48. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Dobrynin’s Démarche on Berlin

Dobrynin came to see me on January 20 to protest the convening in Berlin, later this month, of committees of the West German parliament [Page 134] (Bundestag).2 The Germans have done this periodically to demonstrate their continued role in the city. The Soviets have protested to the Germans and the Allies for several years and on several occasions staged harassments on the Autobahn and with low-flying aircraft. An official Soviet protest was delivered in Bonn some days ago.

Dobrynin’s statement to me (text at Tab A) is perhaps the most toughly worded one to us since the Administration came in. Although it falls well short of threatening specific counteractions, it seeks to put on us the onus for any renewed tensions the Soviets and/or East Germans may generate. The Soviets may in fact feel that their prestige is sufficiently challenged to make some move, though even with Ulbricht straining at the leash, it is not likely such such a move would be a major one.

The démarche also seeks to make some capital of the fact that in previous contacts, and especially in your correspondence with Kosygin last spring, we proposed and they agreed to quiet bilateral exchanges of view on Berlin. We decided at the time not to follow up because there appeared to be nothing worth talking about and because the German election was impending. The matter was then overtaken by the joint Western proposal to open talks last summer which is still in play.

There can be little doubt that if Berlin negotiations should eventuate the Soviets will insist on a curbing of FRG activities in the city as part of any deal. The FRG will also have to face this issue in its own bilateral dealings with the Soviets and the GDR; this is already clear from the initial exchanges. You will recall that last year at the time of the Bundesversammlung the Germans were prepared to consider some sort of deal in this area if it involved some improvement in civilian access and in movement through the Wall. The subject may well prove [Page 135] controversial in German domestic politics and for this reason we should not permit the Soviets to pressure us into active involvement in it.

If you approve, I would propose to make a response to Dobrynin when I see him in some other connection along the following lines:

You have noted the Soviet statement on Berlin.
You cannot agree that the German actions referred to contradict past US-Soviet exchanges regarding Berlin.
We have no desire to have any tension over Berlin and hope this is also true of the Soviets since any crisis in that area would have an adverse effect on our relations.
We continue to be prepared to seek genuine improvements in the situation in Berlin and for this reason have joined with our Allies in proposing talks on the subject.


That you approve my making the above four points to Dobrynin at some suitable occasion when I am seeing him for other reasons.3

Tab A

Note From the Soviet Ambassador (Dobrynin)

The authorities of the FRG have officially announced their intention to hold sessions of the Bundestag committees as well as meetings of the factions and other parliamentary organs of the Federal Republic in West Berlin in the next few weeks. Moreover provocative nature of such a venture not only is unconcealed but rather is openly displayed— an attempt again to use West Berlin to aggravate international situation.

The Soviet Government has drawn the attention of the Government of the FRG to serious consequences which this course of action by Bonn in West Berlin affairs may have. The question of West Berlin has also been touched upon in the recent conversations of the USSR Ambassador in the GDR with the US Ambassador in the FRG and, therefore, the American side must be aware of our views on this matter.

The state of West Berlin affairs was already discussed in my conversations with you, Mr. Kissinger, in February and March last year. At that time it was noted on the American side that it was necessary to avoid repeating what had occurred around West Berlin in connection with holding presidential elections there. It was also noted that events there should not make Soviet-American relations feverish and that third countries should not be allowed to make crises in West Berlin [Page 136] from time to time. This viewpoint has been taken into account by us in our final consideration of practical steps to be taken with regard to West German provocations.

On the basis of the known facts we cannot come to the conclusion that the American side has reciprocated. Without getting now into the matter of Soviet-American exchange of views on the West Berlin question which for reasons, better known to you, Mr. Kissinger, did not materialize, we cannot but point out, however, the obvious discrepancy between the political evaluations and practical measures by the US Administration, in the question of West Berlin as well.

The line of the FRG in West Berlin matters has been and continues to be incompatible with the status of West Berlin. The special status of West Berlin as an entity existing separately from the Federal Republic and not subject to its jurisdiction is an objective fact which has found its reflection in US official documents as well. This is the only ground for mutual understanding between our powers in this matter.

The Soviet Government does not accept arguments to the effect that this sort of demonstration on the part of the FRG took place in West Berlin in the past. Violation of law does not make new law. Repetition of violations may only have as its consequence taking of more serious measures which will show that West Berlin is not the right place at all for stirring up tension in Europe notwithstanding the attitude of other countries towards the FRG actions in West Berlin.

You, Mr. Kissinger, have suggested to openly exchange considerations on questions where the interests of the US and the USSR closely ajoin. We would like to express today a wish that the US Government give anew a thorough thought to the situation developing around West Berlin.

Clearly, there can be no two views about the fact that the actions by the FRG authorities are far from contributing to a better climate for exchange of opinion on West Berlin. The motives of actions by certain circles in Bonn are obvious. But what is the guiding criteria of the Governments of the Western powers who bear their share of responsibility for West Berlin and who show indulgence towards the unlawful policy of the FRG? In any case the Soviet Government cannot but take into consideration all those circumstances and draw from them appropriate conclusions about the positions of the parties.

I have instructions to convey these considerations to the attention of the President and to express our hope that the American leadership share the concern of the Soviet Government over the continuing attempts by some circles to make Soviet-American interests clash, in such an acute point as West Berlin as well. Failure to take measures to cut short such attempts would amount to contradicting the special obligations for maintaining peace and security which rest on the USSR and the US.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 711, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. VI. Secret; Nodis; Sensitive. Sent for action. Although no drafting information appears on the memorandum, much of the text also appears in an attached January 21 memorandum from Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger.
  2. The two men met at Dobrynin’s request to discuss “an urgent set of matters.” A memorandum records the conversation on Berlin as follows: “Dobrynin then turned the conversation to West Berlin and handed me some talking points about the situation in West Berlin which he considered extremely grave and provocative. The note itself was very tough (it is attached to a separate memorandum). I told Dobrynin that any unilateral action in or around Berlin would have the gravest consequences. I would study the talking points and if I had any reply to give, I would make it. However, I saw no sense in our discussing Europe if there were even the prospect of a unilateral Soviet action in Berlin. Dobrynin said that the Soviet Union did not make much fuss last year when the German President was elected in Berlin, but now, in effect, the whole German Parliament was meeting in Berlin again in the guise of various committees, and this could not continue. Dobrynin parted with the understanding that he would call me when he was ready to discuss European matters.” (Ibid.) For the full text of the memorandum of conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XII, Document 118. In a January 22 memorandum to Rogers, Kissinger reported that he had listened to “Dobrynin’s Démarche” but “made no comment.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 28 GER B) In his published account of the meeting, Kissinger remarked: “Significantly, the note was passed in the Presidential Channel where it would receive no publicity; Moscow, obviously, did not want a crisis in Central Europe.” (White House Years, p. 524)
  3. The President initialed the approve option.