97. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Barzel’s Call on the President


  • Germans
    • Dr. Rainer Barzel, CDU/CSU Floor Leader in the Bundestag
    • Ambassador Heinrich Knappstein, German Embassy
    • Mr. Kusterer, Interpreter
  • Americans
    • The President
    • Mr. Alfred Puhan, Director, GER

After an exchange of cordial amenities, the President said that he liked the German Chancellor very much. He said that he had enjoyed two visits with him, and that he had enjoyed no other visit with any other foreign statesman more than that of Chancellor Erhard. He added that he liked the Chancellor’s flexibility, vision and fairness. He thought that never in our history were the American people more interested in Germany, or liked the Germans more than they do today.

Dr. Barzel said he was glad to hear that. He realized that there were some problems. He said that he had called Bonn today and had found out that one of these problems, the extension of the statute of limitations for Nazi crimes, would be decided favorably. Dr. Barzel also said that he was glad that Ambassador Harriman had gone to Israel,2 and that the Federal Republic would be grateful for any help he could give them there.

The President said that he was very pleased with what the Chancellor had done in connection with Israel.3 He said he was sorry that there had been a bit of flare-up after both sides had agreed to a “no comment” on the arms deal with Israel. The President felt that it was unfortunate that not all elements of the German Government were apparently together on this. He thought that the Von Hase statement had not been very helpful. But, the President added, his admiration for Chancellor Erhard far outweighed any lapses from good teamwork.

[Page 231]

The President said he had told Chancellor Erhard during his last visit that as long as he was President, when America would make any move of significance, Chancellor Erhard would know as soon as he would. The President said that this is why he sent a special emissary to inform the Chancellor of the decisions reached during the visit of Prime Minister Wilson.

The President said that on the MLF question, the British had come here after a tough election and forming a government with a small majority. They had raised the question whether the Germans were speaking their own minds, or saying what we wanted them to say. The President said that he had told the British that the Germans were able and eloquent spokesmen and did not need us to speak for them. He had suggested to the British that they discuss this issue with the Germans themselves. Since that time he had learned from Ambassador McGhee that the question could probably not be settled before the German elections. Since that was the case, it would be better to have British-German talks. The President said that he felt strongly about this matter. The President went on to say that as for US troops in Europe, while we might not need every soldier over there, there was no doubt that so long as the Chancellor and the Germans felt they needed us, we would be willing to stay.

The President repeated his admiration for Chancellor Erhard, saying that he found him to be a very understanding man, who got along well with Americans. He said that he knew that the Chancellor was under criticism at home, adding that he had experienced that himself. He said that no doubt as long as Erhard was Chancellor, we would form a good team.

The President said that he had heard good things about Dr. Barzel too and his future. He said we needed young men to take place of those that are getting older.

The President next said that the FRG Ambassador had our complete admiration, respect and friendship. The President was sorry that Dr. Barzel could not come later when the President would have invited him to the Ranch. The President spoke of his personal interest in Germany, his training in German through the third grade, and the fact that when one picked up the party line at the Ranch, one heard more German than English. The President told Dr. Erhard to tell his people in truth that whatever we do will be done together, that Dr. Erhard had his complete confidence and Germany has our absolute and unequivocal support, that we would do all that is humanly possible to bring about the reunification of Germany. He repeated that he never thought it was necessary to have all of our troops there, but since the Germans wanted them, we would keep them there. He expressed pleasure over the fact that the Chancellor did not require much time to explain this need to his people. He said that we wanted to see the German nation advance and continue [Page 232] its recovery. The President in turn expressed his appreciation for German help with the offset.

Dr. Barzel stated that he was very happy to hear the President’s remarks. He was pleased at this indication of our friendship, something the young generation also had very much at heart. He said he would not take the President’s time to discuss the German question—that he would take this up with the Secretary of State and his officials—but that he had one question. He said that it had occurred to him after reading the President’s State of the Union message, why don’t we develop the idea of the Great Society not just for the US, but for the entire free world. He thought it was a great idea which could find application in its various aspects (vocational education, inland waterways, housing, town planning, agriculture, structural problems) in other countries of the free world. He said he was not thinking of more aid from the US, but rather of a mutual exchange of experiences, from which we all could learn. Dr. Barzel thought that this would show the future was with the free world and not the Communist world. Such cooperation would also help dispel some of the dangers inherent in ideas stemming from the 17th and 18th Centuries.

The President expressed agreement. He pointed out that in some sectors we were already doing something like that. He mentioned in this connection the Alliance for Progress in this hemisphere as well as recent conversations some of our Senators had with officials of Mexico about health problems, cancer, heart, stroke and high blood pressure. He thought that perhaps we ought to have more of this sort of exchange with the Germans too. It might be a good idea, the President thought, that certain Bundestag members could meet here with our own Congressmen to discuss such exchanges.

The Ambassador said that the Germans had a great deal of experience which they would be willing to make available.

The President said he would talk to leaders here about this next Tuesday. Perhaps some sort of meeting could be arranged with twenty-five on each side, possibly meeting one year in Germany and the next in the US at some resort.

The President autographed a photograph of himself and gave it to Dr. Barzel.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 GER W. Secret. Drafted by Puhan and approved in the White House on February 27. The meeting was held at the White House.
  2. Harriman visited Israel February 23.
  3. Reference is to Erhard’s February 17 statement to the Bundestag on Near Eastern policy. Excepts are printed in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1965, pp. 479–481.