143. Editorial Note
On December 10, 1970, The Washington Post published an account of statements former Secretary of State Acheson made to a group of reporters the previous day regarding West German Chancellor Brandt and Ostpolitik. Acheson reportedly told the newsmen that he had said much the same thing in the meeting of four “wise men” with President Nixon on December 7. According to the Post, Acheson, as the “most disturbed” of the four, insisted that something be done to “cool down the mad race to Moscow.” The Nixon administration, he claimed, feared that Brandt would sacrifice Berlin in order to save his Eastern policy. Acheson, however, contended that the United States must never allow Germany to compromise the status of Berlin. (Chalmers M. Roberts, “Acheson Urges Brandt’s ‘Race’ to Moscow Be ‘Cooled Off’,” Washington Post, December 10, 1970, page A8)
Later that morning, Secretary of State Rogers addressed Acheson’s remarks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Fulbright (D–Arkansas), the committee chairman, stated: “I was very distressed to see one of the prominent advisers to the President this morning criticize Willy Brandt because Willy Brandt was seeking some way for better relations with Russia.” Rogers interjected that [Page 413] Acheson “is not a member of this administration and does not reflect our views” either on Ostpolitik or the German Government. “[W]e not only support it,” Rogers explained, “but we have encouraged them.” (Telegram 202404 to Bonn, December 12; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 1 EUR E–GER W) A spokesman for the Department of State reiterated the point at a press briefing on December 11: “Mr. Acheson is a private citizen and he does not speak for the Administration.” “[A]s a general policy, we welcome and endorse the Federal Republic of Germany’s efforts to normalize relations with the East,” the spokesman continued. “We believe that these efforts complement our own efforts to seek improvements in the international situation.” (Telegram 202226 to Bonn, December 11; ibid.)
On December 10 West German Ambassador Pauls raised the Post article in a meeting with Assistant Secretary Hillenbrand. Although he was aware that the opinions of private citizens could be officially disavowed, Pauls was concerned that views critical of German policy had been expressed to the President, especially by such prominent political figures as Acheson and McCloy. “This could present a problem for the German Government and be an obstacle to close cooperation with the U.S.,” Pauls warned. Hillenbrand could only repeat that the Post article “had not linked the reported Acheson remarks to any White House views, nor was Mr. Acheson an authorized spokesman for the U.S. government.” (Memorandum of conversation, December 10; ibid)
On December 11 Pauls met Acheson himself to correct any misconceptions on Ostpolitik. “Germany did not have two policies, an eastern policy and a western policy,” Pauls explained, “but only one policy, which was based primarily upon its relations with the West and an attempt to improve the fate of their captive brethren in East Germany.” According to Acheson’s account, Pauls was “upset by the vigor of my language—’the mad Rush to Moscow’—and the severity of my criticism of the Chancellor. He hoped to persuade me that I had been in error.” Acheson, however, was not persuaded. The German attempt to “negotiate with the Soviet Union a recognition of the status quo,” he argued, “not only was an exercise in futility but was divisive with regard to the united policies both within Europe and between Europe and North America.” “Furthermore, having negotiated with the Russians in the past on the Berlin question, I saw no more likelihood now than in earlier periods for any improvement in access or other recognition of interests other than Russian or East German interests.” (Memorandum of conversation with Pauls by Acheson, December 11; Dean Gooderham Acheson Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, Box 68, Folder 173)
Brandt evidently did not share Pauls’ concern. On the same day that Pauls met Acheson, Brandt discussed the Post article with Ambassador Rush in Bonn. Rush raised the issue, citing the Secretary’s [Page 414] clarification before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Although he appreciated Rogers’ statement, Brandt “laughed off the affair.” “We have some of the same kind of problem here,” he replied. “It is a healthy thing to have this kind of debate; it keeps us on our toes and encourages us to keep rethinking what we are doing.” (Telegram 14318 from Bonn, December 11; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GER W–US)
Kissinger may have discussed the “affair” with Acheson when the two men met for lunch on December 15. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76, Record of Schedule) To prepare for the luncheon, a member of the National Security Council staff gave Kissinger a copy of the official reaction to the Post article from the Department of State. (Memorandum from Robert Houdek to Kissinger, December 12; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 807, Name Files, Acheson, Dean) No record of the discussion with Acheson has been found. Kissinger, however, addressed the issue in a meeting with editors of The Washington Post on December 17:
“Question: Would you comment on the German Ostpolitik and on where Dean Acheson’s views fit in with those of the Administration?
