248. Memorandum of Conversation1

Memorandum of conversation between Messrs. Walt Rostow and Rainer Barzel at the White House, February 23, 1968, 5 p.m.

Mr. Barzel: We have the impression the other side is marshaling all their forces in one concerted offensive all over Vietnam and should have little left to strike with when this is over. Is that how you see it ?

Mr. Rostow: Yes, the war has entered a climactic period. We have experienced the first wave of that offensive. Though it brought a great deal of human suffering, it has failed in its objective to bring down the South Vietnamese government and its army and to leave the U. S. alone to defend the country. The enemy has yet to commit one-half of its forces and may employ them to force a major battle in the Khe Sanh-Quang Tri area and perhaps at Saigon. This may well put the war into its decisive phase.

Mr. Barzel: Have you heard of Kiesinger’s statement on Vietnam last Tuesday?2 We had a meeting of the executive committee Tuesday morning. [Page 631]We thought it was high time to speak up on Vietnam in view of some of the growing anti-U. S. feelings. Mr. Gerstenmaier and myself made a strong plea in that direction. The Chancellor then made a declaration in which he stressed Germany’s gratitude to the U. S. for its valiant defense of good causes around the world. He denounced anti-American sentiments as “stupid.” Germany and others had much to be thankful for to the United States. German policy was sympathetic of the U. S. effort in Vietnam.

He sent Prince Botho (himself an M.D.) to Vietnam to check on the performance of the German assistance program there. I myself have sent telegrams to our people in Vietnam, voicing appreciation for their efforts there and urging them to stay on at this difficult time.

President Johnson has told Chancellor Kiesinger he would be glad to talk any matter over with him, as long as the Press could be kept out of the discussion. The Chancellor was happy about that suggestion and would like to take advantage of it from time to time.

Did you receive McGhee’s telegram on his talk with Kiesinger regarding the Chancellor’s meeting with de Gaulle?3

Mr. Rostow: I have not seen it yet.

Mr. Barzel: Let me try to summarize the five major points from my notes. As you know, Mr. Johnson had urged Mr. Kiesinger to play the role of “harmonizer.” This is what he is trying to do.

With regard to Britain’s entry into the EEC, Kiesinger was able to move only a small step further, but it was a step in the right direction.
On NATO, de Gaulle said, as matters were standing now, he felt he could say that France will remain in NATO.

In the area of the dollar discussions, Mr. Kiesinger is trying to get the Kennedy Round moved up. This is our policy now. I don’t know how you feel about it.

Mr. Rostow: We are in favor of it. It would provide us some compensation for the losses we have taken from the “harmonization” of the border taxes which, in effect, represented a devaluation of the mark vis-à-vis the dollar.

Mr. Barzel:

de Gaulle said this twice to Kiesinger and with emphasis: He (de Gaulle) had reason to believe that if the U. S. should resort to tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam, the U.S. could expect that an atomic bomb of unknown origin would hit a city in the United States.
On German policy towards the U. S., de Gaulle said, he would make no move to oppose it and would not put pressures on the FRG in this regard at this time.

You see, the Chancellor is doing his best to play the part of the harmonizer.

As you know, we had a huge pro-American demonstration in Berlin this week in response to a demonstration against the U. S. Vietnam policy there earlier. 150,000 people demonstrated their goodwill for the United States.

I had a meeting with Mr. Kiesinger on February 16, and he asked me to relay the following thoughts to you:

There could be a political crisis coming on in Germany if the following four matters should become acute at the same time:

the offset and dollar question
the NPT
the UN move to forbid legal time-limits on persecution for genocide and mass murder
a quarrel between the CDU and the SPD-FDP on Eastern policy.

A convergence of these four factors would result in a strong political tremor that could possibly bring down the government. However, the fact that reelections now would benefit the CDU and the fact that the SPD-FDP together command more votes in the Bundestag speaks against the likelihood of toppling the government now. But there could be a severe political crisis. The SPD and FDP are united in their stand on Eastern policy and in their stand against the war in Vietnam.

