18. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Initiative on Germany


  • British Embassy
    • Lord Harlech, British Ambassador
  • U.S.
    • The Secretary
    • Mr. William R. Tyler, EUR
    • Mr. Grover W. Penberthy, BTF

Lord Harlech said that he had received by letter Mr. Butler’s views on what the Secretary had said on the above subject when Mr. Butler was in Washington.2 Butler had hoped to see Foreign Minister Schroeder in Switzerland but had not and does not see any prospect that he will see Schroeder before the WEU meeting at Brussels on April 16–17. Moreover, on reflection, Butler does not care for the role of putting to Schroeder such a far-reaching proposal for negotiations with the Soviets.

Butler agrees to all that the Secretary had said in their Washington meeting and is prepared to back whatever the United States is prepared to do. But for two reasons Butler thinks that it is up to the United States to decide if it is prepared to take the initiative that the Secretary had outlined: the Germans depend more on the United States than on the UK, and the United Kingdom has not been too successful with its relationship [Page 36] with the FRG lately. The UK is trying hard and does not want to prejudice their efforts.

The British believe therefore that we should continue the work in the Ambassadorial Group and see where we get to. Concerning timing the UK believes that the Soviets do not feel any pressure to do something but that the Germans, for domestic political reasons, do want to take an initiative on reunification. The British think that it would be unfortunate to take an initiative that would be half-baked. They hope that the Washington Ambassadorial Group can proceed quickly enough and that the discussion there can be conducted so as to turn the present document to something worthwhile, either as a diplomatic proposal to the Soviets or as a unilateral statement which the Germans could make and to which the Three Powers could appropriately refer.

In particular about the outline of the proposal which the Secretary had sketched at their meeting in Washington, Mr. Butler believes that the reduction of forces in the second phase would have to be wider than just Germany. He thought the European security arrangements should be based on the 1959 proposals.3 He also thought it necessary to avoid a neutral Germany at all costs. As to the long-term-credits point, Mr. Butler wondered whether these were to come from the West in general or from the United States. The Secretary said that they would come most particularly from the Federal Republic. He recalled that Erhard had hinted that the Federal Republic would be willing to extend such credits although he had said nothing lately about this.

The Secretary asked whether the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister felt that the prospect of elections in the UK would stimulate a desire for an initiative. He said that as far as we are concerned there is not much steam just for an initiative. Lord Harlech said that likewise there would not seem to be much steam for it in the UK.

The Secretary thought that Khrushchev would be very skeptical of a Four-Power Council proposal made just before elections in the several countries. Lord Harlech said that, from a foreign policy point of view, the UK would like to move, not so much because the Soviets are in a mood to reach major agreements, but there is advantage for the West to take an initiative. It is unwise to leave the present situation alone for a long time and let the Soviets get the credit for being the only ones interested in taking an initiative. For the Western Powers the sine qua non is something serious to discuss with the Soviets. A Four-Power meeting with the Soviets is not an end in itself.

[Page 37]

Lord Harlech said that the situation in Bonn does not look hopeful for getting an elaboration of the German plan. He wondered whether the Secretary or a personal emissary might take the matter up directly with Schroeder. If he would say this package is a non-starter as a proposal, we could all look at the thing again.

Mr. Tyler pointed out that the FRG is very sensitive to the charge of inertia on the subject of reunification. There is dissatisfaction particularly among the youth and press that there has been no progress on the subject in nearly five years. But the Government feels that discussion on disarmament and other issues than reunification tends to shunt reunification to the side and to make it appear to be something not of actual concern. The Secretary asked whether we should go back to the Germans, saying that this is their paper, that it mentions security and balance, and that now they must come up with ideas on what they mean. Mr. Tyler said that the Germans are afraid to put forward separately specific concessions that they might otherwise be prepared to make as part of a package. They fear the Soviets would put the concessions in their pocket and then refuse to talk about anything else.