“Answer: There was no special significance to the fact that Acheson, Dewey, Clay and McCloy came in recently. The President has made a policy of from time to time meeting with them. And it just happened that their turn came up. McCloy’s views are well known on Europe and one would expect him to have certain views on Ostpolitik and their effect on NATO. The President’s job in this situation is to listen to their points of view and to other points of view. It does not mean necessarily that he agrees, but these are people that he respects and which he likes to hear from.
“We are not opposed to Ostpolitik. We don’t want to interject the United States into German internal politics. We did not open the negotiations with the Russians, nor did we establish a linkage between the Ostpolitik and the Berlin negotiations. Quite frankly, we do not know why people are complaining that we are dragging our feet. There has actually been no concrete proposal as yet on which we could act. In general, I believe that the Berlin situation really can’t be improved very much. Historically, access to Berlin has become more difficult as East Germany has grown in sovereignty over the access routes. There are all sorts of administrative procedures which they could use against us. An ingenious bureaucracy can invent innumerable ways in which to harass access to Berlin. There is nothing in the treaty which could prevent this and it could even be legal.
“The real improvement is going to depend on the relationship between East and West Germany. If each believes it is in its interest to [Page 415] have better relations and less friction with regard to Berlin, then there can be a meaningful treaty. One must admit that the Soviet attitude on Berlin has been quite puzzling, since they could get the Berlin situation settled by making a few concessions and this would force ratification of the Ostpolitik. No German politician is going to stand up and say he is against a rapprochement with the East Germans. I predict that when the Ostpolitik treaty is ratified it will be unanimous. Why then have the Soviets been so inflexible? One could say that perhaps the East Germans have more of a veto over their actions than we think. It could also be simply that the Soviets think they are going to get their way without giving any concessions, or it might be explained by a difficulty within the factions of the Soviet leadership which we discussed earlier.” (Memorandum for the record, December 17; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 269, Memoranda of Conversations, 1968–77, Chronological File, Dec. 1970–Aug. 1971)
Three days later, Rogers called Kissinger at home to discuss “this German situation,” in particular, the President’s recent meeting with Acheson, McCloy, Dewey, and Clay. Kissinger acknowledged that he had attended the meeting. After a brief interruption, the conversation continued:
“R: Did he indicate to them he wanted them to sort of sound off?
“K: Absolutely, definitely, totally not! It had absolutely …You know, you have heard him on what he thinks of Ostpolitik, and he may have made a few remarks to that effect. I’ll let you see the notes. I’ve got them. As I told you, the purpose of the meeting—the primary purpose was to avoid a meeting with the Arms Control group and to give McCloy a chance to sound off. Most of what McCloy said had nothing to do with Brandt, but had to do with something that we had already done; namely, not withdraw troops. Two-thirds was the speech he always makes. Then he made a few comments about Brandt. Then Acheson made what he’s now said to every newspaper. The President made a few general remarks, and then they talked also about other things. But the purpose of the meeting was in no sense … It was a total accident that it came about at that time.
“R: Well, it’s causing a hell of a lot of problems. We are running into a real head-on struggle with it with the Germans because they just think we are lying to them. I guess you saw the article in the [New York] Times this morning [see Document 149].
“K: Yeah, but they have sent us a cable saying they’ve been trying to kill that. Have you seen that?
“R: No, but whether they were or weren’t, the fact is that this is how they think. And Acheson, instead of keeping [omission in transcript: quiet?], he said it again in the paper. He reasserted what he said.
