254. Conversation Among President Nixon, German Chancellor Brandt, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and the German State Secretary for Foreign, Defense, and German Policy (Bahr)1

[Omitted here is an exchange of pleasantries and discussion of scheduling arrangements.]2

Nixon: How do you feel?

Brandt: I think there is reason for some moderate optimism.

Nixon: Moderate optimism. That’s a good term. Moderate optimism. That’s good. Well, actually, we know, I know that, taking the whole problem of Berlin, which is key to this, this instance, if you simply look at what appears publicly in the Four Power thing, it doesn’t look too promising. But what is occurring privately, you know, some of these other things, it seems to me that the—and I would like to get your version on it—that the Soviets, while taking a very hard position at the beginning, have come much further toward our direction and yours, than we have gone toward theirs. Would you agree?

Brandt: I would agree with that. Yes.

[Page 742]

Nixon: Because what we want to do here, Mr. Chancellor, we want to be sure that we take a position that protects you.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: And we can be a little tougher than you can as a matter of fact, because you, you have, having, with all of your ties to Berlin, I mean as a person and also with regard to your country and the rest. I think the fact they’ve come quite a ways is a good thing. Now, if we get them a little further, we’ve got the makings of a deal. That’s the way it looks to me.

Brandt: Yes, yes.

Nixon: How do you feel about this? You—

Brandt: Well, one has no guarantee that there could[n’t] be a surprise.

Nixon: Sure, sure.

Brandt: A surprise in the negative sense.

Nixon: Well, you’d like insurance.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: Because you’re a smart guy.

Brandt: Yes, but it doesn’t look like that. If we get it along the line I see it now, then this would mean, Mr. President, that if you compare it with, well the [unclear] was discussed in Geneva in 1959 of Khrushchev,3 how he made it, or even if you can compare it with President Kennedy’s “Three Essentials,”4 this would be much more than the West was willing to accept at that time.

Nixon: ’59, right? Very, very, very important.

[Page 743]

Brandt: Yes, this would be—

Nixon: Everything is relative.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: You can’t get, you can’t get the whole ball—

Brandt: No.

Nixon: —but here this is more than ’59—

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: And more than that. Is that your opinion?

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: Good.

Brandt: Yes. And this in spite of the fact that we all know the military position rather is more favorable for the Soviet Union than it was then.

Nixon: Yeah.

Brandt: But still they must have their own reasons why they think— They should not be too different. I hope, I hope this will work out. The private contacts you mentioned, I think, have been helpful up to now with Dobrynin and Ambassador Falin, the new Russian man, who is a very intelligent man. They don’t have much freedom of movement probably.

Nixon: No, no. I authorized those only because I know that with regard to these fellows in Moscow, they tend to want to deal at the highest levels.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: So I said “OK, talk to them,” having in mind that I can put it all in the channel over there so that you, of course, can decide what you want to do with it, so then that our, our man—he’s a good man—

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: —a very good negotiator.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: And he speaks very highly of you incidentally. He was just in here. But he says that, he is somewhat hopeful about it. He’s a tough negotiator. He says about the same thing you did. Unless they make a sudden turn hard-line, which they might, that they’re going to make a deal. And of course another thing which we have to have in mind is that, [they need] the deal too.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: After all, they, if they block this, they know very well what happens to the treaty and all that.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: So they need the deal, so we must never be in the position where, in other words—

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: They’re not looking down our throats, we’re not looking down theirs either, but that’s the way to make a good negotiation, where each side can make a [unclear] and I think we may get something out of it.

[Page 744]

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: What do you think?

[Omitted here is a brief exchange of greetings as Kissinger and Bahr enter.]

Nixon: We, the Chancellor and I, just started our discussion. We, I asked him for his evaluation of Berlin. And, incidentally, Mr. Chancellor, let me tell you that, in our discussion, there’s so many things that we have [unclear] in our previous occasions, the two of us [unclear], any notes that are made on our part are only for me.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: And we do not send them to the State Department, not through the bureaucracy, because we feel that, we have to feel that we can talk very candidly.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: And I want to assure you that that’s the case.

