224. Memorandum of Conference With President Kennedy 0


  • Berlin


  • Secretary Rusk
  • Secretary McNamara
  • Ambassador Thompson
  • Assistant Secretary Tyler
  • Assistant Secretary Nitze
  • Assistant Secretary Manning
  • General Clay (JCS)
  • Mr. Bundy
  • Mr. Salinger
  • General Clifton
  • Mr. David Klein
  • Mr. Bromley Smith

Assistant Secretary of State Tyler opened the meeting by summarizing the Kohler/Zorin conversation in Moscow.1 Zorin had left the impression that the Russians had no intention of causing real trouble over Berlin access and that they were not seeking to change established convoy procedures. Mr. Tyler also summarized a conversation with French Ambassador Alphand 2 who, after receiving instructions from Paris, had said that the French approved of assembling Free Style forces, of sending additional convoys, including their own, to Berlin, and of sending a protest to Moscow immediately. In a meeting in Paris with Lyon, both Lucet and Laloy3 said the French Government is anxious to cooperate closely with its allies in all matters and to do everything possible to show a solid allied front.

The President asked whether it was believed that this was a significant test of our intentions. Ambassador Thompson replied that he did not believe it was a deliberate attempt at the top to cause trouble. He said minor incidents of the past few days may have stirred up lower Soviet officials who responded by blocking the convoy. He recalled that we had never given a copy of our convoy rules to the Russians. He speculated that the Russians may be trying to find out exactly when we are willing to dismount and when not. The timing of the current incident indicates, however, that someone may be stirring up trouble.

The President pointed out that the Russians say there are sixty-six men in the blocked convoy while we say there are thirty. The difference is that we subtract a driver and assistant driver for each of the eighteen vehicles in the convoy.

Ambassador Thompson called attention to the draft tripartite note which had been agreed to by the British and the French.4

The President asked why we should not instruct our commander to tell the Russians that they must release the blocked convoy but that we were prepared thereafter to talk about existing convoy procedures. Secretary McNamara replied that we had already instructed ourcommander, General Baker, to do just this.

[Page 604]

Secretary Rusk asked whether it would not be wise for Ambassador Thompson to discuss thecurrent situation with Dobrynin again, telling him the details of our convoy dismountingpractices. Mr. Nitze pointed out the difficulty of explaining allied practices which vary. He said that we must not get in a position of negotiating about procedures because our right of access if not negotiable, i.e., it arises out of our conquest of Germany.

Ambassador Thompson reported that the French had agreed to the assembly of the Free Style forces and the British Ambassador said he had sufficient authority to do so without reference to London.5

The President asked whether the allies think the situation serious and whether they believe our position is justified. Ambassador Thompson replied that all agree the situation is serious, that it has been planned for, and, therefore, we should go ahead as had beenagreed earlier.

The President commented that the longer the situation goes on the more serious it becomes. He believed we should make one attempt to straighten out any misunderstanding about numbers with the Russians. In the meantime, we should avoid sending convoys which fall within the disputed area.

The President instructed Ambassador Thompson to ask Ambassador Dobrynin to tell Zorin toinstruct the Russian commander to meet with General Baker as soon as possible to discussdismounting procedures. Secretary Rusk said Ambassador Thompson should tell Dobrynin of the numbers we use and explain why we are not now changing the procedures, adding thatweare ready to talk procedures as soon as the convoy is released.

The President asked whether the tripartite protest could be made public. Secretary Rusk expressed the hope that the entire situation would be cleared up before the note was published.

The President agreed to Secretary Rusk’s suggestion that Free Style forces be assembled first thing tomorrow rather than during the night. Secretary McNamara questioned whether we should assemble the Free Style forces. If the Russian action was the result of a mistake, the assembly of the Free Style forces would complicate Soviet efforts to correct the situation. The President said that if it takes two days to assemble the forces, he believed we should begin now to bring them together, and he instructed that the assembly begin tomorrow.

[1 paragraph (4–1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Meetings with the President, Berlin Convoy Incidents. Top Secret. The source text bears no drafting information.
  2. See Document 223.
  3. No record of this conversation has been found.
  4. A record of this meeting was transmitted in telegram 1768 from Paris, October 12. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 38–10)
  5. A copy of the note was transmitted to Moscow in telegram 1169, October 11, 6:44 p.m. (Ibid.)
  6. Thompson had chaired another meeting of the Ambassadorial Group at 3 p.m. during whichthe British and French made these statements. (Telegram 1052 to Bonn, October 11, 8:52 p.m.; ibid., POL 38–8)