140. Editorial Note

After his meeting with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin on March 15, 1971, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger began to explore whether flexibility in the quadripartite talks—in particular, on the issue of Soviet presence in West Berlin—might encourage the Kremlin to be more flexible elsewhere. In a special channel message to Ambassador to West Germany Kenneth Rush in Bonn that evening, Kissinger reported the latest news from Washington:

Dobrynin called on me today to discuss the Berlin negotiations prior to his departure for Moscow to the Party Congress. Dobrynin began by repeating his standard position that their claim on the East Germans for an access agreement would be improved if they could show some progress on the issue of Federal presence. When I refused to be drawn out, Dobrynin said that Moscow might be prepared to move ahead on access if we could show some advance on the issue of Soviet presence in West Berlin.

“He will come in Friday [March 19] before his departure for Moscow. What can I tell him?

“I see two possibilities: (a) to give him a concrete proposal, (b) to tell him you are prepared to discuss it in a flexible way with Abrasimov. The best would be a combination of the two with some indication of the direction in which we are prepared to go, coupled with the statement that details are to be worked out by the Ambassadors.

“For a variety of reasons, the President is anxious to keep this channel open, especially at this time.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 59, Country Files, Europe, Ambassador Rush, Berlin, Vol. 1 [2 of 2])

In a special channel message to Kissinger on March 16, Rush reported that, due to tactical considerations in Berlin and “political necessity” in Bonn, Allied negotiators had decided that “nothing further” could be done on Federal presence, at least not until their Soviet counterparts did something on access. Rush explained this decision in more detail:

“The Russian tactics are at present to attempt to show that the Four Powers can make no progress on access but that the FRG and the GDR can do so. Also, that the Four Powers can make no progress on inner-Berlin movements of goods and people but that the GDR and the Senat can do so. The purpose of this obviously is to confirm the sovereignty of the GDR and to undercut the position of the Four Powers. Until the Russians are convinced that these tactics cannot succeed, I do not believe any real progress can be made on the access question, irrespective of what is done with regard to Federal presence.”

[Page 409]

Although he offered to revisit the issue at a later date, Rush was more interested for the time being in the prospects for flexibility on Soviet presence. Talks between Kissinger and Dobrynin in Washington, and between Rush and Abrasimov in Berlin, on Soviet presence, he argued, might well result in “maximum probing benefit.” Rush reported that he had already sent a telegram to Secretary of State Rogers, requesting authority to offer “minor, tentative concessions” on the issue to avoid an impasse in the negotiations. (Ibid.)

Kissinger replied by special channel the same day: “It is well to keep in mind that any changes in our position should be given to Dobrynin through my channel first so that the President can claim some personal interest. We need this now for reasons to be mentioned when we meet.” Although Rush could negotiate the details with Abrasimov, Kissinger wanted to discuss the “essence” of Rush’s message on Soviet presence during his next meeting with Dobrynin. The Soviets, he observed, “might use this as a fig leaf to move ahead on access.” (Ibid.) Rush replied on March 17 that he would be careful to follow Kissinger’s instructions in Berlin. “I think it would be an excellent idea for you to mention the essence of my cable on Soviet presence to Dobrynin on Friday,” he added. “This might well help move the access discussion along.” (Ibid.)

For the full text of these messages, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Documents 197 and 198 and footnote 6, Document 198.