345. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Your Meeting with Egon Bahr, March 282

Bahr is coming at a moment when the fate of the Eastern treaties in the Bundestag hangs by a one vote thread (see the intelligence memorandum at Tab A,3 already somewhat outdated). The Coalition is at odds with itself on several issues, including whether to seek new [Page 979] elections if the treaties fail. The Soviets, and to a lesser extent the East Germans, have been making some concessions to help ease the treaties through. Bahr himself is visibly in the forefront as the chief negotiator with the GDR and has been getting much press coverage, not all of it favorable (for example, the Christ und Welt profile at Tab B).4

The situation looks like this:

Soviet Stand on the Treaties. Recent Soviet moves designed to help Brandt and counter CDU accusations include:

A letter of March 9 from Falin, the Soviet Ambassador, to Scheel transmitting a Pravda article5 that says the German and Russian texts of the treaties are identical. (Some treaty opponents in Bonn had claimed that the Russian word for “inviolable” frontiers was more definitive than the German and precludes negotiated changes.)
Falin suggested to State Secretary Frank about the same time that the USSR and the FRG should sign a general economic agreement right after treaty ratification, adding the important additional observation that a clause making the agreement applicable to Berlin should be no problem. (For years, the two countries have been unable to conclude a new trade agreement because the Russians haven’t wanted it to apply to West Berlin.) Brandt subsequently publicized this.6
Brandt reported to the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee that he had met March 13 with Falin who had told him that Scheel’s August 1970 letter asserting the Germans’ right to unity would be brought to the Supreme Soviet’s attention.7
Brandt also announced that he had reason to believe the Soviet Union was reconsidering its attitude toward the EEC. Brezhnev subsequently said on this point that the Soviet Union is “far from [Page 980] ignoring the actually existing situation in Western Europe, including the existence of … the Common Market.”8 This is being interpreted as Soviet “recognition” in contrast to Kosygin’s denunciation of the EEC as a Chinese wall when he saw Barzel.9

These last two points ((c) and (d)) are designed to undercut objections which Barzel has been making to the treaties. At the same time, Brezhnev took a very tough line should the treaties fail.

GDR Moves. The GDR has recently:

Unilaterally announced that it will issue West Berliners passes to visit East Berlin during Eastertide and Whitsun. Applications are now flowing in.
Announced that it will ease administrative processing of Autobahn traffic to Berlin during these holidays. (c) Hinted—but only hinted—that it would be willing to permit some local traffic across the FRGGDR frontier (kleiner Grenzvekehr).
Hinted that it might be willing to reduce the minimum age of East German pensioners who can travel to the FRG from 65 to 60. (This might even double the present volume of travellers, about a million annually.)

In addition, Honecker has made a surprisingly conciliatory speech on the possibility of “coexistence” with the Federal Republic.10

Bahr’s Activities. Bahr has started weekly sessions with his GDR counterpart in an effort to conclude a GDRFRG traffic treaty before the treaties come up for the final ratification reading, probably in June. He is telling our chargé in Bonn that he has been using a tough line with the East Germans, saying the FRG won’t modify its stand against GDR membership in international organizations, particularly the World Health Organization (WHO), pressing him on the pensioners’ [Page 981] age limit, and warning him that Bonn won’t conclude the agreement unless there are travel improvements.11

Bahr is also predicting to our Embassy that the treaties will pass, for the SPD hopes to win over some CDU votes for them.12 He says Brandt does not now intend to introduce a confidence vote in early May, when the treaties come up for their next-to-last readings. According to a sensitive report of information which Bahr apparently intends to reach the US Government (Tab C),13 Bahr believes that a defeat for the treaties will usher in a crisis and Berlin blockade. One way to manage such a crisis, in Bahr’s opinion, would be for the Western allies to recognize the GDR.

