129. Editorial Note

On October 22, 1970, President Nixon met Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko at the White House for an important discussion of several issues, including the quadripartite negotiations on Berlin. In an October 19 memorandum for Nixon, Assistant to the President Kissinger noted that the meeting, the first between the President and a high-ranking Soviet official, came “at a moment of unusual uncertainty in both capitals [Page 376] concerning the intentions and purposes of the other side.” In addition to recent crises in the Middle East and Cuba, relations between the two superpowers were complicated by the uncertain prospects for West Germany’s Ostpolitik, in particular the connection between ratification of the Moscow Treaty and a satisfactory settlement in Berlin. Kissinger thought that Gromyko might “charge that we are holding Germans back in their Eastern policy.” Gromyko would probably also “reiterate Soviet readiness to safeguard the economic life of West Berlin and civilian access to it” but “reject any political ties between the FRG and West Berlin.” Kissinger, however, added:

“There have recently been some indications that the Soviets might consider some lowkey FRG political representation in West Berlin. This has aroused some interest in Brandt’s entourage (Bahr) who has frequent surreptitious contacts with Soviet officials. We may at some point be faced with German schemes for reducing or transforming the FRG’s political presence in West Berlin in an effort to get an agreement which would then permit Brandt to claim success and submit his Moscow treaty for ratification. But as a quid pro quo for such an arrangement the situation may evolve in which the Germans pay twice, on Ostpolitik and on Berlin.”

Continuing his guidance for the President, Kissinger then offered the following talking points on the Berlin negotiations:

In Response to Gromyko, You Should

  • “—avoid details;
  • “—avoid leaving the impression that you are willing to scale down the Western position since the Soviets will immediately carry this back to the Germans (and the French, who, if anything, have been the most reluctant to negotiate about Berlin at all because they want to keep their position in Berlin unimpaired as leverage vis-à-vis the Germany);
  • “—reiterate your basic view that there can be little hope of peace and quiet in Europe if Berlin boils up into crisis periodically;
  • “—state your conviction that there ought to be improvements in the life of the West Berliners, if only on humanitarian grounds;
  • “—note the basic reality that the FRG feels intimate ties with the city and that there can be no thought of making it a third German state;
  • “—express the hope that the Ambassadors will continue their work and reach a mutually acceptable agreement which would be bound to have beneficial effects beyond Berlin itself.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Country Files, Europe, Box 71, USSR, Gromyko 1970)

In an October 20 memorandum for the President, Kissinger reported on two conversations between Gromyko and Secretary of State Rogers, who had met in New York on October 16 and 19 during the [Page 377] annual session of the United Nations General Assembly. Although “no substantive change in the Soviet position emerged from these conversations,” Kissinger commented, Gromyko did make “a small procedural concession on the Berlin talks.” Kissinger summarized the discussion of Berlin as follows:

Gromyko complained over the lack of progress in the four power talks. He said we would have to clarify our position. Most of his presentation was an attack on the political activities of the West German government in West Berlin. Any understanding, Gromyko asserted, would have to include prohibition on such activities.

“The Secretary responded that the recent Soviet proposals were full of difficulties, but that we also sought to reduce tensions provided there was no unilateral interference with our rights. Ambassador Rush emphasized the importance of West Berlin’s economic ties to West Germany. Gromyko replied that the Soviets accepted economic links between West Berlin and West Germany, but not political ties.

“In a second conversation, the Secretary said that the Soviets were hampering progress in the talks by their rigid position and Gromyko then agreed that our proposals for practical improvements could be discussed simultaneously with the matters of Soviet concern. Previously they had wanted their concerns met before discussing practical improvements. The Secretary suggested a review of the situation after two more Ambassadorial meetings.” (Ibid.)

The record of the discussion of Berlin between Rogers and Gromyko is in telegrams 172337, October 17, and 172472, October 20, to USUN. (Attached to a the memorandum for the President; ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 28 GER B) See also Document 121.

The meeting between the President and Gromyko on October 22 lasted from 11:01 a.m. to 1:34 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, Daily Diary) In addition to the principals, the attendees included Rogers, Kissinger, and Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin. According to the memorandum of conversation, Nixon, citing the discussion between Rogers and Gromyko in New York, suggested that the participants discuss “questions of the general relationship between the two countries.” The two men then agreed to an agenda of “specific problem areas,” including the Berlin negotiations. The memorandum records the conversation on Berlin as follows:

“Mr. Gromyko said he was convinced that it was in the interests of both countries to achieve a reduction of tensions in Berlin and to create a situation there which would work for stability, détente, and general peace in Europe. The American side had many times referred to the status of West Berlin. He wanted to assure the President that the Soviet Union had no intention to weaken the status of the allied powers in West Berlin. In fact, at times he had the impression that the [Page 378] Soviet Union did more than anyone else to respect the special status of West Berlin. The principal question there was the political presence of the Federal Republic of Germany in the city. This presence affected the interests of the Soviet Union and undermined the special status that the American side had so frequently talked about. The Soviet Union advocated that inviolability of the inter-allied agreements concerning Berlin, which were in effect. The Soviets were against anything that would violate these agreements. In his view it was possible that the American side misunderstood the Soviet position to some extent. He sometimes felt that representatives of the United States, at least at the ambassadorial level, regularly meeting to discuss the Berlin question, misunderstood the Soviet position. The Soviet Union as well as the German Democratic Republic, were ready to find a favorable solution for the two principal problems affecting West Berlin, those of transit from West Berlin to West Germany and vice versa, and access to East Berlin. These solutions would certainly serve the interests of the Federal Republic of Germany, as well as those of the people of West Berlin. The major stumbling block at the moment appeared to be the question of political ties (and he stressed the word ‘political’) between the Federal Republic and West Berlin. He strongly felt that there was a real possibility of reaching agreement here and this would help ease the situation in the area.