Kissinger: Not that we don’t, Mr. President—

Nixon: Not that we don’t trust our State Department, but you know, you have the same problem with yours, and they all, the more your notes get around.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: Then some well-intentioned fellow leaks it out, and it may [unclear]. And so we—That way we can talk frankly. The Chancellor put it this way, he said he felt that unless there is a hard turn, unexpected development, that there is a chance now, a good chance, or a, he said a moderately good chance for a Berlin settlement, is that what you—?

Brandt: Yes.

Bahr: Egon Bahr, Mr. President, if I may repeat it.

Nixon: Yes, what you said about, this is very important.

Bahr: Yes, which would give us, I mean, not all we would want, but much more than the West was prepared to discuss in ’59—

Brandt: Or even compared with President Kennedy’s “Three Essentials.” This would have much more substance.

Nixon: Do you agree with that, Henry?

Kissinger: I do. I told you, not in those words, but I, I felt that, I feel that we’re doing better than, than I thought possible.

[Page 745]

Nixon: Well, Henry has said, Mr. Chancellor, he says said that he had, they had come about two-thirds toward us and we had gone one third towards them. Well, that’s a pretty good deal.

Bahr: Yes it is.

Nixon: Provided, provided you can still maintain your position. You know, I noticed, it’s interesting how in all their public statements they constantly get back to that same old song of trying, trying to split off Berlin as a separate entity. They, they, they want, they want to cut it off as a separate entity.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: That’s the public position. On the other hand, you’ve stood firm on that and privately they don’t go that far anymore.

Kissinger: I think, on access, for example—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —Mr. President, they have essentially accepted our essential point. Don’t you agree on that?

Bahr: Yeah, yeah.

Kissinger: The big problem now is Federal presence—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —in Berlin and Soviet—

Nixon: And their presence—

Kissinger: —presence in West Berlin.

[Omitted here is a brief exchange which, due to interference, is largely unintelligible.]

Kissinger: Soviet presence in West Berlin, of course, we can go along with—

Nixon: What do they want, a consular office or something?

Bahr: Consular, yes. They want—

Brandt: Yes, if I may say, well, on our presence, Mr. President,

Nixon: This is the FGR. [sic]

Brandt: Yes. When Falin, the new Russian Ambassador, came to see me, he said that—I made just a couple of remarks on the link which we had established between Berlin and the ratification of our treaties. I repeated that this was not a very good thing, but politically it had, had to be done this way. And he then said he would express a personal view, he was not sure that that was the view of his government [unclear]. He said, “It might be that even if we had argued against it that you were right because had you not created that link then Berlin would have been a controversy over the years,” that it was so central to a solution. Then he said, “Since I said this, I will add something. We have argued all the time against Federal presence, but I’m telling you, because you know, that you must have Federal presence in West Berlin [Page 746] if we say it belongs together not in the sense of being a Federal state but [unclear].” This was quite interesting. On Soviet presence in West Berlin, Mr. President, when I still was Mayor of Berlin, they had three offices.5

[Omitted here is further discussion of Soviet presence in West Berlin, which, due to interference, is largely unintelligible.]

Brandt: So I already at that time said that I would prefer to have one Embassy or one consulate that [unclear]. In Berlin they can send [unclear] East Berlin all the time. So from an intelligence point of view, having an official thing in West Berlin is the [tip of the iceberg], which is easy, easier to have under control than what is [unclear].

Nixon: Right, right, right, right.

Brandt: So, and there was a psychological element [unclear] if you consider it from the point of view—one has to be very careful how to, what kind of [unclear]—but from the point of view of the West Berliners. Take for example, businessmen and artists and others who go to the Soviet Union. They now have to go to East Berlin to collect their visa. If they had a visa office in West Berlin, this whole department would, for the West Berliners, would be regarded as an improvement, because they would not have to go to the Embassy in the GDR in order to pick up their visa.

