172. Editorial Note
On April 27, 1972, the Washington Special Actions Group, chaired by Deputy Assistant to the President Alexander Haig, met in the White House Situation Room from 11:30 a.m. to 12:26 p.m. to discuss the impact on East-West relations of the domestic political crisis in West Germany. Four hours earlier, Chancellor Willy Brandt narrowly fended off by two votes a motion of “no confidence” submitted by opposition leader Rainer Barzel. However, this margin had left the Brandt government in a precarious position in the Bundestag, particularly on the pending vote for ratification of the Moscow and Warsaw treaties. At their April 27 meeting, WSAG members assessed the prospects for mutual and balanced force reductions (MBFR), a Conference of European Security, and the upcoming Moscow summit in light of these developments:
“Mr. Johnson: We haven’t had any time to get the reaction from abroad.
“Mr. Rush: The best news the President could have gotten was the vote in the Bundestag.
“Gen. Haig: In a sense, though, the vote could encourage the Soviets to get tougher.
“Mr. Rush: All this is part of the East-West fabric. The situation could have taken a serious turn for the worse if Brandt’s government had fallen. And that in turn would have serious implications on such things as CES and MBFR. It would all be reflected in the Summit, which would undoubtedly not turn out well.
“Gen. Haig: It’s a question of how you assess the Soviets’ confidence. Is it better that they be worried at the time of the Summit, or is it better that they be confident?
“Mr. Rush: The Soviets made major concessions in order to have the Brandt government stay in power and in order to get the treaties ratified. If things were to turn sour with a Barzel government, there would be no ratification. And there would be serious implications with other things, such as CES. In fact, there could very well be a serious revanchist attack on Germany. I’m sure the President’s trip to Moscow would be affected.
“Mr. Johnson: I agree.
“Mr. Sullivan: Murrey Marder of The Washington Post picked up the Katushev story in the late edition today. He says he got it from diplomatic sources. I wonder where.
“Gen. Haig: From the Soviets, perhaps?
“Mr. Sullivan: I don’t think so. Besides the U.S., who else knows about this? Marder was doing a story on Henry’s press conference. Citing this as a diplomatic straw in the wind, he said that Katushev left [Page 649] Moscow at generally the same time as Henry did. I wonder where he got this information.
“Mr. Carver: we’ve had a very tight distribution.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–116, WSAG Minutes, Originals)
Assistant to the President Kissinger telephoned Dobrynin twice on April 29 regarding the German matter. The transcript of the first conversation at 11:55 a.m. included the following exchange:
“K: Anatoliy, we have the German problem I want to discuss. Our information is that the CDU may be looking for a way out of the German treaties.
“K: If we can get the votes delayed a little bit. One way is by looking for a face-saving formula by which there can be a minor concession. They want language from us asking for the restoration of bipartisanship in Germany. We are asking Brandt if he wants us to do it. We are also asking you.
“D: I will have to check.
“K: We have not answered the communications from Barzel. He is proposing that we in some form write him and say we hope he restores the spirit of bipartisanship.
“D: Not any specific question mentioned, but bipartisanship on treaties?
“K: Then he would ask for some additional minor concession about ratification. Then he will make a very reasonable proposal and that enables the treaties to go through. On the other hand, we have not replied. If we reply now, it may delay the vote on May 4. When you are in direct communication with Brezhnev you can ask what he wants—say I have just gotten a message to check Gromyko or Brezhnev’s judgment in Moscow. We want to work cooperatively with you.
“D: It is very important now.
“K: None of this is known to our people. Keep this in mind. You understand the problem.
“D: I understand; it is clear. They will appreciate your call in Moscow.
“K: I would like Mr. Brezhnev to know that we sent yesterday a message to Brandt congratulating him on [avoiding passage of] a vote of “no confidence”. He can use that.
“D: From the President?
“K: Yes. Our people will recognize that as positive.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 372, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)[Page 650]
At 12:15 p.m. on April 29, Kissinger telephoned Dobrynin again. According to the transcript, they again discussed Germany:
“K: You see, we are practically going to do…
“K: One other thing we want Gromyko’s judgment on. We were prepared to say something in general along lines we discussed yesterday, on Monday. Under these conditions it may precipitate a vote. Brandt may lose.
“D: You mean before?
“K: If he wants us to follow Barzel’s suggestion, this may mean delays in the vote. We will hold that with a statement until we hear reply from Brandt.
“D: You will ask him about statement from White House—Barzel—you are going to ask him too?
“K: No. I just want to explain to Gromyko the reason we are holding up on statement until we have the reply from Brandt [is] because practical consequences of our making statement might be to precipitate vote on Thursday and it may not be desirable. If we get reply from Brandt before Monday, we will make it Monday.
“D: I understand. You will just await the reply from Brandt. You will give this to Barzel. And second, you will make a statement.
“K: If we write this for Barzel, we wouldn’t make a public statement.
“D: Yes. If he says he doesn’t like Barzel, you will not make a public statement.
“K: We will not get into position that we are—in way of preliminary agreement—and we want it to go into effect—or something like that.
“D: Thank you. I will send a telegram.
“K: Good.” (Ibid.)
During a May 9 telephone conversation with Dobrynin, Kissinger stated: “I have just talked to Bahr and we’ve also been in touch with Barzel, and I think we can assure now that the treaty will be ratified by tomorrow evening.” (Ibid.) On May 9 representatives from both the West German Cabinet and the principal opposition party did submit a resolution on the Eastern treaties. The vote in the Bundestag was postponed until May 17, at which time the treaty was approved. For further documentation on U.S.-German relations during this period, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972.