197. Memorandum of Conversation0



  • Secretary Dean Rusk
  • Ambassador George McGhee
  • Assistant Secretary William R. Tyler
  • Minister Martin J. Hillenbrand
  • FSO—Robert D. Davis
  • Governing Mayor Willi Brandt
  • Berlin Senator Schuetz
  • Senat Press Chief Bahr

After noting that we had not come to any final decisions on the Waltersdorfer Chaussee crossing point, the Secretary said he would like to talk the matter out with Brandt and hear his views.

Brandt said that he would have serious doubts about closing the crossing point even though it works exclusively in the GDR interest. The whole set of crossing arrangements worked similarly, i.e. the limited crossing points and the distinctions between West Berlin and West German access to the Soviet Sector. The Vienna-Schoenefeld deal might [Page 531] soon collapse, and crossings would be limited to a very few Bloc travellers. The Western position was “anti-Wall,” and any deviation from this would weaken our case in the world.

As to the Schoenefeld flights, the Austrians were trying to get permission for overflights over the GDR for Austrian Airlines (AUA) to land at Tempelhof. Brandt thought this was a good idea from the local standpoint, since it would give cheaper and faster service to Vienna. If GDR permission was withheld, he thought that Vienna would cancel the Schoenefeld service on July 31. AUA would, of course, have to get Allied permission for West Berlin landings, and he hoped the Allies would ask for Senat views.

He realized there was a feeling on the Allied side that air service outside the corridors might weaken the Allied legal position. He saw this point but was not convinced. There are now other non-Allied non-Communist access routes. He mentioned the several roads used for West German access, and the Swedish train to Stockholm. It was absolutely clear if the Allies had to decide negatively in view of the corridor problem, that the Senat would have to respect this.

The Secretary said we were not at that point yet. We were soliciting his views. Returning to the gate, had there been any contacts with the GDR as to whether West Berliners could use it? Brandt replied negatively. The Secretary said we were in favor of practical arrangements to ease life, and were confident of the superior attractive force of West Berlin and the FRG. But practical steps can create new problems. What is the popular opinion on this? Does it accuse the Allies of tolerating a unilateral action?

Brandt admitted there was strong feeling against the crossing point last week. But he had discussed the question with 20–25 senior Senat officials of the SPD on June 22. All were against closing the crossing, and the most radical views were only to support a popular boycott. West Berlin had never resorted to police measures. Actually a boycott already existed. The second flight of the Vienna service flew out empty on June 22.

The Secretary asked, not as a suggestion, but as a possible contingency, that if the West Berlin authorities asked us not to close the point, whether they would take the responsibility for public opinion. The confidence of the population was important for the security of Berlin. If confidence goes, security melts out from under us.

Brandt replied that no discussion would be at the expense of the Allies. There were a lot of young people who were irritated. The Senat knows how to convince them what to do from past experience. “We would not evade responsibility.”

[Page 532]

The Secretary said he understood that Brandt’s policy was to punch holes in the Wall even with no advantage to his side.

Brandt said his policy had never been to keep people from leaving West Berlin, and this was a sound principle for the future.

When the Secretary asked whether the GDR did not arrest people on the Swedish train, Brandt said “No.” There might be a few instances, but the passengers had a visa-like “piece of paper,” which implied special permission.

The Secretary said there was a great deal of theology about Berlin, and it was often hard to learn the practical effects of policy. Popular opinion was a not unimportant part of the problem.

Brandt said it was an element. Some West Berliners resented use of Communist facilities, i.e. for travel to Bulgaria, in order to meet East German relatives there. Only wealthier people could afford this. Still the workers accepted it. (Schuetz interjected that newspapers were not the same as Berliners.) Brandt continued that Berlin could not become a ghetto and ignore the principle of free movement.

Ambassador McGhee asked whether there was no leverage to influence the GDR on the crossing point.

Brandt said “no,” but he was not sure. Schuetz said the FRG thought so, through IZT. Leopold considered that GDR had traffic processing troubles which might create an interest in making interzonal traffic easier.

The Secretary said that there were several problems about the Austrian flights. Air access was of special sensitivity and was the critical element of our access. If part of air access were dependent on the agreement of the GDR and this dependence grew in amount, the GDR would say that we accept access with agreement of the Zone; the occupation was therefore over, and there was no need for Allied access.

Brandt professed to see the point, but doubted if this danger could arise from the Austrian service.

The Secretary said one service could grow to many, e.g. with Switzerland and Scandinavia.

Brandt said that SAS overflew the GDR from Prague, reportedly without any government agreement. This involved NATO Allies. The Austrians thought they could also work out something without government agreement.

The Secretary feared this might be a nibbling away at recognition of the GDR.

Assistant Secretary Tyler noted that our air access was virginal, pure and undiluted. The GDR had nothing to do with it. If the AUA overflew the GDR, the GDR air control system would govern the flights, [Page 533] and this would engender some measure of relations between BASC and the GDR. Corridor flights would no longer be autonomous.

