140. Memorandum of Conversation1

Meeting at the White House

At the invitation of the President Messrs. McCloy and Dewey2 and General Lucius D. Clay and myself, accompanied by Mr. Henry Kissinger, were received by the President in his office at four p.m. to discuss questions arising out of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union and relations of this country with Europe.3

[Page 404]

We stayed with the President for an hour and a half. As agreed between us, Mr. McCloy led off and, speaking largely from the attached paper,4 brought out the fact that in the past fifteen years he thought the position of the United States had been gravely eroded. This came about largely because of the technological and material progress of the Soviet Union and its armed forces, its aggressive foreign policy in all quarters of the world—the Mediterranean, Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and East Asia; the belief in Europe that the United States had become obsessed with Southeast Asia, that our own nuclear capabilities had greatly lessened vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, and that our interest in Europe had lessened. McCloy pointed out also that Germany, which had largely been under the influence of West Germans from the Rhineland in the period after the war, was now being governed by people from eastern Germany, who were seeking to experiment with relations with the Soviet Union.5

He thought that the time had come when there should be new developments in leadership in this country that would reaffirm our belief in a united Europe and strong connections between Western Europe and North America and in British admission to the Six and that there should be a review of all our policies, military, political, economic, with Europe, looking toward a period when both Europe and the United States would be freer to engage in joint positive action in their common interest. The President was much interested in this outline.

General Clay reaffirmed McCloy’s views, speaking about his distrust of Willy Brandt and the present leadership in Germany, and of his concern over both the vagueness of American policies and the weakness of American leadership and power in Europe.

Tom Dewey worried about the President’s position because of the lack of strong voices in the Congress that would support him if he gave a lead along the lines indicated by McCloy.

The President then called on me. I supported what had been said before and added a little further analysis.

  • First, I thought that if it had not already been done, there was grave need of some leadership directly responsible to the President, which in my time would have been the State Department, but which should now be any form that the President himself chose by which all policies [Page 405] should be developed, brought together so that the entire Administration might know what it was that we wanted to see accomplished in Europe and what we were prepared to do to help and lead.
  • Second, I hoped that the President would in the near future make a series of forceful, yet restrained, speeches in which he would reaffirm some principles of American policy that had fallen into doubt: (1) American belief in the necessity for a unified Europe; (2) American belief in the necessity of close European-American association; (3) American determination to participate with Europe in mutual defense.
  • Third, I urged a review with our European allies of all questions on which the common action in behalf of the common interest might be required.

And, finally, fourth, There should be preparation for the execution of these decisions.

I suggested that we could begin upon the program as soon as it was clear within the government, but that the time for really occupying the attention of this country and its allies and for action could not arrive until after our present concerns had been met. These concerns were, in Europe, relations of Britain with the Six and, in the United States, the liquidation of our absorption in Southeast Asia, some progress on the domestic front, and the next presidential campaign. I was quite aware, I said, of the problems facing presidential leadership raised by the opposition in control of Congress. This, however, was not unprecedented. Compare, for instance, the period of 1946 to 1948. Whatever the difficulties, it would not be possible to provide such backing as was given to the Marshall Plan until there was something to back. That something could be provided only by the President and whatever risks were involved were inherent in the situation.

The President appeared to agree. He gave us a full and persuasive discussion of the steps already taken by the Executive in formulating policies and communicating them in the last NATO Ministers’ meeting. He spoke of the further action he was prepared to take, of the dangers he saw in the Mills bill,6 some of which he could not avoid. He was aware of the need for popular support and wished to discuss that with us further when he was prepared to act. We were persuaded of his real interest in Europe as our principal foreign concern, although [Page 406] no one of us was ready to believe that action was fully assured for the future. On the whole, I found it an encouraging meeting.7

Dean Acheson 8
  1. Source: Dean Gooderham Acheson Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, Box 68, Folder 173. No classification marking. Drafted by Acheson. No official record of the meeting has been found. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Daily Diary. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  2. Thomas E. Dewey, former Republican Governor of New York.
  3. In a December 4 memorandum Kissinger briefed the President on the meeting: “Your principal worry is the Eastern policy of Chancellor Brandt. You do not question his sincerity and his stated objectives are acceptable. What concerns you is the divisive effect of his policies within Germany where a new competition for the nationalist mantle seems to be developing. Second, you find it difficult to believe that the Soviets have conceded, or will concede any freedom of action for the Germans, of all people, to expand their influence in Eastern Europe or within a divided Germany. Third, you are concerned about the West German assumption that an accommodation with the East is necessary now because of a fear of a declining US commitment to Europe; this trend tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Finally, you foresee that others in Europe will follow the German road to Moscow. The French in particular are not likely to allow Germany to become the interpreter of Soviet policy for the West or bridge to the East. Your problem is how to keep Germany firmly anchored to the West during this period of Eastern experimentation and to do so without becoming deeply embroiled in German politics or becoming the so-called scapegoat for what could be a massive failure of German expectations in years to come. This is the reason we must negotiate on Berlin with the greatest of care. You want to ensure that we have made the best effort to obtain a viable Berlin agreement. If the negotiations fail under these circumstances it will be the fault of the USSR.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 812, Name Files, Dewey–AchesonClay Meeting)
  4. Destroyed as per request. Burned at home. [Handwritten footnote in the original.]
  5. McCloy was only half right about the new government: Bahr (Werra) and Ehmke (Danzig) were from the east, but Brandt (Lübeck) and Scheel (Solingen) were both from the west.
  6. Reference is presumably to a “protectionist” bill sponsored by Representative Wilbur D. Mills (D–Arkansas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to counter the administration’s proposal to liberalize the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The bill was defeated on December 28, following a filibuster in the Senate.
  7. In a December 9 telephone conversation, Kissinger and Acheson agreed that the meeting with the President “went well.” According to a transcript, Acheson said: “We were all impressed on how clearly the President came through. We conferred together for a moment or so to see if there was anything you would want from us.” Kissinger replied: “Some concrete suggestions on leadership we would exercise in Europe right now especially with respect to Ost-Politik which I think is a disaster.” “What you would like,” Acheson summarized, “is specific suggestions on what we can do and how. Especially about Brandt and Ost-Politik. I will talk to McCloy.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 365, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) No paper from Acheson on Brandt and Ostpolitik has been found.
  8. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.