189. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • The United States
    • The President
    • The Secretary of State
    • Bernard A. Gufler, Ambassador to Finland
    • Arthur Schlesinger, Spec. Asst. to Pres.
    • Wm. R. Tyler, Act. Asst. Sec., EUR
  • Finland
    • President Urho Kekkonen
    • Foreign Minister Ahti Karjalainen
    • Richard R. Seppala, Ambassador of Finland
    • Max Jakobson, Chief of the Press Bureau

The Secretary of State opened the meeting by outlining the Berlin problem as it stands today. He said that while there had been talks with Gromyko there was as yet no blue sky to be seen. Khrushchev was continuing to call into question our vital interests on which we could not yield. The Secretary said that if Khrushchev were to continue to press on these vital points, then we were all in for trouble.

President Kekkonen said he had the opportunity of hearing Soviet views on Berlin since January 1959, when he talked with Khrushchev. Since then, he said, he had met Khrushchev again once and had talks with President Brezhnev.1 He had tried to find some evidence of change in the Soviet attitude, but in vain, which was no surprise to him.

The Secretary said there had been some clarification on two procedural, not substantive, points: (a) the Soviets had indicated they were prepared to consider a four-power agreement on access which would not require negotiations with the GDR; (b) they had said there was no “fatal” date for signing a peace treaty. President Kekkonen said that Brezhnev had also told him that the Soviets were not prisoners of their own timetable, if there were to be real [Page 398] negotiations which were not merely a pretext for further delay. President Kekkonen said he had the impression that the Western Powers have not taken the Berlin problem as seriously as they should have since 1959, because Khrushchev had given up his first six-month ultimatum. He said that West Berlin, as such, was not of great importance, but that it was the German question as a whole which was involved. He said he had gained the strong impression, from what Brezhnev said about the Germans, that the Soviets in fact do fear Germany very much, though they don’t use the word “fear”, and that they are apprehensive about the Germans unleashing another war.

President Kennedy, who joined the conversation at this point, summarized the importance of the German question for the West. He said we had done all we could to integrate the Federal Republic into the rest of Europe, and whatever the outcome of the present crisis, Germany’s ties to the West must not be impaired. On no account should West Germany be neutralized. Thus, said the President, West Berlin was not the sole issue.

President Kekkonen said it was easy for Finland to understand the US point of view in this matter. If the West were to give up its position in West Berlin, the result, in so far as Germany was concerned, might well be along the lines mentioned by President Kennedy. He said he had tried to find out from Brezhnev what advantage a separate peace treaty held for the Soviet Union, in view of the fact that it was not possible for it to apply to the whole of Germany. Brezhnev said that one could not be sure, but that he thought there was a 50% to 60% chance that after a separate peace treaty had been concluded, conditions would be clarified in such a way as to lead toward the consolidation of Germany. President Kekkonen had then pointed out that the West considered access to Berlin vitally important. Brezhnev had said that the Soviet Union was prepared to guarantee access but that the Ulbricht regime would have to be associated with such a guarantee, since the GDR was a sovereign state.

The President pointed out the very great difficulties that lay in the way of recognizing or dealing with the GDR, due to the fact that the Germans would then feel that the prospects of reunification had been fatally impaired. He said our hope was that it might be possible to reach an agreement with the Soviets under which our rights would be unimpaired.

President Kekkonen referred to the difficulties of relations with Eastern Europe. He recalled that President Eisenhower, at the start of his administration, had spoken of liberation of Eastern European countries. However, Germany could not be reunified by force.

President Kennedy said we could not recognize the GDR. To do so would provoke a very strong adverse German reaction. This could be seen from the effect of the creation of the wall in Berlin on German opinion. [Page 399] He said we did not want a revival of nationalism in Germany. Germany should not be allowed to become isolated, for this would lead to the destruction of freedom in Europe. He said he hoped that the Soviets would be prepared to reserve our rights to access in any agreement, otherwise there might be war.

