115. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Rainer Barzel, Floor Leader of the CDU, Bundestag
  • Hermann Konnerer, Consul General in Los Angeles
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Winston Lord, National Security Council Staff
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Berlin and Ostpolitik

After an opening exchange of pleasantries, Barzel commented that his discussions in Paris, London and Washington ranged far beyond the German-Soviet treaty to whether the German Government was making progress on European questions, whether something reasonable could be arranged concerning a long-term American presence in Europe, and whether one could find a common position on Berlin.

On Berlin, Barzel noted Mayor Schuetz’s position of two weeks previous.2 He (Barzel) had renounced claims of opposition on this issue—this was not easy for it was tempting to put a high claim on Berlin as a condition for the German-Soviet treaty. His party was still working out its position on this question. If too high a minimum were established, one could be accused of sabotaging the treaty. He had told Heath that the West should try to work out a useful policy out of half measures; they had very largely agreed on what practically could be done concerning Western political unity and Berlin. He had also just had a long talk with Hillenbrand on these issues.3

Mr. Kissinger stated that the U.S. thought that the German problem was of great importance for her as well as for Germany, because it was really at the heart of European postwar problems. Results could be achieved which nobody wanted; and we were wondering what the tendencies were. German policy is above all a German question and cannot be formulated in Washington. One talks about Allied rights and responsibilities, but these cannot be maintained by repeating them— they can change objectively over the decades whatever one would wish. For example, a sovereign GDR cannot be debated away.

Barzel said, speaking frankly, that his main problem with Brandt’s policies were that they opened up the way for tendencies which Brandt didn’t want but couldn’t check. For example, the Germans could ask “Now that you have peace with the Soviets, why should Germany spend 20 billion for defense?”. Brandt knows that he needs more than 20 billion. We will then see how many people believe that Germany can be a bridge between East and West.

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Brandt [Barzel?] thought that it was now important to emphasize the Western side of policy. He had told Brandt that he should concentrate on Western political unity, because the Soviets with their European Security Conference want to prevent the political unification of Europe. Berlin must be considered in this context.

He thought that Dr. Kissinger was right that merely talking about Four Power rights did not enhance them. Dr. Kissinger interjected that he was not against talking about them—in fact he was in favor of that— but merely that one must know what one is saying. Barzel illustrated his emphasis on Four Power responsibilities with an anecdote. At the time President Kennedy came to Berlin Barzel4 decided that the initial greeter of the President should be the French Commandant of the French sector rather than Adenauer as the elder statesman and host or Brandt as the Mayor.

Dr. Kissinger asked Barzel what he personally thought of Brandt’s Ostpolitik. Barzel responded that he would have been less in a hurry and would have made progress on Berlin first and then on the other issues. Instead, the Federal government had reserved ratification of the treaty pending a Berlin agreement. This policy was dangerous because all European capitals discussed one question, who will prevail in Europe in the future, the Soviet Union or the United States? If the Germans make concessions to the Soviets without counter-concessions, other European cabinets might wonder what they are doing and there might be competition for economic relations with Moscow.

In response to Dr. Kissinger’s query on the positions in Paris and London, Barzel replied his views on Berlin met with agreement, i.e., that there should be an effective, commonly established position on Berlin before trying to ratify the Soviet-German treaty. Dr. Kissinger then asked how the Berlin situation could be specifically improved. Barzel responded first, the three Western powers should keep troops in Berlin. Secondly, there was the problem of access. Thirdly, the GDR should be accepted as a fact, but the Soviets should remain the partner for the three Western powers. There should not be any substitution of the GDR for the Soviet in military and civilian access. It would be wrong if the FRG accepted Ulbricht’s offer to settle civilian access between East Berlin and Bonn. In response to Kissinger’s question, he said that the inter-zonal agreement did not deal with access. Barzel said that he had in mind that on civilian access we must concede to the GDR that they check identification, but not give them the right to choose who has access. It might be helpful to try out ideas like sealed goods, trains or trucks.

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Kissinger asked whether the GDR would accept improvements in the Berlin situation. Barzel said that the Soviets had invested so much prestige in the treaty that if the West had a common position and were patient, we should be able to achieve a modest improvement over the present situation. Kissinger remarked that the situation depended not on legal statements, but rather the good will of the other side. If there were no good will, he doubted that any new statements would help.

