46. Memorandum for the Record0


  • Conversation with Heinrich von Brentano, Saturday, May 5, 1962, 10 to 11 a.m.

I called on Von Brentano this morning at his request, relayed through Minister von Lilienfeld. At first the meeting was to be at Lilienfeld’s house, but later Ambassador Grewe called and said that he would like to have me come to the Embassy and meet with him. On the way to the Eglin Field air demonstration on May 4, I talked with him about it and explained that I would prefer to meet Brentano privately in order to speak very frankly with him about our confidence in Schroeder and in regular channels. Grewe agreed, and in turn I agreed to have a private talk with him after talking with Brentano.

Brentano began our talk by making three general statements. First, he hoped that his visit in Washington had been useful, and he wished to express his thanks for the understanding with which he had been received in all parts of Washington, including the White House. He fully recognized that the unhappy leak in Bonn had been damaging, and he agreed with his American friends that such indiscretions could be helpful only to the Soviet Union.

Second, he entirely agreed that it was important that there should be negotiations with the Soviet Union. Tensions were so great that none of us could neglect any possibility of lowering them. He further recognized that the U.S. must have and exercise the responsibilities of leadership in such negotiations.

Third, he spoke briefly to explain his reservations about the International Access Authority and the mixed commissions. The International Access authority might seem to lessen the ultimate responsibility of the Four Great Powers, and the mixed commissions might be misunderstood in Germany as meaning that the United States had lost its interest in the problem of reunification. Moreover, he thought that serious discussion between West Germans and Communist functionaries was as impossible as serious discussion between the condemned man and the hangman.

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I replied to these three headings as follows. First, I agreed that Brentano’s visit had been useful and that the indiscretions in Bonn had been damaging. I pointed out the difficulty of catching up with the damage of such indiscretions, and took the occasion to remark that Von Brentano’s private briefing on Tuesday (May 1) showed this difficulty.1 We were convinced that his intention had been to emphasize Allied harmony, but in fact correspondents, alerted to probe for differences, had found some and had been guided accordingly. A still more notable instance of this trouble was Brentano’s excellent speech to the Press Club which I had heard praised by our own State Department experts and which nevertheless was reported in rather waspish fashion by Murray Marder.2 All this trouble could be traced to the original indiscretions in Bonn.

Second, I agreed that the United States had the responsibility of leadership and was prepared to exercise it. We also believed in the importance of negotiation, although we had no clear evidence that our current efforts would be successful. We were trying to offer the Soviet Union a quiet way out of the crisis if the Soviet Union was in fact seeking such a result. We thought that perhaps some of the misunderstanding in Bonn derived from a failure to grasp just what our draft papers aimed at. There were many things which we believed that we could not put in a paper designed to attract a Soviet signature. The draft paper therefore described only the small sector in which our position and that of the Soviet Union might overlap. We should find other ways of describing the rest of our position. Brentano nodded his clear understanding and agreement to this presentation and said that he thought there had indeed been misunderstanding in Bonn.

Third, I disclaimed expert qualifications on the access authority or the technical commissions, but I indicated that, in our judgment, the access authority would not end the ultimate responsibility of the Four Powers. Indeed, I said that I thought in the end there were two Great Powers confronting each other here, and that all pieces of paper would take their meaning in the end from this fundamental fact. As to the technical commissions, I was somewhat more energetic, indicating our own belief that the West Germans should have confidence in their own ability to avoid being trapped by Communist opposite numbers. I recognized that there was a difference of emphasis here, and recalled that the [Page 139] Chancellor had expressed some worries of his own on this score last year, but I insisted that, in our judgment, these contacts, while not of critical importance, could have an affirmative value in the light of the relative quality and attraction of the Federal Republic as against the puppet Pankow regime.

Brentano denied that there was a problem of confidence in the German attitude toward the technical commissions, and argued again that such a “doctrine of contacts” might lead some Germans to believe that they must make their own arrangements with the East Germans and eventually with the Soviet Union. If there should ever be talk of reuni-fication by means of neutrality, he, Von Brentano, would prefer to go into exile, and so would most other men in German public life, even among the opposition. The whole of German policy in recent years had been built on the firm connection to NATO and the West, and he feared any action which might seem to move away from this line of policy.

I remarked that I could see no such danger in the notion of “contacts.” I said that the United States neither could nor would lessen its own interest in the fate of Germany, and that we too had an enormous investment in the solid commitment of the Federal Republic to NATO and the West. This was a keystone of our policy, and we knew that the attitude of the German people themselves was an essential element in this policy. We in our time had heard the arguments in favor of the neutralization of Germany, and able Americans had argued that Germany should be neutralized on the Austrian model. For myself, I thought there was only one thing wrong with such a policy: it would not work. Germany was no Austria, if only because of her size. Brentano nodded his agreement, and I went on to say that I thought Germany and the United States thus shared in the problem of the East German regime. We could not now get rid of it except by war. The Austrian solution was impractical. The Federal Republic must remain a part of the West. What could we expect?

I then suggested that the larger arena of relations with the Soviet Union would remain a matter of central concern to the United States, and there remained the possibility of an internal improvement in the GDR. I said that just as we had encouraged and supported a new atmosphere in Poland, we thought it worth working toward a mellowing of the Ulbricht regime. It would be a gain if East Germany could move from Ulbricht toward Gomulka, and it was in this sense that we saw some virtue in contacts. Brentano agreed with everything except the last clause of this exposition.

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After a further exchange of assurances that consultation is good and leaks bad, we parted cordially.3

P.S. I did emphasize our great confidence in Schroeder and in regular channels, and I think Von Brentano took the point.

McG. B.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany. Secret. Drafted by McGeorge Bundy.
  2. According to Tosec 48 to Athens, May 3, Lilienfeld had hosted a dinner on May 1 for 12 U.S. correspondents and broadcasters at which Brentano, with support from Grewe, had reiterated German concerns about the general U.S. approach and the proposals on access and technical commissions. The telegram concluded that the correspondents were left with the definite impression that there were serious differences between the United States and the Federal Republic. (Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/5–362)
  3. For text of Marder’s article, which included brief quotations from Brentano’s speech, see The Washington Post, May 5, 1962.
  4. Following his meeting with Brentano, Bundy discussed the situation with Grewe, who indicated that he felt his position was so badly damaged that he should withdraw. (Memorandum for the record; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Germany) Later that day Bundy sent a memorandum to the President reviewing his conversations with Grewe and Brentano. (Ibid.)