President Kekkonen said the Soviets always use the argument that the West doesn’t really want the reunification of Germany. President Kennedy said this might be largely true in the case of individual countries, but that it was not the point. He said that Germany was now divided, and that this was a fact. The Soviets were taking an unnecessary risk in trying to force us to associate ourselves formally with them in proclaiming this. To do so would bring about the end of NATO and of the European Community, and this would mean the end of freedom in Europe. We were of the opinion that a strong Europe was of great help to Finland and that if the West collapsed this would be very harmful to Finland’s own interests.

President Kekkonen said he had been passing on to the President what he had been told from the Soviet side because he thought this would be of interest to us. Brezhnev had told him at the conclusion of their talk that when the Soviets had signed a peace treaty with the GDR, the Allies would have to reach an agreement with Ulbricht, otherwise, should they try to pass, the Soviets would shoot down their planes as they did the U–2.

President Kennedy said we had every intention of upholding our rights. If the Soviets were to follow the course just described, this would mean war. This issue was not like the Laotian problem, for example. It was at the heart of our vital interests, and we could not give way, for if we did, Europe would be gone.

President Kekkonen noted that both sides had remained exactly on the positions they had taken at the start, and that there had been no move forward by either side.

President Kennedy referred to his talk with Gromyko,2 who had used the phrase “respect of the sovereignty of the GDR.” He had not defined this further, but this should be looked into to see what it meant. The wall in Berlin had worked to the advantage of the GDR since it had put an end to the flow of refugees. What was needed now was some leadership from the West Germans. This should come from the new government which they were about to form, so that the Germans should themselves accept and share the responsibility of new terms for an agreement, without being able to claim that they had been let down by their Allies.

[Page 400]

President Kekkonen said that time was short. He referred to a maxim by Clausewitz to the effect that when there is an issue between one power and a group of Allies, the single power has the advantage because it can decide by itself which concessions it is prepared to make.

President Kennedy said we were not prepared to grant concessions, in return for which we would merely be given that which we already enjoy, i.e., our rights. Otherwise we would be giving away such things as the Oder–Neisse territories, and the ties of the West with Berlin; and then Soviet pressures would start all over again. This would not be a bargain. As the Secretary of State had said to Gromyko, we would be buying the same horse twice. The problem was a difficult one because of the peculiarities of the location of Berlin, but we had to stay there and we hoped the Russians knew it.

President Kekkonen said that a foreign newspaperman, who had interviewed him, had blamed him for Khrushchev having become more recalcitrant. He added that, as an outsider, he thought the situation was a terribly difficult one. The question was how could progress be made.

President Kennedy said that if the Soviet Union would agree to take steps which would improve our rights, we would see on what points we could meet them. He hoped that the Soviets would see this and would agree to reserving Allied rights under any new peace treaty they signed instead of turning them over to Ulbricht. President Kekkonen observed that the Soviets could not fail to go ahead and sign a peace treaty. President Kennedy agreed, but said the point was whether the Soviets would reserve our rights in so doing.

President Kekkonen said the Soviets frequently defend their position in terms of international law, referring to the sovereign right of nations and to the precedent of the peace treaty with Japan.

President Kennedy refuted both arguments, saying that the Soviets had no right to give parts of Germany sovereignty. With regard to Japan, the case was entirely different. Japan was not divided and had its own government. If Germany and Japan were to be overrun, the road would lie open to the Soviets and this we could not permit.

President Kekkonen said he felt he was in an awkward position because he had been relating what he had heard the Soviets say and it might be thought that this represented his own views, which was not the case. President Kennedy reassured him. He added that he wished to stress the necessity of the United States meeting its commitments, otherwise it would mean the destruction of NATO and create a dangerous situation for the whole Free World.

President Kekkonen said it was interesting that the United States also believes that the Soviet Union will in any case sign a separate peace treaty with the GDR. The question was: What happens afterwards?

[Page 401]

Turning to the subject of Soviet resumption of nuclear testing, President Kekkonen said he had told Brezhnev of the bad effect throughout the world which this had created, and had asked him why the Soviet Union had resumed tests. Brezhnev said that the Soviet Union knew that this was an unpopular thing to do but that it had been considered necessary, and that 30% of the tests (the 13th had just taken place at the time) had now been carried out. President Kekkonen said he had the impression that the resumption of tests had a connection with the German problem. When he had seen him in 1960, Khrushchev seemed self-assured and conscious of Soviet power. President Kekkonen said he had the impression that the Russians suffer from an inferiority complex and feel they are not always treated in a manner appropriate to their power and their importance.

