213. Letter From the Political Counselor at the Embassy in Germany (Dean) to the Director of the Office of German Affairs (Sutterlin)1

Dear Jim:

I thought that before going away from the office for a few days I would drop you a line with some personal views on the Berlin talks in reply to your thoughtful letter of March 10.2 The Ambassador and Russ will have seen this letter before it reaches you, but I did not consult with them because both happened to be out of town when it was written and because I believe the letter should at the present stage remain on the level of a communication from me to you. It is addressed mainly to two questions. The first is how much we should reasonably ask from the Soviets in the present negotiations, an issue which probably has to be reexamined at various intervals during any serious negotiations, and where at any time reasonable people on our side can and do have perfectly well-founded divergences of views. The second is the related question of when the signal should be given to start inner-German talks on access.

If you will bear with me, I might start at the beginning by saying that I do not myself share the view that the present negotiations are superfluous, or at least would be superfluous if there had been no German Eastern policy, or that our situation in Berlin, prior, shall we say, to the advent of the present German Government, was as satisfactory to us as it could be given the nature of the overall situation.

In my view, the US position in Berlin has been deteriorating over the past several years because of progress of the GDR toward international acceptance and of Soviet and GDR actions in that regard. Our position has been moving gradually although undramatically towards increasing difficulty and eventually even a serious and major crisis. This I believe was true before the Eastern policy and remains so in two respects. The first was our legal and political position in Berlin, which I feel would have been undermined with further progress of the East Germans towards international acceptance and through persistent and [Page 639] active Soviet and East German efforts to gain acceptance of their view of the situation. There is no doubt in my mind as to the seriousness of Falin’s remarks to Allardt, which I reported to you in my letter of February 9, 1971,3 that the Soviets expected the Western Sectors eventually to be incorporated into the GDR, or that both the USSR and GDR will continue to undertake active steps to that end.

Second, and related to this, the situation for German civilian goods and persons on the Berlin access routes has been deteriorating over recent years through a long series of East German measures which the Western Powers were either powerless or unwilling to combat. There is a list of these measures, with which we are both familiar, in Annex A of Bonn’s A–1119 of 24 November 1969.4 They picked up momentum in the spring of 1968 when the East Germans issued a ban on travel by neo-Nazi and leading officials of the FRG and continued with the passport and visa requirement announced on June 11, 1968. I believe there is no doubt that the East Germans would, with or without the Eastern policy, have continued to impose further restrictions.

It is correct, as the Soviets have been insisting to us in the Berlin talks, that the large majority of traffic to Berlin does move smoothly, and that its volume is very considerable. But, as we reported many times during 1968 and 1969, the continuation of this trend in East German activities would have created serious doubts in the minds of West Berliners and potential investors in the city as to the future viability of the Western Sectors and would in the long run have confronted us with a choice between intervening directly on the access routes against the East Germans or of accepting the decline of the Western Sectors.

The same is even more true of the erosion of our political-legal position in the face of the increasing status of East Germany. Doubtless we would have attempted to adjust our posture to the new situation in a way which did as little damage as possible to the continuation of our status in Berlin. But I doubt that the East Germans would have played so cautious a game. In the long run, their cumulative political gains and the cumulative erosion of our position would have become painfully evident, with important and adverse psychological and political effects both on opinion in Berlin, in the Federal Republic, in Europe and in our own country. To counteract these effects, we would here again have been obliged to choose between further and visible acceptance of deterioration or direct confrontation with the East [Page 640] Germans under conditions which would have been adverse both locally in Berlin (the Soviets holding back, pushing the East Germans forward, and coming in in ways and at times of their own choosing) and in the United States (current state of American opinion on engagements abroad).

This is not the place to discuss the merits and demerits of the Brandt Government’s Eastern policy, but whatever its virtues, the advent of the Eastern policy has accelerated the process of deterioration of our position in Berlin in the sense that it has enabled the GDR to move great steps forward, through its acceptance as a State even by the Federal Germans, by Federal German endorsement of its borders in the Moscow treaty, and by a policy which in the long run envisages, as we know, the entry of the GDR into the United Nations as a full member.

