352. Letter From President Kennedy to President de Gaulle0

Dear Mr. President: I am sure you have been watching the signs of movement within the Communist Bloc. There is accumulating evidence that the Sino-Soviet rift is definite. This could lead to major developments along lines that you have long foreseen. The speed and direction of these developments may shortly be clarified.

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During fluid periods such as the present, we all face particularly heavy burdens of decision. We must be on guard not to mistake transient signs of movement for long-range trends. But we must be equally alert to seize the opportunities that may be presented by great historic changes.

This is the dilemma that has confronted us in our current discussions with the Soviet Union. Chairman Khrushchev has put forward in Moscow several suggestions that may indicate a serious interest in making progress toward the control of armaments. He has mentioned the establishment of static observation posts to provide safeguards against surprise attack through early information on unusual troop movements and concentrations. He has also suggested the possibility of limitations on force levels and the level of military budget expenditures.

The Soviet Government has also stressed its desire for a non-aggression pact. We of course have made it plain that any proposals of this sort will require consultation and agreement among the Western allies before any action at all can be taken, and we rejected the notion of a necessary link between a test ban and this quite separate topic. We will take pains in any communiqué on the present discussion to make clear the interest which our allies have in this matter.

I am not at all sure how far any of this can be pursued, but it is possible that some of these proposals can be usefully considered in later discussion.

The one field in which Governor Harriman and Lord Hailsham have been authorized to negotiate is the field of a test ban treaty, and in this area they appear near agreement on a draft of a treaty which will commit its signers to an ending of nuclear testing in three environments—the atmosphere, outer space, and under the sea. In my judgment this is a limited but important accomplishment.

My view of this limited agreement is governed by the possibility that we may be at an important turning point and that the ability of the leading Western nations to show a common front to the Communist Bloc can make a vital difference in the outcome. I hope, therefore, that you will not feel it necessary to make an early final decision with regard to the policy of France toward this treaty. I hope that you may decide to reserve judgment until after there is an opportunity for full discussion among your Government, the Government of the United Kingdom, and the Government of the United States. We have always hoped to have the participation of France in banning tests, and French participation, after due consideration and discussion, could have great positive effects.

I recognize that in considering whether to sign this treaty, you will have to weigh the fact that adherence to a treaty would end your use of one means of acquiring information relevant to nuclear weapons. As we have already indicated, the United States Government would be willing to explore alternatives which might make French testing in these three [Page 853] environments unnecessary. While there are both political and technical problems here, we hope they are capable of solution.

These are most complex topics, and I am sure that effective and productive understandings will require most careful discussion among us. All that I am urging now is that it would be to our common advantage for our three Governments to explore these questions. Such exploration will obviously be much more likely of success if the French position on a possible test ban agreement can be kept open while the problems involved are examined.

Our Governments have had different approaches to this set of problems for many years, and if we are to work out a new level of understanding, we shall need time and patience. But I cannot avoid the conclusion that we shall gain more than we lose if we are able to begin a serious reconsideration in the light of the possibility that the world may be able to put a stop to further nuclear testing in the air, underwater, and in space.


  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, Kennedy/Johnson Correspondence with de Gaulle 1961-1964. Top Secret; Eyes Only. A note on the source text reads: “Original delivered to Elysee on 25 Jul 63.” Concerning the delivery of this letter, see Document 349.
  2. Printed from an unsigned copy.