“K: Yeah, well, that’s inexcusable.[Page 416]
“R: You know, if the President wants to create a crisis with the German government.
“K: No, no, but believe me, that isn’t what he…He had no such thought, and there is no possible way…
“R: I know, but the point is, Henry, he’s got to wise up for Christ’s sake. He can’t go around and talk to those four gossips and tell them what he thinks without them telling everybody. Christ, I heard Dewey at the party the other night. He was telling me he’s delighted—this is just what we need. I said, well, for Christ’s sake…
“K: What is what we need?
“R: Well, what Acheson is saying. In other words, if the President tells those four fellows what’s on his mind, if he sort of lets his hair down and thinks they are going to keep it to themselves, he’s as naive as Eisenhower. Jesus Christ, they’re the biggest gossips you can find. They’re bigger than [Washington Post columnist] Maxine Cheshire. They’ll tell everybody that [what?] they see and they would all like to be Secretary of State. In fact, they think they are. Jack McCloy is pushing his law firm, too. He’s telling all his Goddamned clients, and he’s got the Arabs coming into his office as if he’s running the Goddamned government.
“K: But you know how it happened, Bill. It wasn’t that he had wanted to tell them what he thought. You know how he is. When people talk to him this way, he has a tendency to fall into the mood. This was not intended as anything except a handholding session which he does maybe two or three times a year with these guys, and it’s taken on because of Acheson’s public popping off …
“R: Well, McCloy is telling everybody, too. When the Arabs now come to this country, they stop in to see him in his law office.
“K: But he hasn’t even talked to McCloy about the Arabs…
“R: That doesn’t make any difference at all.
“K:…in a year.
“R: He’s got them all thinking. What I’m saying is that each one of these…Now, Dewey is a little bit different. He said to me the other night—he said, ‘I’m not even sure what the hell we’re doing.’ He said, ‘Henry has given me a lot of papers to look over on things, and I read them over. I’m not sure …’ He was talking about Indochina in this case. We have to figure out what the hell kind of mischief we can get into, not through design but through inadvertence.
“K: You are absolutely right. I agree with you, Bill. We have to be more …
“R: Discreet about things. I would have absolutely no objection if the President decides, ‘Look it, I want to get four old guys in here and use them for purposes of sounding off and pretending that I’m washing [Page 417] my hands of it.’ That’s all right. I’m perfectly prepared to play by any game plan.
“K: No, but that isn’t what it was, and you know isn’t.
“R: No, but that’s what I’m saying. That’s why…
“K: That’s how it’s coming out.
“R: I don’t get annoyed at…whatever the President decides, after he reflects on it, if he decided to follow a course of action, I am prepared to give full support even though I at times may not agree, but it seems to me that’s my role. I should do that. On the other hand, I get madder than hell when, by inadvertence, we stumble into things that really…It just makes it…
“K: Well, I agree with that part of it. I think there are two parts of it. One is that these guys have been totally indiscreet about a conversation which really was designed to give McCloy a chance to say we shouldn’t withdraw our troops. Secondly, the Germans, of course, are playing a deliberate game now at pretending that we are keeping them from an agreement and shifting their problems to us. Now, they are not all that innocent in this thing, either. Ehmke was popping off around town here in October at a time that we were keeping them from a Berlin agreement, at a time when there wasn’t the slightest excuse that we were dragging our [feet]. In fact there is no excuse for it now.
“R: I’m sure that’s true, and…
“K: But we still shouldn’t give them the excuse…
“R: There, again, I know… I’m not plugging for the Germans. I don’t give a damn if the President wants… Suppose he decides that we want to oppose them. It’s bad to say it publicly.
“K: Well, if we want to oppose them, you are of course, absolutely right. We shouldn’t use Dewey, Acheson and McCloy.