At the same time, Federal German Eastern policy, mainly the FRG-Soviet treaty and the political linkages established by the German Government between ratification of this treaty and the conclusion of a satisfactory Berlin agreement, has given us a certain amount of leverage to redress the situation. There is no need here to specify the motives underlying Soviet policy toward the FRG and Western Europe, but one of them is clearly economical, and there is additional leverage in the economic field as long as the Germans remain firm, as we have been seeing in such matters as the FRG-Soviet negotiations on a trade treaty, which I believe is the ultimate reason why the Soviets have agreed to deal at all seriously with the question of FRG representation of Berlin abroad in the context of the present Berlin negotiations.

I continue to believe that the interest of the Soviet Union in its own Western policy is serious and deep rooted and that the Soviets will in the final analysis be willing to pay a price for its success. I feel that it is both wholly justifiable and necessary for the US to attempt to use the leverage created in this way to attempt to achieve through a Berlin agreement a certain redressing and rebalancing of our own position in Berlin which will enable us to face in better shape—nothing can change the geographic situation of Berlin—the coming period of GDR emergence as a state recognized by the international community. After all, we are going to have to hold out in Berlin in the interests of our own overall policy in Europe. And after all, we are going to be expected to do so by the Germans, no matter what deterioration their own policy has brought about in our situation. It is therefore, in my view, wholly equitable if we attempt to include in the agreement we are negotiating certain elements designed to strengthen our position vis-à-vis the GDR for the long run even if the addition of these elements makes it considerably more difficult to bring the negotiations to a successful outcome. This is the view expressed by Horst Mendershausen [Page 641] in a paper which I believe you have seen,5 and which as you know we here have represented from the outset of serious discussion about possible Berlin negotiations in 1968.

Guided by your good sense and foresight, the Western Allies refrained from including in their negotiating goals an effort to bring the Soviet Union to outright reaffirmation of the Four Power status for all of Berlin as we here had originally envisaged. This probably would have been beyond our capability to achieve and the effort to do so might well, as you felt, have damaged our existing situation.

But we did include in our negotiating program and in the drafts we have tabled provisions for reengaging the Soviets in responsibility for civilian access and inner-Berlin movement and for obtaining Soviet endorsement, to the degree possible, of FRG-Berlin ties. Although not declared US policy, the latter is an objective which I personally have supported with the goal of building into the Berlin situation a long-range element of flexibility for our own position, in the sense that, if Soviet and GDR behavior justified this over a very considerable period of 10–20 years, we might be in a position to be more flexible about the nature and scope of our own presence in Berlin. Moreover, although we correctly maintain that we are not engaged in defining a new status for the Western Sectors because to say this could undermine our present status, an acceptable Berlin agreement would in fact have that political function perhaps for many years to come and should be considered in that light. This is the reason I personally attach such weight to such matters as getting some mention of Berlin into the text of the first part and to Soviet acceptance of the concept that we have supreme authority in our sectors. We have also proposed, as we [you] know, some practical measures for the improvement of access, which in recent months have become focused on the concepts of through passenger trains and busses without controls and of sealed freight conveyances without controls. Although not proof against political sabotage, these measures would be objectively real improvements in the present situation evident to public opinion in the Federal Republic and Western countries.

The Soviets have told us very clearly, both in direct comment and in the form of their various proposals, that as far as they are concerned, all this means we are asking for more than the market can bear. Kvitsinskiy has at various points remarked to me that both sides are being too greedy and that both will have to cut back their demands. He has also [Page 642] said very directly that, since it is evident that the West is not prepared to cut back totally on the Federal presence in Berlin, the Soviets for their part will not give us the satisfaction we are asking for with regard to access. Moreover, it has become quite clear that, instead of making a broad gesture with regard to Berlin in order to advance their entire Western policy as I, myself, originally expected them to do, the Soviets are using the negotiations to attempt to obtain a local equivalent for Berlin of the confirmation of the postwar status quo contained in the FRG-Soviet agreement.