Barzel noted that one mistake of the present German Government, which raised basic problems for the U.S. in the Berlin negotiations, was the introduction of the United Nations membership question for the two German states, and thus the issue of who represents Berlin in the United Nations.

U.S. Policy

Barzel commented that the internal situation in the U.S. had stabilized since last year when he was worried. Kissinger said that we had not lost our nerve and he did not believe that we would have these troubles again. Barzel said that American foreign policy was well weighed and firm and a great success. Kissinger questioned him on his view of our policy toward the FRG. Barzel said that he understood U.S. policy toward Ostpolitik and represented it to his friends and Strauss as follows: the U.S. supports the principle that sovereign countries do not interfere in the internal affairs of other nations. German matters are for the Germans to decide. The U.S. wants its rights and interests safeguarded while the Germans look after their own interests. Kissinger termed this a fair statement.

Barzel termed the U.S. position on the European Community, as described by Ambassador Schaetzel, as reasonable: the EEC is not acceptable for the U.S. if it is only a trade discriminatory group, but would be acceptable if there is political progress. Pompidou had told him that the Europeans must be careful and stay on a narrow path—on the one hand the U.S. must not consider their policy economic aggression and on the other hand the Soviets must not consider it political aggression. There was a possible contradiction for the Europeans between the Soviets’ desire for a European Security Conference and an active pursuit of political union. For Barzel, priority lay with Western unification.

Dr. Kissinger remarked that he never understood what a European Security Conference was to do; he was not against a conference but wondered what end it would serve. Barzel replied that he did not believe the Soviets wanted, in the medium term, to push the U.S. out of Europe because some issues could be settled with the U.S. They were, however, trying to destroy the basis of the alliance by undermining unity and substituting the European Security Conference, which was not really a conference but rather a permanent institution with all its consequences. Barzel agreed with Kissinger’s remark that a conference [Page 327] seemed inconsistent with Western unification. He, therefore, wanted his government to do more in the European field, to make clear that its Eastern policy was fully embedded in the West.

German Domestic Situation

In reply to Dr. Kissinger’s inquiry on the German domestic scene, Barzel said that he could have overthrown the government in recent weeks. He had not done so because he did not wish to tie an overthrow to foreign affairs, especially if it gave a pretext to the Soviets to aggravate the situation. He would turn over the government either on economic questions or if it became clear that the Eastern policy was not embedded in the West. There was some further discussion of German domestic politics during which Barzel commented that Brandt will run into budget problems. The Socialist Party would want less money for defense because of peace with the Soviets, while Brandt will have to say that he needs more money in order to keep U.S. forces in Germany.

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Kissinger asked Barzel what he would do about this question if he were Chancellor. Barzel replied that he thought he might offer to repay the United States for the Marshall Plan, not as an act of generosity but rather as a grateful son who had completed his studies and was now on his own. This was a tentative idea—he had not had experts study it yet. In any event it would be bad if there were horse-trading and the number of American soldiers was tied to specific amounts of money.

Replying to Dr. Kissinger’s question, Barzel said that American policy had a strong influence on the German domestic situation. The FRG uses American statements, however carefully worded, as signs of approval for its policies.

There was some further discussion of the German domestic situation, during which Barzel explained that on August 10 he had taken a more shaded position than some in his party who wished to hammer at the German-Soviet Treaty.5 If Brandt presented the treaty tomorrow for ratification, his party would say no. If it were presented eight months from now as one element of a larger settlement including Berlin, they would look at it again.

Kissinger asked Barzel who the other CDU possibilities for Chancellor were, and he responded that besides himself, there were Kiesinger, Strauss, Schroeder, Kohl, and Stoltenberg.

Kissinger asked Barzel his view of Brandt as a statesman. Barzel responded that he had known him for a long time, and that he was personally free of suspicion and not a dreamer. However, he was not the only one in his party. He mentioned other strong men as being Bahr, Ehmke and Wiener [Wehner]. Sometimes Schmidt had influence on Brandt also. He had to admit that Brandt was doing a good job.

Four Power Conference

Heath had asked Barzel his view of a Four Power Western Conference. He, Barzel, supported the Brandt proposal on the condition that it was well prepared and that the West added new questions to the agenda. In negotiations or discussions there should never be just one topic on which everything was concentrated, such as the present concentration on Berlin. He would add such issues as MBFR, SALT, relations between the EEC and third countries, and trade questions. The conference should be well prepared; he would oppose it if there were only a non-substantive show. In Europe all concentration is on Berlin, where one holds less cards than the other side. However, our cards have improved because of the prestige that Brezhnev had invested in the Soviet-German treaty.


