242. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • German-US Relations


  • Germans
    • Federal President Heinrich Luebke
    • Chancellor Ludwig Erhard
    • Foreign Minister Gerhard Schroeder 1
    • Ambassador Heinrich Knappstein
    • Herr Weber, Interpreter
  • Americans
    • The President
    • Under Secretary George W. Ball
    • Assistant Secretary William R. Tyler, EUR
    • Mr. Robert C. Creel, Director, GER
    • Mr. Arnold Lissance, Interpreter

Following a brief meeting in the President’s office, where the President presented to Chancellor Erhard on behalf of the late President Kennedy a large gilded silver cigar box (which had been procured originally in anticipation of Chancellor Erhard’s scheduled official visit), the meeting adjourned to the Cabinet Room for further discussions.

President Luebke said the German delegation was extremely grateful for this opportunity to meet with President Johnson. It was obviously impossible under the circumstances to have the full exchange of views which had been contemplated when the Erhard visit was scheduled, but he wished to mention briefly a few German national problems. First, we had to recognize that there were indications there might be some new attacks on the communications lines between the Federal Republic and Berlin, and this situation would bear watching. There were several other pending problems which had already been discussed,2 and there was no need to repeat the German position here. It would be important for the German people to be reassured that the US attitude on all these matters remained unchanged. Luebke was convinced personally that our two governments were agreed on fundamentals and that there were no basic problems between us.

The President said he heartily concurred with this view. He wanted at the outset to express his appreciation to the German delegation for honoring us with their presence on this occasion. He was glad that the President, the Chancellor and others could be with us in this sad hour to show their respect for our late President.

President Luebke replied that it was entirely understandable that the Germans should wish to express their sympathy. The Germans had received so much support from the US that they wished to stand together with us in this tragic hour. The reason the Germans had been able to build up their country again was largely due to American help. They wished to continue to work together with us. He mentioned in particular the matter of aid to underdeveloped countries.

The President said this attitude was very much appreciated.

Chancellor Erhard commented that he had already been scheduled to be here with Foreign Minister Schroeder, although under entirely different [Page 636] circumstances. The German objective had been to redefine and strengthen the relationship between our two countries following Erhard’s taking over the chancellorship. It would have been a good time to do so after his visit with De Gaulle in Paris. There were common problems facing us he had wished to discuss—the Atlantic Alliance, European integration and the Kennedy Round, among others. Now, after the tragic death of President Kennedy, he felt there was a need to give new impetus to all the objectives we shared together. We should avoid the impression there was any kind of hiatus. He was therefore anxious to have these talks as soon as possible, maybe in early January. After that he would have to go to London on an official visit. He reiterated there was a real need to give a new impulse to Atlantic cooperation and to show the peoples of Europe that there would be no interruption in the progress toward our objectives.

The President replied that we were anxious to reschedule the Erhard visit as soon as possible. He would ask the State Department to look over the schedule and see what specific dates could be worked out. Since Erhard had been scheduled to be here right now, the President would want him to be the first, or at least one of the first on the list. Meanwhile, there were many decisions which had to be made by the new American Government. He was going before a joint session of the Congress tomorrow morning and developments in Congress might have some effect on his own schedule. But he agreed that the visit should take place and take place soon. He was fully aware of the value of our relations with the Federal Republic. We appreciated the Federal Republic’s support in the causes of Atlantic partnership and European unity. We shared a number of things in common. For example, his own mother’s family had come to America from Germany in 1848. Both he and Erhard were starting new administrations.

Erhard replied that he was aware that President Johnson knew Germany. He had gone to Berlin at an historic hour after the Wall was erected in August, 1961. He was happy to hear that the President was of German ancestry and commented that 1848 was the year the best Germans had left Germany for the US. He felt the transition we were now undergoing both in Germany and in the US should be a smooth one. We had a basic identity of viewpoint, and Germany had the fullest confidence both in the US and in President Johnson personally.

The President replied it was comforting to hear these sentiments. There were several points he wished to make: We were determined to preserve our rights in Berlin; as he had himself said in Berlin, we intended to stay there.3 We would keep the military forces in Europe necessary [Page 637] to meet our commitments. We supported the right of the German people to self-determination. The President looked forward to working together with the new Chancellor and the German people. He also looked to Erhard as a famous economist and a leading advocate of expansion of world trade to make the coming trade negotiations a success. President Kennedy had “put everything on the line” for the Trade Expansion Act. The President considered TEA as one of the outstanding achievements of the Kennedy Administration in the search for world peace. While he did not want to relieve Mr. Ball of his responsibility as our expert in this field, the President would also look to Chancellor Erhard to help make these talks next spring successful. He had just himself returned from the Benelux countries and knew that everyone there was very concerned over the outcome of the Kennedy Round. Erhard should know that if possible President Johnson felt even stronger on this subject than had President Kennedy. It was imperative to have a flow of goods if we were to have a flow of understanding.

