290. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary
  • Ambassador Dobrynin
  • Assistant Secretary Leddy

Ambassador Dobrynin had asked to see the Secretary either today or on Monday. The Secretary agreed to see him at 12:30 p.m. today.

[Page 747]

Dobrynin began by referring to the question of technical talks on PNEDs (Peaceful Nuclear Explosive Devices). He said that the idea of the US and the USSR meeting on this subject had been at the US initiative, that the US thought it would be useful with the non-nuclear conference in Geneva and that the Soviets were now prepared to go ahead with the talks on October 7, as suggested by the US. The Secretary asked whether this subject had been discussed with Ambassador Foster when he and Dobrynin met the other day. Dobrynin replied that they had just discussed the NPT and that Ambassador Foster did not wish to discuss the PNEDs talks.

The Secretary said that he would have to discuss this question with the President and Ambassador Foster, and that he would let Dobrynin know later. He observed that there were complications.

The Secretary said that the Executive Branch, as the Ambassador knew, was attempting to move the non-proliferation treaty through the Senate. In response to the Ambassador’s question, he said he thought the matter would not come to a vote before the Fortas nomination had been settled,2 probably not until the end of the month.

The Secretary then opened up the question of the recent intense Soviet propaganda campaign against Germany and Berlin. He said that he wanted to discuss this question with real seriousness. There had been a buildup of propaganda, threats and agitation by the Soviets against West Germany and Berlin. We have observed an unusual series of attacks, charges, use of strong language, including the latest attack of today, by Izvestya and Pravda against Germany and Berlin. We had observed the strange interpretation by the Soviets of Articles 53 and 107 of the UN Charter as a justification for Soviet intervention, as well as the astonishing Soviet démarche to the Dutch Prime Minister de Jong attempting to dissuade him from making his prospective visit to Berlin. He said that the US cannot accept pressures against contacts between Berlin and the outside world. We and the other protective powers have a responsibility for Berlin, including its economic viability. He said that the Soviet campaign was developing in a serious way and asked for Ambassador Dobrynin’s comments. He asked, “What’s behind this?”

Dobrynin said in effect that all of this had been precipitated by the Federal Republic and the State Department acting together. As proof he observed that the US and allied statements on Articles 53 and 107 had just been issued now whereas the Soviet position on these Articles was stated to the Germans as long ago as July 1967.3

[Page 748]

The Secretary said that he hoped there would be no confusion in the Soviet Government over the fact that any rights under the UN Articles in question and the Potsdam Agreement must be multilateral as amongst the four powers (US,UK, France and Soviet Union) and cannot be unilaterally applied by the Soviets or arrogated to the Warsaw Pact.

Dobrynin then said that while he had nothing particular to say on the basis of instructions from Moscow, he would make certain personal observations: The Secretary had suggested that there might be the possibility of a military attack. He derided this possibility. He suggested that the US was simply playing the FRG game. He said, “Do you really think we would attack? Why are you making such a fuss?”

The Secretary then quoted the following excerpt from Pravda, dated September 18:

“As a participant in the Potsdam agreement, the Soviet Union will continue to stand ready, together with other peace-loving states, to take the necessary effective measures, if the need arises, to stop the dangerous activities of neo-nazism and militarism.”

He asked what was the meaning of the phrase “together with other peace loving states”? If this meant the US, the UK and France, that would be one thing; but historically the Soviet Union had never used this phrase to describe the countries of the West. This suggested that perhaps the Soviet Union may have meant to imply that the Warsaw Pact countries as “peace loving states” were entitled to take this action. The Soviet Union and the US had had somewhat different ideas of “militarism” and “neo-nazism” in West Germany; but it had, after all, been the East Germans who had moved into Czechoslovakia. In July, in August, and now in the middle of September there had been a series of menacing statements regarding Germany and Berlin. We are listening to these and must listen; we will have to reply and expect to do so; but we want to know what is behind this campaign.

There was further inconclusive discussion about Articles 53 and 107 of the UN Charter, the position of NATO under Article 51 of the UN Charter and the question of the relative priorities between the UN and NATO, Dobrynin suggesting that the UN Charter was superior to NATO and the Secretary pointing out that the two were wholly consistent.

