303. Telegram From the Embassy in Germany to the Department of State1

10252. For the Secretary. Subject: Berlin Talks: Preliminary Evaluation of Results.

Begin summary. This message contains my preliminary report to you evaluating in general terms the text of a possible Berlin agreement tentatively agreed with Ambassador Abrasimov on August 18, 1971. I conclude that the results achieved meet most of the negotiating goals set forth in NSDM 1062 and recommend acceptance of the text as it stands despite obvious imperfections. I will be sending detailed evaluation of the negotiating results in a subsequent message.3 End summary.
Nearly 18 months of intense negotiations on Berlin culminated at midnight on August 18 with tentative agreement of the four Ambassadors to portions of a text covering the main unresolved questions in the Berlin talks to be submitted to governments for their consideration. I believe it may be of some help for you, and for your officers of the Bureau of European Affairs who have provided support of unparalleled quality for our negotiating effort in Berlin, as well as for other interested Washington agencies, to receive my preliminary evaluation of these results.
The results of the Berlin talks as they now stand should be measured against two standards, that of Allied negotiating objectives, and that of real life prospects that an agreement based on the present text would bring specific improvements for Berliners and other interested Germans and better control or eliminate some, at least, of the numerous points of controversy in which the East-West conflict has found expression in Berlin.
Judged by the first standard, that of Allied objectives, the text can be considered a considerable success. The relevant criteria are those contained in NSDM 914 and 106 and the President’s directive of August 11, [Page 856] 1971 (State 146328).5 I believe the major requirements of these instructions have been met except on two detailed points, avoidance of the term “existing situation” and inclusion of reference to the issue of Soviet interests in Western sectors in the text of an agreement. Further messages will contain details of how Allied moves on these two points came about.6 For the moment, I will only express my own opinion that these steps were more than justified by the overall outcome. The tactical situation in the August 18 session was such that Ambassador Abrasimov, after a protracted, tough 18-month negotiation, was at last moving, and moving fast, in meeting the Allied position. He had clearly received highest level instructions to conclude the agreement that day and was willing to pay a great deal to do so, as is shown in the summary account in Berlin’s 1674.7 It was necessary to try to capitalize on this negotiating break.
The objectives paper adopted in the senior level meeting in Bonn on September 19, 1970 (text in Bonn’s 10839 of the same date)8 and the Western draft agreement given the Soviets on February 5 this year9 provide further, more specific standards by which to measure the August 18 text. It will be recalled that the objectives paper was originally intended by the Bonn Group to provide the basis for a written draft agreement to be proposed to the Soviets at that time. It was decided by the senior level group in discussion of this paper that it was premature to make such an overall written presentation to the Soviets and that the goals it described were suitable as Allied goals in the ideal sense but considered unachievable and inadvisable. Comparison of the text tentatively agreed on August 18, 1971, with that of the September 19, 1970, paper shows that the present agreement has achieved roughly 90 percent of the objectives set forth there as regards the preamble and part I, the issue of communications in and around Berlin, and the FRG-Western sector ties, including representation abroad. In the field of access, by far the toughest fought area of negotiation and of course the core area of East/West tension over Berlin, the results were about 80 percent of the agreed objective.
Perhaps the most important point which we failed to gain was the effort to obtain an access commitment which explicitly endorsed Four Power rights over the access routes, although this was recognized to be so difficult that it was not a formal objective of the negotiations. We did obtain a Soviet commitment and an East German engagement [Page 857] on access in a binding form. We obtained provision for sealed freight shipments without spot checks (although with accompanying documents), through trains and busses with inspection limited to identification and considerably ameliorated conditions for unsealed shipments and individual travelers.
Comparison of the tentative text of August 18 with the content of the Western draft proposal for a Berlin agreement given the Soviets on February 5, 1971 (text in Berlin’s 251, February 8, 1971)10 also shows that the August 18 text is close to our original objectives.
There are numerous imperfections in these results, as is characteristic of any agreement negotiated among equals. These results are only results on paper, which is all they could be at this stage. Real improvements will depend on two factors: East German behavior in negotiating on the implementing agreement with Bahr, and actual Soviet and East German behavior when the agreement is applied. On the first point, I believe we can be relatively optimistic. The pressures and momentum of the overall situation are such that the advantage lies on the Western side. If results in the Four Power talks had been achieved later, this would not have been the case. But now, Bahr has been given the time margin to outlast Kohl in a situation which brings the maximum pressure available to the Western Allies to bear on the East German.
Even the results of the Bahr/Kohl negotiations will also be paper results. Moreover, it is widely recognized that the actual practical effects of the Berlin agreement will be directly dependent on the overall status of the East-West relations, primarily American-Soviet relations, at any given future time. No agreement covering one segment of this relationship can contain sufficient intrinsic protection and assurance to continue unaffected in the event of a general worsening of the overall relationship. A Berlin agreement with the Soviets can only do two things. It can, to a limited extent, insulate the area which it covers against a possible general worsening of relationships. Second, it can contribute something to better relations between at least those officials of both sides directly concerned with the topic and in this way contribute to the quality of the overall relationship.