Nixon: Huh.

Brandt: The West Berliners.

Nixon: I see. I see your point. [unclear] I was saying to the Chancellor. If he doesn’t get this, what I’m going to do is take the position that will be not only consistent with yours but will be ahead of your position, and even, will even be, if necessary, stronger, you know, in any particular area indicated as needed. The point being that to us this argument is not about Berlin. It’s about you. It’s about, you know what I mean.

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: That’s what it’s really about, your Berlin support and all the rest. Now, we therefore are, and Henry is aware of this, we will [Page 747] bargain. And remember it seems to me we are in exactly the same channel. We want an agreement; you want an agreement. We want to maintain the linkage basically that you do. Now the Soviets need an agreement, so, therefore, they’re not looking down our throats or yours. So, under the circumstances, we should just continue without, without being too anxious that the—. Because if you’re too anxious, then they think that they raise the price because you’re too anxious. We should just continue to go right forward until we get one. Now, that’s about the way I would feel. Does that meet your approval?

Bahr: Yes.

Brandt: Yes, I agree.

Nixon: Do you have anything to add to that, Henry?

Kissinger: No. Egon and I, and Egon and Rush, have a very close working relationship now. So that we have the bidding of the Chancellor.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: And the—

Nixon: You see what we do is this. What we do is to put this right into the channel directly to Moscow—to Dobrynin.

Brandt: Yes, yes.

Nixon: But we don’t sell them a thing, we don’t talk to them, unless we’ve got it from you personally.

Kissinger: That’s right. I—

Nixon: We are not, we want you to know that we are doing this only because we may be able to break, break the deadlock. Do you, do you see what I—?

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: Because I said to the Chancellor, it just happens that when you’re dealing with totalitarian powers, they expect to deal at the highest levels—in the first instance.

Kissinger: They brought in some new formulations yesterday, Dobrynin,6 for your visit, which—There’s no sense bothering you with now, I’ll take that up with Egon later. One is a new formulation for the Final Act which is better than the one they’ve given us. It may not be enough yet, but it’s an improvement. And one has to do with Federal presence which probably isn’t quite enough. But it’s, again it’s a slight step in our, our direction.

Bahr: This will be one of the key points [unclear].

Kissinger: Yes. It was their concern to remove the—

[Page 748]

Nixon: Now look, on the Federal presence thing, just take the hardest line that’s necessary or is necessary. We really want—What is really at stake here is, as I say, is actually the deal with them. What is at stake is the whole Federal Republic, and its future and its position, your position as a leader, your whole Ostpolitik etc. I mean, Berlin is the key. We’ve got to get what we want to. We want to be sure that [if] we open that door, we don’t fall down the steps. And for that reason, even though they, our Soviet friends, always abhor the word linkage, of course there’s linkage. Let’s face it, you know and I know that when we talk about mutual balanced force reductions, why are we maintaining forces, them, you, I, anybody? The reason that we maintain forces is because there are tensions. So if you reduce those factors that cause tensions, you therefore can be more forthcoming in reducing forces. On the other hand, if you make no progress in reducing those things that cause tensions, you’re going to have an incentive to maintain the forces. So there is linkage between Berlin, and the future of Europe, and the forces, all the rest. Right?

Brandt: Yes.

Nixon: And I think it’s just, without using that nasty word which sets them off. They know very well—and they link everything, don’t they?

Brandt: They do.

Nixon: They, they like it. They want us to discuss everything separately, but they never do anything unless it’s in tandem, part of the process. So we’re in a position to, I think, I think it’s good. I am pleased that you feel we’re operating with, we’re acting consistent with what you want here, because that’s what we want.

Brandt: Yes, this is true for Berlin and also for those matters which were discussed at the last NATO Council meeting in Lisbon.7

Nixon: Yeah.

Brandt: I think this was clear.