Mr. Tyler wondered whether it is really necessary that proposals be put forward. If what the Germans want is to put reunification at the center of the stage and as the goal of the West, they might publish a manifesto, to which the Western Powers might subscribe. Lord Harlech said it depends on one’s objective. Earlier on in the fall the situation in Germany and Berlin was quiet. Always before we had understood that one could not make proposals or even have talks in periods of tension. Here was a quiet moment which therefore was a good time to put forward proposals. He still thinks it is so, but it does not appear that the Germans are willing to go for anything. He wondered if the Secretary could have a blunt talk with them. The Secretary observed that he might have a talk with Schroeder as a follow-up to the Erhard talk at the LBJ ranch and said that he would give more thought to Lord Harlech’s suggestion.

The Secretary said that he had suggested to Schroeder a long time ago that the initiative that the Germans have in mind might take the form of a major policy speech by Erhard or Schroeder to which we could make an appropriate response. But Schroeder had made it plain that that was not enough. The Secretary said he had cautioned Schroeder that the more the Germans talked of reunification the more the likelihood that they would face the question of reunification of what, thus raising the question of the Oder-Neisse line.

Mr. Tyler recalled that the Germans always revert to the Potsdam Agreement under which the disposition of the Eastern territories is to be left to the final peace conference. Lord Harlech said that this card that the Germans hope to play is getting steadily weaker. The Secretary observed that, as far as the Russians are concerned, it is not a card at all any more.

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After it was noted that Ambassador Knappstein had not been able to give much of a background to the German thinking behind their initiative the Secretary wondered if we could get Carstens to come over and give more elucidation of what the Germans have in mind. Lord Harlech observed that Carstens is quite rigid and doubted that we would get much from him on Erhard or Schroeder’s view on how far the Germans might go.

Lord Harlech thought that in as much as the British, French and Americans now have positions on the German proposal the discussion in the Ambassadorial Group might get down to another round of questions. The Secretary asked if the French had their instructions and Mr. Penberthy outlined them briefly as they had been given to him. It appeared to the Secretary that, if the French should make a presentation along the lines of the instructions just set forth and if the UK and US followed the views that we had expressed to each other, the discussions in the Ambassadorial Group would not be fruitful until the Germans could come up with something better.

The Secretary asked whether the Germans had asked us to slow down in coming to agreements in other areas because of their desire to come to some agreement on reunification. Mr. Tyler said no, but pointed out that the Germans are very depressed about Zanzibar and Ceylon. It looks to them as though the Hallstein Doctrine4 were weakening. The Germans are feeling politically vulnerable. Lord Harlech observed that the Germans have certainly showed no enthusiasm for OPs or nondissemination at Geneva but they have not said they are holding back, in order to get reunfication back to the center of the stage. Mr. Tyler noted that they have not said it but it is implicit in their attitude.

The Secretary said that he thought we had better then go ahead with the Ambassadorial Group discussions and in the meantime he would be thinking over the suggestions Lord Harlech had made about blunt talk with the Germans.

The Secretary noted that Brandt and Erhard had agreed on the pass business and wondered what this meant. Mr. Tyler said they had had a meeting and had issued a communiqué which papered over their differences. The fact, however, is that there are elements in Bonn which see the prospects of increased contacts in a different light from Brandt. Brandt’s February 28 TV program5 had angered people entertaining this view.

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The Secretary then asked about the flurry that had occurred in Parliament when Wilson got home relative to the use of British forces under the UN. Lord Harlech said that this had been distorted out of proportion but that it had all blown over now. The Secretary noted that he had been embarrassed in his press conference about this, since we had been encouraging small countries like Sweden to put their military under UN control.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 32–4 GER. Secret. Drafted by Penberthy and approved in S on March 18.
  2. See Document 10.
  3. For texts of the 1959 proposals exchanged by the Soviet Union and Western Allies on European security, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1959, pp. 558–601, 612–613, 618–639, and 655–664.
  4. Reference is to the 1955 statement by Foreign Minister Hallstein that Germany would not establish or maintain diplomatic relations with any state, except the Soviet Union, that recognized the German Democratic Republic.
  5. In his address, Brandt called for West German authorities to reach basic agreement on policy regarding its approach to issues like the Berlin passes. The Mission commented on the impact of Brandt’s statement in telegram 1123 from Berlin, February 29. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 33–10)