“R: Or if we are going to use them, let’s use them in a planned way. Say, look it, here’s a good way of talking out of both sides of our mouths and getting away with it, if that’s what he wants to do. But we… Just because we haven’t thought it through, we stumble into these things. Now you know damn well, if you know McCloy, what he does. He’s got a hell of a big law firm. He’s got a hell of a lot of oil clients. He likes to be in on matters in Europe because that also helps his law firm. He’s getting garrulous as hell and you know he’s going to tell everybody that he sees about it. As far as the arms control thing, he didn’t help himself. In fact, the President is going to have a greater problem with those people because they are all sore now. They say, well for Christ’s sake, he sees Dewey, Acheson, McCloy but he won’t see his own Committee.
“K: McCloy has been a little tricky about [?]. McCloy, himself, said that if he saw a small group and he were a part of it, that would take care of his committee.[Page 418]
“R: Of course, he didn’t say that to his committee. Right in front of his committee is when he came…
“K: No, you told me that.
“R: He told me that this had nothing to do with his committee and it was not a substitute and that you had urged him to come in to see the President and this wasn’t a substitute at all, and he was sort of pressed…
“K: Hell, I don’t like McCloy particularly. I think he’s one of the most overrated men in America.
“R: Well, I think probably in his day he was all right, but…
“K: I mean, he talks a lot. I think he’s completely outdated as far as Europe is concerned. He remembers the Germany and the Europe of the early ’50’s. You can’t push them around like this anymore.
“R: No, and I mean he was…I mean you’ve got Clay and McCloy and Acheson all who feel that they have a sort of a pride of ownership of Berlin which is all right.
“K: But you know it was the President who thought up this group. He called them all separately. I only learned about it afterwards. It grew up after some Gridiron dinner when he was talking to Dewey and he’s seen them twice, I think. You remember when he saw them once before.
“R: Dewey is a little more discreet, and I think Dewey is a little perplexed himself. He said he wasn’t sure what the point was; on the other hand, he said he and McCloy were really applauding what Acheson has been saying—they said, that’s just right; that’s what we ought to do. And I said, well, for Christ’s sake, if that’s what we ought to do, it ought to be done by a program—the result of a program and not by the result of an accident.
“K: Incidentlly, I don’t know whether you saw the traffic on some other stuff. Last week, Ehmke called me up—you know who he is— and said that he had missed me on that trip when he was over here and he was going to be over here and could he see me. So, I said fine. The next thing I knew he was saying he was coming over especially to see me. So I told Marty to join me so that it isn’t a White House/Ehmke conversation.
“R: I wonder about these things. Every time Strauss, even if Marty’s there, he goes back and tells everybody that he’s got an ‘in’ and that what we are saying publicly is not what we are saying privately. He uses you, too, for his own political advantages.
“K: Well, he’ll use anybody.
“R: I know it. Well, I think we have two major problems with our two major allies—Germany and Japan—in which we are heading into a hell of a storm.[Page 419]
“K: Well, I think we ought to wind up the textile negotiations one way or the other this week.
“R: We’ve got a major storm buildup in both places, and both of them are inexcusable. There’s no Goddamned reason for it. Insofar as Germany is concerned, nothing has happened up to date that should cause us to have any concern. Now obviously, things could happen in the future that would be unfortunate. Obviously, we have to guard against those, but it seems to me the way to guard against them is try to be reasonable as hell and say, sure, this is a good direction in which to move. We’ve got to watch things, etc., etc.
“K: Well, my personal view on it is this. I agree with your statement. There’s nothing we can do about [it] and we shouldn’t try. I think that the basic direction of German policy, even though Brandt is a decent man and wants to stay with the West, is going to lead to German nationalism and is going to give over a period of time the Soviets an increasing voice there, but that is nothing we can do anything about by Acheson-like statements.
“R: Well, I’m not so sure. I agree with you there’s nothing we can do about what they have done. I mean, how the hell can anybody take issue with that? I think there’s a good deal we can do about the future, but I don’t think this is the way to do it.
“K: Oh, I agree with that.
