete way, on an item by item basis, either in connection with a Soviet proposal or “in connection with your list.”

[Page 500]

The Secretary asked whether Dobrynin had any further idea with respect to the UN involvement contemplated? Did he have any further thoughts on this?

Ambassador Dobrynin said he was prepared to discuss the question fully. How the Soviets felt about the role of UN troops had been mentioned to Ambassador Kohler on December 3, 1962 by Deputy Foreign Minister Semonev. What the Soviets propose is to replace the troops presently in West Berlin with, say, a force made up one half of troops of the three Western powers and the other half of troops from other UN countries (perhaps one or two neutral countries, one or two other NATO countries and one or two other Warsaw Pact countries). These troops would stay there on the basis of a guarantee. But this subject had never been discussed concretely. The Soviets had never received a detailed reply on this issue. They wanted to start from the point where the talks with the US had left off, that is to start with an exploration of the last Soviet offer.

The Secretary observed that this proposal was one of several which the Soviets have made over a period of time. Thus, for example, they had started with the idea of Western and Soviet troops in West Berlin, then introduced the idea of NATO-Warsaw Pact troops, and then the UN had been brought into the picture. The difficulty about these proposals, the Secretary continued, is that they are unbalanced. They did not seem to show that element of reciprocality which he had stressed before. A basic factor on the German scene since the end of the war is that the Four Powers were to hold Berlin in trust for the German people. It had been the capital of Germany and in all likelihood would be again. The Four Powers were to hold it for this purpose. To forget Berlin and to take only West Berlin destroyed this basic idea. To dilute the Western forces worked against the security of Berlin. When he had inquired, the Secretary noted, the Soviets had made clear that they were referring only to West Berlin. This was the reason why the discussions had not gone very far forward. It is difficult to find a solution to the whole without thinking of the parts, but it is also difficult to find a solution for the parts without reference to the whole. The Soviets have left open the possibility of the Germans coming together to discuss reunification. The Soviets have suggested one procedure to achieve reunification, we another. In any event Berlin belongs to the Germans. We have tried not to tear it out of context. If there is to be a change, we have felt it should apply to Berlin as a whole and an imbalance in proposals created a serious problem for us.

We have not understood, the Secretary continued, what is “really in your mind” on the point which the Soviets have made about the Western troops in Berlin being NATO troops. In the sense that the US is a member of NATO they might be considered to be such. But the Berlin [Page 501] garrison has never been assigned to or constituted a part of the NATO forces. To think of West Berlin as a NATO base is not realistic on either military or political grounds. If we were looking for a NATO base, we wouldn’t put it in West Berlin. We wondered if there were something here which we had not fully understood. Why was this NATO aspect of such concern to the Soviets? The presence of NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in the Berlin area was, if anything, a stabilizing factor. The Secretary said he did not think the Soviets wanted a situation where the Four Powers did not share the responsibility for a final settlement in Germany. We attached some importance to the Four Power responsibility as a stabilizing element pending a final settlement of the German question.

The Secretary went on to say that we had not replied in detail with respect to a particular UN formula for reasons which he had mentioned. Another way to test such a formula would be to put oneself in the position of a West Berliner. What would he think of it?

At one point, the Secretary continued, Gromyko and he had been considering whether it would be useful to talk further on the access problem and to see what might be worked out on this subject. However, this broke down because it quickly became a question of access to what. The Secretary said he did not know if it would be useful to think of the access problem a bit. Today the Ambassador and he were just exploring.

As an analogy, the Secretary observed, we thought it useful to complete the nuclear test treaty even though we did not know the precise number of inspections which could be agreed. An arrangement could be discussed to protect our security interests as against Soviet interest in avoiding espionage. We still thought it useful to complete the treaty text, although there was still no agreement on the number of inspections. We might likewise consider whether there was any point in talking about the access problem. He did not, however, see quite how to take hold of this. In the background there was always the problem of troops. The Soviets have said that the presence of some Western troops is not an obstacle, but the dilution of that presence, not on the basis of reciprocity and for a limited time, makes this a real problem. The Soviets had proposed a period of four years, for example. The Secretary said he did not know a better way to undermine the confidence of the West Berlin population than this.

Ambassador Dobrynin said he could not accept what the Secretary had said about Four Power responsibility. The fact is that West Germany, East Germany and West Berlin exist as “separate states,” if one could use this term. After 17 years the responsibility of the Four was not the same as in 1945. Their responsibility then was to conclude a peace treaty with Germany. The Soviets have nothing against reunification or against finding a formula which would mention reunification. The Soviets [Page 502] would not oppose agreement between the two Germanies on this subject.

As to access, Ambassador Dobrynin continued, since the main point at issue was the troop question, that is the question of access to whom, it would be easier to find a solution to the access problem after the troop question was settled. The analogy which the Secretary had drawn with the nuclear test discussions proved just the opposite of what the Secretary had indicated. There was a need to reach agreement on specific figures first, the nuclear test discussions had shown. Therefore, the Soviets felt the troop question was the most difficult and that the question was how to substitute the UN flag for the NATO flag. The Soviets were prepared to discuss this item by item. They were prepared to continue discussions to find a way to an agreement. Their suggestion is that the two sides begin with a more detailed discussion of the Soviet proposal, item by item. Then they could take a look at the status of West Berlin and discuss this item by item. The Soviets did not refuse to discuss the access question but they thought that the two should begin with the most difficult question: access to whose troops and the basis of a change from NATO to the UN.