Despite natural bias as the negotiator, I believe that the present text will meet these standards. I think, too, that, at least in the initial period of application of the agreement, it will in fact bring specific improvements for the Berliners and some improvement of the local East-West relationship. This is because I believe Soviet behavior in the Berlin negotiation has fairly conclusively demonstrated that the [Page 858] interest of the Soviet leadership in continuing their own Western policy vis-à-vis the United States and Western Europe is a serious one. One cannot resonably make a more long-term assessment of the prospects for benefits from the prospective agreement.
The results of the negotiations should strengthen Chancellor Brandt’s domestic political position and help him in the difficult process of ratification of the German-Soviet agreement which will begin after signature of the final protocol of the Berlin agreement.
There remains the question of what might have been, of whether better end results could have been obtained through other tactics than those used. This is one of those unanswerable questions which we are nonetheless obliged to put to ourselves to test the results of our work. It is possible that three or four months of further patient grinding away of the Soviet position might have brought some improvement in the present text. But two factors limited this possibility. First, as FRG State Secretary Frank told Falin quite openly, unless the Berlin talks, plus the associated inner-German talks, which Bahr has predicted would be complex and difficult, are successfully concluded by the early spring of 1972, the Moscow treaty cannot be ratified. This would mean that Brandt’s Eastern policy and his Eastern treaties would be a central theme of the German election campaign of the summer of 1973. There is good chance that adverse sentiment in the German public would further mount in those circumstances and that Brandt would lose the election. Therefore, in practical terms, we probably had only ninety more days at our disposal in the Berlin talks before the zone of real political danger for the Brandt government was approached in connection with the Berlin talks. Both Brandt and Bahr, who has been much criticized, unjustly I feel, have shown courage and self-restraint in repressing their natural nervousness over the fate of their policy and their government. But it has been an important element in my own tactical considerations that, as the deadline described by Frank approached, given its political significance for Brandt and his government, it is probable that the nervousness of the Germans and their consequent willingness to make concessions would have become strong, to the detriment of the negotiations.
The second factor is the Soviet attitude. Against the background of the cold war which had its practical manifestation in the Berlin problem, the whole Berlin negotiation has been characterized by acute distrust between both sides, decreased just enough from its peak to permit negotiation in the purely formal sense of the term. The Soviet leadership and Abrasimov himself, products of a political system which engenders distrust, have been continuously subjected to doubts about the feasibility of their own Western policy, which has itself been under attack by still more skeptical Soviet leaders. Specifically, they [Page 859] have had doubts as to whether the Allies, particularly the United States, actually wish to conclude a Berlin agreement or would use the excellent opportunity provided by these negotiations to sabotage Brandt’s Eastern policy, and with it, the prospects for some degree of easing of East/West relations, which the Soviets of course wish for their own national purposes.
The nagging doubts of the Soviet leaders have been evident in the persistent questions of Abrasimov to me about whether the American government really wants a Berlin agreement. It is clear that such statements have a tactical aspect, but I consider them to have a wholly genuine basis. The existence of these Soviet doubts has placed limits on our ability merely to hammer single-mindedly away at the individual points in the negotiation. There was a limit to the Soviet will to stand still to accept this pounding. We had to build up the trust of the Soviet negotiators and of the Soviet leadership in the course of the negotiations, and to judge the right moment to cash in on that trust, rather than risking its revival. I believe this was done.
Finally, there is the question of American national interests. For over twenty-five years, controversy over Berlin has been a mortage on American prospects for peace. I consider the present agreement reduces the size of that mortage without increasing the risks of our position in Berlin. Although many improvements, large and small, could theoretically be made by reopening negotiation on the text, this might jeopardize gains contained in it. I would like to recommend the text for consideration in its present form.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 38–6. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. According to another copy, the telegram was drafted by Dean and approved by Rush. (Department of State, EUR/CE Files: Lot 85 D 330, JD Telegrams and Airgrams, 1971) Repeated to Berlin, Budapest, London, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Warsaw, USNATO, Bremen, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, and Stuttgart. A copy was sent to the White House for Kissinger in San Clemente.
  2. Document 225.
  3. Although a “detailed evaluation of the negotiating results” for Rogers has not been found, Rush sent such an evaluation in a special channel message to Kissinger on August 23; see Document 314.
  4. Document 137.
  5. Document 285.
  6. No such further messages have been found.
  7. Dated August 19. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 28 GER B)
  8. See Document 117.
  9. See Document 173.
  10. Not printed. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 38–6)