275. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Secretary Schlesinger
- Minister Leber
- Lt. General Walters
- Dr. Freudenstein
1. For the first few minutes Dr. Freudenstein was not present. Secretary Schlesinger told Minister Leber that we felt he had behaved very well during the recent crisis. We were grateful and anxious to do everything we could to strengthen his position in Germany and within the German government, without however giving him the “kiss of death”, [Typeset Page 854] to use him as the main channel of our communication and to do what we could to make sure that no decisions were taken within the German Government behind his back. Minister Leber expressed his gratitude for this, said his position with the German Government was strong, that he had the complete backing of the Chancellor and that really no decisions had been taken behind his back. He was very grateful for the Secretary’s interest.
2. At this point Dr. Freudenstein joined the group and Minister Leber said that there had been a number of misunderstandings, the first of which was to get the German Foreign Ministry involved in this matter at all that is, the resupply of ammunition from Germany to Israel. The matter should have been handled directly between the U.S. Army Germany and the German Armed Forces. Minister Leber had seen General Davidson and had had no indication of any difficulty arising. Subsequently a German officer had told him he had the impression that there was some difficulty arising on this matter. At this point he had discovered the U.S. had declared a general alert and had so informed the Chancellor. The Chancellor had told him that he had been informed of this by the German Press Agency two hours earlier. Minister Leber had then talked to Ambassador Hillenbrand who had confirmed this. (There was an unspoken feeling on Leber’s part he felt he should have been told both by the U.S. and the Chancellor rather than learn this from the newspaper.) There had also been a regrettable statement by the German Foreign Ministry who he repeated should never have been involved in this matter in the first place. It was too bad in a sense that the ammunition could not have been shipped out either in German or American ships rather than have Israeli ships pick up the supplies. When this had leaked out it had caused some embarrassment. Secretary Schlesinger said that immediately on leaving the White House and returning to the Pentagon he had notified General Steinhoff and NATO. It had been perhaps unrealistic to expect Steinhoff would notify everyone due to the distance and problems of communication. This would not happen again should such a situation arise in the future. Minister Leber said perhaps one should not expect Steinhoff to make the communication and it would be better if the communication was directed to him, and Secretary Schlesinger agreed. The Secretary then said that problems had arisen from the handling of the matter from the German Foreign Office statement and from indiscreet remarks by a Defense Ministry spokesman. Defense-wise there had been an improvement in the situation in the U.S. Congress since the out break of the Middle East war. Some 70 Senators were strongly pro-Israel but not necessarily for NATO. The defection of some conservative Southern democratic Senators had required replacement by moderate and liberal members and there had been some carping at NATO. The Dutch had been steadfast and has resisted black mail but there was some dissatis[Typeset Page 855]faction in the Congress with the attitude of some of the major partners. Minister Leber had replied that in so far as the German Foreign Office statement was concerned the Secretary should remember that Germany was governed by a coalition. As far as the “indiscreet” remarks by a Defense Ministry spokesman he had carefully examined the transcript. The spokesman spoke excellent English and he, Minister Leber, would put his hand in the fire that the spokesman had not made the remarks attributed to him in the UPI story which was sensationalized.
3. The Secretary then said the U.S. kept in Germany the equipment for two and one-half Divisions prepositioned and that it was vital to them that they have access to this and be able to use it in case of need. He felt there should be some understanding between him and Minister Leber on this otherwise the U.S. would have to examine its readiness position. Minister Leber said he was quite aware of this and it was perfectly agreeable to him and he would attempt to obtain full power in the German Cabinet to deal with such matters. Up to now the Germans did not have any idea how large these equipment holdings were in Germany and during the recent crisis a number of his colleagues had asked him whether the U.S. withdrawals meant a weakening of the U.S. defense posture in Europe. He had covered this up by replying it did not even though he did not know what was actually being moved. He had felt throughout that he had the strong knowledge and support of the Chancellor. The Secretary then said that there were those who believed there was a crack in the NATO alliance and many in the U.S. were suspicious that the Finlandization of Germany might be well advanced and many in the U.S. had suspicions concerning the attitude of men like Egon Bahr and Herbert Wehner. It was true of course that nothing had been asked of a number [member] of the NATO alliance. Minister Leber replied that he was well informed on what went on inside the German Government, he could assure the Secretary that there was no question of the Finlandization of Germany, all members of the Government understood that the existence of their country was tied to close relations and alliance with the U.S. There was a wide spread feeling something should be done to try and diminish the tensions of the last 25 years but that no one, and that included Egon Bahr and Herbert Wehner, believed in the Finlandization of Germany.
4. Secretary Schlesinger then said that in regard to what Minister Leber said about the remarks attributed to the spokesman of the German Defense Ministry he had had a similar experience himself. On talking to the press before leaving Andrews Air Force Base he had expressed general agreement with Germany and the need for the alliance not to engage in recriminations. One of the newspapermen had asked whether this meant that he fully agreed with the German position on arms deliveries. The Secretary had indicated there were still one or two [Typeset Page 856] matters which should be discussed and this had been promptly sensationalized in the press as a deep controversy between Germany and the U.S.; what was important was to avoid recriminations. Minister Leber agreed with this and said that in his view the important thing was to arrange good communications between them so that this type of situation could not develop in the future. Rather than engage in pointless recriminations Secretary Schlesinger would understand the importance of Germany with maintaining good relations with France and Europe. The Secretary said he did understand this but he felt it was important that in the present crisis solidarity should be shown with the Dutch who had resisted black mail and if they were not shown between European partners it could create a crack in the alliance. Minister Leber felt that this was so and required us to maintain closer communication than before and consult on methods of resisting black mail. He looked forward to the occasion of future talks with the Secretary before the end of the current meetings.
Summary: Schlesinger and Leber discussed U.S.–FRG relations and the October 1973 Middle East war.
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 232, Agency Files, Defense May 73–Dec 1973, Vol. #20 (1of 2). Secret; Eyes Only. The meeting took place in the Promenade Hotel. Kissinger initialed the memorandum.↩