President Kennedy said that in his talks with Khrushchev he had sensed two contradictory feelings and attitudes on his part: first, a feeling of not being quite sure of himself, and, second, a feeling of great superiority. It was difficult to balance these two.

President Kekkonen mentioned that the Soviets had been at pain to impress Finnish politicians visiting Russia with the improvement in their conditions of living, and often asked their visitors to see for themselves whether their homes were really as described by the West.

President Kennedy asked President Kekkonen how he saw the future of Finnish relations with the Soviet Union. President Kekkonen said that the economic relationship with the Soviet Union was stable. Exports to, and imports from the Soviet Union were balanced at about 15% of Finland’s total trade. This figure had been made possible by a five-year trade agreement.

The President asked what the effect would be on Finland if the UK joined the EEC. President Kekkonen said that Finland had been satisfied by the terms of her relationship to EFTA, but that if the EFTA countries were to join the EEC, this would create a very difficult situation for Finland. The problem appeared to be insoluble—Finland would have to compete with her competitors on intolerable terms. 35% of Finland’s exports now go to the Common Market countries. In order to meet the competitive terms of the Common Market, Finland would have to resort to measures which would lower her standard of living.

President Kennedy asked if Finland was in a position where she could sign the Rome treaty now. President Kekkonen did not reply directly, but referred to difficult political conditions. He said the Soviets had not exerted pressures on Finland.

President Kennedy asked whether the Soviet Union was satisfied with the present form of government in Finland or would they prefer a [Page 402] Communist regime. President Kekkonen said he thought the Soviets were satisfied, and that their primary consideration was one of security.

President Kennedy listed the reasons for United States support of the Common Market. He said that it would cost us something in our trade, but would be a stabilizing force for Germany and for Europe if the UK were to join it. He felt sure that the countries involved would recognize the special problems of other countries, for example, Switzerland and Sweden.

President Kekkonen said that there was, of course, a great variety of interests involved, and that Finland would have to look after her own. Finland faced the problem of coming to terms both with the Common Market and with the Soviet Union—“That is our Berlin”, he said.

President Kennedy referred to Finland’s most-favored-nation agreement with the Soviet Union, which had posed a problem for GATT. He said this would be compounded if the UK joined the Common Market.

President Kekkonen said he hoped the objections which had been formulated to the terms of Finland’s agreement with the Soviet Union were more formal than substantial. President Kennedy reiterated the unhappiness which granting MFN treatment to the Soviet Union had created in the United States and said he hoped President Kekkonen would make use of this in resisting any attempts at encroachment by the Soviet Union.

Turning to the conduct by the Soviet Union of atmospheric nuclear tests, President Kennedy said that it was obvious that they had been preparing them over many months, during which conversations had been going on in Geneva, between the West and the Soviet Union. Being a free society, it was not possible for us to test without inspection, whereas the Soviet Union could. We now faced the situation where the Soviet Union might complete their current series of tests and then call for an unpoliced moratorium on all tests. The President said that the requirements of our security determined that we could not accept this, nor would we go back again to negotiations under a self-imposed ban on testing.

President Kekkonen described Finland’s position today as a happy one compared with what it was in 1944. He referred to the agreement reached at Yalta that countries that were neighbors of the Soviet Union should have governments friendly to the Soviet Union.

President Kennedy recalled the Soviet pressures on Finland in 1958, which the Finns referred to as “frosty night”. He asked what the pressures were which the Soviets had applied and what caused them to raise these pressures.

[Page 403]

President Kekkonen said that during his visit to Leningrad in 1959 he had asked Khrushchev the same question. Khrushchev had said that Finland and the Soviet Union had a common border of 1300 kilometers and thus there was a substantial element of security in their relationship. Khrushchev had said that certain members of the then Finnish Government had been doing things which impaired this element of security. President Kekkonen said that Finland had complete freedom to decide what government it should have, and that the Soviet Union had made no demands on Finland. However, Finland must take the Soviet position and attitude into account even when she disagrees with the Soviet Union. This was a difficult position for Finland, which, before 1940, had always been fully armed to defend itself against the Soviet Union.

