97. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • French Fleet


  • H.E. Herve Alphand, French Ambassador
  • M. Charles Lucet, French Minister
  • Mr. Livingston T. Merchant, Assistant Secretary
  • Mr. L. Dean Brown, WE

In reply to Ambassador Alphand’s question, Mr. Merchant said that French had not taken the anticipated action in the NAC during the day.1

The Ambassador attributed this to his cables to Paris.2 He then said that the references which the Acting Secretary had made to the tripartite talks and the submarine reactor had been “badly received” in Paris. He said that we should not exaggerate the importance of the French move. It won’t change much and is primarily a question of presentation. It would be ridiculous to create a false problem. Off-the-record, he continued, we want to avoid a sort of “diplomatic war” in which the US and France would each counteract moves by the other.

Mr. Merchant agreed with the last point. He then said that he could not agree that this is only a question of presentation. It strikes a psychological blow at NATO at a time when we cannot afford such blows. The long-run implications are bad so far as unilateral actions are concerned. We have always told the Soviets that the Germans could not take unilateral military action. This undermines that contention.

Mr. Merchant said that he had gone carefully over the record of the Secretary’s talk with General de Gaulle and was convinced that there never was any question of removal from NATO earmark in time of war. He then read from our record.3

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The Ambassador said that even if France had a national fleet, it would help NATO.

Mr. Merchant then said that we had considered most carefully what we had said about the submarine program. We had made our point at this time because we might be open to a charge of bad faith if we took an action in this field at a later date and had not warned the French in advance that we might have to do so.

The Ambassador replied that he understands that there are already difficulties with the Congress and that the proposed French action might make the situation more difficult. He then said that he had understood from Paris that we had made a new proposal.

Mr. Merchant said that this was not quite the case. We had told de Leusse that he should discuss the matter with General Norstad.4 This had seemed a new idea to de Leusse. It was not, however; when Prime Minister Debré had talked rather vaguely to Norstad about this subject, Norstad had suggested that he be given a specific proposal.5 This was the suggestion renewed today by Ambassador Burgess.6

The Ambassador said that Spaak had asked the French to keep the matter secret. He doubted that this would be possible and suggested that it be presented to the press in such a way as not to jeopardize the alliance. It could perhaps be presented as a difference in form but not in substance.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 740.5/3–459. Secret. Drafted by Brown.
  2. The French note withdrawing its fleet, expected on March 4, was not delivered until March 6. The text of the note was transmitted in Polto 2536 from Paris, March 6; see Part 1, Document 196.
  3. In a March 3 memorandum of conversation, McBride reported that Alphand had persuaded his government to hold up the delivery of the French letter withdrawing their fleet from NATO until after receipt of the report of his conversation with Herter. (Ibid., 740.5/3–359) For the March 3 memorandum summarizing Alphand’s conversation with Herter that day, see Part 1, Document 194.
  4. No record has been found. For a summary of the February 6 meeting, see Document 95.
  5. In Polto 2477 to Paris, March 4, Burgess reported he had told de Leusse that day that as the first step in consulting NATO, he ought to talk to Norstad. (Department of State, Central Files, 740.5/3–459)
  6. See Part 1, Document 189.
  7. See footnote 4 above.