142. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Egon Bahr, State Secretary, Chancellor’s Office
  • Guenther Van Well, Foreign Office
  • Ambassador Rush
  • Jonathan Dean

State Secretary Bahr took the initiative to see Ambassador Rush at short notice at the latter’s residence December 9 just prior to Ambassador Rush’s departure to Berlin for the 12th session of the Quadripartite talks. Van Well had informed us in advance that Bahr was concerned over the possible effects on the Soviets of the line Ambassador Rush intended to take in the December 10 session.2

Ambassador Rush began the conversation by saying he intended to make three points to the Soviets. He wanted to protest the November 28 and December 2 harassments on the autobahn and point out that they were illegal and would complicate the Four Power talks.3 He wanted to tell the Soviets that they were using unacceptable pressure tactics, that in effect they were asking us to abandon not only Four Power rights over access but also ourselves to pay for this abandonment through accepting limitations on the exercise of our own authority in the Western sectors to permit Federal German activities there. We did not like the Soviet tactic of equating each individual concession on the access routes with one limitation on Berlin. We thought it was absolutely necessary to be firm with the Soviets. Naturally we would also be courteous. We did not intend to indulge in polemics.

Bahr said he felt the Ambassador’s approach was dangerous. He assumed the Ambassador’s motivation was tactical, but tactics could [Page 410] be risky too. We were in a situation where the Berlin negotiations were not only difficult of themselves, but were also loaded down with so many complicating outside issues that the thread of the negotiations might tear. Bahr felt the approach intended by the Ambassador deviated from what was agreed at the Senior-Level meeting,4 where it was agreed to be firm on substance and flexible on method. The same approach had been agreed on at Brussels.5 Now, there was some risk that without introducing any new substance into the negotiations we might go back to general presentations on topics which have already been thoroughly discussed and on which there is no need to dwell further since it had been agreed that practical improvements were the objectives. The Four Western Governments should remain united in their tactics. There would not be much advantage if Ambassador Rush pushed ahead on a cavalry charge and the others did not follow. Ambassador Rush said to Chancellor Brandt that the German stake in the talks was very great and thus that the German opinion on tactics was most important. He wanted to say that German view now was that the negotiating position in Berlin was not as strong as many might believe. We should not forget that the Western side had increased its substantive demands on the Soviets during the past year. We had started on access alone and now had added on the highly political issue of FRG representation abroad, a question which earlier the FRG had not even dared to discuss privately with the Soviets. The fact that the Soviets are all ready to discuss this indicates that they are interested in the Moscow treaty and indicates that it is of value to them. But we have to watch out that the train will not be derailed. The point might come when the Soviets would say to themselves that the Western Powers were asking more on Berlin than the Soviets were in a position to give and would act on the basis of this conclusion.

Bahr went on to say that the CDU Fraktion session in Berlin was over now and the Western side had drawn from it every advantage which the occasion, including the harassments, presented. It had had favorable impact on the NATO meeting and the NATO communiqué.6 But we should not forget the same incident has again shown how limited our position was on the autobahn and our vulnerability to pressures. The Western rights for passage of their military transport was [Page 411] not affected by this incident. But as regards civilian traffic, the GDR merely had to apply existing procedures on a slowdown basis and then even an air lift could not help and Berlin would suffocate in its own unmovable products. To begin this kind of discussion now might cause the Soviets to regret not having instituted harassments at the time of the Heinemann visit. Consequently they might resume harassments at the time of the pending Brandt visit on December 12. He believed himself that we had made our point and the FRG should abstain, for the duration of the talks, from further similar political demonstrations in Berlin. We should be strong in substance but moderate in method.

Ambassador Rush said he agreed with Bahr’s final remark, but could not agree with his concepts of tactics. If we said nothing on the harassments, the Soviets might interpret this as fear and lack of concern. He believed that a strong representation should be made and would do so at the next meeting. Ambassador Rush said he believed we should also make clear to the Soviets that the Western Powers do have rights as regards civilian access and that the Soviets are interfering with those rights by interrupting access. The Soviets should be told that their illegal interferences should stop if they wanted to be taken seriously.

Bahr said he did not think this approach especially wise. He did not believe we could make a good case for Allied rights on civil access before an international court. In any case, the basic issue was a power question and not a legal issue. He did not believe it desirable to raise the theoretical question, because the Soviets would answer in the same way and nothing would come of this.

Ambassador Rush said he also hoped to resist the linkage the Soviets were trying to establish between removal of obstacles and limitations on Federal presence in Berlin. In effect the Soviets were asking us to pay with limitations on our own freedom of action in the Western sectors for accepting their legal view of access, which implied that the Western Powers had no rights of access, and for removing their illegal harassments. Bahr said that he believed that, procedurally, the question of FRG-Berlin links should be treated in two aspects, the FRG presence issue and the foreign representation issue. As long as both of these points were discussed together, he had nothing against a parallel discussion of access and Federal presence. He did oppose linking limits on the Federal presence to access, with no attention to the positive aspects of Federal presence or FRG representation of Berlin abroad.

Bahr said he was of the view that we had already moved rather far ahead on access. We should not by our present tactics let the negotiations come to a point where the material slips out of hand and we [Page 412] [are] at a loss as to how to pick up the threads again. Ambassador Rush said the Soviets had clearly shown that they were interested in the talks and would not let matters reach this stage. Abrasimov would not let the talks stop. Any decision about stopping the talks completely would come from Moscow and would be a major policy decision which would have little to do with the specific formulations used by individuals in the talks.

Bahr said that Ambassador Rush should not underestimate the role of the Ambassadors in the talks. Ambassador Rush said Bahr should appreciate that our procedural approach in the talks was that we put our points quietly and politely. We did not engage in deliberate dramatics like Abrasimov. He continued to feel we could not let these deliberate harassments in the matter of negotiations go by without remarks from us.7

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, EUR/CE Files: Lot 91 D 341, POL 39.5, 1970 Four Power Talks, Dec. Commentary on Talks. Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Dean on December 12. The meeting was held at Ambassador Rush’s residence. Van Well also drafted a memorandum of conversation; see Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1970, Vol. 3, pp. 2251–2254.
  2. For discussion of German concerns, see ibid. In a letter to Brewster Morris on December 21, Fessenden reported: “Von Staden told me the other day that the original impetus for Bahr’s intervention with the Ambassador came from the Foreign Office, not from Bahr himself. When the Ambassador’s proposed remarks were first received, Von Staden and others in the Foreign Office felt that the strong statement which the Ambassador proposed to make went too far. The Foreign Office view was that the circuit was already too overloaded with the Soviets.” (National Archives, RG 59, EUR/CE Files: Lot 91 D 341, POL 39.5, 1970 Four Power Talks, Dec. Commentary on Talks)
  3. See Document 137.
  4. Regarding the November 17–18 senior level meeting in Bonn, see Document 137.
  5. An account of the discussion on Germany and Berlin at the quadripartite dinner during the NATO Ministerial meeting in Brussels, December 3–4, is in telegrams 4542 and 4543 from USNATO, December 3. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 38–6)
  6. For extracts from the final communiqué of the NATO Ministerial meeting, see Documents on Germany, 1944–1985, pp. 1121–1125.
  7. Fessenden later explained that the Embassy had “deliberately done minimal reporting on Bahr’s intervention [of December 9], fearing that the full impact of what Bahr said would not be well received in Washington.” See Document 154.