Erhard replied that on the German side they would do their best to make the Kennedy Round a success. They were aware of the need of the peoples of Europe and America to feel that they formed a unity, quite apart from military or political considerations, in their everyday life. Erhard recalled that he had been with President Kennedy when the trade expansion bill had been sent to the Hill and that he had also been there when the bill had been passed. He therefore had a personal interest in the success of the Act. It would not be easy within the EEC to negotiate the agricultural problem, which had a definite relationship to the Kennedy Round. The matter of grain prices was a particularly difficult problem. President Luebke, Foreign Minister Schroeder and he were all agreed that they must move ahead in Germany on these matters and that changes would be needed. He was happy to learn that President Johnson attached such importance to this problem. While in Paris he had also discussed the question of disparities with De Gaulle, who wanted to eliminate this problem. Erhard felt that it was not possible to settle these problems individually and in isolation, but that they should all be considered together.

The President commented that other common ground he shared with the Germans was that there was a large German population in Texas and that the American Ambassador to Germany was from Texas. In connection with agricultural problems he recalled an incident recently in Texas where large quantities of chicken salad had been bought by the Governor with funds which were not authorized. The ensuing difficulties had had a very divisive effect in Texas and the injuries from the chicken salad case were still with us. He looked to Chancellor Erhard to see to it that a few little chickens would not cause similar enduring difficulties between the US and Germany.

[Page 638]

Mr. Ball commented that he hoped we could finally settle this problem.

The President then inquired as to what time in January or early February might be best for an Erhard visit. He pointed out we would be faced with a number of problems in early January—Congress would be reconvening, there was the State of the Union message, the Budget message, and so on.

Mr. Ball asked when Erhard was going to London. Erhard replied January 15–16, adding that it would be highly desirable if he could visit here before going to London.

The President said we were anxious to settle this point in accordance with the Chancellor’s wishes and asked Mr. Ball to try within the next few days to work out a date.

Erhard asked what he should say to the press after the meeting should they inquire about this point.

Mr. Ball suggested he state that it had been agreed the visit should be rescheduled at the earliest possible time. He could indicate that this meant as soon as possible after January 1. We would try to work this out within the next day or so.

President Luebke said another factor in favor of early January was that later in the month they would be holding a big agricultural fair (Green Week) in Berlin. There would be many agricultural experts there and it would be good if some of the agricultural problems could be worked out prior to the meeting.

Erhard said that from the standpoint of “atmosphere” it would be highly desirable if it could be made absolutely clear that there would be continuity of US policy. It was also important to demonstrate that personal contact had been established between the two administrations.

Mr. Ball said he could give complete assurances regarding the continuity of US policy and our desire to continue to work very closely with the Germans toward our common objectives.

The President said he wished to stress that he had been a part of the Kennedy Administration and had personally taken part in shaping its policy. He was deeply committed to its objectives. On the Erhard visit the Chancellor could say to the press that we regretted the tragic circumstances requiring the postponement of the visit and that we would reschedule it shortly after January 1.

The President asked if there were any further comments. President Luebke said there was one additional item on his mind. He had recently come back from a trip to Iran, Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines. He had been particularly struck by the problems in Indonesia, a country of 100 million people but in very poor shape economically. It was this latter factor which tended to push the government and people of Indonesia [Page 639] toward Moscow. He was convinced it was necessary for all of us in the free world to hold Indonesia. He believed Sukarno had no personal tendency toward Moscow and would go in that direction only if there were no alternative. He himself had not particularly wanted to go to Indonesia to start with but had asked the British and Americans for advice. Both had said he should go, and he was glad he had done so. He wanted to stress that Sukarno was ready to establish closer ties with the West than with the East bloc. He felt that the decision of the US Senate on foreign aid was a factor of great importance in this picture. He therefore hoped the President would give his personal attention to this problem.

The President replied that he was aware of this problem and appreciated President Luebke’s interest. He assured him that his views would be taken into account.

In conclusion, President Luebke said he had been gratified to hear what had been said about the continuity of US policy. He wanted to thank the President for these statements.

  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 66 D 149. Drafted and initialed by Creel and approved in U on December 3 and in the White House on January 8, 1964. The meeting was held in the White House.
  2. Luebke, Erhard, and Schroeder visited Washington for President Kennedy’s funeral. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22.
  3. A memorandum of the conversation at the Department of State at 2:30 p.m. on European integration is in Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330.
  4. add “as long as our presence was required.” [Footnote in the source text added at a later time.]