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John Foster Dulles on the Possibility of Negotiations with the GDR (November 26, 1958)

In light of the most recent Berlin crisis, which had been brought about by the Soviet ultimatum demanding that the Western powers withdraw from Berlin, American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles made it clear to journalists that the United States would never agree to a transfer of Soviet rights in Berlin to the government of the GDR and that it would not recognize the GDR as a state. At the same time, however, Dulles’ restrained reaction already pointed to the line the Western powers would take in negotiations in the coming months. The Western powers did not respond to Soviet demands. At the same time, however, they also downplayed the uncompromising nature of the demands, thereby allowing Khrushchev to make a diplomatic retreat without losing face.

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Remarks at News Conference by Secretary of State Dulles, on Berlin, November 26, 1958

[ . . . ]

Q. Mr. Secretary, what is the position of the United States and the other powers on the question of dealing with any East German official who might be in a position previously held by a Soviet official?

A. The position of the United States, and I think I can fairly say of the United Kingdom and of France, is that there is an obligation, an explicit obligation, on the part of the Soviet Union to assure to the United States, and to the other Allied powers, and, indeed, to the world generally, normal access to and egress from Berlin.

And that is the responsibility of the Soviet Union. It was expressed explicitly at the time of the Council of Foreign Ministers Meeting held in Paris in June of 1949, following, you will recall, the end of the Berlin blockade and the consequent airlift. At that time the Four Powers exchanged what were formally called "obligations" to assure these rights.

We do not accept the view that the Soviet Union can disengage itself from that responsibility. And, indeed, that responsibility was in essence reaffirmed at the time of the Summit Meeting of July, 1955, when the Four Powers recognized their "responsibility" for the German question.

That phrase "the German question" has always been held to include the question of Berlin. And so, again, you had a reaffirmation by the Soviet Union of its responsibility in the matter. We do not accept any substitute responsibility, in that situation, for that of the Soviet Union.

Q. Mr. Secretary, what if, despite this responsibility, the Soviets go ahead and turn over to the East German authorities the check points on the Autobahn and control to the land, sea, and air routes? Now the question would arise: would we deal with the East German officials who would man the check points, for example, even as—

A. Well, we would certainly not deal with them in any way which involved our acceptance of the East German Regime as a substitute for the Soviet Union in discharging the obligation of the Soviet Union and the responsibility of the Soviet Union.

Q. Does that mean that we might deal with them as agents of the Soviet Union?

A. We might, yes. There are certain respects now in which minor functionaries of the so-called GDR are being dealt with by both the Western Powers, the three allied powers, and also by the Federal Republic of Germany.

It all depends upon the details of just how they act and how they function. You can't exclude that to a minor degree because it is going on at the present time and has been. On the other hand, if the character of the activity is such as to indicate that to accept this would involve acceptance of a substitution of the GDR for the present obligation and responsibility of the Soviet Union, then that, I take it, we would not do.

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