Minister Hillenbrand explained that the Soviets were only notified of Allied flight plans; they did not otherwise participate in traffic control. AUA or other non-corridor flights to West Berlin would in effect be guided into Tempelhof by the Schoenefeld control tower, and this would present infinite possibilities for disruption of our air traffic.

Schuetz asked if they did not now schedule flights which required adjustment of Western flight plans.

Minister Hillenbrand replied negatively. They had tried to do something analogous in the February 1962 crisis.

The Secretary said that the Soviets had pushed hard to connect sovereignty of the GDR to access. We have resisted and told them to make their own arrangements, since we will not submit our access to the GDR. This would open us up to suffocation by Ulbricht. We are concerned about GDR consent for entry into West Berlin. This moves down a trail leading towards great problems, unless the East Germans have goodwill or the West Germans have an effective means to regulate such matters with them. We don’t want to rely upon the East Germans and we don’t want to lose the speciality of our air access. The case of the Swedish train is different.

Brandt said that everyone knew that he wanted no weakening of the status of Western access. The question is whether additions would weaken it.

The Secretary said that following this line of argument, he could imagine a situation in which several airlines flew to Tempelhof or Schoenefeld. If the subject were later to come to the U.N., the Soviets could make an argument that there already existed full and sufficient non-Allied access to Berlin, and that they wanted only to block U.S. military access. We could hardly get a majority on such an issue if we had participated in building up the alternatives.

Brandt argued that Sweden, Switzerland and Austria do not offer major routes. Schuetz added that Tempelhof could regulate which aircraft could land that the other side could not.

The Secretary asked whether technical arrangements could not be made to transfer the tower control from Schoenefeld to Tempelhof 50 miles out of Berlin.

Minister Hillenbrand observed that this was possible, but it was difficult to see how it could happen, since the aim of GDR policy in this area was to attack the validity of the Tempelhof ATC.

The Secretary asked if it were true that Brandt wanted to multiply means of access. Brandt said this was the case. The fare to Vienna would cost DM 80 less and take a shorter time, and we should examine the possibilities [Page 534] from a practical viewpoint. The Austrian Consul General had asked him whether he could discuss the matter with AUA, and Brandt had inquired whether there was any chance of the GDR agreeing to AUA overflights to West Berlin. The Austrian Consul General said he has asked the same question of Vienna, and on June 22 had received the answer that there were “substantial chances,” given the support of the Soviets. Brandt personally had the feeling that the Austrians think that they don’t stand a chance. However, even if the project does not lead to results, all of us should discuss the general problem since it might come up again. If there were an eventual possibility to get an interim agreement with the Soviets which would include new elements, would it not perhaps be necessary to add additional elements of access?

The Secretary said that this was a long-term problem. We welcomed possibilities of West and East Berlin working out reciprocal advantages by punching holes in the Wall, and we welcomed FRG trade and contacts. These aspects did not present any problems. What bothers us is to bring access into a position where it is subject to the agreement of the East Germans. He said frankly that we could make a deal with the Soviets tomorrow if we were willing to concede this point.

Brandt said that he agreed.

The Secretary continued that there are changes under way in the Bloc and rumors of differing attitudes. It was too early to see where these would lead. As late as last October, the U.S. was exposed to the most colossal deceit on the part of Khrushchev personally. We had no illusions that they would cut our throats if they could. We feel that the security of West Berlin fundamentally depends on the U.S. presence in West Berlin which is based on the right of victory, not on agreement. We won’t be pushed out or negotiated out. This is utterly fundamental. Some day the situation may change and other considerations might govern, but our primordial principle is that we are there by right and not by the consent of anybody. Of course we might consider leaving if we heard the West Berliners shouting “Yanks go home.”

The Secretary summarized by saying that we will be in consultation with the Federal Government and with West Berlin on the gate problem, since this is a matter in which they have an interest. We want to talk with the French and the British and will gladly say that Brandt’s views and those of the Federal Republic should fully be taken into account. The Secretary personally thought it was a good idea to punch holes.

Air services other than through the corridors was another question. The Secretary characterized this as a more difficult problem and much more serious. We would talk about it with Brandt later. Perhaps the problem arose because the Austrian Commerce Ministry acted without consultation of the Foreign Office. The international ramifications were [Page 535] very considerable and he was not sure that the Austrians appreciated them.

Brandt promised to prepare a memorandum on what the Austrians had told him, which he hoped to finish the next day.1

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 7 US/Kennedy. Secret. Drafted by Davis and approved in S on August 8. The source text is labeled “Uncleared.” The meeting was held in Ambassador McGhee’s residence. Another memorandum of this conversation, PET/MC/15, is dated June 23, but a summary of the discussion transmitted in telegram 3592 from Bonn, June 25, states that the conversation took place “yesterday.” (Ibid., POL 38–10)
  2. Following this conversation Brandt and Rusk briefly discussed the subject of U.S. firms in Berlin. The Mayor reported that special efforts, including assistance by General Clay, had resulted in bringing in 10 U.S. firms, and stated that he also wanted to get them the same tax benefits that German firms had. (US/MC/35; ibid., POL 7 US/Kennedy)