139. Memorandum Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1


  • Four Power Talks on Berlin

There has been virtually no substantive progress during the past two Ambassadorial meetings (November 16 and 23),2 and indeed in the last meeting the Soviets took the toughest stance so far both in tone and substance. The Soviet approach seems to be to take the hardest possible line and then to mark time, as if they anticipated a shift in direction [Page 401] but were not exactly sure which way the direction would point. They are protected most, therefore, by taking the hardest possible line.

There are several factors that have been at play in recent weeks which may have caused the Soviets to pause:

  • —There is a general assumption, fostered by pro-Ostpolitik forces in the FRG and especially Bahr, that Soviet policy has been impeded by GDR rigidity. The evidence on this is ambiguous but the frequent comings and goings between Soviet and East German officials do at least suggest that the Soviets are trying to get the GDR to take a more pliant attitude, at least in form. (We do know that the East Germans are unhappy about Polish and other East European efforts to normalize relations with the FRG without obtaining additional recognition for the GDR; this was reflected in the hard-line speech of the GDR delegate to the recent Hungarian Party Congress.)
  • —A Warsaw Pact meeting will be held in East Berlin this week, and the prime focus there will be coordination on German affairs (and the NATO meeting will run almost concurrently).
  • —The Soviets have viewed the Hessian and Bavarian elections as evidence of renewed strength for Brandt’s coalition which, in their eyes, may make it easier for Brandt to secure ratification of the Soviet-FRG treaty without significant progress on Berlin (a doubtful calculus, given CDU views).
  • Ulbricht’s health, always a source of rumors, may in fact be failing, leading to more intense intra-party maneuvering in East Germany; the length of time Ulbricht will (and should) remain in command is relevant to Soviet decisions on Berlin.
  • —The intra-German talks (between Bahr and Kohl) began November 27; the Soviets will probably wish to test in this channel whether the Germans will negotiate on Berlin access without an adequate Four Power mandate (Bahr reports that he was firm in insisting that he could not discuss Berlin access without this mandate); which would have a spoiling effect on the Four Power talks.
  • —The Soviets may also have been hoping for a break in Allied Tripartite unity; especially since the Pompidou visit to the USSR in mid-October, the Soviets seem to have targeted the French for separate approaches (the French have not been unresponsive).

The autobahn slowdown in recent days in connection with the CDU meeting in Berlin probably was the least the Soviets could do to placate [Page 402] the East Germans (and to save their own face).3 At the same time the Soviets hoped that the political nature of the problem (a CDU meeting) would create further division between Barzel and Brandt. In the end, however, the autobahn stoppages probably served the cause of Allied unity and pulled German opinion together in insisting on something concrete from the Berlin talks.

As of the last Ambassadorial meeting, the Soviets were still unhelpful on access. While the Four could agree on general principles, the specific commitments according to the Soviets, would have to take the form of agreements between the GDR, the FRG and the Berlin Senat, i.e., the Soviets continue to refuse to take formal responsibility for access, insisting that this is a GDR sovereign right. Before the Soviets would offer specific thinking on a possible FRGGDR agreement they wanted assurances that there would be movement by the West to meet Soviet requirements for removing the Federal presence from Berlin. Abrasimov has clearly linked Federal presence with access. On the issue of Federal presence the Soviets have continued to insist that all federal agencies be removed (though there is some indication they may accept the Bahr concept of a cosmetic change to tuck all federal offices under the auspices of a Federal “representative” in Berlin (a position Bahr himself expects to hold as the present FRG official responsible for Berlin). There is increasing indication that the Soviets want to have a greater role in West Berlin, including assurances that the NPD and similar offensive organizations are eliminated and that the Soviets should have a consulate and other official officers in West Berlin. So far the Soviets have flatly refused to consider representation abroad of Berlin by the FRG. However, they have expressed some interest in learning more about our proposal that FRG passports issued in West Berlin bear an additional stamp indicating that they were issued under the authority of the respective Allied commandant (another Bahr idea). The Soviets also insist that we agree that Berlin is not only not a Land of the FRG but not “a part” of the FRG.

The advisers of the Four Ambassadors met on November 304 for a discussion that centered largely around the format of any eventual agreement. There would be three general elements: the first would entail a Four Power statement on general principles, the second would be the unilateral communications by the Soviets (on access) and the Three (on Federal presence) together with the results of the negotiations between the German authorities, and the final element would again be a Four Power statement tying together the other two elements. During the advisers meeting, the Soviets hinted that the situation might [Page 403] be clearer in a week or so and perhaps there could then be another advisers meeting. This hint tends to confirm other indications that the Soviets may be trying to prepare a new stance for the Ambassadorial meeting of December 10. This will then be the last meeting for a month or so. Following that meeting (and assuming that the Warsaw Pact meeting this week supports a new Soviet line, or confirms the old one) we will be in a much better position to take a new look at where we stand in the talks and where we ought to be heading.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 690, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Berlin), Vol. II. Secret. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. Sonnenfeldt forwarded it as an attachment to a December 1 memorandum to Kissinger. Noting that the meeting on November 23 had been “particularly unproductive,” Sonnenfeldt wrote that the meeting scheduled for December 10 “should provide us with a better basis to assess where things stand.” Kissinger initialed this memorandum indicating that he had seen it.
  2. A detailed account of the former is in telegram 1746 (November 16), 1749 and 1759 (November 17) from Berlin; a detailed account of the latter is in telegrams 1784 (November 23), 1789 and 1790 (November 24) from Berlin. (All ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 38–6) In a November 17 memorandum to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt forwarded a paper analyzing the meeting of the previous day. “Though the West Germans, and Bahr in particular, have claimed the Soviets are under great pressure for an agreement,” the paper concluded, “the record thus far suggests that the Soviets are willing to protract the talks, and the pressures will grow on the West Germans. (This may explain Bahr’s rather frantic efforts to deal with the Soviets behind our back.)” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 690, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Berlin), Vol. II) For a German summary of the meeting on November 23, see Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1970, Vol. 3, pp. 2119–2123.
  3. See Document 137.
  4. A detailed account of the advisers’ meeting is in telegrams 1843 and 1845, November 30, and 1846, December 1, from Berlin. (All in National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 38–6)