Your Meeting with Bahr

The fact of your meeting, which is known to State and elsewhere in the government, will be interpreted here and in Germany as indicating US concern and foreshadowing American intervention of some sort on behalf of the treaties. Most likely it will also cause the CDU to review its plan, shelved ten days ago, to send an emissary like Schroeder to Washington to discuss the treaties.14 Bahr certainly knows of the President’s assurances to Brandt that we intend to stay neutral in the treaty debate.15 But he must assume that our interests may dictate otherwise in the crunch. He will presumably seek to confirm this assumption. His inventive brain may have some suggestions on how we should proceed.

I don’t know what your preferences are. Mine would be simply to ask Bahr whether he anticipates further Soviet and East German concessions and whether they will be enough to get the treaties through, and for the rest to maintain the neutrality line.

It seems to me that for many reasons you should in any discussion of the consequences of a defeat of the treaties (or of the postponement of action on them or of several of the contingencies other than ratification) not take the position that all hell will break loose. Bahr is not a discreet man, whatever his other virtues and uses, and I do not [Page 982] think it would be in our interest to reinforce the notion that the President’s fortunes (or the world’s) depend on the skill or the luck or the longevity of the present German government.

Perhaps the best outcome would be to learn from Bahr quite frankly what Brandt intends to do in each of the likely contingencies, mainly because of the President’s trip to Moscow. We need to know if Brandt intends anything dramatic if he gets into further difficulties.

Apart from the treaty issue, you will presumably want to have Bahr’s observations about the Soviet leaders. He is an astute observer who has of course seen a great deal of them in recent years.16

