86. Editorial Note

On April 8, 1972, Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger called Deputy Secretary of Defense Rush at 12:43 p.m. to discuss linkage between Soviet policies on North Vietnam and West Germany. Ten days earlier, West German State Secretary Bahr had been in Washington to review the prospects for ratification of the Moscow and Warsaw treaties; on March 28, he met Kissinger and telephoned Rush—until recently the Ambassador in Bonn. (See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany, 1969–1972, Document 348.) After returning to West Germany, Bahr sent a special channel message to Kissinger on April 1 requesting a memorandum of support for ratification talks between the government and the opposition, led by Rainer Barzel, chairman of the Christian Democratic Union. (Ibid., Document 349) Kissinger raised the issue of how to respond to such requests in his telephone conversation with Rush.

K: I was calling you because [1 line of source text not declassified] you told Bahr you might write Barzel.

R: Bahr wanted me to write Barzel.

K: While this crisis goes on we have to be sure there is no move which gives aid and comfort to the Soviets. If you can tell Bahr we cannot consider it, it would be helpful.

R: I don’t know how he got that.

K: You know what an oily guy he is.

R: I told [West German Ambassador] Pauls when he saw Barzel that he (Pauls) could say he was talking to me and I was worried about the image of the German people.

K: Yes, you told this to me.

R: Bahr called me and asked if I would write Barzel, and I said no.

K: Can you get it across to the Germans—say to Bahr you and I have been talking and we are working in this direction. But we are confronted a second time in four months with an offensive backed by Soviet arms, and we have to reassess our whole situation.

R: I can get word to him on that.

K: How?

R: I can think of four ways: (1) go through your backchannel; (2) go through the State Department; (3) go through Rolf Pauls

K: Why not go through Pauls. That is the most likely to leak. Do it in a way saying we are not going to do it because we have to reassess. Do it as an individual and not as a government. Can you do it this weekend?

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R: I will do it right now.

K: Can you let me know after you do it?

R: Certainly.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)

Rush called Kissinger back at 1:05 p.m. to report on his conversation with Pauls.

R: I got hold of Rolf and he has promised to send a message forthwith to Bahr.

K: Under these conditions?

R: I told him I told Bahr I would not write a letter. This was all we could do. However, there was no [reluctance?] on your part or on my part personally with regard to changing of position, but as of now we could do nothing with regard to approving something for the Russians. Rolf understood completely.

K: Did you put it in the context of this offensive?

R: I said in light of this heavy invasion with nothing but Russian equipment we obviously could not get behind something the Russians wanted.

K: Okay, Ken; well done.” (Ibid.)

On April 8 Kissinger also responded to Bahr’s earlier request for a memorandum of support. “[W]e now confront the problems posed by a massive invasion of South Vietnam based on Soviet arms,” he stated. “We are undertaking an urgent review of the implications of that situation and will communicate with you after it is completed.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 424, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, Europe, 1972) Kissinger later explained the tactical side of his response: “Bahr, with the ratification of Brandt’s Eastern treaties hanging in the balance, was certain to convey these sentiments to the Soviet Ambassador in Bonn. And Moscow would be reminded that we were not without means of pressure.” (White House Years, page 1117)

During a meeting with the President in the Old Executive Office Building at 3:10 p.m. on April 10, Kissinger read the text of his message to Bahr and reported on his conversation with Rush. Kissinger told Nixon that he would ask Bahr, who was already “running to the Soviet ambassador [Falin],” to forward the message. Kissinger also explained how the information, as passed by Rush to Pauls, would leak anyway: “The Ambassador has to report back through channels, so many people in the German Foreign Office will read it. It’s certain to be picked up.” Although the Soviets might think the summit was “something for us,” Nixon commented, “the German thing is something they apparently need.” Kissinger replied: “The summit, as long [Page 270]as it was something for you, they were screwing you all over the place. The summit became something for them when we developed the Chinese option.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, April 10, 1972, 3:10–3:55 p.m., Executive Office Building, Conversation No. 330–31)