54. Editorial Note

On February 10, 1970, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Kozyrev met Ambassador Beam in Moscow to deliver the Soviet response to the Western proposal of December 16 for talks on Berlin. (Telegram 715 from Moscow, February 10; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 28 GER B) The text of the Soviet aide-mémoire, February 10, reads:

“The Government of the USSR has acquainted itself with the United States Government aide-mémoire, which was the answer to its (Soviet) statement of September 12, 1969. It confirms the readiness expressed in this statement for an exchange of views for the purpose of improving the situation in West Berlin and of eliminating frictions in this region. The Soviet Government is also guided by the fact that it is [Page 147] necessary to approach this question in the context of the tasks of normalizing the situation and of ensuring security in Europe.

“Bearing in mind the purpose of the exchange of opinions, as it is formulated by the parties, the Soviet Government considers it important, first of all, to reach agreement on excluding activity incompatible with the international situation of West Berlin, which was and remains a source of tension existing here. In the conditions of the continuing occupation of West Berlin and the absence of other joint settlements, only the Potsdam and other quadripartite agreements and decisions can be the basis in principle during an examination, in particular, of practical questions regarding this city. It is self-evident, moreover, that questions of the communications of West Berlin and of access to it cannot be settled in isolation from the legitimate interests and sovereign rights of the German Democratic Republic within which West Berlin is situated and whose lines of communications it uses for its external ties.

“Corresponding to the subject of an exchange of views, the Soviet Government would agree that meetings of the representatives of the Four Powers should take place in West Berlin in the former Control Council Building. It appoints as its representative for conducting negotiations P.A. Abrasimov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, who will be ready to enter into contact with the U.S. Representative empowered to do so, beginning in the second half of February 1970. Organizational and technical questions could be clarified through the usual channels.” (Attached to memorandum from Richardson to Nixon, February 13; ibid., POL 38–6)

In a February 13 memorandum to the President, Acting Secretary of State Richardson discussed the Soviet proposal. Although it failed to specify Soviet concessions, Richardson maintained that the Soviet aide-mémoire was worded in such a way to “leave open a hope of reasonable talks.” The price for an agreement, in any event, would be paid by West Germany through the reduction of its political presence in West Berlin. “If Bonn remains willing to make such concessions of its own accord, without pressure from the Three Western Powers,” Richardson reasoned, “we may be able to lessen the likelihood of new Berlin crises in the coming months and years, while bringing modest improvements in the living conditions of the West Berliners. The status of Berlin and our commitment to the security of the Western sectors would not be altered.” He concluded, therefore, that the United States should accept the Soviet proposal: “It seems to me that while the prospects for major progress are limited, so, too, are the risks. If we refused to talk we would be vulnerable to criticism as overly negative or overly timid. The British, French and Germans are all certain to favor the talks.” (Ibid.)

In a February 16 memorandum to Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt analyzed Richardson’s memorandum: “The memorandum does not deal fully [Page 148] with what we are prepared to offer the Soviets in exchange for their concessions,” he argued; “there is no assessment of the consequences of failure (except for noting that the risks are ‘limited’), and no clear definition of our objectives. In short, there is no indication in the memorandum that the US Government has developed fully a negotiating stance including fallback positions.” Sonnenfeldt was especially critical of the Department of State:

“I am very concerned that State will continue to make Berlin policy and negotiating positions on the run, in the Bonn Group, without first having a US Government position. We face two sets of negotiation: the first with the UK, FRG and French, and the second with the Soviets. State has given no evidence of being prepared for either. If we do not exercise some control at this stage, we will be faced soon with another battle of the cables. These negotiations are too important (in appearance if not in substance) for us to engage the Soviets until our positions are fully thought out and prepared.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 690, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Berlin), Vol. II)

Kissinger reacted to the suggestion that he exercise more control over the policy process with the handwritten remark: “Damn it—Hal [this] is same problem as before. If Berlin isn’t an NSC issue, what is? Shouldn’t this go to NSC? Please let me know soonest.” (Ibid.) In a note returning the memorandum on February 16, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Kissinger’s senior military assistant, commented: “Hal this is becoming a problem. See HAK’s questions need to be answered. What HAK seems to want is NSSM for Pres. to approve.” (Ibid., Box 683, Country Files, Europe, Germany, Vol. IV)