“Mr. Kissinger asked for clarification. He had heard Mr. Gromyko use the phrase that West German political activity in West Berlin must be ‘curtailed’, rather than ‘eliminated.’ Was this a correct interpretation?

“Mr. Gromyko [using the Russian word ‘svyortyvaniye’] said that in his view there was no need to continue the political activities of the Federal Republic, since they constantly created new disputes. It would be comparatively easy to list what activities of the Federal Republic in Berlin could be continued and which political functions it should not be permitted to exercise in West Berlin. Above all, this referred to such matters as meetings in Berlin of the West German Bundestag, meetings of various Bundestag committees, and activities of the West German Chancellor in West Berlin. It was entirely possible that some of the activities in West Berlin had not come to the attention of the Allied Powers; they might require close examination under a microscope, as it were. First and foremost, the West Berlin problem, from the Soviet point of view, consisted in the political presence of the Federal Republic as a state in that city.

“Secretary Rogers also inquired whether the Russian word meant eliminate or curtail. He said that elimination was certainly out of the question and that the Government of the FRG would be unable to enlist the support of its people for complete elimination of all political ties with West Berlin.

[Page 379]

“The President said that the umbilical cord between the city and the FRG could not be cut. Looking back over the years at the numerous Berlin crises during the Eisenhower administration, he saw the city as a central problem in Europe. It was precisely for this reason that we must have a clear understanding on West Berlin in order to reduce the frequency of these crises. Mr. Gromyko must be well aware of the fact that ratification of the Nonaggression Treaty between the Soviet Union and the FRG depended upon substantial progress on the West Berlin problem. On this point he, too, said that all political ties cannot be cut, this simply cannot happen. West Berlin cannot be allowed to become a third German state. But if he understood Mr. Gromyko correctly, a low profile of the Federal authorities in West Berlin, as opposed to the high profile represented by meetings of the Bundestag, might be acceptable to the Soviet side. We could not agree to eliminating all political ties for the simple reason that we could not sell this to the FRG any more than the FRG could sell this to its own people.

“Secretary Rogers remarked that it should be a matter for negotiation what lines and limits should be drawn from the FRG in West Berlin. If we were to continue negotiations on this issue some progress must be made.

“Mr. Gromyko again said that it was a matter of bodies and sub-bodies of the Federal Republic in West Berlin. As for a method of achieving concrete progress on this question, we should list specific activities to be eliminated. Mr. Gromyko expressed his appreciation to the President for the fact that the United States had taken a positive view of the treaty between the FRG and the Soviet Union. He considered this treaty to be an important step in the direction of creating a détente in Europe. As for the list of activities in West Berlin, these could be considered in detail in the course of negotiations.

“The President said that our reaction to the Soviet-German treaty was based upon the fact that we respected the independence of the FRG and that when it signed a treaty in its own interests, we approved of this action, of course. The treaty had been their idea, not ours. It was the Federal Republic that had taken the initiative to negotiate on the questions of borders and nonaggression. It should be realized, however, that this was only a first step. To complete it and obtain ratification of the treaty, it would be absolutely necessary that progress in the Berlin question be achieved. If we could cool down the Berlin problem, even apart from our bilateral relations over Germany, the whole situation in Europe would be affected positively.

“Secretary Rogers said it was a simple fact of life that the Federal Republic could not ratify the treaty unless a satisfactory solution was found for West Berlin. He thought we might hold two more Ambassadors’ meeting to see if we can make some progress, and also that all [Page 380] of these various matters, political presence, transit and access, should be negotiated at one and the same time.

“Mr. Gromyko agreed and expressed the hope that the U.S. Government would work with the Soviet Union to find appropriate solutions.

“Secretary Rogers added that in his view an agreement on West Berlin should also provide for negotiation of any possible disputes there that might arise in the future.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Country Files, Europe, Box 71, USSR, Gromyko 1970) The full memorandum of conversation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII. For his memoir account of the meeting, see Kissinger, White House Years, pages 788–794.

In a telephone conversation that afternoon, Rogers and Kissinger discussed the outcome of the meeting. A transcript records the discussion on Berlin as follows:

“R: I think the meeting was good. I didn’t mean to interrupt him on progress—

“K: What you said was essential. They can give us internal access in Berlin which means nothing.

“R: [Omission in the source text.] That’s not what we said. We want a solution.

“K: They did agree to (present them?)

“R: Now they say microscopic. The hold up was the condition. We had to eliminate FRG in Berlin. They backed away from that. They did in NY and again today. He made it clear.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 364, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)