Primary Sources

Joint News Conference Following Discussions With Chancellor Helmut Kohl of the Federal Republic of Germany


On February 25, 1990, President George H. W. Bush and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met for meetings at Camp David. Their discussions included German unification, European integration, arms control, and the situation in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, as well as other foreign policy issues of joint concern. It is clear from the statements made by both Bush and Kohl that the unsettled issues regarding German unification were directly linked to a more complex diplomatic context dealing with issues of NATO's continued existence, the western borders of Poland, and how a united Germany would fit within the new context of an integrated Europe. Of special note here as well is Chancellor Kohl's reference to the speed with which the two German states were pursuing unification. Many scholars have noted that Kohl felt there was a closing "window of opportunity" and that he needed to seize this opportunity before either Gorbachev changed his mind or others replaced him as the leader of the Soviet Union.


George H. W. Bush and Helmut Kohl, interview by American Journalists, February 25, 1990, Bush Presidential Library, Public Papers, Bush Library (accessed April 2, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

The President. Barbara and I met on February 24th and 25th here at Camp David with Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, and his wife, Hannelore. And we were just delighted to have them here.

The Chancellor and I had an opportunity to talk at length about recent political developments in Europe and about East-West relations, and I am pleased to say that we share similar views on the most fundamental issues. We both welcome the prospect of further movement toward German unification, beginning with the steps toward economic and monetary union that are proposed for the period immediately following the elections in the GDR [German Democratic Republic] on March 18th. If events are moving faster than we expected, it just means that our common goal, for all these years, of German unity will be realized even sooner than had been hoped.

We share a common belief that a unified Germany should remain a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, including participation in its military structure. We agreed that U.S. military forces should remain stationed in the united Germany and elsewhere in Europe as a continuing guarantor of stability.

The Chancellor and I are also in agreement that in a unified state the former territory of the GDR should have a special military status, that it would take into account the legitimate security interests of all interested countries, including those of the Soviet Union. At the same time, the Chancellor and I agreed that we must continue to press hard for arms control efforts which would sharply reduce military forces in Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.

We want to work together to have a CFE agreement ready for signature this year at a summit meeting of all 35 CSCE member states. The summit could also endorse our proposal for CSCE guidelines on free elections to help show the way and protect the emerging democratic institutions of Eastern Europe.

Chancellor Kohl and I had a good discussion on East-West relations. We both support Chairman Gorbachev's program of perestroika, his efforts to reform his country's political and economic system. Chairman Gorbachev has shown true statesmanship in respecting the will of the people in Eastern Europe, in trying to build new relationships based on cooperation instead of coercion.


The Chancellor.


On the path towards German unity, ladies and gentlemen, what we need in particular now is reason and a good judgment. We Germans walk along this path with a particular responsibility in the center of Europe, and we're doing so, if you like, along two tracks which are of equal importance. On the one hand, we are leading intensive talks with the GDR, and at present we will, in particular, have to concentrate on the customs union and the economic community. On the other hand, we do have to consider that the link with our transatlantic partners, that European unity and comprehensive cooperation between East and West are being linked up with the development.

We do respect the legitimate security interests of all states, and we respect people's feelings, especially the feelings of our neighbors. And I am saying this particularly addressing our Polish neighbors. The border question will be settled definitely by a freely elected all-German government and a freely elected all-German Parliament. But let me repeat here what I have recently said in Paris already -- it was in January of this year: Nobody has any intention of linking the question of national unity with changes of existing borders.

In the course of our talks, I have informed President Bush about the situation in the GDR and the talks I have had a couple of days only with Secretary General Gorbachev. And I wish to seize this opportunity, Mr. President, to thank you publicly today, and here before the press, that on the eve of my trip to Moscow you sent me a letter which did not only speak about supporting our policy and was not only marked by the habitual friendship but which will be going down in history as an important document of German-American friendship.


[Questions from the press]

Q. — — seems to be growing across Europe, from Poland to Britain, and our own former Director of Intelligence, Mr. Helms, has called the German unification march a runaway freight train. Given the history, the role that Germany played in two wars in this century, shouldn't there be some assurances before this marriage takes place on borders and security?

The President. I think all those matters will be discussed in the various consultative mechanisms that we've brought up. But I prefer to look at Germany's 45 years of contribution to democracy and to the security of the West, and that's what we are focusing on. I've stated the U.S. position, which is not to be afraid of German reunification but to understand when peoples—brother on one side, brother on another—want to get together as one country, as they were before this artificial division that resulted out of World War II. So, we've already crossed that bridge. We welcome reunification. But it's not for the United States to set a timetable. It's not for us to say how fast. It is for us to guarantee as best we can, in consultation with our allies, that whatever evolves will be stable and that peace will be the result.

So, I've already given you the view in my statement about the U.S. toward unification, and we are not in a process of trying to speed it up or slow it down. It's a matter for the German people; it's a matter for the discussions that will be taking place in multilateral fora.

The Chancellor. Just a second. Let me say something about this, because this is a very central question. The question of German unity is a question of the right of self-determination. And all peoples of this Earth have the right of self-determination. It's a part of the Charter of the United Nations. It corresponds to the principles of CSCE. It corresponds to the major democratic traditions of our world. In all documents, all treaties which have been concluded with the Federal Republic, the will to reform the unity of the German nation had always been confirmed.

The second point is that the people in the two parts of Germany do want to unify, want to overcome the artificial division. The people in the GDR, in a peaceful revolution—I think the most peaceful revolution of history—have made it clear that they want it by shouting, "We are the people. We are one people.'' Now, if I have a particular feeling seeing and hearing this, I believe that we do have a responsibility to be conscious of the fact that we are situated, geographically speaking, in the center of Europe. We have a certain history. We must understand that there are certain fears on the part of our neighbors, and I'm talking about serious fears and not only the pretended fears—because there are people who pretend they have fears but what they mean is that they fear the economic power of the Federal Republic plus GDR. The President very rightly said last year the Federal Republic was 40 years of age. In the course of 40 years, it was a loyal and reliable partner in human rights and the defense of freedom. In 1983, I put my political existence at stake by agreeing that arms be deployed—NATO arms, American arms—and missiles be deployed on German soil. So, nobody has to tell me what a reliable partner is.

But I do take all the other data into consideration, and I've also made it clear—that's part of my answer to you—that I am amongst those who want to pursue the political union of Europe. The Federal Government is a government which is ready to delegate further competencies to the European Parliament. In other words, we want this united Germany to be ever more embedded in an integration process with its neighbors. So, nobody needs to be afraid.

And as regards economic strength, I can only say that the European Community has been able to draw great advantage of the economic strength of the Federal Republic and will be able to enjoy more advantage from the economic strength of a united Germany.


How to Cite this Source

President George H. W. Bush, "Joint News Conference Following Discussions With Chancellor Helmut Kohl of the Federal Republic of Germany," Making the History of 1989, Item #27, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

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