The Secretary said he considered the conversation today in the nature of a preliminary exploratory talk. We had wanted to hear from Dobrynin the basis on which Foreign Minister Gromyko had raised the Berlin question with Ambassador Kohler. We would expect to go over these matters again. Ambassador Dobrynin commented that the discussion was preliminary to the preliminaries.

The Secretary noted that he was not talking about delay as such but he could remember saying to Gromyko at one point that time has a way of taking care of some of these questions. He was not sure that there were not developments in Central Europe, to which the Soviets presumably agreed and to which we had no objections, which tended to take some of the danger from the situation. For example, there was the agreement between Poland and the Federal Republic to exchange trade missions. A few years ago, the Poles seemed to have more concern about the Federal Republic than today in the light of their present willingness to establish relations of this kind. The Secretary asked what elements Dobrynin saw as imposing urgency in the present situation. After all, there was nothing magical about 17 years.

Ambassador Dobrynin said the recent agreement between Poland and the Federal Republic was perhaps a hopeful but certainly an isolated sign. Such improved trade relations were not tantamount to a real improvement in basic factors. Although he did not want to raise this question now, he could only cite the famous pipe example. Today the West Germans make an agreement with Poland; tomorrow Adenauer might overturn this agreement. There was no stability in the present [Page 503] situation. He could not agree that everything was moving in one direction. Other developments were moving in an unfavorable direction, for example with respect to non-proliferation or the West German claim to have rights in West Berlin. The question of a multilateral force was certainly not a hopeful one. Delay could not be justified in the hope of improvement. The situation might be even more complicated in a year or two. The Secretary commented that he himself thought that the trend was not in an unfavorable direction. Dobrynin cited the growing influence of the Federal Republic in NATO as another unfavorable trend. He went on to say that the unsettled question of Berlin affected relations between the US and Soviet Union.

In response to the Secretary’s query as to how he saw developments in East Germany, Dobrynin said that the GDR was more actively participating in CEMA. It was joining other Eastern European countries in increasing economic specialization.

The Secretary asked what the Soviet Government had in mind when it talked of a limited time for any arrangement on Berlin. What happened thereafter? Dobrynin said that West Berlin would then become a free neutralized city with some UN presence and certain guarantees given by “your country and my country.” The Soviet Union was prepared to give guarantees. The UN headquarters could be put near Mayor Brandt’s office, if this were desired. The limited time, therefore, referred to the Western troop presence, the Secretary observed. Dobrynin noted that the time period was to be four years in the Soviet proposal. The Soviets were prepared to discuss all of this.

The Secretary said that perhaps we had better plan to sit down for a systematic review of these points to see if there are any possibilities. Dobrynin asked whether the US would prepare a list. The Secretary observed that, as Dobrynin had gathered, the question of Western troop presence is a fundamental point for us. We were responsible for the security of West Berlin. He wanted to mention again the importance of reciprocity. Ambassador Dobrynin suggested that they take item by item during the next discussion. The Secretary assented and noted that our purpose was to talk about anything reasonable. Both he and Ambassador Thompson stressed that this did not mean acceptance of the presence of a UN flag in West Berlin for a NATO flag which was not there. The question of a UN flag for the Warsaw Pact flag in East Berlin would also have to be discussed.

Ambassador Dobrynin commented that the Secretary knew the Soviet position with respect to East Berlin. It was a part of East Germany both practically and juridically. On the other hand, from the Western viewpoint, West Berlin had a special status and was never part of the [Page 504] Federal Republic. He was not instructed to discuss the situation in East Berlin point by point. There was nothing new in this Soviet position.

The Secretary observed that this is where the point of reciprocity came in. The Soviets did not want to discuss those subjects about which they had tied a string. Yet they did not have any responsibilities in West Berlin which we did not have in East Berlin. Ambassador Dobrynin commented that the situation was different. Ambassador Thompson noted that the situation was different because we had kept it different. Dobrynin said that East Berlin was part of the GDR, and the Secretary pointed out that it was a part of the city of Berlin. Dobrynin said that the Soviet Union did not oppose the unification of Berlin as a capital of a reunited Germany. The Soviets had nothing against reunification, though it was difficult to discuss practical points as to how it could be achieved.

The Secretary said that, in the next talk, each should review the position from his point of view. Acceptance of such a review would not mean acceptance in principle of the other’s position. They could spend some time in a systematic review. Dobrynin suggested that, in order to begin with something, they should start with the Soviet proposal.

The Secretary recalled that, from time to time, we had mentioned three levels of discussion: a final settlement of the German question, a factual solution and a modus vivendi. Did Ambassador Dobrynin see any remote possibility that we could find a final solution to the German question, for example along the lines of our 1959 proposals? Dobrynin said he did feel we could reach some practical arrangement. The Secretary said both should review the background of the talks and go over them systematically.

The Secretary and Ambassador Dobrynin agreed that, in response to press inquiries, they would say merely that they had begun their exchange of views. If queried as to whether any new proposals had been made, they would say that this was just the beginning of talks and no papers had been exchanged.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 28 Berlin. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted and initialed by Hillenbrand and approved in S on March 28. A summary of the conversation was transmitted to Bonn in telegram 2294, March 27. (Ibid.)