President Kennedy inquired what methods the Soviet Union had used to express its displeasure with Finland.

President Kekkonen said that they had recalled the Soviet Ambassador, who had left without saying “good-bye” to the President. Also they had caused trade difficulties. While Finland could have gone on this basis for some months, this would merely have made matters worse economically. Finland’s internal political problems were inevitably related to foreign policy considerations.

President Kennedy asked how President Kekkonen saw the evolution of Communist policies in the next decade.

President Kekkonen said that he thought in 30 years time, the capitalist system would gradually be transformed by various modifications and restrictions, and that the Communist system would be progressively liberalized, to a point where both systems would be so close to each other that it would be difficult to know what to quarrel about.

President Kennedy observed that the problem was how to survive until then. He said he thought that we had witnessed an increasing strength of nationalist sentiment since 1945 and that this would prevent a major change in balance of power in the world, if we could prevent problems of the Berlin type from exploding. He said that Central Europe was a vital area, and that the Soviet Union should not push us too hard in such areas.

President Kekkonen said he thought the economic systems of East and West were getting closer to each other but that Soviet support and exploitation of nationalist sentiment in areas such as Africa had the effect of increasing Soviet political strength.

President Kennedy said he felt it was important to support and encourage national sentiment in Africa, even though this occasionally brought us into conflict with some of our European Allies.

[Page 404]

President Kekkonen said that so long as countries like South Africa and Portugal pursue their present policies, this conferred a great advantage on the Soviet Union.

President Kennedy said that the problem was a very difficult one. For example, the Azores Base Agreement, which was coming up for renegotiation soon, was of very great importance to the United States, and this had to be borne in mind with regard to Portugal.

President Kekkonen said that Egypt herself would not be able to do as much for the Soviet cause in Africa as does Angola. He had become aware during the war how strongly United States policy had worked against colonialism, and he thought this was a wise policy.

President Kennedy said he felt it was important that the Soviet Union should distinguish between areas of secondary importance and those of primary importance. Even though Finland has problems, he hopes that she would realize that the object of United States policy with regard to Berlin was to keep Europe free, and that although Finland could not herself do much about it, she could understand that her fate was bound up with the outcome of the issue.

President Kekkonen said that Finland had a special position with regard to the Berlin problem. The Soviet-Finnish Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Aid of 19483 contains a clause whereby Finland was committed to accept Soviet aid, if necessary, in order to repel any attack directed against the Soviet Union across Finnish territory, from Germany or from any powers allied with Germany.

President Kennedy pointed out this clause was not relevant to the situation with regard to Berlin.

President Kekkonen agreed, but said that, as in the field of trade, we did not want to “anticipate events” (as rendered by the interpreter—in the context the probable meaning is “provoke” rather than “anticipate”). He said that it was an interesting political situation.

President Kennedy said that the risks and the dangers were equal for all. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were in very great danger. Finland could perhaps be said to be in less danger than we were.

President Kekkonen said that in 1939 the Soviets had asked for a strip of territory in East Finland in order to safeguard the security of Leningrad. This showed the Soviet Union’s concern for its security. He said that both great powers carried enormous responsibility and that he prayed for success of the efforts to find a solution.

The President outlined the various steps which the United States has taken in order to create conditions of peace in the world. However, in areas which were of vital interest to the freedom of the West and the [Page 405] security of the United States, our stake must be recognized by the Soviet Union.

President Kekkonen observed that it was a great pity that the problem of Berlin had been created at the end of the war. Otherwise, he said, the possibilities of stabilization of the situation in Europe would have been greater.

President Kennedy agreed and said that the circumstances of access to Berlin posed considerable difficulties.

President Kekkonen said that the Soviets have declared their plans openly and have committed themselves to them.

President Kennedy said that it was perfectly possible for the Soviets to sign a separate peace treaty with the GDR which would meet their commitment and would reserve our rights. Khrushchev could do this if he wanted to.

President Kekkonen said that possibly one way out would be for the United Nations to play a role in the solution. He had mentioned this to Brezhnev, who had agreed.

