237. Telegram From the Embassy in Germany to the Department of State 0

1735. Paris for USRO and USELMLO; USAREUR and CINCEUR for POLADs. Subject: Autobahn convoy harassment.

Khrushchev’s comments yesterday1 make unmistakably clear that Autobahn convoy harassments receiving highest level attention in Moscow. We must realistically assume that they may continue, at least intermittently, for some time to come. Khrushchev’s direct involvement [Page 625] has quickly raised level of political concern in Germany and is being viewed as confirmation of widely held German belief that from beginning Autobahn incidents have been planned Soviet policy.

In case of Oct 10–12 incident and subsequent stoppage of British convoy, general reaction locally was satisfaction over victory of Western firmness in face of Soviet “power tactics”. US clearly gained prestige at expense of Sovs.

In most recent incident, reaction so far has been similar to extent that all recognize and commend US firmness and Allied solidarity. There has been wide recognition that stoppage of small US convoy is direct threat to Berlin and thus US maintenance of principle of free access is of vital importance to all Germans. No credence whatever given to Sov contention that US convoy conformed to Sov requirements and was then allowed to pass. New element in reaction compared to Oct 10–12, however, has been evidences of doubt as to whether firmness on spot is sufficient to handle threat implied by interference with convoys. This is true both of press and knowledgeable Germans to whom we have talked.

Die Welt for example concludes long front-page article on Autobahn today with statement “firmness in specific cases of intense harassment is not enough; freedom of Berlin access must henceforth be given a more central place in the political strategy ofthe West.” Deputy SPD Chairman Wehner reflected same feeling in statement to press yesterday on subject. SPD, he said, welcomes firmness shown by US and has been impressed by Allied solidarity. He feared Sovs would shortly make further difficulties, however, and wondered if, in the long run, it would not be better to settle the control procedures through a written agreement (Vertraglich). Such an agreement should in no case, he added, confirm Sov thesis that Sovs alone determine control procedures.
Reinkemeyer (Deputy Director FonOff Division II) commented last night that he still felt Autobahn harassment was evidence of Soviet “stupidity”. Sovs completely misestimated Western reaction and thought they could tighten hold on Berlin while pursuing strategy of relaxation elsewhere. Their action had served to stiffen Western resistance and encourage Allied cooperation. Reinkemeyer felt that in event of further stoppages (which he considered likely) some different method would be needed to deal with situation since, while Allied firmness admirable, future stoppages would tend to highlight Allied impotence in face of Sov APC’s.
Procedure which has been utilized successfully so far in handling convoy stoppagesis likely more and more in future to convey impression of Allied vulnerability to Sov harassments. Local reaction, which is now almost entirely positive, could change rather quickly to [Page 626] concern that US unable prevent Sovs from interfering with convoy access. We should think one thing that might be helpful would be to reach prior Allied agreement on protest to be delivered jointly in Moscow as soon as any case of Sov interference with convoy access occurs. This would quickly make clear to Sovs and to German public that Allies not viewing incident in isolation from other aspects of relations with Moscow and thatwe not relying solely on local firmness to resolve situation.
To facilitate governmental coordination, we are recommending to CINCEUR and to USCOB that non-dismount convoys henceforth be dispatched at mid-day rather than early morning so that if interference occurs, allowing for time difference, four-power consultations in Washington can be quickly arranged.
We hope discuss entire problem with Amb Thompson on 11th and may have additional recommendations to submit thereafter.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 38–10. Secret; Priority. Received at 2:52 p.m. Also sent to USAREUR and CINCEUR and repeated to Paris, London, Moscow, and Berlin.
  2. For extracts from Khrushchev’s conversation with U.S. businessmen in Moscow on November 6 during which he claimed that the United States had yielded to Soviet procedures and intimated that the incident might have touched off anuclear war, see The New York Times, November 7, 1963.