114. Telegram From the Mission in Berlin to the Department of State1

1293. Subject: Ambassador Rush’s Meeting With Abrasimov,2 September 2—Part I of II Parts—Highlights.

Ambassador Rush’s meeting with Abrasimov today lasted two hours, with substantive discussion taking place only over coffee after lunch. Set forth below are highlights of that conversation. Full report transmitted in Part II.3
Abrasimov first discussed date for next quadripartite meeting. He initially suggested September 14 or 15, but readily agreed to Ambassador Rush’s suggestion for September 30. (Ambassador Rush agreed to check this with British and French colleagues.)
Abrasimov’s substantive comments indicated Soviet desire for: limited agreement (as opposed to broad aspect) with flexibility as to form, e.g. statement, communiqué, etc; engage us in bilateral discussions on Berlin; and attempt to elicit Western proposal, taking cognizance of Soviet views, as basis for further negotiations.4
Abrasimov’s initial suggestion was for a “communiqué” or “statement” identifying points on which previous discussions revealed closeness of two sides’ positions. He listed those points as being: West Berlin should not be hotbed of tension in Central Europe; West Berlin has not belonged and does not belong to FRG; and West Berlin should have active external, cultural, economic and political ties. His formulation of this latter point is of course susceptible to various interpretations, but does not necessarily preserve a special relationship with FRG.
Abrasimov also said question of access by West Berliners to East Berlin could be discussed. He noted, however, such questions as numbers, forms of access, and precise meaning of unhindered access required clarification. While he questioned compatability Western suggestion for Four Power group on access with Western unwillingness change Four Power agreements, he did not reject the proposal.
Ambassador Rush suggested both sides exchange “non-papers” embodying what they regarded as possible mutually acceptable agreement prior to September 30 in order to facilitate progress. Abrasimov agreed but abandoned his attempt to obtain Western paper before submitting Soviet one only after Ambassador Rush took firm position that exchange should be simultaneous. Both agreed to endeavor prepare such papers by September 21.5 Ambassador Rush also deflected Abrasimov’s [Page 323] effort involve US and Soviets in bilateral talks by stressing UK and French involvement in Berlin and FRG’s role in view of dependence of West Berlin’s viability on FRG.
Abrasimov was extremely cordial and repeatedly stressed interest both sides in avoiding tensions in Berlin. He also emphasized need for strict confidentiality, re substance of today’s meeting, as well as exchange of papers. He also requested that paper not be discussed at full quadripartite meeting, but only at Ambassadorial luncheon.6
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL USUSSR. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Repeated to Bonn and to Prague for Ambassador Rush.
  2. On August 28 the Soviet protocol officer in Berlin met his U.S. counterpart to invite Rush to a luncheon with Abrasimov on either September 2 or 3. The officer asked for a reply in person rather than by telephone, presumably to avoid detection by East German intelligence. (Telegram 1264 from Berlin, August 28; ibid.) The Embassy in Bonn recommended accepting the invitation: “This will be the first occasion for such discussion following signature of the German-Soviet treaty, and it is possible that the Soviets may have something significant to say.” (Telegram 9918 from Bonn, August 31; ibid.) The Department agreed. (Telegram 142049 to Bonn, August 31; ibid.)
  3. Telegram 1294 from Berlin, September 2, but incorrectly dated August 2. (Ibid.)
  4. According to Sutterlin and Klein: “perhaps the most significant political point was Abrasimov’s association of the Soviet Union with preference for an ‘interim solution’ providing for practical improvements rather than a comprehensive treaty on the status of Berlin.” (Sutterlin and Klein, Berlin, p. 128)
  5. In telegram 146607 to Bonn, September 8, the Department suggested a deliberate response to the Abrasimov approach: “We feel that pressure at present is more on them than on the Western side and that wisest Western tactic would therefore be to continue to push for an indication of potential Soviet concessions in the other fields we have suggested. We have no interest in prolonging the Berlin talks and are sympathetic with the German desire for early results. We feel, however, that to obtain these results it will be the best tactic to avoid giving impression that we are in a hurry.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 28 GER B) In telegram 10360 from Bonn, September 9, the Embassy recommended, however, that the Western side exploit the situation by “pushing the Soviets as hard as feasible.” “If we do not take this approach,” the Embassy explained, “there is, we believe, a danger not only that we may fail to exploit negotiating conditions which are optimal from our viewpoint, but also that the Soviets can effectively publicly attack us for blocking the FRG-Soviet treaty, thus complicating our relations with the FRG. The Brandt government has a strong parallel interest in obtaining maximum concessions possible from the Soviets on Berlin. With these, it can assure ratification of the FRG-Soviet treaty and its own survival as a government. In this situation, if we were to appear to hold back on Berlin, this would place a considerable burden on the overall US-German relationship.” (Ibid.)
  6. In telegram WH 01704 to Kissinger at San Clemente, September 3, Hyland commented on the Abrasimov–Rush meeting: “Hurried nature of meeting, and stress on confidential bilateral exchanges with us only suggests that Soviets want to move quickly to reach minimal accord sufficient to put pressure on Bonn for early ratification of treaty. General communiqué as envisaged by Soviets would be used as lever against Bonn for ratification, while critical details would be left open. Ambassador Rush’s agreement to this route, without Washington approval or consultations with Bonn or UK and French, puts us in weak tactical position, especially if we hand over our draft first, without Soviet counterproposals. Nevertheless, Soviets may be under some pressure of their own, and Abrasimov’s conciliatory line suggests we may have more bargaining power than we thought. Soviets have, in effect, dropped idea of negotiating new status and seem prepared to make concession on West Berlin ‘political ties.’” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 684, Country Files, Europe, Germany, Vol. VII)