219. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • The German Problem and West Berlin


  • US
    • The President
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Thompson
    • Assistant Secretary Tyler
    • Mr. Akalovsky, ACDA/IR
  • USSR
    • Foreign Minister Gromyko
    • Deputy Foreign Minister Semenov
    • Ambassador Dobrynin
    • Mr. Sukhodrev, Foreign Ministry

What were these steps [following the Test Ban Treaty]1 in the view of the Soviet Government? First, there was the German problem. As before, the USSR attached great importance to it. There was no need to speak at length about this, because Mr. Khrushchev had spoken in a rather detailed manner about this problem in Vienna, and this made his, Mr. Gromyko’s, task that much easier. However, he wished to say that the USSR still believed that this problem was not only important but also acute. Why was it acute? Everybody knew that certain measures had been taken in connection with borders. The situation was better, and there was less tension now around, and in connection with, West Berlin. However, from the standpoint of European security and of eliminating the possibility of German aggression in the future, the Soviet Union believed that the German problem and the question of the German peace treaty must be resolved. The Soviet Union believed that on the part of [Page 592] the United States Government there was a lack of appreciation of the acuteness of the question of a German peace treaty from the standpoint of the prospects for lasting peace.

Mr. Gromyko continued that the US and the USSR had exchanged views on different aspects of the question of a German peace treaty. There was no need to go into those aspects now as the President was surely familiar with them. On some, and even many, of those aspects, the position of the two sides either coincided or the differences had been narrowed. However, when the question of the presence of Western forces in West Berlin had been reached, the US and USSR disagreed and parted. He had believed that in New York and now in Washington the two sides could proceed from where they had stopped last time. However, he had unfortunately noticed that now the US Government appeared no longer to believe that this was an urgent matter. In this connection, he wished to repeat that the USSR attached great importance to the German problem and particularly to the problem of a German peace treaty. Mr. Gromyko said he would appreciate the President’s comments on this matter so that the Soviet Union could acquire a deeper understanding of the US position and so that he could report the President’s views to Mr. Khrushchev.

The President said we knew the priority Mr. Khrushchev attached to this matter. He had discussed the problem with Mr. Khrushchev and every time he had met with Mr. Gromyko. As far as the US was concerned, we would be glad to discuss this problem. However, the question was whether the interests of both sides could be incorporated in one agreement. The problem was of concern to both sides, and it was not a matter of desire to reach agreement but rather whether we could reach it. One of the major problems was of course that of troops, i.e., the composition and how long they would stay. Another major problem was the question of the status of West Berlin. As far as access was concerned, it appeared to be somewhat clarified and perhaps agreement could be reached on that point. The President noted that the situation had eased de facto in the last months and expressed the hope that it could be maintained that way. In any event, he did not wish to create the impression that we were not interested in discussing the problem.

Mr. Gromyko recalled the President’s remark at the meeting last year2 about the possibility of some legal adjustments in the status of West Berlin. In this connection, he noted that he had asked the Secretary what the US meant by temporary arrangements. The USSR was interested to know what the US view was on legal adjustments in the status of West Berlin and on the meaning of the term temporary arrangements. [Page 593] He wondered what the expression “temporary arrangements” meant in terms of time because arrangements covering one, or two, or three, or ten, or twenty years would be of course quite different things. He said he would appreciate a more detailed exposition of US views on this point.

The Secretary commented that we were concerned by the use on the part of the USSR of the term “permanent”, which created the impression that we wanted to keep our troops forever. In this connection, he recalled his remark to Mr. Gromyko in New York3 that all existing arrangements were temporary, and that there were two things wrong with the Soviet proposals regarding troops in West Berlin. The first point was that the Soviet proposal provided for intermingling other forces with Western forces, and this only in West Berlin and not throughout Berlin. The second point was that the Soviet proposal provided for a time limit, something like five years, without agreement as to what would happen afterwards. What we meant when we used the term “temporary” was “pending final settlement”. If the USSR were to say now that it would agree to the stationing of Western forces in West Berlin pending a final and definite settlement of the total German problem, then we could see how stability could be added to access and to internal arrangements. In other words, we had to agree on the full scope of the problem in the final analysis. The US was not thinking in terms of permanency but in terms of temporariness pending a final settlement. Meanwhile we could see what we could do to stabilize the situation.

Mr. Gromyko commented this was not much of a fresh look.

The President observed that perhaps things were better than they looked. Over the past several months we had done a considerable amount of pulling and hauling in our country, and considering the internal and external difficulties of both of our countries they had done quite well. He said he was rather more optimistic than pessimistic. In this connection, he recalled the 1961 unamimous resolution by Congress against trade with the Soviet Union and noted that now a big wheat deal had been made, which was a change in US policy. The Test Ban Agreement, the understanding regarding weapons in outer space, and the Civil Air Agreement were all signs of an improvement in the situation.

Mr. Gromyko said the President was right that the atmosphere had improved, but noted that unresolved questions remain unresolved questions. In any event, he thought it was his duty to raise this matter and to try to convince the US Government and the President personally that both countries should seek possibilities for resolving it. He wondered whether he could tell the Soviet Government and Mr. Khrushchev [Page 594] personally that the President still attached importance to the German problem and that the United States Government would continue efforts to seek a solution with the USSR and the other parties concerned.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Gromyko/Kennedy. Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Akalovsky and approved in S on October 16 and in the White House on October 21. The meeting was held at the White House. Gromyko was in the United States for the 18th session of the U.N. General Assembly. The participants also discussed bombs in orbit, the Test Ban Treaty, a non-aggression pact, observation posts, military budgets, the MLF, U.S.-Soviet relations, disarmament, and Cuba. Memoranda of all these conversations are ibid.
  2. Brackets in the source text.
  3. See Document 135.
  4. See Document 216.