On February 17 Sonnenfeldt addressed these questions in a memorandum to Kissinger. Sonnenfeldt recalled that Kissinger had informed the Secretary of State on November 19 that, upon receipt of the Soviet reply to the Western proposal of December 16, the President would determine whether to proceed further with negotiations on Berlin. “There is thus,” Sonnenfeldt concluded, “a basis for putting this subject into the NSC.” An attempt to void the negotiations was not a “viable alternative”; neither was an effort to avoid consideration of the issues. “If we are to consider in the NSC the negotiating position which would be discussed with the Allies,” he continued, “we would have to have a meeting very quickly.” Sonnenfeldt, therefore, suggested a scenario for an expedited review on Berlin, including discussion of the issues by the NSC and a formal determination by the President. “I am afraid that unless something like the above is done promptly,” he warned, “you will have a battle on your hands with State.” (Ibid.)

Before he could secure a decision, Sonnenfeldt sent an urgent note to Kissinger and Haig: “Since I completed the attached new Berlin package a telegram has come in from Bonn containing a British draft of an [Page 149] Allied response to the last Soviet note.” According to Sonnenfeldt, the British draft was “better than the one State proposed, provided we want to proceed with the talks.” As there was “no alternative” to negotiation, Sonnenfeldt suggested that Kissinger accept the British draft and concentrate instead on securing the President’s approval for a substantive negotiating position. (Ibid.) In a February 17 memorandum to Kissinger, Haig supported this recommendation. “I believe that you made the correct decision in not trying to inject this issue into the NSC at this point in time,” Haig noted. “It has picked up so much momentum in a multilateral sense that we would be open to charges of foot dragging and obstructionism.” He proposed, therefore, that Sonnenfeldt draft a memorandum informing but not “bothering” the President with the burden of decision. Haig also recommended that Kissinger sign a memorandum to Richardson, requiring submission of a “detailed game plan” as soon as possible. (Ibid., Box 690, Country Files, Europe, Germany (Berlin), Vol. II) Haig later instructed Sonnenfeldt to proceed on this basis; he also noted that Kissinger had approved the British draft. (Memorandum from Haig to Sonnenfeldt, February 17; ibid., Box 683, Country Files, Europe, Germany, Vol. IV) The text of the British draft is in telegram 1750 from Bonn, February 17; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 28 GER B.

On February 18 Sonnenfeldt gave Kissinger a draft memorandum informing the President of decisions made on his behalf (see Document 58). The same day, Kissinger also signed the following memorandum to Richardson:

“With respect to your memorandum of February 13, the President agrees that preparations should proceed for quadripartite talks in Berlin. The talks should be considered exploratory in nature and efforts should be made to ensure that false expectations are not created.

“The President would like an opportunity to review as soon as possible the full US position on the talks. This should contain our objectives, negotiating tactics including fallback positions and concessions, and an assessment of the consequences of various outcomes including failure. In view of the nature of the subject, the President would like this work to be done by a small interdepartmental group to include participation by the NSC staff.

“The President would also like an opportunity to review the Allied negotiating position in the light of consultations among the British, French, and West Germans.” (National Archives, RG 59, EUR/CE Files: Lot 80 D 225, Background on Negotiations with Soviets on Berlin)

On February 19 the Department authorized the Embassy in Bonn to coordinate the final text of the Western aide-mémoire on the basis of the British draft. (Telegram 25315 to Bonn, February 19; ibid., Central Files 1970–73, POL 28 GER B) After 1 week of consultation in Bonn, Beam met Kozyrev in Moscow on February 27 to deliver the U.S. [Page 150] response to the Soviet proposal on Berlin. (Telegram 991 from Moscow, February 27; ibid.) The text of the aide-mémoire, largely following the language of the British draft, reads:

“The United States Government, together with the British and French Governments welcomes the agreement of the Soviet Government in its aide-mémoire dated February 10, 1970 to the holding of discussions between representatives of the four powers in Berlin as proposed in the aide-mémoire of the three governments of December 16, 1969.

“In response to the proposals in the third paragraph of the Soviet aide-mémoire, the three governments can agree to the opening of four power discussions by their respective Ambassadors in the building formerly used by the Allied Control Council, subject to review of the level and place as the discussions develop. The exact date for the start of discussions can be settled between their respective protocol officers in Berlin. This agreement is without prejudice to the position of the three governments on the content of the discussions, which they regard as being based on the responsibilities of the four powers for Berlin and Germany as a whole.

“The United States Government will be represented by Ambassador Kenneth Rush.” (Telegram 2127 from Bonn, February 26; ibid.)