July 27, 2017

1949. The Kremlin Calls for a Big Four Conference

Moscow Shows New Willingness to Lift the Berlin Blockade
Delegates greet each ahead of proceedings at the Big Four conference of foreign ministers in Paris on May 1, 1949. Maurice Coue de Murville is seated on the right; in the center John Foster Dulles and Dean Acheson are moving to be seated. Andrey Vyshinsky is seen nearby shaking hands with Robert Murphy (Photo by Gjon Mili for Life magazine - source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

April 26, 1949

Well, we finally have gotten the word from Moscow, but it comes as an anticlimax.

The Tass statement this morning that the Kremlin is willing to lift the blockade in exchange for a time and place for a foreign ministers' conference on Germany is being read with interest here. It represents a major compromise on the part of the Russians. When they clamped on the blockade ten months ago they did so because the Western powers introduced new currency here.

Until today the Kremlin has been saying that the prerequisite for lifting the blockade, particularly in Berlin, would be the withdrawal of the West mark. Now, according to Tass, the Soviet Union is willing to lift the blockade and discuss the currency question later.

However, the successful meeting yesterday in Frankfurt overshadows this conciliatory statement from Moscow, and it can be expected that the Western powers will be too busy aiding the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany to consider immediately the Russian proposal for a foreign ministers' conference. After a working West German state is created, then perhaps a diplomatic move will be made for four-power discussions of the German question.

General Clay says that the new West German constitution should be in shape for ratification by the middle of next month. It still is not certain how the German people will be given a chance to vote on it, whether by plebiscite or through their eleven state parliaments.

The people must then select their representatives to the new parliament, civil servants must be hired, a capital chosen, and official buildings obtained. Then the new government will be able to function. Whether all this can be done by June 15, as predicted by General Clay, remains to be seen.

The new Federal Republic of Germany will occupy a two hundred mile, crescent-shaped strip of land that stretches from Denmark and the North Sea southward to the border of Switzerland and Italy. It has some forty-five million people and contains the rich coal fields and industrial complex of the Ruhr valley. It has two excellent ports in Bremen and Hamburg.

But, most important of all, it will have a free, democratic government.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

April 27, 1949

The Berlin Blockade is ten months and one day old today, and the atmosphere of hopelessness and fear of war that has plagued this city during its economic siege is gradually being replaced by what is called "cautious optimism."

The rapid series of developments in Moscow and Washington pointing to a lifting of the blockade has left everyone here a little breathless, and a little skeptical. This skepticism is the byproduct of the on-again, off-again tactics of the Communists and is a natural reaction.

What people question here is the sincerity of the Russian offer to lift the blockade in exchange for a foreign ministers' conference. The most hopeful sign in Berlin is that the Communist press and radio is being extremely coy about the whole thing.

The Russian-licensed newspapers are looking the other way until they receive their directives. They print the bare facts of the Tass statement and our State Department's counter-proposals without comment. Only the headlines proclaim: "Agreements Still Possible"—"Will there be new talks on Germany?"

However, the blockaded Berlin press is again climbing on the rapprochement bandwagon.

Claiming to have special sources in the Soviet zone, these newspapers say that the Soviet military administration has ordered all technical preparations for the lifting of the blockade to be carried out immediately.

The German press service says that railroad officials in the Russian zone have been instructed to prepare the Berlin-Marienborn rail line into the British zone for resumption of traffic. The autobahn highway from Berlin to Helmstedt also is ready for use. The controversial bridge at Magdeburg, which was one of the technical difficulties referred to by the Russians when they slapped on the blockade, now is ready for use. The Berlin canals also are in order.

This latest Soviet approach is believed to be a counter-move to frustrate our sponsorship of the new West German state. General Clay and the State Department's chief adviser on Germany, Robert Murphy, both maintain that the Western powers will go ahead with their plans for the new government no matter what happens. They hope it will be set up by July 15.

However, the question now is whether the West German politicians will be at all anxious to proceed with the political division of Germany if the economic barrier is removed by a lifting of the blockade.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.