[Omitted here is the remainder of the conversation, including discussion of Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction talks, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Economic Community, international financial policy, the crisis in South Asia, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty talks.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of Conversation Between Nixon and Brandt, June 15, 1971, 11:02 a.m.–12:34 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation 520–6. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Brandt in the Oval Office from 11:02 a.m. to 12:34 p.m. The editor transcribed the portions of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume. Kissinger and Bahr joined the discussion at 11:13 a.m.; Kissinger left at 12:30 p.m., just before Mosbacher, Ziegler, Pauls, Ahlers, and several others entered for several minutes. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) A memorandum covering the end of the conversation, during which Pakistan and SALT were discussed, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 GER W. For Brandt’s memorandum of conversation, see Akten zur Auswärtigen Politik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1971, Vol. II, pp. 966–972. For his memoir account, see Brandt, People and Politics, pp. 291–295.
  2. Before the meeting with Brandt, Nixon told Kissinger to “bring up as much of the conversation as you can. I don’t know this fellow [Bahr]. I know Brandt. I don’t trust him, you know.” Kissinger: “Brandt. No. I—.” Nixon: “Not at all. And I’m not sure— That’s the only thing I’m a little concerned about, about the Ambassador [Rush]. I think he, when he says that in order, you know about, that Brandt’s going to be in for all that time. I think he underestimates the—The CDU just can’t be that—Good God, this, if that’s all Germany’s hope is, then Germany ain’t got much future.” Kissinger: “No.” Nixon: “But, nevertheless, that’s irrelevant.” Nixon then asked Kissinger to give Brandt “the line that he needs to hear.” “I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about,” he explained. “I don’t want to say that I, that we’re enthusiastic about Ostpolitik.” Kissinger replied: “I was not going to say that. Absolutely not.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of Conversation Between Nixon and Kissinger, June 15, 1971, 10:39–10:59 a.m., Oval Office, Conversation 520–4) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  3. According to Brandt’s account, this remark, unintelligible on the tape recording, concerned “the points discussed at Geneva in 1959.” (Brandt, People and Politics, p. 292) In November 1958 Soviet Premier Khrushchev issued an ultimatum on Berlin: if the Allies did not agree to resolve the city’s status within 6 months, the Soviet Union would reach a separate peace treaty with East Germany. Although the Allies agreed to formal negotiations, both sides were still talking in Geneva when the deadline passed in May 1959. On May 14 the Allies tabled a “Phased Plan for German Reunification and European Security and a German Peace Settlement” at the Geneva conference. For text of the Allied plan, see Documents on Germany, 1944–1985, pp. 624–629. For the development of the plan before and discussion with the Soviets at Geneva, see Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, volume VIII. See also Hillenbrand, Fragments of Our Time, pp. 140–142, 146–147.
  4. In a report forwarded to Secretary of State Rusk on July 31, 1961, former Secretary of State Acheson recommended that the Western Allies adopt the following “essentials” of a counterproposal to continuing efforts by the Soviet Union to resolve the German question by treaty: “(a) as put forward, it should make no major concessions; (b) it should have something of novelty and more of appeal to allied and neutral opinion; and (c) it should be capable of being added to later on if the USSR appears willing to negotiate in earnest.” ( Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XIV, Document 89) See also Hillenbrand, Fragments of Our Time, p. 183.
  5. Reference is apparently to the following Soviet offices in West Berlin: Intourist, the Soviet travel agency; TASS and Novosti-Izvestiya, the Soviet press agencies; and Soveksportfilm, the Soviet foreign trade organization for the export and import of films. The Soviet Union also participated in the administration of the Berlin Air Safety Center and Spandau Prison. Brandt later recalled his remarks to Nixon on Soviet presence in West Berlin as follows: “I pointed out that we had already been obliged to live with sundry Soviet offices during my years in Berlin, and that it was easier from the security aspect to supervise the legal tip of an iceberg. It would be psychologically beneficial if the West Berliners could obtain visas in their own part of the city.” (Brandt, People and Politics, p. 292)
  6. See Document 253.
  7. See Document 246.