Dobrynin asked whether the Secretary was really concerned over the possibility of the use of force by the Soviets and its Warsaw Pact countries against Germany and Berlin. The Secretary said he was certainly “concerned”, but not nervous or afraid; the US would do its duty together with its allies; but we want to know what is behind the Soviet campaign. He again reverted to the Soviet attempt to dissuade the Dutch Prime Minister from visiting Berlin, describing it as “unheard of”. He said that the Soviets had stated that such a visit would lead to “undesirable consequences.” He could not recall any such language having been [Page 749] used under these circumstances during his period of office. He asked Dobrynin to explain to the Soviet Government the seriousness of the view which we take over the propaganda assault and attempts at intimidation being conducted by the Soviet Union.

Dobrynin then referred to his earlier message to the Secretary of August 31 regarding Berlin.4 In that message the Soviet Union had recognized the state interests of the US in Berlin and had stated that any reports about action against Berlin were “completely without foundation.” He reaffirmed this message. He added that speaking personally he thought that the US was playing a German game and referred to the recent visits to Washington of Kurt Birrenbach and Helmut Schmidt.

The Secretary then pointed out that several Soviet divisions had moved to the West and to the South. There were several hundred thousand Warsaw Pact troops in Czechoslovakia and substantial additional Soviet forces along the NATO border (Bavaria). This inevitably brings up a problem for NATO.

Dobrynin interjected to ask, “Do you really believe now that this could be a military threat to NATO?” (His implicit denial at this point of any military threat to NATO ties in with his later remark below to the effect that the prime consideration for the Soviet Union is the preservation of the Warsaw Pact countries.)

The Secretary thought there was the question of Soviet intentions and the question of the redeployment of the Warsaw Pact forces which needed looking at both together and separately.

Dobrynin interjected to say that there were the same number of Soviet divisions but in a different place.

The Secretary, resuming, said that, with respect to Soviet intentions, we do not believe at the moment that the Soviets intend a military assault on NATO, but there was uncertainty. He said, frankly, we do not entirely understand why you did what you did in Czechoslovakia despite the obvious costs in your political relations with the US, with Europe and around the world. Therefore, we wonder whether there may be elements in the thinking of the Soviet leaders which we do not fully understand. He said that it would have been easier for him six months ago to make a prediction of what the Soviet Government might do than it would be today. Therefore, we and our partners in NATO have to take note of the redeployment of Soviet forces and have to question again our judgments about Soviet intentions and have to consider the two together.

At the close of a general discussion about peaceful co-existence, Ambassador Dobrynin made two major points which were clearly not [Page 750] just his own personal observation, but were in line with Moscow instructions:

The Soviet Union continued to pursue a policy of peaceful coexistence, including the promotion of East-West contacts, discussion of important subjects such as PNEDs, etc.
The Soviet Union would tolerate no weakening in any way of the solidarity or basic socialist structure of the Warsaw powers. He was emphatic on this point and said in effect “the Warsaw Pact structure must be preserved intact, and that’s all.”

The impression drawn from this conversation is that Dobrynin sought to reassure the Secretary regarding any intention of the Soviet Union to use military force against NATO, including the Federal Republic and Berlin; that it wished to continue the policy of peaceful coexistence with the West and with the US in particular; and that the action in Czechoslovakia was purely defensive in an effort to protect the socialist structure and military arrangements of the Warsaw Pact powers.5

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Rostow Files, Non-Proliferation. Secret. No drafting information is on the source text, which was approved in S/S on September 24.
  2. Reference is to the nomination of Associate Justice Abe Fortas as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  3. For text of U.S. statement, see Department of State Bulletin, October 7, 1968, p. 365. Similar statements were made by the United Kingdom and France.
  4. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XVII, Document 90.
  5. In telegram 244788 to Moscow, September 25, the Department of State reported on the Rusk-Dobrynin meeting and, noting that the Soviet Ambassador had taken no notes of Rusk’s comments, instructed the Embassy to meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko to summarize the Secretary’s comments. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 28 GER B) In telegram 5691 from Moscow, the Embassy urged reconsideration of these instructions since it would distract attention from Soviet actions in Czechoslovakia. (Ibid.)