148. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • More Berlin Harassments

The SPD is holding a conference of Landtag Fraktionen leaders, Minister Presidents, Bundestag Fraktion leaders in Berlin beginning on December 21. It will last two days. This is the first such meeting in Berlin, but SPD officials claim there is no particular significance since it was simply Berlin’s turn to host the meeting.

The Soviets protested on December 18 (Tab A),2 pointing out similarities between this meeting and the CDU meeting earlier this month. This time, however, the Soviet note is somewhat softer. It states the USSR, “as well as its Allies, deem it necessary to reach agreement on West Berlin … but cannot remain indifferent when their legitimate interests are violated.” The East Germans followed with a Foreign Ministry statement, calling the meeting an attempt to disregard the status of West Berlin, incompatible with détente, etc.

Slowdowns on the Autobahn for civilian traffic began on Saturday3 morning and will no doubt continue through the meeting.

We have lodged a protest with the Soviets, answering their accusations and stating that if the Soviets are seriously interested in improving the situation in Berlin, harassments jeopardize prospects for such an improvement. (Tab B)4 (There was no White House clearance.)

Comment: Having made a major issue out of the CDU meeting, the Soviets and East Germans could not overlook the SPD meeting. Lest their action be taken in Bonn as a thrust against Brandt, however, the [Page 440] East Germans made sure that BahrKohl meeting (December 23)5 was agreed to first.

While we have no reason to doubt that the SPD meeting was, as claimed, more or less routine, it is probable that there was an element of calculation by the SPD that new harassments, etc., might influence us to be interested in Bonn’s proposals to speed up the Berlin talks and put the access issue under active negotiation among German sides as well as settle the problem of what is and is not permissable in West Berlin. The SPD also regains whatever prestige it may have lost by the reluctant attitude they struck at the time of the CDU meetings. Some in the SPD may even allege that since we condoned the CDU meetings they had no alternative but to stage this one. This, however, would be the hard line to sustain since Brandt personally will have gone to Berlin twice in recent weeks. (He is scheduled to go December 23.)

An interesting sidelight is the willingness of both Soviets and East Germans to lay on minor harassments and publicize new wrangling over Berlin at a time when tensions are very great in Poland. This could suggest that both Moscow and East Berlin have decided that the Polish affair is under control.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 690, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Berlin), Vol. II. Secret. Sent for information. Haig initialed the memorandum indicating that he had seen it.
  2. Tab A, attached but not printed, is a memorandum from Eliot to Kissinger, December 18; also ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 12–3 GER W.
  3. December 19. In a December 21 memorandum to the President, Kissinger reported: “Early Saturday afternoon the East Germans began a coordinated slowdown of civilian traffic to West Berlin. By last evening some 450 vehicles were backed up at the Helmstedt entrance to the autobahn with only about 40 being processed per hour. Delays of up to nine hours were reported at Marienborn this morning. Allied traffic has remained unaffected.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 29, President’s Daily Briefs, Dec. 16, 1970–Dec. 31, 1970)
  4. At Tab B, attached but not printed, are telegrams 14618 from Bonn and 206506 to Bonn, December 19; both also ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 12–3 GER W.
  5. See Document 157.