“R: Taking the case in NATO, there was general agreement among everyone, including the Germans, that there were pitfalls; we had to be careful; the Germans vowed in public and in private that they would not get out of step, etc., etc. Now, obviously, that may be wrong; obviously, they may be misleading us. But, Christ, we don’t want to be…
“K: No, I don’t think they’ll do it deliberately. Well, I think Bahr is, of course, totally unreliable. You agree with that. And I think Scheel is a dope, but that’s neither here nor there. I think the basic trend is going to lead towards a more nationalistic policy, but the worst thing we can do is behave like a maiden aunt, clucking our tongue without having a concrete proposal.
“R: And, of course, the building nationalism which is not only growing in Germany but everywhere—but particularly in Germany— is going to be more than assisted, and really increased at a real fast tempo if they can say that the United States is treating Germany as if they are a Goddamned puppet. I mean, here we are trying to do the best we can to improve our relations with the Soviet Union, and the United States is talking out of both sides of its mouth. That’s what frightens me and, as you noticed, the Russians are exploiting that now. The Russians and their propaganda—if they don’t believe what the Americans tell you publicly because they are lying to you. What they [Page 420] really think is what they are saying privately, and what they are saying privately is that you have no right to do anything you want to that helps you. I mean, if you don’t do what they tell you, why they won’t like it.
“K: I think we should, in general, applaud détente and specifically trying to stay out of as much of their internal dispute we possibly can.
“R: And, three, don’t let them do anything… Don’t agree to anything that we don’t think is acceptable.
“K: We shouldn’t break the back of the people who worked with us in Germany for 20 years, but none of this requires Acheson popping off and none of this requires public posturing. I think the stance you’ve taken is the one that I agree with.
“R: You know, we got the NATO allies now in NATO to repeat exactly our position; that is, our position is fine, this is good; we think you ought to move in the direction, but only on the conditions that you, yourself, have stated. The conditions you’ve stated are that there have to be satisfactory solutions to the problem of Berlin, and we all agree what those solutions should be—certainly in terms of principles. There should be free access; there should be communication between the two parts of Berlin; there should be better postal facilities and better phone facilities. All these other things by and large are things that the Russians won’t be able to do probably.
“K: On Berlin? Yeah. Well, on Berlin I think there’s no disagreement at all. On Germany, as between you and me, I think that the trends, simply based on German history and the personalities, are more dangerous than one can deduce from what they are now saying and doing. But still, it is beyond our ability to affect by the sort of thing that Acheson is doing.
“R: That’s right. But suppose we decide that we should do everything we can to prevent the trend that you are speaking of…
“K: No, I don’t think…
“R: Even if we decided to do that, though, the way to do it is to fasten on to Berlin.
“R: Because the Russians can’t get off that hook; if we keep the Federal Republic in line, the Federal Republic says there has to be a satisfactory solution to the problem of Berlin; it has to be a solution acceptable to the allies. We understand that we can’t do anything; unless there’s a satisfactory solution, we won’t ratify the treaty either with Russia or Poland. Unless there is a satisfactory solution, we won’t have a European Security Conference. We all agree what a satisfactory solution is. Now the Russians can’t accept our satisfactory solution.
“K: I feel that the policy we have, in fact, been pursuing over the last year or so is correct.”[Page 421]
After further discussion—which, due to an apparent gap in the tape recording, was not transcribed—the two men continued their exchange on the “crisis” in German-American relations:
“K: I mean supposing Brandt came to Acheson and said, ‘All right, what do you want me to do?’ What would he tell him?
“R: I asked McCloy the other day—he said that he was afraid that the developments of Ostpolitik would prevent a peace treaty being signed. I said, ‘Well, now let me ask you now. Do you seriously think that a peace treaty can be signed? Can we reach a peace?’ He said, ‘Well, no.’ I said, well, what’s your point then? You know, a peace treaty is out of the question.
“K: And, you know, so what? Supposing there isn’t that much glory in a peace treaty for us to sign. He says the Germans are making peace with the Russians without us. Well, you know, so what?
