INT: Just to take you back to Berlin in 1961, could you just describe quite briefly how the situation with the tanks, the confrontation with the tanks was diffused and the way that back channel was used to do that?
RG: The... decision in Moscow to proceed with building a wall in Berlin in August 1961 was really the critical decision point, the watershed in resolving the Berlin crisis that had been begun in 1958, with the Soviet efforts to get the West to withdraw from West Berlin. The Soviet Union had settled, in effect, for meeting its most immediate problem, the... great... efflux of trained personnel from East Germany and so on, they did not succeed in dislodging the West from West Berlin, but at least by drawing this hard line with a wall and barrier, they were able to shore up their position in East Germany and in Eastern Europe and thereby meet their minimum needs. This was not quite that clear still in the summer and fall of 1961. There were still concerns about how hard the Soviet leadership would still press to get a Western retraction of position in West Berlin and there was also great concern over the repeated Soviet threats to turn over access to West Berlin to the East Germans. We continued to hold the Soviet Union responsible for our rights of access to West Berlin. In October of 1961, as happened on a number of other occasions, there began to be a sort of harassing increase of pressure by the East German guards on access. The American civilian deputy commandant of Berlin was denied entry to Berlin unless he would show his documents, which under the American interpretation, we would not show to East Germans. he was in civilian clothes, he was in an unofficial automobile, nonetheless, and they undoubtedly knew who he was, but he would not show the documents. So he came back an hour or two later, with a platoon of MPs and they sort of pushed their way in and he entered East Berlin and drove around a little while and came back out. Well this sort of thing continued over the next couple of days and began as such incidents sometimes do to sort of escalate on its own momentum. and there was concern on the American side that the Soviets would put up some physical barricades that would make it difficult or not possible to enter. All of these incidents were occurring at one of the check points along the dividing line, known as Checkpoint Charlie. So the United States brought up a couple tanks, with some bulldozing attachments on the front end, that would permit pushing aside the kind of hasty obstacles that might have been put up to prevent (inaudible) wheels or trucks from entering. The Soviets in turn brought up a few tanks of their own. We then brought in some more so that we had about thirty tanks. The Soviets, whose tank forces and so on were located actually outside of the city, but they brought a regiment of thirty two tanks in and brought their tanks up too. So we now had about thirty tanks on each side, with their guns unmuzzled and presumably loaded, in fact we now know they were loaded on both sides. and it looked as though a really dangerous confrontation was arising. In this situation after about a day of tension, the Soviet tanks suddenly withdrew and only about twenty minutes or so later, twenty to thirty minutes later, the American tanks withdrew. meanwhile the East Germans had gone back to the previous procedures about allowing American civilian officials to enter East Berlin and so on. The crisis really dissipated. From our standpoint we had faced them down, we had succeeded in the crisis. Khrushchev later remarked in his memoirs that he had taken the initiative in doing this, confident that the Americans would follow suit, as indeed they had. Well, that seemed to be indeed the case. But we're now learning many years later that the story was a good more complicated than that. It now turns out that President Kennedy had sent a message to Khrushchev through a new private channel that had been established only a month earlier for a back channel between the White House and Khrushchev, and that President Kennedy had asked Khrushchev to take the first move in pulling the tanks back and th
INT: If you could just tell me a little bit more about the back channel, about how the crisis had reached a moment of great tension and what Kennedy did?
RG: At the height of tension over this incident with tanks on the two sides facing one another, President Kennedy turned to a very recently established back channel which had been established at Soviet initiative as they tended sometimes to do, through the use of a nominal councillor for public affairs at the Soviet embassy in Washington, who was in fact a colonel in Soviet military intelligence,... Alexander Bolshokov. And this channel, which had been initiated a month earlier, Kennedy now used to communicate privately to Khrushchev his proposal that they diffuse the crisis if Khrushchev would make the first step in pulling the Soviet tanks back, then the American tanks would also be withdrawn. And indeed that's what occurred.