Barzel asked Kissinger about the Middle East and he replied that he thought the Soviets were torn between doing something militarily and positive negotiations. The U.S. task was to show the advantages to them to keeping the negotiating route open while also indicating that the military solution was too risky. This was similar to Berlin and other questions. There were always groups in the country who believed that the only way to solve these issues was through concessions. It was a question of careful calibration, of not closing off negotiations while making the risks clear—this is the dilemma in foreign affairs. Barzel agreed that deterrence involved preparing for tension while looking for détente. Kissinger rejoined that it was difficult to play chess if one always has to explain one’s moves so that the opponent knows the next ten steps.

In response to Kissinger’s question Barzel thought that the new British Government gave an astonishingly serene impression and that Heath was quite capable. As for Americans, he found Secretary Rogers serene and was very impressed with the President on his trip to Europe.6 It was not what the President said but rather the calm and natural way, free of bombast, that he expressed himself. His handling of Berlin, for example, was preferable to the harsh words of Kennedy.

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Commenting on pending U.S. trade legislation, Barzel thought that mutual concessions was a better solution. Kissinger remarked that the Japanese were not easy to negotiate with. We were reluctant to support the legislation, and if the Japanese had given us the opportunity for a deal we would have taken it. The President had committed himself strongly to the textile industry and he considered that he had a moral duty to keep the promises of his campaign. We had thought the Japanese would understand. For the first time, unique in Japanese history, the Japanese Government was not able to influence its industry. We were prepared to solve the textile question through negotiations but Japan forces us to take the other way. We wanted any restraints limited to textiles and we had warned Congress that if it went very far, we would have to veto the bill. The Japanese have not behaved in their own interest.

The meeting ended at 12:30 as Dr. Kissinger took Mr. Barzel to see the President.7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 684, Country Files, Europe, Germany, Vol. VII. Secret. The meeting was held in Kissinger’s office at the Western White House. According to a September 12 attached note from Lord to Kissinger, the memorandum was drafted by Lord. Kissinger approved the text, although Lord admitted: “There may be some shaky spots due to the simultaneous translation which was the basis of my notes.” Kissinger also approved Lord’s recommendation to give a copy to Sonnenfeldt but not to the Department of State. (Ibid.)
  2. According to Barzel, Schütz let the “cat out of the bag” in an interview published by the German newspaper Die Welt on August 17; Schütz was now prepared to trade “federal presence in Berlin for security of access.” Conrad Ahlers, the government spokesman, later hinted that the interview represented the thoughts of the Federal Government. (Barzel, Auf dem Drahtseil, p. 118)
  3. The record of the discussion between Barzel and Hillenbrand on Ostpolitik is in telegram 145171 to Bonn, September 4; and a September 3 memorandum of conversation. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GER W–US and POL GER E–GER W, respectively) The discussion of Westpolitik is in telegram 146465 to Bonn, September 8. (Ibid., POL GER W–US)
  4. Barzel had been Minister of All-German Affairs at the time of President Kennedy’s visit to Berlin in June 1963.
  5. Barzel outlined his position on the Moscow Treaty in an August 10 letter to Brandt. For text of the letter, see Meissner, ed., Moskau–Bonn, Vol. 2, pp. 1263–1264. See also Barzel, Auf dem Drahtseil, pp. 108–110; and Die Tür blieb offen: Ostverträge—Mibtrauensvotum— Kanzlersturz, pp. 63–64.
  6. Reference is evidently to Nixon’s trip to Germany and Berlin in February 1969.
  7. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met Barzel at the Western White House on September 4 from 12:45 to 1:20 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) In a September 3 memorandum to prepare Nixon for his meeting with Barzel, Kissinger suggested: “We should not of course interfere in German politics by questioning Brandt’s policies. At the same time we should say nothing which would seem to challenge the principles for which the CDU has stood for so many years or appear overly supportive of the SPD and Brandt in such as way as to demoralize the CDU who are our friends.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 684, Country Files, Europe, Germany, Vol. VII) Although no substantive record of the meeting has been found, Barzel published an account in Auf dem Drahtseil, pp. 113–114; and Im Streit und umstritten, p. 172. See also Document 116. Barzel also met Rogers in San Clemente on September 4. An account of their discussion is in telegrams 146771 and 146772 to Bonn, September 8. (Both in National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GER W–US)