“R: You know, that’s what… Dean Rusk was there. He said to McCloy, ‘So what, suppose they make a peace treaty we like. What’s wrong with it? If they make one we don’t like, there’s a hell of a lot wrong with it.’
“K: Yeah, but if they do something we don’t like, they can do it in the form of a lot of other things other than what is called a peace treaty. They are going to be the first victims of on unfavorable peace treaty, not we.
“R: Of course. And, as a matter of fact, if we decide that they are moving in a direction we don’t like or moving in a way which is wrong, we probably by our actions can have the government thrown out.
“K: Well why don’t we do this, Bill. We have two problems: (1) we have the German one—let me put that aside for one second; (2) we have the problem of these four garrulous old men. I think the way to handle that is to let you know ahead of time when the President is thinking of calling them, and that way, we avoid any impression—and I will do that.
“R: I think if we go into it again, I’d better be there because at the end of the meeting I would like to say to them, if he is going to have them (I think he should quit seeing them) but if he should, I think then we should say to them, ‘It is understood that this is not for the purpose of having you make statements after you leave.’ Obviously, if you go to the White House, then you come out and have a press conference and say a lot of things, people think you are authorized to say them.
“K: Well, the thought that they might make statements—that was probably naive for the press—it didn’t occur to anybody, so it was always understood that these were private meetings. But I see no reason in the world why we can’t do it on this basis. (A) They should be kept …[Page 422]
“R: Why does the President announce these things to the press anyway? Why doesn’t he just go ahead and have the meeting. He sees some people without telling the press and other times, he does it.
“K: Frankly, what must have happened there—I had nothing to do with that part of it. Ziegler must have come walking into the office and he must have just run through his list with him. But…
“R: I sometimes think he gets sort of carried away with how much news he’s going to make that day.
“K: Well, the whole news policy is something that, if it were my business, I would express some views on, but I think this watching every day’s news summary drives one crazy, and is fruitless.
“R: I think so, too.
“K: Because things disappear. Three days later, no one knows what one was so excited about.
“R: Right. And whether you are in the paper every day or not… In the first place, the President is bound to get a lot of attention, and secondly, you don’t gain, anything by trying to get a little more coverage.
“K: Now, on the German policy, I think we should just…My own view is that we shouldn’t protest too much one way or the other. We should just say there’s a general agreement—the details we don’t get into, or something like that. And on Berlin, play it the way we are doing it.
“R: Yeah, I think so. So far, the way we’ve played it in Berlin is good. We’ve gotten the Russians confused as hell and I don’t think anything is going to happen between now and their [Party] Congress.
“K: And I’ll be damned though if I understand what the Germans are saying that we are holding up in Berlin. There has never been a proposition that we could accept or that they have asked us to accept.
“R: I don’t know if they are saying that, have they said that?
“K: Well, no, they are not saying it as a government. Ehmke said it when he was over here or Joe Kraft claimed but Kraft is such a son-of-a-bitch that you can’t tell what…whether he made it up or whether Ehmke really told him that.
“R: Kraft just says things like that to get us to respond to find out what our answer would be if they said it.
“K: Yeah, yeah.
“R: That’s his technique.
“K: But if he…I think basically on Berlin there is no problem. There oughtn’t to be a problem.
“R: I don’t think there is.
“K: On the basic Ostpolitik, I think that an artificial crisis, they are not doing anything now.[Page 423]
“R: That’s right. It is true that there may be a crisis.
“K: But then I think…I agree with you, we ought to decide it, you ought to announce it. Certainly you don’t want to use Acheson to popping off all over the place to set our German policy.
“R: Well, Henry, if we decide this—to have a policy to try to announce public policy and at the same time we want to express some reservations privately, let’s figure out the best way to express them privately. Just that simple, how do we want to do it? Sure as hell we don’t want to do it with Acheson, McCloy, Dewey and Clay.
“K: Yeah. No, it turned out unfortunately.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Henry Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 29, Home File)