30. Letter From President de Gaulle to President Eisenhower0

Dear Mr. President: I am struck by the urgency of your desire for a relaxation of tension between the East and the West. In this respect, my sentiments are completely in accord with yours. Especially since, in the [Page 79] event of a world war, France would be threatened most directly and immediately with death, in view of her position in Europe, her responsibilities in Africa, and the as yet incomplete state of her military power.

However, allow me to tell you frankly that, considering the purpose you and I want to accomplish and the extreme dangers to which my country is exposed, I have strong reservations about what benefit could be obtained at this time from a summit conference. I should even be afraid that we might compromise many things by plunging into this meeting while, to my knowledge, there is still no chance of a satisfactory agreement among the participants on any of the subjects that might be brought up.

As a matter of fact, among these subjects I see only one that has led to sufficiently explicit negotiations between the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain, and France to permit a summit conference to consider it without unfortunate improvisations. That subject is Berlin, as brought up by Mr. Khrushchev, interminably discussed by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs at Geneva, and, you write me, made almost the sole topic of your talks at Camp David. But, however thoroughly the problem has been explored, its solution appears more uncertain than ever. It is true that at the time of the Geneva conference, and later at your insistence, Mr. Khrushchev declared that, without withdrawing any of his demands, he was not fixing any deadline for accepting them. However, he has in no wise changed what he wishes to obtain. The very fact that the West has consented to discuss this so long and on so many occasions can but confirm him in his determination and hope of succeeding.

I wonder what, in this situation, a summit meeting at this time could accomplish besides highlighting a fundamental disagreement between East and West or surrendering more or less to Soviet claims to Berlin. In the first case, the cold war would very likely be aggravated; in the second, the world might consider such a retreat on the part of the West the beginning of a series of retreats, and the firmness of the Atlantic Alliance would suffer grave consequences. In any case, the relaxation of tension would undoubtedly be jeopardized.

On the contrary, since this easing of tension is sought by us, and if it is also desired by the Soviets, it may during the coming months develop in deeds and thoughts—provided the two camps do not first come face to face on burning questions. No problem is more pressing than that of Berlin. In my opinion, it is only after the world has had a period of relative calm, in which East and West have been on better terms and have promoted contacts without trying to settle in the heat of passion what can only be dealt with calmly, that a summit conference can be held under satisfactory conditions from the psychological, and consequently the political, standpoint.

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As regards France, for example, during the present United Nations session, at which certain members are desirous of commencing debates on various subjects wherein they plan to display their ill will toward our country, the French Government and people will observe Soviet conduct closely. As for me, I should certainly not participate in a summit conference with Mr. Khrushchev at a time when his representatives in New York were speaking out against my country or joining those who were. On the other hand, if on that occasion the Russians displayed genuinely conciliatory attitudes we on the French side might draw encouraging conclusions therefrom. Likewise, as I have already written you,1 the attitude adopted by the Soviet Union concerning the affairs of Southeast Asia (India, Quemoy, Laos, etc.) or the Middle East, or Africa, will enable us Western powers to obtain a clearer picture of their intentions. Meanwhile, moreover, contacts of the kind made by Mr. Nixon in Russia or Mr. Khrushchev in the United States may add to our information. Until then, there is really nothing pressing for us in regard to Berlin, for, unless the Soviets deliberately wish to create a crisis the situation during the coming months may very well remain what it has been for the past fourteen years. In conclusion, I propose contemplating the principle of holding a summit conference at the end of May or in June. I shall make the same suggestion to Mr. Harold Macmillan. We should thus have the necessary time to obtain information, and then reach agreement without haste. Furthermore, by that time the paramount question, that of disarmament, could have been studied thoroughly enough to form the subject of a positive examination by the eventual Areopagus.2 In the event that all three of us should agree on this procedure, we might so inform Moscow and announce it publicly. It would then remain for us to determine whether an improvement in the political climate would gradually provide chances of success. However, we of the West would also have to make serious preparation for the meeting.

In this regard I, like you, am of the opinion that a leisurely preliminary meeting between the Western powers, with Chancellor Adenauer participating would be necessary in order to define precisely our common position on the various problems, particularly that of Berlin. However, I think it would be premature to hold this conference now, in view of the amount of time we should allow ourselves before the summit meeting and our reasons for not provoking hasty conjectures on the part of the public. It seems to me that early spring would be the best time for the Western powers to reach sober agreement. Meanwhile, any talks that each of us might have with others, without prejudice to our consultations [Page 81] through Ambassadorial channels, would facilitate matters for us. Among other opportunities I myself hope to have is my visit to London in the near future and, if you are willing, one that I should be happy to pay you in Washington. Need I tell you that, if it should suit you to come to Paris at any time, the conversations held there would give me and the French Government the utmost pleasure and would be of extreme interest to us.

Accept, Mr. President, the assurances of my very sincere friendship.

Charles de Gaulle3
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. Presidential Handling. The source text is a Department of State translation. Handed to Herter by Alphand for delivery to the President during the meeting described in Document 29. The French text of this letter is in Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 24.
  3. Summit meeting.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.