It is impossible to get money appropriated for the offset agreement without the help of the SPD, and some people in that party contend it amounts to an indirect subsidy of the Vietnam war.

As it stands right now, the majority in the CDU is against signing the NPT before additional clarification and assurances are obtained from Washington.

Should there be a political crisis, it would arrest or reverse the modest economic upturn we are now experiencing. This in turn would make it harder for the Bundesbank to come up with the money for offset, etc.

I do not know if there are solutions to all these problems. But I thought it best to come here and tell a friend about these possible difficulties, as they might in turn affect the U. S., particularly in an election year.

Mr. Rostow: I appreciate your coming here and informing me on your problems in Bonn. I know enough about politics to know I should not advise someone from another country about his politics. Moreover, I cannot respond substantively to your points with any new U. S. policy formulations. But I can comment.

[Page 633]

I do not know the status in the UN of time limits for genocide, etc. But I shall look into the issue.

As far as offset is concerned, I think we clearly have an arrangement here which favors Germany. We are maintaining strong military resources in Germany for the joint defense of Europe and this is being offset by bonds which bear interest. This means that in addition to holding the Central Front with our resources we help Germany accumulate additional surplus in its balance of payments. Any thinking politician can recognize the imbalance in this arrangement. This helps to buttress the arguments of those people who say we should bring our troops home from Europe. The argument that the German offset finances the war in Vietnam is nonsense. It could only be made by Germans who, in fact, wish the U.S. to withdraw its forces from Europe.

As regards the NPT, the difficulties we experienced at one time on consultations resulted from the timing of the change in the German government. Ever since then, I believe our NPT consultations have been a model for what such consultations should be between friends. We have reviewed with you intensively and we have defended vigorously the German national interests. We managed to clear up a number of small matters. Then remained the Chancellor’s two big demands:

to find an acceptable formula for Euratom
the matter of a time limit on the treaty.

Despite the fact that NATO was not united on this matter, we pressed the German Euratom formula and essentially the Soviets took the idea.

On point two, where you have said eternity is too long a time and you want a less rigid clause on duration, I think we are making some headway, too; and the Soviets may meet that demand.

I know the arguments of the opposition, and I can understand what makes some men feel so deeply about this matter. At the time of the Adenauer funeral, I spent a good deal of time conferring with Strauss and von Guttenberg.4 I know this is a difficult issue for some Germans; but it is a great issue for the entire world. Important common interests are at stake. I am sure there is no group in Germany that wants to manufacture nuclear arms. Reliance on a system of collective security appears to be the common interest—including the German interest—as opposed to the fragmentation and danger of further nuclear proliferation.

On the matter of German contacts with the East, we have always regarded this as a matter for Germans to settle. We did not press you to take up such contacts in the past when you were hesitant to do so, and we shall not stand in your way now if you want to pursue them further.

[Page 634]

I, personally, always thought that it was right of you not to take up these contacts years ago, as I did not think it promising for you to negotiate out of a sense of uneasiness and weakness. Such talks should be held from a basis of strength and confidence, such as you now possess. But that is for you to judge.

Our problem is that we have profound commitments towards Berlin and Germany including their defense against nuclear arms. This is a heavy responsibility. I lived through the ’61–’62 crisis when we had to honor our pledge to defend Berlin, and I remember that we did not get much support from the rest of Europe then.

Offset and cooperation on monetary matters are intimately locked to our security commitments. It would be viewed as intolerable here to fulfill our security commitments and subsidize German foreign exchange at the same time.

Mr. Barzel: We do not really fear too much that the government may fall if what I mentioned happens, but we fear that a strong political tremor might result with an adverse impact on the economy.

I know that offset and the state of the Alliance are closely interlocked. I have discussed this in detail with your brother Eugene.

In the arena of Eastern policy there is much illusion, in my opinion, and little reality. As regards Berlin, you can rest assured that we will not stray from the path of virtue.

Is it true that the NPT is scheduled to go to the UN as early as March? If this is the case, I should like to say a few more words about it.