Caution. You are probably not fully informed about the complex minuet that is being danced on CSCE/MBFR, although we have a book on it for you for next Wednesday’s SRG.17 To avoid confusion and crossed wires with State, I think you may want to keep any comments on a very general plane. Let him talk.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 686, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Bonn), Vol. XI. Secret. Sent for action. The memorandum was pouched to Kissinger, who was on vacation in Acapulco, Mexico. According to another copy, Livingston drafted and Kissinger noted the memorandum. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 270, Memoranda of Conversations, 1968–77, Chronological File)
  2. In a special channel message to Kissinger on January 26, Bahr requested a meeting sometime in March to discuss “our ideas” for Ostpolitik. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 60, Country Files, Europe, Egon Bahr, Berlin File [1 of 3]) Kissinger replied on February 8: “You would be very welcome in March or whenever it suits your schedule. It is important for us to talk.” (Ibid.) On March 1 Bahr reminded Kissinger by special channel that he had “no cover for the trip.” In order to avoid political trouble in Bonn, Bahr suggested that Kissinger formally request the meeting through Pauls in Washington; Kissinger could then argue that he needed to see Bahr before the Moscow summit, since “there are not many people in the West who know Brezhnev as well, except the Chancellor, who is difficult to ‘summon’.” (Ibid.) In a special channel message on March 16, Kissinger offered an appointment on March 28; Pauls accepted the “invitation” on Bahr’s behalf one week beforehand. (Ibid.)
  3. In the attached March 8 intelligence memorandum, entitled “Moment of Truth for West Germany’s Ostpolitik,” the CIA concluded: “At this point in time, the treaties seem likely to be ratified—albeit by a very small margin—and a court battle is far from certain. The odds, then, are that Brandt will pass the first important domestic test of his Ostpolitik, and he will be able to look with confidence to the 1973 elections.”
  4. Not printed. The article, “Bahrs inneres Geländer: Gespräch mit dem Staatssekretär im Kanzleramt” by Jürgen Engert, was published on March 17.
  5. The article, which appeared under the name “Spectator,” was published on February 20. For a German translation, see Meissner, ed., Moskau-Bonn, Vol. 2, pp. 1431–1432.
  6. Brandt revealed that the Soviet Union was prepared to negotiate a trade agreement, with language that would apply in principle to West Berlin, during his presentation to the Bundestag foreign affairs committee on March 16. (See footnote 7 below.) After less than one week of formal negotiation, the Soviet Union and West Germany initialed a Treaty on Trade and Cooperation in Moscow on April 7. For text of the agreement, which was signed in Bonn on July 5, see Meissner, ed., Moskau–Bonn, Vol. 2, pp. 1559–1561.
  7. Brandt appeared before the Bundestag foreign affairs committee on March 16 to address concerns raised by Barzel and other opposition leaders during the parliamentary debate. During his presentation, Brandt gave an account of Soviet concessions based largely on a meeting 3 days earlier with Falin; according to Brandt, Falin also predicted “a serious crisis of confidence, as well as the failure of the Berlin agreement, should the treaties not be ratified.” (Telegram 3822 from Bonn, March 17; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GER W–USSR) For his memoir account of the meeting with Brandt, see Falin, Politisches Erinnerungen, p. 190. For an English translation of the “Letter on German Unity,” which Scheel had delivered to the Soviet Foreign Ministry on August 12, 1970, see Documents on Germany, 1944–1985, p. 1105.
  8. Brezhnev made these remarks in an important speech at the 15th Congress of Soviet Trade Unions in Moscow on March 20. In his attempt to support the government in Bonn, Brezhnev also attacked the opposition for refusing to recognize such political realities as the inviolability of postwar borders in Europe. “The F.R.G. now faces a crucial choice,” he declared, “one that will determine the destiny of its people and the attitudes of other states toward the F.R.G. for many years to come. This is a choice between cooperation and confrontation, between détente and the aggravation of tensions, and in the final analysis it is a choice between a policy of peace and a policy of war.” (The Current Digest of the Soviet Press, April 19, 1972, Vol. XXIV, No. 12, pp. 1–9)
  9. See footnote 5, Document 338.
  10. Honecker discussed the prospects for “peaceful coexistence” with West Germany in an address at Leipzig on March 10. For text of the speech, see Texte zur Deutschlandpolitik, Vol. 10, pp. 393–397.
  11. The East German Government announced the temporary relaxation of travel restrictions for Berlin on March 14. For text of the announcement, see ibid., pp. 398–400.
  12. Bahr made these points in a March 21 briefing of Cash, Sauvagnargues, and Jackling on his talks with Kohl. The Embassy forwarded an account of the discussion in telegram 4019 from Bonn, March 22. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GER E–GER W)
  13. Attached at Tab C but not printed is an intelligence information cable dated March 23.
  14. See Document 342.
  15. See Documents 335 and 336.
  16. In a March 24 follow-up note to Haig, Sonnenfeldt reported on “a little problem with the serpent.” “As was to be expected,” he explained, “the German press has the story of his [Bahr‘s] trip and has asked State for confirmation.” Sonnenfeldt noted that he had called Kissinger, who was on vacation at Acapulco, to discuss the issue; the two men agreed that “if the pressure for comment built up there should be a very lowkey line that Bahr is coming to talk about European developments in the context of our preparations for the summit.” “A more serious problem,” he continued, “which I did not discuss with Henry, is that Rogers does not know about the trip. As you know he just sent the President a memo [see footnote 1, Document 342] saying that we should have no Germans come at present. The State man has no access to Rogers (who is away anyhow) and Hillenbrand is in Brussels. But I think before this thing blows in our press you ought to say something to Rogers. I think you can tell him the truth (Bahr’s initiative, talk about Brezhnev) and add that since he was so pressing HAK decided to do it now rather than closer to the German vote; it was only recently arranged and you were going to mention it after Rogers’ return Monday.” “I gather Bahr will also see Rush,” Sonnenfeldt added, “(but this is grapevine and I have made no checks).” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 60, Country Files, Europe, Egon Bahr, Berlin File [1 of 3])
  17. Reference is to Kissinger’s briefing book for the meeting of the Senior Review Group on March 29. (National Security Council, Secretariat Files, SRG Meeting Files, European Security Conference & MBFR, 3–29–72) For a brief excerpt from the minutes of the meeting, see footnote 2, Document 348.