225. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Tripartite Consultation between France, the United States and the United Kingdom


  • United States
    • The President
    • Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary (present during second half of conversation)
    • Edmund S. Glenn, Interpreter
  • France
    • Mr. Chaban-Delmas, President of the French National Assembly
    • Hervé Alphand, French Ambassador (present during second half of conversation)

After greetings by the President, Mr. Chaban-Delmas said that he was glad to be able to see the President alone, because as President of the National Assembly he is not a member of the French Administration; he has nevertheless been entrusted with a personal mission from President de Gaulle to President Kennedy and will present General de Gaulle’s thoughts.

The recent assumption by Mr. Kennedy of the Presidency of the United States creates an opportunity which may never recur to carry out some fundamental changes and improvements in the working methods [Page 649] of the Western Alliance. Four or eight years from now it may be too late to proceed with such changes in methods, and thus to reverse the flow of events which, according to General de Gaulle, has been consistently favoring the Communists during the last eight or ten years. It is necessary to build up the West into a team within which the positions of Washington, London, Paris and the other Western capitals would be intimately coordinated. Mr. Chaban-Delmas alluded to a conversation he had with Chairman Khrushchev, in which the latter, after a lengthy exchange, lost his temper and in a cold anger stated that he could always win against the West because there was no coordination between the policies of the Western nations and he could play them one against the other. This is also the opinion of General de Gaulle, who sees the danger deriving from such a lack of coordination as threatening the West not only in regard to concrete political situations but even more in the struggle for the minds and hearts of man, a struggle which may be lost because of a lack of a clear common position on the part of the West. The need for a fundamental reconstruction of the Western procedures will be presented to President Kennedy by General de Gaulle when the two of them meet, which should be in the near future. It has already been presented in Washington by Ambassador Alphand and is now being presented by Mr. Chaban-Delmas acting as a personal emissary of General de Gaulle.

The most complete coordination should exist between the three Western Powers which have responsibilities extending beyond their own borders. These are the United States, which is the leader and the greatest power of the West; the United Kingdom, which has special ties with the Commonwealth; and France, which has special ties in Africa and some other areas of the world. The three powers must consult jointly before taking common decisions on the major aspects of world politics. Such consultations should be carried out without irritating the sensitivity of the other Western nations and therefore on an informal basis. The method by which such consultations are to be carried out can be determined easily, because the reason for the inefficiency of the consultations as carried out up to the present, is not caused by the mechanism employed but rather by the absence of a strong determination to arrive at unity. It is only President Kennedy who can provide the will and the determination in question; administrations and governments will follow his leadership. The French realize that this may not be easy: The United States is the first power in the free world, and without its help France would have already been swallowed by the Communists. This preeminent position of the United States may lead to the temptation for the United States to take the position that major decisions belong to the United States alone. This would amount to being tempted by the devil; the United States must instead derive the logical consequences of its [Page 650] own successes. The United States has rebuilt Europe and thanks to the United States Europe has taken on a strength and an importance which warrant that it be consulted. France, in particular, has been strengthened thanks both to U.S. aid and to the coming into power of General de Gaulle. General de Gaulle is working for a united Europe and is in constant touch with West Germany and the other nations of Europe. This makes France a natural channel for the coordination of policies on the continent in the same way in which the United States and the United Kingdom are the natural channels for the coordination of policies in other geographical areas. France asks for an understanding of her position in moving towards the absolutely necessary goal of having Western policy coordinated by decisions taken beforehand at the level of the conception of policies and not belatedly at the level of their implementation.

It is up to President Kennedy to choose the approach; if he does so the difficulties which exist will be overcome. The policies of the West may be carried out through the United Nations or through NATO or any other channel; the important thing is that the decisions be taken together and before starting in any one direction in any particular case. President de Gaulle is not against any channel of policy or any organization, and the President will find him a partner very easy to get along with, once a policy of consultations is inaugurated. It is, however, only a personal agreement between the three heads of government which can give substance to consultations carried out by the foreign ministers and the diplomats.

The President reviewed the various issues of French-American relations. There is today complete accord on Berlin and also on the French policy in Algeria;1 in the latter respect the United States greatly admires the policy and the efforts of General de Gaulle’s Government. There is some disagreement on the Congo; there, however, the situation is so confused and changing so constantly that such a lack of complete agreement is relatively unimportant as any policy tends to be overtaken by chaotic developments. There are two other areas where differences of opinion exist. One of these is nuclear arms policy and the other one is Laos. In regard to the former there is no urgency, as there is still time to coordinate policies and arrive at complete mutual understanding. The situation is different as respects Laos, in regard to which agreement must be obtained urgently.