Mr. Rostow: (after inquiring on the telephone) It is scheduled to go to the UN about March 15 and to the individual governments shortly afterwards. A special session of the General Assembly should be called about April to debate the treaty. We would hope that the debate would end some time in May so that the treaty can then go to the individual governments for ratification. This is how the people that work on the NPT see the time schedule.

Mr. Barzel: I do not think we would sign the treaty before some other matters are made clear, like the Euratom question, for instance. We are grateful to you for getting the 18-month verification provision into the treaty. But what if Euratom and the IAEA cannot reach an agreement? Our American friends tell us, “Do not worry, everything will continue like in the past.” But then the Soviets tell us something else again. What if we shall find ourselves unable to procure peaceful nuclear fuel?

Mr. Rostow: Do I understand that you are worried about being supplied with fuel for peaceful nuclear purposes?

Mr. Barzel: Yes, exactly. We now get our fuel from you via Euratom. If Euratom bows out or collapses one day, which is quite possible, as the French do not want to sign the treaty, we would have to turn to the IAEA, [Page 635]and if we apply there the Soviets are bound to say: “Now, wait a minute. Don’t you know what the Germans would use this fuel for?”

Mr. Rostow: I don’t know a specific answer to your question offhand, but I would say, since we have found answers to the other questions in the past, we should find a solution here also.

Some countries have said they will sign the treaty but delay ratification until a Euratom-IAEA accord has been reached. We understand their concern. However, in some countries the pressure to ratify is strong. What, then, if they ratify and later no accord is reached? The outcome would depend on the nature of the difficulty. If it were a serious political matter it might hold up application of the treaty; if it were a question of technical details, perhaps the 18 months might be extended. I can tell you that those who work on this matter do not see great difficulties in the EEC-IAEA negotiation. The scientists are not half as worried about this as are the lawyers and politicians.

If Euratom should dissolve for some reason, bear in mind that past history shows the generous attitude of this country in the supply of nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes to others. We recently passed legislation increasing the amounts of fuel for foreign consumption. We make fuel available to countries that are not very friendly to us, because there is a certain responsibility involved in being a nuclear power. After signing the treaty, our responsibility for supplying for peaceful purposes would become even greater. Your question about fuel supply in the event of a Euratom collapse is fair. You understand you and I cannot settle it here. But if your government wishes to pose the matter, it should be discussed in the spirit of the Chancellor’s talks with the President. The history of the Johnson-Kiesinger meetings has shown that the President listens to these questions with attention and sympathy.

To summarize: I think you should clearly define the specific questions that still concern you. Then you should bring them before us or raise them in a multilateral forum. Then we can work together to find answers.

Mr. Barzel: I understand and I will pass along your advice. We want to remove the uncertainty. We do not want to sign any treaties, con dolus (in bad faith) as we did after World War I. We have to worry about the security of Europe in the ’70’s, in the post-de Gaulle nuclear period. You say the double-key system will not be touched by the treaty. The Soviets refuse to confirm that to us. We know what the situation is in Scandinavia. These questions are hotly debated in my party and must be cleared up to have the majority endorse the NPT.

Mr. Rostow: Surely the Soviets tried in the first phase of the NPT talks to bring about the destruction of NATO, to do away with the McNamara committee and the double-key system. We made it clear to them that we would have none of that. We agreed in the second phase, about [Page 636]September 1966, after the Rusk-Gromyko talk, that the treaty would narrowly concern what was required to avoid nuclear proliferation. What it didn’t forbid was not forbidden. That is not just our understanding, that is the Soviets’ as well. They know that they cannot raise the double-key question or the question of nuclear consultation. That is fundamental to our understanding. We will tell that to our Congress and you can say that to the Bundestag.

Mr. Barzel: This interpretation is all right for the present situation, but what may happen 5 or 10 years from now? The situation may be different then. Scandinavia, Greece, Turkey may then be unreliable or the U.S. may turn its interests away.

