21. Editorial Note

In an address during the Sixth Session of the Seventh Supreme Soviet in Moscow on July 10, 1969, Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko offered to negotiate a settlement on Berlin with the Western Allies as well as a separate renunciation of force agreement with West Germany. Gromyko declared that the “inviolability of existing borders,” in particular the Oder-Neisse line and the boundary between East and West Germany, was the “question of questions in Europe.” “Whether there is to be peace or war,” he said, “depends on how the states, especially the large ones, answer this question.” On behalf of the Soviet Union, Gromyko stated: “The borders of states—in the East, the West, the North and the South of the continent—are inviolable, and no force can alter the situation.” After decrying recent trends in West Germany, Gromyko proposed that Bonn develop “normal relations” with Moscow:

“A turning point in our relations can occur—and we would like this—if the F.R.G. follows the path of peace. For this to happen, the plans of revenge for the lost war must give way to the realization that the future of the F.R.G., with its considerable economic and technical possibilities, lies in peaceful cooperation with all states, including the Soviet Union.

“Proceeding from this position, the Soviet government is ready to continue the exchange of opinions with the F.R.G. on renunciation of the use of force, up to and including the conclusion of an appropriate agreement, and also to exchange opinions on other questions of Soviet-West German relations and to establish the appropriate contacts. It goes without saying, that during the exchange of opinions the Soviet Union will also take fully into account the interests of our allies, the fraternal socialist countries.”

Gromyko then commented that “complications” over the status of West Berlin had always required “the close attention of Soviet foreign [Page 61] policy.” Although West Germany continued to complicate the issue with “illegal encroachments,” the Soviet Union and East Germany advocated “a situation in which the city’s population and its authorities have all the conditions for activity ensuring the normal existence of West Berlin as an autonomous political entity.” Gromyko, therefore, suggested quadripartite talks on the following basis:

“If the other powers, our allies in the war, who bear a share of responsibility for the situation in Berlin, were to approach this question by taking the interests of European security into account, they would find the Soviet Union ready to exchange opinions on the subject of how to prevent complications concerning West Berlin now and in the future. Needless to say, we shall take no steps that harm the legitimate interests of the German Democratic Republic or the special status of West Berlin.” (The Current Digest of the Soviet Press, Vol. XXI, No. 28, August 6, 1969, pages 5–6)

Before the Gromyko speech, the Western Allies had almost reached agreement on a tripartite “sounding” to the Soviet Union as suggested by West German Foreign Minister Brandt at the NATO Ministerial meeting in April. (See Sutterlin and Klein, Berlin, pages 86–88) In a July 21 memorandum to the President, Secretary of State Rogers recommended, however, that in light of the Soviet proposal, President Nixon approve instructions to revise the oral statement that the Allies intended to give the Soviets in Moscow. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 689, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Berlin), Vol. I)

Assistant Secretary of State Hillenbrand explained the reasoning behind this decision in a letter to Deputy Chief of Mission Fessenden on July 23. Although Gromyko had not given reason to hope for an “attractive” settlement, Hillenbrand thought the time may have come for “exploratory talks in order to prove that the Western side is prepared to move in the interest of achieving an amelioration of European problems and—if this unfortunately proves to be the case—that the Soviets have nothing constructive to offer.” (Ibid., RG 59, EUR/CE Files: Lot 91 D 341, POL 39, Berlin Soundings 1969, Jan–August) In an August 5 memorandum, Henry Kissinger informed Acting Secretary of State Richardson that the President had approved the instructions. (Ibid., Central Files 1967–69, POL 28 GER B)

Two days later, on August 7, Ambassador Beam met Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Kozyrev in Moscow to deliver the following oral statement:

  • “1. The United States wishes to call attention to the desire of the FRG to remove points of friction with the GDR and to discuss with it problems concerning railroad matters, inland waterways, and post and telecommunications. We are informed that the FRG is willing, for its part, to make organizational arrangements for discussion of those subjects on a continuing basis. We see advantages in such arrangements, [Page 62] as long as they are in accord with Four-Power responsibilities for Berlin and Germany as a whole. We believe that discussions of this nature should be encouraged by the Four Powers.
  • “2. The United States has taken note of the remarks concerning Berlin made by the Foreign Minister of the USSR in his speech of July 10. The United States has studied these remarks in conjunction with the British and French Governments who share with us and the Soviet Union special responsibilities in Berlin and Germany, and with the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany, whose legitimate interest in the subject is apparent. The United States desires to see the situation with respect to Berlin improved, particularly as regards access to the city. It would welcome Soviet steps which would lead to this end and contribute to the prevention of crises. Such a development could also contribute to progress in the solution of other open questions.
  • “3. With regard to Mr. Gromyko’s assertions that Federal activities in Berlin caused friction, we are aware of objections the USSR has raised against these activities. It is our understanding that the Federal Government might be willing to make certain compromises in the question of these activities if the USSR and the East Germans were to show a constructive attitude toward problems arising from the division of the city and from the discriminatory treatment of the economy of the Western sectors of Berlin.
  • “4. The United States would be interested in knowing the views of the Soviet Government on the different questions raised.” (Ibid.) After listening to Beam’s presentation, Kozyrev merely replied that he would bring the statement to Gromyko’s attention. (Telegram 4073 from Moscow, August 7; ibid.)