4. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Memorandum by the Secretary of State Regarding Reply to Soviet Oral Protest on the Holding of the German Federal Assembly in Berlin

The attached memorandum from the Secretary2 recommends approval of the text of a reply by the US, UK and France to a recent Soviet oral protest against the holding of the Bundesversammlung (Federal Assembly) in Berlin on March 5.3 This body elects the President of the Federal Republic.

We consider Berlin, including all four sectors, as occupied territory. For the three Western sectors we view the three Western powers as protecting powers holding legal sovereignty. Bonn does not challenge this legal concept but also regards West Berlin as an organic part of the Federal Republic. To demonstrate this and to help maintain the city’s viability, the FRG, with the concurrence of the three Western allies, [Page 9]conducts certain governmental activities in West Berlin from time to time. Among these has been the holding of the Bundesversammlung three out of the four times that it has met since the founding of the FRG in 1949.

The Soviets take the position that West Berlin is not in any juridical sense a part of the FRG (although they have permitted the East German regime to make East Berlin its capital).4 After their abortive attempts beginning in 1958 to get us to agree to make West Berlin a “free city,” they now purport to view it as an autonomous political entity and they regularly protest and threaten retaliation against any FRG governmental activities in the city. In some instances they have in fact used such activities as pretexts for harassing actions. The Soviets would obviously like to use their theory that West Berlin is an autonomous entity to strangle the city. For this very reason we have backed the Germans in conducting various activities without at the same time conceding our overriding sovereign rights and responsibilities there.

There is a real possibility that the Soviets will use the March 5 meeting as a pretext for harassment; but we have to face the fact that given the city’s vulnerabilities, the Soviets can manufacture pretexts for harassment whenever they choose.

The Secretary’s Memorandum gives the reasons for our letting the Germans proceed with the meeting and I agree with them.5 I also agree with the text of the reply to the Soviet protest.

I believe, however, that there may be advantage to delaying the actual delivery of the reply to the Soviets until a time considerably closer to the date of the meeting in order to minimize the likelihood of further exchanges.6 The argument in favor of an early reply is that the FRG would like to get the new Administration on record promptly with [Page 10]the traditional American position so as not to raise false expectations in Moscow and East Berlin or unnecessary nervousness in West Berlin and the FRG.


That you accept the Secretary’s recommendation to approve the draft text of the reply to the Soviets.
That you ask the Secretary to instruct our representative on the US-UK-French group in Bonn (the body that is charged with dealing with this subject) to put to the group the suggestion that actual delivery be delayed for some three weeks to minimize the likelihood of a further exchange with the Soviets; but that if the Germans prefer early delivery we abide by their wish on this matter.7
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 681, Country Files, Europe, Germany, Vol. I. Confidential. Sent for action. According to another copy, Sonnenfeldt drafted the memorandum. (Ibid.) For Kissinger’s account of the decision-making process, see White House Years, p. 406.
  2. Dated January 22; attached but not printed. Another copy is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–2 GER W.
  3. For text of the Soviet oral statement, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XV, Document 301.
  4. The President underlined this parenthetical statement.
  5. In the memorandum, Rogers argued that failure to hold the Bundesversammlung in Berlin would undermine German confidence in the Allies, undercut the morale of the people in Berlin, and encourage the Soviet Union “to proceed further on the course of trying to sever the vital ties between the FRG and Berlin.”
  6. In a January 14 memorandum to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt maintained that, due to Soviet indecision on tactics, the Allies should delay their response: “we are on record as approving the meeting if the Germans want to hold it. Consequently we should avoid extensive argument with the Soviets before the meeting date and we should delay a rejection of the Soviet démarche until shortly before March 5. Since our response will presumably be the first policy statement to the Soviets on German issues by the new Administration we should use the occasion not only to rebut the specific Soviet complaint but to set forth a more general affirmation of the legitimacy of the FRG’s role in safeguarding West-Berlin’s viability and of the responsibility of the Western allies for ensuring that that role conforms to four power agreements as we interpret them.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 834, Name Files, Sonnenfeldt, Helmut)
  7. The President approved both recommendations. Eagleburger wrote an instruction for Moose on the memorandum: “As the message now stands, this is not cranked into the cable. It will take an additional [paragraph] (which H. Sonnenfeldt can do).” In a January 28 memorandum to Rogers, Kissinger wrote: “The President has approved the draft text of a reply from the Protective Powers to the oral Soviet protest. However, he wishes to have our representative on the Bonn Group instructed to suggest that actual delivery of the note be delayed for some three weeks to minimize the likelihood of further exchange with the Soviets. If the Germans have a strong preference for early delivery, we are prepared to abide by their wish on the matter.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–2 GER W) The text of the draft reply, as well as the instruction to delay delivery until the week of February 17, is in telegram 14966 to Bonn, January 30. (Ibid.)