Mr. Rostow: First, you know that in our constitutional system any treaty that passed the Senate is binding on all subsequent administrations. Vietnam illustrates this point. President Johnson was prepared to honor President Eisenhower’s commitment on the Gulf of Aqaba.

Second, if you were faced with a critical situation where your national security would be at stake—should the U.S. move its nuclear arms out of Europe, for instance—I assure you we do not intend to do that—then you would be able to denounce the treaty under the supreme-national-interest clause.

So you have one check against your fear in our constitutional system and another in the supreme-national-interest clause of the treaty. We understand that the position of the non-nuclear-weapons countries is vital for the future of the world; and we intend to find solutions that allow these countries to live in dignity with this treaty. We understand that we assume grave responsibilities with this treaty.

Mr. Barzel: Let me bring up one more point before leaving one of the busiest and most important men in the world. In the military area I have few doubts, but I have one political worry. You know we have a very progressive nuclear institution in Karlsruhe. In some small areas we may even be ahead of you.

One day, maybe when we file a fuel application in Vienna, the Soviets will denounce our efforts as military research. They have constantly tried to get at us in the past and would not be likely to pass up such an opportunity. You know we deliver reactors to other countries. We are living on a small area and have to make a living from technology.

At this time when ABMs and FOBs are already realities, we are supposed to have our hands bound. This could put us into enough of a predicament one day that it may cause some type of explosion.

Mr. Rostow: There are two separate matters here. First, there is nothing in the treaty that prevents peaceful research. The treaty is concerned with non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Second, of course, the treaty cannot prevent the Soviets from mounting a propaganda attack against [Page 637] Karlsruhe or anything else. Nobody here at the White House believes that the Soviets wish either of us well.

I think I know how the President feels with regard to the defense of Europe. With all the heavy pressures from Vietnam, and with not a damn bit of help from Europe, he has not withdrawn any of our troops from Europe. In 1961 he was at the Wall in Berlin when it went up. We may have to stand together against propaganda attacks on Karlsruhe, or worse. Under pressure, our defense is not the NPT. It is that we remain partners that trust each other. To quote from Benjamin Franklin, “We must all hang together or surely we will all hang separately. “

The simple fact is that Germany depends, and must depend, on collective nuclear defense. If you would not sign, and decided to defend yourself with your own nuclear weapons, you would

tear apart the Alliance
face a very difficult period during which you might well be destroyed.

We need a free and secure Germany. It is in our interest and yours. So let us find the answers to these specific questions together in the spirit of Benjamin Franklin. This spirit has prevailed between President Johnson and Chancellor Kiesinger so far. I see no salvation any other way. We have now lived together as friends and partners successfully for 25 years. So let us take these questions one by one and find common answers to them.

Mr. Barzel: I agree with you. No agreement or treaty will be any good unless we can trust each other.

Just one final point before I leave. A lot will depend on the manner in which the NPT report is presented to the UN. Will it be a case of “Bird eat or die!” (Vogel friss oder stirb), as we say in Germany, or will the birds be offered the food with an option to eat or not? Will there be a chance for any changes at the UN in the package sent up by Messrs. Foster and Roschin?

Mr. Rostow: (after consulting on the telephone) I am told that the debate in the UN will not be just pro forma. I do not see how it could be, anyhow. There will be some opportunity for changes at the UN level.

Mr. Barzel: I want to thank you, Walt, for giving me so much of your precious time. You may take the fact that I made this long trip solely to talk with you as a sign that we regard these questions with great seriousness.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Germany, Filed by Johnson Library. Confidential; Sensitive. Drafted by Obst. A note on the source text reads: “Not verbatim; approximate account from interpreting notes.”
  2. McGhee reported on the statement in telegram 8682 from Bonn, February 23. (Department of State, Central Files, POL GER W–US)
  3. McGhee reported Kiesinger’s summary of his talks with de Gaulle in telegrams 8667, 8682, 8683, 8692, 8693 from Bonn, February 23. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Germany, vol. 14) Telegram 8667 is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIII, Document 292.
  4. No record of these conversations was found.