184. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Berlin


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

The Secretary began by referring to certain language with which Ambassador Dobrynin had opened their previous meeting,1 specifically his statement that “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.” This general language was a little hard to read, the Secretary observed. He wanted to enter an early reservation so that the Soviets would not think we had agreed to something to which we had not agreed.

We would like to see the Berlin problem cleared up, the Secretary continued. There was perhaps no other problem which was so disruptive of relations between the two countries. In this connection the Secretary referred to the continuous exchanges and the many incidents over Berlin. As he had told Mikoyan recently,2 he hoped the question could be resolved by agreement and thus a crisis be avoided. This would be possible if both sides would be willing to take account of the vital interests of the other. As he had said before, the Secretary went on, this taking into account of “actually existing conditions which came about on German territory as a result of the past war” included our position in Berlin. This also had to be taken into account. Normalization does not apply [Page 507] only to Berlin but also to the division of Germany which has existed since the end of the war.

The Secretary then referred to the remarks in Dobrynin’s opening statement at their last meeting to the effect that the Soviet Government proceeded “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: formalizing 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 the NATO and the Warsaw Treaty organizations.” It was true, the Secretary said, that, as indicated in the Statement of Principles which he had handed to Gromyko in Geneva, we felt that some real progress had been made on these points. But we did want to note some possibility of misunderstanding. We want it to be understood that these are subjects which would require discussion before any agreement could be reached.

With reference to “respect for the sovereignty of the GDR”, the Secretary noted that he had previously said that we did not see how a satisfactory arrangement on access need interfere with GDR sovereignty. The two could be mutually non-interfering in character. Access to Berlin need not involve interference with or intrusion into East German affairs. The Secretary said he had pointed out that many States by agreeing to transit rights over them do so without interfering with their sovereignty, for example in the case of aircraft overflights. We would not want to leave the implication, however, that we are talking about the political question of recognizing GDR sovereignty. We understand that there is such a place as East Germany and we do not act as if we did not understand this. But that is another matter.

At this point the Secretary began a lengthy discussion of nuclear nonproliferation (covered in a separate memorandum of conversation). During the course of this, Dobrynin came back to the Secretary’s remarks on his Berlin statement made at the previous meeting.3 He said that he wanted to clarify the Soviet reference to “positive results” point by point. As to borders, his government proceeded from the assumption that there was a sort of understanding between the Secretary and Gromyko and the President and Gromyko on this subject. The Secretary asked whether the Soviet language was intended to apply to the borders of Germany as a whole. Dobrynin answered in the affirmative. Ambassador Thompson’s remark that the word “formalizing” was broad in its [Page 508] meaning led to a brief discussion whether this was the best translation from the Russian. The Embassy had apparently translated the key word as “fixing” rather than “formalizing”. In response to the Secretary’s query whether the Soviets were also referring to the demarcation line between East and West Germany, Dobrynin said that the Soviets were aware that the United States did not recognize the GDR but this demarcation line was a border. He assumed that the Secretary did not wish to add anything new to what he had discussed with Gromyko. The Secretary said there was no change in the conversation from our side but we did not want this to be understood as anything like formalizing or that we considered it would lead to formalizing. The Secretary noted that we had talked of a parallel arrangement. The three Western powers would agree with the Soviet Union on access. The Soviets would speak to the East Germans and this would take care of GDR sovereignty. This would be non-interference. Dobrynin commented that the Secretary knew the Soviet position; it was not a question of formal recognition.

The Secretary observed that he had also said that, if the central question of our vital interests were solved, he saw no difficulty in these other questions falling into place. He wanted to point out that various aspects of these matters were not agreed, though there had been some progress or movement. Dobrynin commented that this is why the Soviets had used the expression “positive results”. The Secretary noted that the Soviet Ambassador in Paris had said that the Soviet Union and the United States had reached agreement.4 That was why the Secretary felt that he had to say that we had not reached agreement. Our Allies had come to us and said that we should show them the agreement. We did not want any general formula to conceal a misunderstanding as to what had actually been said on these various points. Dobrynin agreed there had been no formal agreement but merely what the Soviet language stated.

Returning to the first quotation from the Soviet statement which he had noted, the Secretary pointed out that this was nothing but the same old Soviet formula which turned up everywhere. Dobrynin said that the subject had been discussed many months. The Secretary responded that no agreement had yet been found that fitted this language. Dobrynin said that the language merely described the situation. The Secretary observed that the Soviet reference to “actually existing conditions” was undermined in the next paragraph directed against the presence of foreign troops in West Berlin. Dobrynin commented that he did not see anything new here.

At this point the discussion of nuclear non-proliferation resumed.

[Page 509]

Just before the end of the meeting, Dobrynin asked about future discussions on Berlin. How did the Secretary feel about an exchange of views on the troop question and related matters. The Secretary responded that these could be discussed in the near future. On the troop issue, he might say that difficult questions for us were involved in dealing with this issue solely in terms of West Berlin, substituting a UN flag for the NATO flag, diluting our forces in West Berlin, or the limited time period involved. How could we consider that our vital interests were met thereby? Dobrynin suggested that they go through the subjects point by point and that the Secretary say what was wrong with the Soviet proposals.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 28 Berlin. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted and initialed by Hillenbrand and approved in S on April 18. Rusk and Dobrynin also discussed nuclear non-proliferation and Laos. Memoranda of these parts of the conversation are ibid., Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330.
  2. See Document 182.
  3. See Document 158.
  4. A typed notation on the source text indicates that the text of this paragraph from this point through the sentence ending “would lead to formalizing” was classified Secret; Noforn.
  5. See footnote 1, Document 168.