Germany's Unlikely Diplomatic Triumph An Inside Look at the Reunification Negotiations


Part 6: The Birth of Two Plus Four

In the winter of 1990, at any rate, the Soviets lacked a strategy in the struggle over Germany. Genscher, for his part, took advantage of the resulting vacuum. The most important questions were still unanswered: Who should be allowed to take part in the final decisions over unity? Who is to decide on the borders of a unified Germany, on NATO membership, and on the question of whether and when the country will be a sovereign nation?

There were two options. One was to hold a peace conference involving all 53 nations that were involved in World War II when it ended in 1945, which meant including countries like Uruguay, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. It would have been a nightmare for the Germans, because many participants could be expected to demand reparations, resulting in an extremely costly and lengthy process. Fortunately, the Allies did not welcome the idea, because their power would have been watered down by the size of such a group.

The second option was to hold a Four Powers conference with the Germans as junior partners. A similar summit had already taken place in 1955. But this option was also problematic. Genscher, noting that "every nation has its dignity," threatened that he, as German foreign minister, would "not attend such a conference."

Instead, Genscher turned the formula around. Instead of a conference involving four victorious powers and two defeated countries, he proposed a summit that would place Bonn and East Berlin on equal footing with the four victorious powers of World War II. "Time is of the essence," he said, "because the circle of those who wish to have a say in the matter is constantly growing."

Trouble from the Allies

As luck would have it, a major East-West conference was about to begin, and all 23 foreign ministers of NATO and the Warsaw Pact flew to the Canadian capital Ottawa to attend.

Genscher invited his Western counterparts to a breakfast at the German embassy, which was covered in a deep blanket of snow. They soon agreed to promptly begin negotiations as part of a group of six, with each participant being on equal footing.

Genscher and Baker took it upon themselves to convince Shevardnadze. The native Georgian was exhausted and "not terribly excited about the fact that we were applying pressure at that point; everything was moving too quickly for him," as Frank Elbe, Genscher's former chief of staff, recalls. Shevardnadze was constantly on the phone with Moscow, even in the presence of the Germans, which didn't do them any good, because no one in the German delegation spoke Russian. In the end, Shevardnadze agreed to the plan, probably because he assumed that the negotiations would drag on for years. He had no idea that Genscher was determined to bring about unification by the fall of 1990.

The foreign ministers of the two-plus-four countries, including Modrow's East German envoy, appeared before the press for a group photo.

Immediately, Elbe received a call from an American colleague asking that Genscher come to a meeting immediately. There was trouble in the group of NATO representatives known as the NATO Caucus. After attending the conference in good faith, many NATO members had just now discovered that two-plus-four negotiations were being arranged behind their backs. They were beside themselves, beginning with the then Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek, together with the Italians, the Belgians and the Luxembourgers.

Genscher Gets Tough

Their anger was understandable. The NATO region, which the alliance members were committed to defend, would likely be enlarged as a result of reunification, but no one had asked for their opinions. The Spaniards later went so far as to claim that the approval of the other NATO members was needed to expand NATO territory. They all knew that a united Germany would deprive them of some of their significance.

Italy's Gianni De Michelis, a corpulent Venetian who would later be convicted of corruption, complained that "the security of Germany and Europe is at stake, and these are questions that must be addressed within the alliance." According to the documents, De Michelis even claimed that Italy's security would be affected -- as if an invasion by German troops across the Alps were imminent.

The greatest threat came from the effort of Dutch Foreign Minister van den Broek, who would have preferred to renegotiate the two-plus-four agreement to give The Hague a seat at the table.

Genscher arrived at the Caucus meeting just in time. When De Michelis began speaking again, the German foreign minister set him straight, telling him verbatim: "You are not part of the game." "It was the only time I have ever since Genscher openly attack someone," Elbe says today.

Was Genscher a Red?

But Genscher's words apparently achieved their desired effect. Opposition to the two-plus-four agreement subsided after that NATO Caucus meeting.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Baker was deeply concerned about the future. If the question as to who should be included in the negotiations had caused such turmoil, what would happen when truly important issues were broached?

Baker wanted to discuss his concerns with Genscher, but could the German foreign minister be trusted? A rumor was circulating that Genscher, a member of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), was a man of the East, that he had connections to the KGB and the Stasi. Conservative US politicians and diplomats had started the rumor and some members of Germany's CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), were playing along. According to one of his close associates, even Kohl had his suspicions about Genscher.

The US intelligence agencies had long had their eye on Genscher, who had fled to the West in 1952, because he continued to make trips to his native Halle, a city in south-central East Germany, even though he had once served as interior minister and was thus in charge of West Germany's domestic intelligence agency. A senior US intelligence official argued that their suspicions were justified by the fact that Genscher was the only interior minister from the West who had traveled to the East on a regular basis. This only heightened some Americans' suspicions of Genscher's meetings with Shevardnadze in the spring of 1990, some of which lasted for hours, once in March, twice in May and four times in June.

Teltschik says that he repeatedly requested minutes of the meetings, but that Genscher's staff had informed him that he would brief Kohl directly, which, according to Teltschik, never occurred to a satisfactory extent. Genscher's former chief of staff, Elbe, laughs when asked about Teltschik's claims, saying that of course he hadn't shared the minutes with Teltschik.

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