240. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US Side
    • The President
    • Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
    • Martin Hillenbrand, Ambassador to Bonn
  • German Side
    • Hans Dietrich Genscher, Foreign Minister
    • Gunther Van Well, Political Director
    • Berndt Von Staden, Ambassador to US
    • Dr. Weber, Interpreter

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

President: [Omitted here are unrelated comments.] With respect to the CSCE, which I discussed with the Chancellor in Brussels,2 we understand your position on peaceful change and its importance to you. It is a difficult subject to discuss with the Soviets but we are trying our best to get the Soviets to accept our position. We have taken note of recent disturbances on the autobahn,3 and we will drag our feet on the East German thing, having in mind that this sort of harassment must not be allowed to plague our relations.

Genscher: Our two governments are in agreement on CSCE. If satisfactory solutions can be found, we should be prepared to move ahead, perhaps ending in a summit. The possibility of a summit should be integrated into our negotiating position. The issue of peaceful change is not only important to Germany, but also to Europe. An absolute freeze of borders could also be contrary to European unity. We have been grateful for your support in this matter. With reference to the autobahn, our general line should be that if the Soviets do not accept the importance [Page 709] of Berlin and the Quadripartite Agreement, they will endanger détente policy. I am grateful you are prepared to drag your feet on GDR relations until the situation is clarified.4 The Eastern side must recognize that they cannot have their cake and eat it too. What we want is that the Four Power Agreement be maintained, and this is not an unreasonable position.

President: You can be sure that, as far as the peaceful change issue is concerned, I fully agree that this is not only a sensitive matter for Germany, but also for a divided Europe. Our Russian friends cannot take the position that they can simply draw a line down the middle of Europe, on one side of which nothing can change but the other side of which is a happy hunting ground for them. If change is tolerable in Western Europe then the same should also apply to Eastern Europe. The question is not only how to get language, but also how actually to bring about peaceful change in Eastern Europe. Anyone who has visited Eastern Europe as I have cannot help but feel the tragedy of the millions of people under communist governments. The Eastern European countries have a long background of standing up for their independence; they do not like foreign domination. I am therefore totally in agreement on the principle, but you and Secretary Kissinger will still have to work out the language. We should not at this point in history ratify the Iron Curtain, as the Soviets want us to do.

Genscher: We must look to the internal dynamics of development. We can see this operating in the GDR, to large portions of which West German TV is available. I went to the GDR recently in a private capacity for the first time since I left it in 1952. I was astonished at the hearty welcome I received and at the fact that I was widely recognized. This was entirely due to people having seen my face on TV. This confirms the importance of Basket III in the CSCE negotiations. But more important than making newspapers and magazines available is the possibility of travelling into these areas. It is, for example, more important that a man in Kiev be able to receive his sister from New York on a visit than that he have access to daily editions of the New York Times.

President: I agree that it is communication that matters. TV is indeed important.

Genscher: If one could agree on exchange of TV broadcasts, this would be great progress.

Secretary: The President would be glad to give up Walter Cronkite5 and a few others.

[Page 710]

Genscher: I have a few commentators also whom we would gladly exchange.

President: The important thing to convey to Chancellor Schmidt and to your colleagues is that the unity of the Big Four is indispensable at this juncture. The instability of the whole southern tier would only be given greater impetus if there is disunity in the northern tier. Therefore, there must be close consultations and communications between the Federal Republic, the United States, Britain and France—and also Italy. We will do our best in this connection. We must not permit economic issues to divide us. We must maintain and strengthen NATO and not reduce its strength except in the context of mutual reductions.

[Omitted here is discussion of matters other than the European security conference or MBFR.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1029, MemCons—HAK & Presidential, June 1-August 8, 1974, 1 of 3. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The conversation took place in the President’s office.
  2. No record of Nixon’s conversation with Schmidt on June 26 has been found.
  3. In telegram 1256 from Berlin, July 26, the Mission reported: “East Germans appear to have initiated some harassment of transit traffic in wake of establishment of Federal Environmental Agency in West Berlin. Mission has learned so far of five cases, starting morning July 26, in which private autos were stopped at crossing points (Hirschberg, Drewitz, Marienborn and Staaken) and passenger either asked if they worked for the FEA or were simply told that reason for delay was because of establishment of FEA. Delays varied from ten minutes to hour, after which all travelers were permitted to proceed.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)
  4. The United States did not establish an Embassy in the German Democratic Republic until December 9, 1974.
  5. Chief editor and anchorman for the Columbia Broadcasting System’s evening news.