29. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Western Summit Meeting


  • The Secretary
  • Ambassador Hervé Alphand, French Embassy
  • M. Claude Lebel, Minister, French Embassy
  • Mr. Foy D. Kohler, Acting Assistant Secretary, EUR
  • Mr. Robert H. McBride, WE

Ambassador Alphand handed to the Secretary General De Gaulle’s reply to the letter from the President1 proposing a Western Summit Meeting in Paris at the end of this month. After reading the letter the Secretary said that it posed numerous questions. He thought it was relatively clear except at the end where he was not certain what the reference to General De Gaulle’s being happy to see the President at any time meant. He inquired whether this meant De Gaulle would be happy to see the President as an individual but did not believe there should be a four-power meeting in the near future. Ambassador Alphand replied in the affirmative.

In embroidering somewhat on De Gaulle’s letter Ambassador Alphand interpreted the General as meaning that a Western Summit Meeting at the present time would precipitate things and would not succeed in relaxing tensions. With regard to a Summit Meeting now with the Soviets, Ambassador Alphand opined that De Gaulle believed it would either fail and thus increase tensions or would result in concessions on the part of the West. Therefore the French thought it was better to wait and see. So far the Soviets had only words not deeds and had made only one very small concession in lifting the time limit on Berlin negotiations. Ambassador Alphand thought that De Gaulle believed that it was dangerous to give public opinion the false impression that there was a real relaxation. The Secretary referred to the fact that we have problems resulting from leaks on the story of a Western Summit Meeting and the fact that the President was holding a press conference tomorrow.2 In [Page 77] response to a question he said we have no word from Bonn as to the German attitude on a quick Western Summit. He also referred to a story to the effect that De Gaulle was planning to invite the Foreign Ministers of the other powers to Paris at the end of October.

Ambassador Alphand said that this story was false and indicated he realized we were in a difficult position because of tomorrow’s press conference. The Secretary asked if De Gaulle had discussed this matter with Chancellor Adenauer. Ambassador Alphand replied that he did not know if there had been any De GaulleAdenauer talks on this subject. The Secretary said that the previous German position had been to the effect that they had no objection to a December Summit Meeting with the Soviets if adequate preparations were made. Mr. Kohler noted that we had telephoned Bonn but as yet had no indication as to what the German attitude would be on the quick Western Summit. Ambassador Alphand said he assumed that the President would simply say that he did not have word from all of his allies yet on their attitudes since we had in fact received no reply from Bonn.

Mr. Kohler noted that this matter was also on the agenda for the NATO meeting tomorrow and that the matter had been discussed in NAC last week.3 He said the North Atlantic Council was probing hard for information and was already way ahead of the principals.

With regard to De Gaulle’s reply to the President, the Secretary noted that the time envisaged for a possible Summit Meeting—May or June—was precisely the time when the President was planning to go to the Soviet Union. Ambassador Alphand expressed the view that a Summit Meeting with the Soviets just before the President’s visit to the Soviet Union might not be a good thing. The Secretary agreed with this view.

The Secretary inquired regarding De Gaulle’s plans for visiting the United Kingdom. Ambassador Alphand said he thought this visit would take place quite soon and added he had certain personal indications regarding possible dates for De Gaulle’s visit here which he would discuss with us. He thought De Gaulle envisaged the timetable something as follows: State visit to London, State visit to Washington, Western Summit, and finally Summit with the Soviets subject to Soviet good behavior in the meantime.

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Ambassador Alphand asked if we did not think there had been an increase of tension again recently and mentioned the incident involving a member of the US Embassy in Moscow,4 the Berlin flag incident, and Soviet behavior in the UN. The Secretary said that he believed we could expect ups and downs in our relations with the Soviets. He said the immediate problem was what to advise the President to say on the subject of a Western Summit at his press conference tomorrow. He summarized that De Gaulle appears to see a succession of meetings with no particular dates being fixed for any of them at the present time and the Soviets being put under observation in the meantime. Ambassador Alphand said this appeared to be true and stressed De Gaulle’s view that a Summit Meeting with the Soviets now could only bring bad things for the West.

Mr. Kohler said that the difference between the UK, German and French views on a Summit meeting with the Soviets would seem to argue even more strongly for the need for a Western Summit. He noted that it was difficult to attempt to reconcile all of these views by correspondence. Ambassador Alphand said that if we had a Western Summit now it would give the impression that there would be a Summit with the Soviets shortly thereafter. The Secretary said that this was not necessarily the case. He also noted that press leaks and not any official statements were what gave us a problem now since these had indicated possible dates for Summit meetings.

The meeting concluded with an agreement that Ambassador Alphand would say nothing to the press regarding his call.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–PA/10–2059. Secret; Presidential Handling. Drafted by McBride and approved in S on October 21.
  2. See Documents 27 and 30.
  3. For a transcript of the President’s press conference on October 22, which includes several replies to questions about a summit meeting, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959, pp. 732–742.
  4. A report on the discussion by the North Atlantic Council on October 14, during which several members expressed a strong desire for consultations on a summit meeting, was transmitted in Polto 620 from Paris, October 14. (Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–A/10–1459) The discussion on October 21 showed that all members favored a summit, but wanted advance consultations before any decisions were taken regarding discussions with the Soviet Union. (Polto 670 from Paris, October 21; ibid., 396.1/10–2159)
  5. On October 16, Russell A. Langelle, attaché at the Embassy in Moscow, had been forcibly detained by Soviet authorities for 1 hour and 45 minutes. For text of the U.S. protest of this incident, see Department of State Bulletin, November 2, 1959, p. 632.