224. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Tripartitism


  • The Secretary
  • Ambassador Gavin
  • Mr. McGhee, C
  • Mr. White, EUR
  • Mr. McBride, WE
  • Mr. Beigel, WE
  • The French Ambassador
  • M. Lebel
  • M. Winckler
  • M. Pelen

Ambassador Alphand referred to the tripartite relationship which exists between the French, British and ourselves. He said that the French wish to improve this consultation and to continue the ad hoc meetings of the three Foreign Ministers which have been going for some time. He said that in the past one official in each Government had been in charge of following and organizing these meetings and that in the US case it had been Under Secretary Merchant. The French also hope that the three Heads of Government could meet from time to time and noted that this had taken place during the last US Administration. He said the French believe it most important that this precedent be followed up. He said the French also thought that tripartite discussions between the Secretary and the two Ambassadors here were important for the conduct of our day-to-day common business. Ambassador Alphand said that unfortunately the decisions reached in tripartite discussions were not always implemented. General de Gaulle hoped that the machinery could be improved. He stressed that the French did not have any desire to establishment of a formal institution or for setting up a directorate to impose tripartite decisions, [sic] He said that the French did not through this mechanism hope to obtain a veto over US policy. He said the French hope that matters could be discussed and agreements reached, or that the three could agree to disagree.

Ambassador Alphand continued, saying that the French believed that if there were tripartite agreement on the policies to be followed, NATO and SEATO, for that matter, would usually follow the lead of the three. This would also greatly assist in presenting a solid front to the Soviets. He noted that the three countries involved had interests in virtually all major problems throughout the world. There were also [Page 646] important traditional aspects of influence of each of these three countries outside of Europe. He noted this was not the case with other countries such as Germany which was not interested in participation in world-wide problems other than those such as Berlin which affected her directly. Ambassador Alphand said de Gaulle attached ever more importance to tripartite consultations, especially in view of the decline of the United Nations.

The Secretary asked if the French thought that the tripartite talks which had taken place over the past few years had been satisfactory and had been what the French had in mind. Ambassador Alphand said they had been the minimum which the French desired but that they had not been sufficient to prevent a fait accompli in many cases, such as Lebanon. He noted that the French had also been guilty in the same sense in the Suez case. He said in the past de Gaulle had sometimes been disappointed because he had thought he had reached an agreement with us and the British in the tripartite forum, but these agreements had not been implemented. Ambassador Alphand summarized that the French wished to continue what already existed in this field but to improve it.

The Secretary said that we considered tripartite solidarity important too and would like to find the best means to keep close to the British and the French. He said there were certain procedural problems involved. Sometimes it was preferable to have simple, quiet, and informal meetings and not to have any publicity which might lead to complaints from other NATO members and from other countries as well. The Secretary said tripartitism would work well if the policies of the three countries agreed but that it was hard when our policies disagreed, and in these cases our commitments to formal tripartite consultative procedures would not help. The Secretary said he thought that tripartite Foreign Ministers’ meetings from time to time were helpful and that they would undoubtedly meet together during the forthcoming SEATO meeting. The Secretary said he did not know currently of any plan which was likely to bring the three Heads of Government together. He expressed willingness to continue tripartite meetings here. He thought we should identify our differences and see if we could devise means on how to deal with them. On some subjects such as Berlin and Germany it was natural to have tripartite conversations before discussing these matters with the Germans. However, there was no particular problem in harmonizing our policies here in this field.

Ambassador Alphand said that the French did not desire any publicity regarding tripartite talks and agreed generally with the Secretary’s comments. The Secretary added that in some areas we undoubtedly had different approaches but that our national purposes were the same. Ambassador Alphand agreed, saying that in Laos and Africa, for instance, the French and ourselves had the same aims. The questions which we [Page 647] should discuss tripartitely were how to reconcile our tactics and methods. The Secretary said that the procedures of the US Government were, of course, complex and that one of the questions was when, in our own internal processes, we should insert consultations with our allies. He recommended that if there were questions that the French wished to bring in to us at an early stage they should do so, even if we were not entirely ready to comment.

The Secretary thought that we should let tripartite consultations develop naturally over the coming weeks and months and that we should not now institute any stylized code of procedure. He said he expected to see Couve in the last part of March at SEATO. He said there should be maximum tripartite consultation possible in order to reach accords whenever feasible.

Ambassador Alphand said the tripartite meeting with the Secretary a few days previously to discuss instructions to Ambassador Thompson had been very helpful.1 He thought it well that there was a common tripartite view before Ambassador Thompson saw Khrushchev or Gromyko. He also thought it essential that the three Ambassadors in Moscow should speak the same language to the Soviets.

Ambassador Alphand then asked whom the Secretary would appoint as his Deputy to meet with Lucet and Hoyer-Millar for discreet advance preparations for further tripartite ministerial meetings. The Secretary said that this function might well devolve on the Deputy Under Secretary who had not yet been named. Ambassador Alphand said that Lucet had the equivalent rank of a Deputy Under Secretary.

Ambassador Alphand then passed to the military field and noted that de Gaulle had covered tripartite global strategy in his memorandum of 1958. The French had proposed tripartite military discussions in Washington including the British and French members of the Standing Group. He said there had thus far been no tripartite military planning which de Gaulle thought was essential in view of the many strategic changes since NATO had been formed in 1949. He said de Gaulle attached great importance to the military side of these consultations. The 1958 memorandum clearly involved defense all over the world. De Gaulle particularly had in mind military planning for the African-European area. Nowhere did a Western body to study these problems exist. Therefore, the French thought some tripartite study of the general strategy concept was essential. This would mean an extension of the role now played by the Standing Group, though not necessarily with the same personnel. It was understood, for instance, that the US would not [Page 648] be represented by its member of the Standing Group. The Secretary said he did not think that talks of this type should be identified with the Standing Group.

The Secretary concluded on this subject saying that he would revert to this point at the end of our talks, when we would pick up specific questions which had not been answered. Therefore he would defer further comment on this point until a later date when he would hope to respond to the French proposal.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1/2–2861. Secret. Drafted by McBride and approved by S on March 17.
  2. According to his Appointment Book, Rusk discussed Thompson’s instructions with Caccia and Alphand at noon on February 22. (Johnson Library). A memorandum of this conversation is in Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330.