The question arises, of course, of whether our negotiating aims are realistic or whether they should be cut back or whether we can find additional negotiating counters which may bring the Soviets toward agreement. This is essentially the question you address in your letter of March 10. Many participants on the Western side have in this context referred to the possibility of further concessions by the FRG regarding the Federal presence in Berlin. But, politically, the weak Brandt Government cannot pay this price. It cannot and will not move very much farther in this field than it has already done. We might push the Brandt Government to do so and we might succeed, but this would in my view endanger the acceptability of the agreement and would moreover jeopardize both the political viability of Berlin and the long-range aim of consolidating the Federal presence to which I referred above. Therefore, “payment” must come from the general context of Soviet interest in the success of their own overall policy toward Western Europe.

This approach has had a recent application in the insistence of the three Allied Ambassadors in the face of Federal German presence [pressure?] that there be Four Power agreement on access and inner-German improvements before the Federal German or the Senat should negotiate on these subjects. I agree with the comment in your letter of March 10 that we cannot reasonably expect to bring the Soviets to acceptance of the complete text of our proposals of Feburary 56 as regards access and inner-Berlin improvements. But, in addition to attempting to gain acceptance of our text, our tactical objective has been to avoid a situation where we in effect received little or no commitment from the Soviets regarding access prior to the outset of the inner-German negotiations except perhaps a commitment to maintain the outcome of these negotiations in effect, and thus were dependent on whatever results the German negotiators could obtain. It would theoretically be possible to follow such a course deliberately, as is suggested for possible contingency use in your letter of March 10. It is farsighted to envisage [Page 643] this possibility and to pose it for reflection and someday we may be obliged to follow this course.

Such a procedure would be a possible way of passing on to the Germans the ultimate responsibility for the negotiating results. But, it seems to me, it does not take sufficiently into consideration either our own American interests for our future status in Berlin or considerations relating to our own standing in the Federal Republic following the conclusion of such an agreement. It would appear for one thing that, if such a procedure were followed, there would be no Soviet commitment as such of any dimension on access and very probably no inner-German agreement on sealed freight conveyances or through-passenger trains and busses without controls. The German negotiators do not have our interest in the maintenance of the Four Power rights, which Bahr tends to dismiss impatiently. They are under considerably more pressure than we to come up with a successful result. Moreover, they would be up against a negotiating partner in the shape of the GDR whose motivation is somewhat differently articulated than that of the Soviets.

The issue once more is whether, by holding out for prior Four Power agreement on access to include a Soviet commitment on an access principle and provisions for through-trains and busses and sealed cargo conveyances without controls in the face of evident Soviet determination to maintain their views on East German sovereignty over the access routes, we are not asking too much and by doing so risking the Berlin negotiations as well as the fate of the Eastern treaties, resulting in serious difficulties in American relations with the German Government.

This is possibly so. Frankly, in the light of the considerations set forth above, I believe it would be justifiable to take that risk. I believe that the position we are now taking in this matter would in fact be supported by the majority of seriously interested German political leaders of all three major parties if the issue became more widely known. The reverse, however, is not automatically true: this majority will not necessarily support a thin agreement, no matter how much they may respect our opinion and evaluation.

Moreover, I feel that we should not allow ourselves to be placed in the situation of first accepting that the Federal Germans proceed in negotiations with the East Germans in the interest of permitting ratification of the Eastern agreement, and then realizing the potential serious long-term damage to our position in Berlin and to our reputation and standing in Germany of the results they may achieve in such negotiations and then being obliged either to repudiate the agreement the Germans had reached in inner-German negotiations or to agree to an inadequate Berlin settlement leaving us to deal with the outcome. It [Page 644] seems to me quite plausible that a logical further step, if the Soviets succeeded to this extent in getting their position accepted in this contest of wills and of political resolution, might well be for the Soviets and East Germans to edge towards East German takeover of control over Allied military access to Berlin.

In the final analysis, it would seem preferable, while continuing to engage the FRG in closest possible participation in preparation of a common Western negotiating position, to risk having the Soviets turn down that common Western position, thus clearly indicating where responsibility lies, rather than to have us in a position where we may have to turn down the results of an inner-German negotiation. This consideration overweighs in my mind the very valid consideration you raise of placing the Germans in a situation if the outcome looks bleak where they will directly experience the negative position of the other side so that our relations will not subsequently be haunted by suspicion that we did not do our best and if they had tried, they could pull it off. Clearly, the issue is one of a choice between two evils.

