250. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Negotiations with the Soviets (Part 4 of 9 Parts)


On the question of East-West relations, the President told the Chancellor that the US wanted to explore all roads to better understanding and specifically look at the possibilities of improving relations with the Soviet Union. The President reassured the Chancellor that the US would negotiate from a position of strength and keep the German Government fully informed of its intentions. In this connection, the President asked the Chancellor whether he had any suggestions on what the US might do, or what the Federal Republic itself could do, to improve East-West relations.

The Chancellor said, as far as Germany was concerned, it made greater sense to talk with Khrushchev than Ulbricht. The latter was nothing more than a Soviet flunkey. But the Chancellor thought the West had to know more than it now did about the strength of the Soviet Union and the extent of its present difficulties. The German Government had the distinct impression that the situation inside the Soviet Union was tense. He admitted this estimate was based on circumstantial [Page 659] evidence. However, it was gleaned from dealings with the Soviet satellites and therefore of more than passing significance.

In this connection, the Chancellor said the Germans were struck by the fact that the satellites now seemed to have greater confidence and a greater degree of independence than before. The Germans translated this to mean that Khrushchev was not in full control in the way that Stalin was or in the way Khrushchev himself was in earlier days.

The Chancellor went on to say that some judgment also had to be made about the current struggle between the Soviet Union and Red China. The Germans doubted this was an ideological struggle. They were inclined to believe that this was a competition for power. And this open rift was not without its military implications. For one of the new facts of life was that the Soviet Union now had to guard its Eastern and Western frontiers.

The Chancellor felt three things had to be borne in mind. First, that modern technology in armaments and industry required vast sums of money and Soviet attempts to fill the Siberian vacuum (bordering on the home of 700 million Chinese) with people and industry, was a vast and difficult undertaking. Second, the progressive adoption of middle-class standards by Soviet society posed new and complicated problems for the Soviet Government. And finally, the need to advance industry, added to already difficult Soviet economic burdens, placed enormous if not impossible demands on the Soviet economic machinery.

It was the German Government’s view that the Soviet economy just could not meet all these requirements at the same time. Something had to give. The question was where. If the savings were made in the defense areas, so much the better. This would improve chances for an East-West understanding.

In summary, the Chancellor stressed that although the Germans could not talk with Ulbricht, they might be prepared to work with Khrushchev. For the Soviet leadership in trouble might be interested in accepting material and financial assistance and agree to permit progress in the solution of the German question.

In reply to the President’s question as to the amount of financial assistance the Germans had in mind, the Chancellor said the Federal Government’s ideas were not quite firm. However, there could not be any long-term credits without major political concessions. Competition among the Western countries for extending credits to the Soviets would help Khrushchev without bringing about any improvement in the East-West situation. Political and economic factors had to be tied together. And the Germans were prepared to make substantial material and financial sacrifices in return for self-determination and improvement in the Berlin and German situations.

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Continuing, the Chancellor said that the problem was very difficult for the Germans. They were at loss on how to approach Khrushchev. The Soviet leader was not likely to admit any readiness to enter into a bargain involving an exchange of political concessions for material assistance. The Chancellor thought, however, the US might do some of the probing, talk with the Russians, and indicate that the Germans were prepared to make sacrifices if progress on self-determination were possible. The Chancellor doubted this would work but he thought it ought to be considered, and felt there ought to be further consultation on it.

In his judgment, the Chancellor said the other problems were relatively minor. If some understandings were reached, fine. But he warned against illusions that these would bring about substantive changes in the world situation. On the other hand, he admitted some progress might be possible on major problems if Khrushchev were really under heavy pressure. The Chancellor readily admitted that no one had established how substantial these pressures were, although the German impression was that Khrushchev’s present position was distinctly uneasy.

The President agreed that such an assessment ought to be made, and the problem fully considered.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 2354. Secret; Exdis. The source text bears no drafting information, but it was approved by the White House on January 14, 1964.