President Kennedy said that when the wall had been built in Berlin, we had not interfered because we recognized that this was a matter of vital Soviet interest. The Soviets had the power, if they so wished, to sign a separate peace treaty, and to limit their objectives. He agreed that certain United Nations offices could be set up in West Berlin, if this would help to bring about a solution, but that we would not accept Soviet troops.

President Kekkonen said that Brezhnev had used the phrase: “If the West have ingenious proposals, the Soviet Union would always be prepared to consider them”.

President Kennedy said we were fully conscious of the danger of the situation and were anxious to find a solution.

President Kekkonen said there was at least some hope in the fact that the Soviets had stressed that they were not prisoners of time.

President Kennedy said he hoped that Khrushchev was sufficiently interested in the race of production with the United States, which we thought we would win in spite of his claim, to give us all the time in which to decide the outcome. President Kennedy then asked if there was anything which President Kekkonen thought the United States could do to help Finland.

President Kekkonen said there were no concrete issues or proposals between us. He appreciated the sympathy and understanding of the United States. He was going to say in his speech at the Press Club on the following day that it was very flattering to Finland to be front-page news.

[Page 406]

President Kennedy said that he knew that trade was a most important field for Finland.

President Kekkonen said that Finland was a capital-hungry country and when Finland accepts credits and loans from others, the Finnish sense of honor requires that these be repaid. As for Finland’s internal problems, he would also ask for understanding with regard to them too. Finland’s wishes were modest; she was not asking for dollars. She wishes to maintain good relations with the United States and thought that the best way to do this was not to take aid from the United States.

The President raised the point of certain limiting language in the aid bill with regard to investment guarantees and asked whether there was anything we could do to prevent its working against Finland.

Ambassador Seppala then pointed out that the agreement with Finland involving investment guarantees had been signed just before the amendment to the bill had been introduced.

The President said we would look into the possibility of working something out on this point.

President Kekkonen said that Finland was considering floating a $10,000,000 bond issue in New York. He said that Finland also had plans to increase the capacity of her wood industry by at least 40% and that this project was being financed largely by Finnish capital. Finland was also receiving some supplementary credits from the World Bank to the extent of $25,000,000.

President Kennedy turned once again to the question of why President Kekkonen thought the Soviets had not used pressure to overthrow a free society in Finland on their own border when they have repeatedly gone to such efforts and such lengths to expand throughout the world.

President Kekkonen said he was convinced that for the Soviets the decisive factor was their security interest. So long as the Soviet Union was satisfied that there was no danger from, or through, Finland, the relationship between the two countries would be stable. However, as soon as the Soviets felt that they might be threatened from that quarter, they reacted.

President Kennedy observed that with regard to Finland, the Soviets seemed to be following a purely nationalist rather than ideological line.

President Kekkonen said that the case of Finland was a special one which Finland herself could not always understand. Ideological factors did not play a major role. For example, the Soviets ignore the Finnish Communist Party and treat it contemptuously. Certain Finnish Communist leaders had recently gone to the Soviet Union and had talks with Suslov which had not gone well, and had made them very unhappy.

[Page 407]

In conclusion, President Kekkonen expressed his appreciation of this opportunity for a talk with President Kennedy, who told him he was looking forward to seeing him again on the following afternoon.4

The meeting adjourned at 5:45 p.m.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/10–1661. Secret. Drafted by Tyler and approved by the White House on November 2. The meeting was held at the White House. In February 1961, the Finnish Government indicated its desire for a Kekkonen visit to the United States to coincide with an already planned visit to Canada. (Memorandum of conversation between Rusk and Seppala, February 23; ibid., Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330) Ambassador Gufler presented an invitation to Kekkonen on April 15.
  2. Soviet Premier Khrushchev visited Finland September 2–4, 1960, and Kekkonen visited the Soviet Union November 21–24, 1960.
  3. For the memorandum of the President’s conversation with Gromyko on October 6, see vol. XIV, pp. 468480.
  4. For text of this treaty, see 48 UNTS 149.
  5. Presidents Kennedy and Kekkonen met privately at the White House at 5:10 p.m. on October 17 for cocktails prior to a formal State dinner hosted by President Kekkonen at the Finnish Embassy. No record of this meeting has been found. For text of the joint communique following their meetings, see Department of State Bulletin, November 6, 1961, p. 761.