By extension, although one can have different views about the situation on inner-Berlin improvements, as you say in your March 10 letter, these have been included in our position and to break the front here would weaken it on access.

I feel possible differences of opinion on this matter can, as often is the case, be reduced by looking at the actual text. Despite tabling of the Soviet text of March 26,7 I still believe it may be possible by bargaining sufficiently hard to achieve mention of Berlin in the first part of the agreement and to obtain Soviet agreement to a Soviet commitment that access to Berlin be unhindered without qualifying reference, however indirect, to GDR sovereignty. I believe it possible also finally to obtain agreement on through-passenger trains and sealed vehicles without controls. Here I would agree with your idea that Part IIA might be compressed to one principle although for negotiating purposes I would rather start with an amalgam of points 1, 2 and 3 in order to try to aim for a slightly weightier end product. The concept is the same, however.

On Federal presence, I believe it may be possible to hold the line roughly where we now are, perhaps including committees and fraktions and making meetings in Berlin by Federal German political parties take place at the invitation of the Berlin branch of the organization concerned. And I think we could finally get some degree of Soviet acceptance of FRG-Berlin ties and also of FRG representation of Berlin [Page 645] abroad, perhaps on the lines that we would undertake a commitment to the Soviets to maintain our reserved right in this field.

To summarize on what I believe the point of difference between our approaches is, I would attach considerably more weight to getting Soviet agreement to Part II and suitably worded annexes prior to giving the signal to the Germans because I have a strong feeling that once the inner-German negotiation has started, we have lost our major leverage—essentially that we are less interested than either Soviets or Germans in ratification of the German-Soviet treaty—and to a large degree our control over the outcome.

I will readily admit that it would be very difficult to achieve these objectives, that it will probably take a long time to do so, that we might fail in the effort, and that continued Allied unity, particularly Federal German unity with the Western Three, is a prerequisite for the attempt. I realize Bahr’s desire to negotiate on Berlin access with the East Germans is a particular problem, but I believe it can be controlled if we don’t take his onsets of negotiator’s impatience to be the equivalent of full-scale crisis in government relations with the FRG, which it is not.

One of the hardest things in the current situation is to know when to take signs of German dissatisfaction seriously and when not to, but I think we have weathered German discontent about our procedural approach and now are in a stage where we will need very strong nerves and where we should be careful not to overreact to signs of nervousness on the German side.

I am a little concerned about trying to reach formal agreement with the Germans concerning our minimum requirements in the access field before we would be willing to give the signal because of the danger of leaks to the Soviets which could undermine our negotiating position, but if it is necessary we can go through this exercise also.

It is difficult to set forth this complex situation on paper, but I hope that I have made my own views clear and that we can have a good discussion on this subject matter when we next meet, which now looks more like the middle of May.

With best regards,


  1. Source: Department of State, EUR/CE Files: Lot 85 D 330, JD Correspondence 1971, JSSutterlin. Secret; Official–Informal. Copies were sent to Rush, Fessenden, Klein, Boerner, and Wehmeyer. In an attached note, Fessenden commented: “Good & thoughtful letter. I agree with almost everything, & especially with the argumentation toward the end re the great importance of holding the line against allowing FRGGDR access talks before a Four Power Agreement.”
  2. Document 191.
  3. Not found.
  4. Enclosed with airgram A–1119 from Bonn, November 24, 1969, is a draft discussion paper on the Berlin soundings with the Soviet Union. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 28 GER B)
  5. Mendershausen, an analyst with the RAND Corporation, commented on the Berlin negotiations in a February 26 letter to Hillenbrand, who in turn forwarded it in a March 12 letter to Dean. (Department of State, EUR/CE Files: Lot 85 D 330, Horst Mendershausen Correspondence, 1971–1972)
  6. See Document 173.
  7. See Document 201.