276. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State0

3961. Approach of French Government officials to Berlin problem and East-West negotiations has been that of followers, not leaders. In general, French have tended adopt extremely conservative view on extent to which Western proposals in negotiations with Soviets should go beyond those advanced at Geneva 1955 Conference. This attitude has led French into positions paralleling those of FedRep on numerous issues, although sometimes for differing reasons.

Unlike situation in U.K., there are no strong public pressures on French Government to negotiate settlement with USSR. French opinion is primarily concerned with Algerian war and domestic political problem. Berlin crisis, while widely reported in press, does not seem to have greatly aroused average Frenchman. Also, there has been little public interest in proposals for disengagement. French officials themselves do not seem to be haunted by specter of catastrophic consequences of nuclear war. Conceivably because of their own lack of experience with and understanding of nuclear weapons, this factor does not appear to loom very large in their thinking. This apparent absence of great concern ref nuclear war is concurrent with, and possibly related to, French conviction that Soviets will not go to war if West is firm in resisting Soviet pressures. De Gaulle has made clear that he feels best way of dealing with Soviets is to demonstrate unmistakable firmness, and that to yield to Soviet blackmail invites disaster.

We suggest that following additional elements influence French attitudes concerning East-West talks: (1) basic scepticism ref Soviet willingness to negotiate seriously for relaxation tensions, (2) belief that recognition of status quo in Europe on Khrushchev’s terms will not result in stabilization of European political situation but will lend further impetus to Soviet drive to crack Western defenses, (3) fear that concessions to Soviets may have effect of affecting U.S. troop dispositions in Europe and lead eventually to withdrawal of our troops, (4) desire, particularly on de Gaulle’s part, to work closely with Adenauer in interests of Franco-German rapprochement.

Another, usually unvoiced, factor in French thinking is lack of enthusiasm in France for cause of German reunification. De Gaulle, of course, contrary to views previously expressed privately, spoke [Page 652] eloquently in March 25 press conference1 of need for reunification, and some other far-seeing French officials appreciate dangers inherent in continued division. Nevertheless, it is probably safe to say that most Frenchmen would be content to leave situation as it is. In this, however, they would draw line short of recognizing GDR.

Embassy concludes, therefore, that, in forthcoming negotiations with Soviets, French will be firm, conservative, and hostile to concessions to Soviets. While this attitude is certainly to be welcomed, it is not unmitigated blessing. As already demonstrated in Working Group sessions, French may well be serious drag on efforts to present Western position in terms sufficiently reasonable to be appealing to public opinion.

De Gaulle’s proposal for Summit agenda to include item on aid to undeveloped countries, and manner in which he has spoken on this subject in his recent speeches, represent attempt to raise sights on more idealistic plane. However, vagueness and impracticality this proposal make it doubtful that it will help counteract solid but essentially negative French stand in East-West negotiations.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/4–2859. Secret. Repeated to Bonn, London, Moscow, and Berlin.
  2. For a transcript of this press conference, see de Gaulle, Statements, pp. 41–51.