332. Editorial Note
On September 29, 1971, President Nixon met Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko in the Oval Office at the White House for a general discussion of international affairs, including matters relating to Germany and European security. Secretary of State Rogers, Assistant to the President Kissinger, and Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin also attended the meeting, which lasted from 3 to 4:40 p.m. Although the Soviet Union and the United States continued to have differences in a number of areas, Gromyko observed that the two countries had recently worked to improve bilateral relations, specifically citing the quadripartite agreement on Berlin as a concrete example. Gromyko recalled his meeting with Nixon on October 22, 1970, when the latter had “expressed certain ideas on West Berlin.” He then remarked that “the Soviet leadership was gratified to note that the United States, the U.S. Government and the President personally had made positive contributions to make it possible to reach agreement on this question.”
After Gromyko finished his presentation, Nixon replied that Berlin was “perhaps the most significant development that had occurred, particularly in view of the fact that this was such a delicate and sensitive issue to both powers, to the other European countries and to the Germans themselves.” “The fact that this problem could be worked out,” he observed, “was an indication that difficulties in other areas could also be reduced.”
The Soviet Foreign Minister also raised Berlin in connection with the proposed conference on European security. Gromyko recalled that, during their meeting the previous October, Nixon had linked the conference to the quadripartite talks. In view of the agreement on Berlin, Gromyko hoped that the Nixon administration would now adopt “a more definite stand in favor of this conference.” The President confirmed the linkage: “Now that we had made some progress on the Berlin problem, we could look more favorably upon considerations of other European questions on which we might make some progress.” When Rogers remarked, however, that the inner-German negotiations for a transit agreement were not finished, Nixon qualified his position, stating that preliminary discussions on the conference could begin “when the Berlin thing was wrapped up.” In the belief that such conditions might complicate matters, Gromyko asked if the President would at least support “a private exchange of views in the near future.” Nixon replied that, since there had already been discussion of the issue in private, such an exchange “would not concern him.” The United States, he explained, was “not trying to pressure the Soviet Union in regard to the German treaty. We did have a problem while the German talks were in progress, but if preliminary talks were kept [Page 929] strictly private, this might be possible.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 86, Memoranda for the President, Beginning September 26, 1971)
Kissinger and Gromyko continued to discuss Germany and European security at the Soviet Embassy on September 30 but in light of an important new development. During a meeting with West German Foreign Minister Scheel in New York on September 27, Gromyko had established “reverse linkage” between the final protocol for the Berlin agreement and ratification of the Moscow Treaty. Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the NSC staff explained the situation in a September 29 memorandum to Kissinger: “As was anticipated some time ago, the Soviets are now trying to hold up the final Berlin Agreement until ratification of the Moscow treaty by the Bundestag. As you know, Brandt will get crucified if he accepts this.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 692, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Berlin), Vol. V) Sonnenfeldt also drafted a report briefing the President on the issue, but the memorandum was withdrawn and Nixon did not see it before his meeting with Gromyko on September 29. (Ibid.) Kissinger, however, broached the subject in his meeting with Gromyko the following evening:
“I [Kissinger] said that one of the difficulties in our relationship was that as soon as an agreement on something was achieved, new conditions were raised, so that we felt we had to buy the same agreement over and over again. Gromyko asked what I was referring to. I mentioned the fact that the Soviets had now established a reverse linkage according to which ratification of the German Treaty had to precede a Berlin agreement. Gromyko said this was based on a total misunderstanding. The Soviet Union was afraid the Germans would ratify the Berlin agreement first and then refuse to go ahead with the German Treaty. They were afraid of being left holding the bag. Gromyko stressed that the Soviet Union would agree to any formula for ratification which would put the two instruments into effect simultaneously, but it was a little difficult to think of a formula that would accomplish that other than by the prior ratification of the German Treaty. He said, ‘after all, why would we sign the Berlin Treaty if we did not want to bring it into effect?’ I suggested that perhaps the Berlin [Treaty] could be ratified as scheduled and then an exchange of notes be added to it, according to which the treaty would become effective only after the German Treaty was ratified. Gromyko said he would think about it.
“I then raised the matter of the translation problem. He said the Germans were unbelievable. There were three official texts—British, French, and Russian—and now the Germans were raising the issue of the correct German text. None of the powers had negotiated in German, so why should the Four Powers get involved in it? Why not let [Page 930] the Germans operate with two separate texts if they wanted—especially if there were only two words at issue—and substitute for these disputed German words the agreed English, French and Russian words. I said we would stay out of it for the time being but it was my view that, after all the investment we had made, it would help greatly if we moved ahead on the ratification.” (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 71, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Gromyko, 1971–1972)