(COLD WAR: the KENNEDY YEARS – continued)

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COLD WAR: 1961-63 (2 of 7)

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Vienna Summit Conference, June 1961

Entering the year 1961, Berlin was still divided. A third of it had been the Soviet Zone and was now a part of East Germany, otherwise known as the German Democratic, a Soviet invention in 1949. Republic. zones. The rest of Berlin was a part of the Federal Republic of Germany, otherwise known as West Germany, also founded in 1949. West Germany was a member of the military alliance called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which the Russians saw as a product of evil intentions.

By treaty agreement dating back to Yalta in February 1945, US and other Western troops were free to patrol the Soviet zone in Berlin and Soviet troops were free to patrol the other zones in Berlin. Berlin was deep inside East German territory but the Soviets were supposed to provide free access from what was now West Germany to Berlin.

East Germany's local communist-in-charge, Walter Ulbricht, was concerned about a serious loss of manpower, especially young people and skilled manpower passing freely into West Berlin and beyond to West Germany. Ulbricht convinced the Soviet leader Khrushchev that the border had to be closed. Khrushchev wanted better relations with the West and he wanted to talk to Kennedy to get an agreement on the Berlin issue.

Kennedy and Khrushchev met in Vienna in early June, 1961, amid great fanfare and the parading of Jackie Kennedy and Nina Khrushchev in public, Jackie getting all the cheers. Meeting between the two men were planned as an informal exchange of views.

At the meeting, Kennedy labored under the conception that the Soviet Union was bent on fomenting revolution around the world – a view reinforced by Khrushchev's pledge in January to assist movements of national liberation. And Khrushchev argued that it was not Soviet policy to try to make revolution, holding to his view that he merely wanted to assist others who were themselves changing their society. Khrushchev argued about balance of power, about Laos and nuclear testing. Having discussed with Ulbricht to question of closing the border between east and west Berlin, Khrushchev stressed the importance of an agreement on Berlin.

The successful Berlin Airlift of 1948-49 was considered of little relevance as Khrushchev confronted Kennedy with a threat to sign a peace agreement with East Germany that would impinge on Western access to Berlin by turning over control of the access roads and air routes to the East Germans. Khrushchev said that the Soviet Union "would never, under any conditions, accept US rights in West Berlin" after it had signed a peace treaty with East Germany (Kempe, p. 247). Khrushchev resorted to what has been described as his usual bluster and threats. He told Kennedy that "force will be met by force," that it was for the United States to decide whether there will be war or peace and that his decision to sign a peace treaty with East Germany was irrevocable.

Kennedy is described as having been shocked by the threats. This was not the friendly problem solving that he had been looking forward to. Kennedy insisted not that the US have continued access to East Berlin but that the US and its allies continue to have access to West Berlin. And Kennedy was to be described as having conveyed US acquiescence to the permanent division of Berlin.

Khrushchev gave Kennedy an ultimatum, saying that the Soviet Union will sign the treaty by December 31 if the US refuses an interim agreement. To this, Kennedy replied, "Then, Mr. Chairman, there will be a war. It will be a cold, long winter."


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