337. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Nixon
  • Amb. Kenneth Rush, U.S. Ambassador to Federal Republic of Germany
  • Richard T. Kennedy, Acting Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

President: Where are you staying?

Rush I stay at a cove in the Bahamas. We spend two or three weeks a year there. It’s like San Clemente or Key Biscayne.

[Page 962]

President: The weather’s better in Key Biscayne except in the summer. The views in San Clemente are spectacular.

Rush: They have great charm.

President: Is the Mitchell decision a possibility?2 Where does it stand?

Rush: I would do whatever you wish.

President: When do you have to go back?

Rush I’m due to go back later this week. I could change my plan.

President: There’s plenty of time to get the wheels in motion. I want you to see Mel Laird.

Rush: I will see him tomorrow and his people about the financial aspects.

President: The problem is Laird. He had wanted some people from inside. Your experience in government, on MBFR and SALT, and in business, will be helpful.

Rush: Laird is mostly interested in discussing the financial aspects.

President: I want to do it soon. How quickly should it be? How about the Germans?

Rush: A new man just went over.3 Fessenden was abler. He’s now Deputy Assistant Secretary.

President: We must have a name out to replace you fast. Do you have any thoughts?

Rush: I would like to think about it a little.

President: Please see Peter Flanigan this afternoon and discuss the people we should consider. Between the two of you, come up with a recommendation. I want to be ready to move on both simultaneously.4

Rush: Yes, the Germans will be anxious as to who it will be.5 Many of the old timers are living in the past.

President: The Clay’s, the McCloy’s, are just not with it any more.

[Page 963]

Rush: Brandt is going to be in. He runs Foreign Affairs. Scheel is the traveler but he works mostly with Brandt.

President: Scheel’s party is small.

Rush: But it’s indispensable to them.

President: Brandt is running strong.

Rush: He’s now 49/33 to 47/35 against Barzel. The next elections will be in September 1973.

The CDU is against ratification of the eastern treaties. All the leaders now believe there will be no defections. Brandt has 250 votes in the Bundestag; he needs 249. Another defection means no Berlin agreement, no European Security Conference, no détente. Brandt would have to have an election. He would win, if the economic situation is O.K.

The earliest that ratification could be is early May; the latest is late June. If they’re not ratified by then, there’ll be an election probably in September. Otherwise it’ll be one year later.

President: Is Brandt satisfied with our meetings? There is not much to decide, but a lot to talk about.

Rush: Yes. Relations are better with Germany than with almost any other ally. There are no divisions. I have close relations personally. They are our staunchest ally in Europe.

President: They’re the only ones with any guts as a country; the others can’t play a great role.

Rush: They have the strength and they are on the firing line. Brandt knows this. The troop question is the most important factor in their security and even the left wing socialists know this.

President: It makes the post very important. We need to put a good man in.

Rush: There are no pressing problems.

President: Yes.

Rush: I’m worried about MBFR.

President: It will string out, but I sense that Brandt told Brezhnev to be satisfied with the idea. It would be devastating to move too fast. The Germans will see we are holding firm. Will Brandt give way? Out of a desire for détente, is he willing to pay too big a price?

Rush: No. I’m convinced Brandt’s approach is to have strong relations with us and a strong Western alliance as the basis for détente. He wants to improve the lot of East Berliners and East Germans. He’s motivated also by a desire to seem attractive toward the East.

They are concerned by press reports on Mansfield and our problems.

President: I can see how he feels. What is Barzel’s position?

Rush: Politically he has the CSU, Strauss, on his extreme right. They oppose détente. They’re Catholic and feel you can’t deal with the [Page 964] devil. Barzel needs the CSU to support the CDU. Barzel is one of the most moderate. If not for the political pressures, he would see it’s stupid to fight ratification.

President: He would fight but lose.

Rush: Yes.

President: Can’t an economic and internal political issue bring down Brandt.

Rush: He could still have an anti-Russian posture. All the détente measures could go ahead.

President: Barzel is coming. I’ll see him.

Rush: I urge that you do. It’s likely he’ll be the next chancellor.

President: Things shift quickly. Nobody ever knows.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1331, NSC Unfiled Materials, 1972 [6 of 8]. Secret; Nodis; XGDS. Drafted by Kennedy, based on his attached handwritten notes. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. A tape recording of the conversation is ibid., White House Tapes, Recording of Conversation Between Nixon and Rush, January 10, 1972, 12:35–1:24 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation 644–14.
  2. Mitchell told Haldeman on January 6 that Rush had agreed to the President’s request that he replace David Packard as Deputy Secretary of Defense. (Entry for January 6; Haldeman, Haldeman Diary: Multimedia Edition) Although Laird opposed the appointment, Rush was sworn in on February 23.
  3. Frank Cash replaced Fessenden as Deputy Chief of Mission in June 1971; Cash also served as Chargé d’Affaires for 4 months after Rush left Bonn on February 20.
  4. On April 17 the White House announced Hillenbrand’s nomination as Ambassador; the Senate confirmed the nomination on April 27. (Department of State Bulletin, May 15, 1972, p. 714) Rogers, however, asked Hillenbrand to remain as Assistant Secretary through the Moscow Summit in May and the subsequent signing of the Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin. (Hillenbrand, Fragments of Our Time, p. 307) Hillenbrand presented his credentials in Bonn on June 27.
  5. In a special channel message on January 26, Bahr reminded Kissinger “how much we regret Rush’s departure and how important it still is to have a man here who has the personal trust of the President.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 60, Country Files, Europe, Egon Bahr, Berlin File [1 of 3])