Summing up the conversation, the President said that he saw two major areas in it: one, the opinion of the French that the policy of the three principal Western powers is insufficiently coordinated; the President [Page 651] greatly desires to improve this coordination and would be interested in hearing suggestions from the French side as to the manner in which this could be done; and, two, the question of Laos. The latter is a very urgent question in regard to which something must be done right now; there exists the possibility that the United States may be drawn into a military action in Laos, that is to say in a country in regard to which the major responsibility was placed on France by the Geneva Conference. There are divergencies between the American and the French policy in regard to that question and in particular in regard to Souvanna Phouma. An agreement between the two countries must however be obtained, since without agreement success in Laos hardly appears possible.

Mr. Chaban-Delmas stated that he would return to the question of Laos later. At the present moment he wishes to continue on the question of the general methods to be followed in coordinating the policies of the West and on the necessity of a coordination in this area. The West is facing two types of difficulties: those which are due to the common enemy and those which are due to lack of coordination among the Western powers and the lack of prior policy decisions preceding any action taken by the West. The West may be compared to three medical doctors who come in only after a crisis in the health of the patient has arisen and who prescribe often incompatible medicines even before consulting among themselves. What they should do is to get together on preventive methods before any crisis arises. Let us take Communist China as an example. There exists an American policy in its respect. The United Kingdom does not oppose this policy openly, but follows a policy which differs from the American one at least to the extent of 50%. As for France, which could be helpful as it has some points of contact in the Far East, it simply looks from the outside in. Anther example is the Congo. If the Big Three had studied together the situation in that country during the last few years, ever since signs of unrest appeared there, and if they had made common approaches to the Belgians telling them that a change in policy was necessary and that that change could not be a sudden withdrawal without any serious preparation for Congolese independence, it is possible that the Congolese crisis would have never arisen. Of course, what is being suggested is not that the three main powers of the West dictate to the other Western countries. General de Gaulle would never wish to suggest in regard to other countries something which he would not accept in regard to France. The point is that common studies by the United States, British and French Heads of Government, who have at their disposal the experience and the means which can enable them to understand the global consequences of any particular policy, would lead to suggestions which the other Western nations would find it easy to follow. Such suggestions might be transmitted to the other nations through [Page 652] the natural channel of that member of the Big Three which has the most intimate associations with any particular geographical area. For example by the French in Bonn—where the United States and the United Kingdom also have Ambassadors who could make it clear that the policies presented by one of the Three is indeed the common policy of all Three; by the United States in Tokyo (which may be subjected to very severe pressures in the near future); and by the United Kingdom in its own area of direct association.

Mr. Chaban-Delmas repeated that the decision on this point is up to President Kennedy. If the United States continues its present policy of deciding policies alone, the French will remain good friends of the United States, as the friendship and the mutual understanding of the two countries, and as a matter of fact all of the Western countries, derive from an extremely deep community of ideas; but the policies of the West will in such case be carried out inefficiently and Khrushchev will continue to be able to carry the ball through a disorganized Western team. If on the contrary the President decides to change the methods of Western policy towards work and preparation in common it will certainly be easy to arrange for meetings of the three chiefs of government in a way which will not frighten Chancellor Adenauer or any other Western Chief of Government. For example, such meetings might take place at the occasion of broader meetings of NATO or other groups of Western powers. The same thing may apply to meetings of Foreign Ministers and of diplomatic representatives, which will become fully useful only if prior agreement on the broad ranges of policy is obtained among the Chiefs of Government. As for what such decisions would be, there is no need for prejudging. General de Gaulle is not against using the United Nations as a channel for policy—for example in regard to the Congo—but he is of the opinion that this, as any other channel of policy can be useful only if a common stand is first of all determined between the Western powers. In the case of the Congo such a common stand might have resulted in different actions on the part not only of the Belgians but also of the Soviets and therefore to an entirely different situation within the UN.

Another example of an area in which a common policy should be determined is that of aid to underdeveloped countries. Thanks to General de Gaulle’s policy France has a very strong position in Africa, where she had given independence to twelve nations without friction and in full amity. There are, however, some countries of Africa which mistrust France but which trust the United States which has no colonialist past. A coordination of policies between the two countries could take advantage of the privileged position of each of them.

Mr. Chaban-Delmas again insisted on the importance of arriving at a coordinated policy at the present moment. He had been receiving invitations [Page 653] to come to the United States for the last twelve years. He did not accept those invitations until now because he felt that in the past the political situation either in Paris or in Washington or in both capitals was such that he could not accomplish much by coming. He feels that at the present moment favorable conditions exist both in Paris, where General de Gaulle has put the French political house in order, and in Washington where a vigorous administration is in office. Such a combination of favorable circumstances may not recur again. The West cannot afford four more years of drift.

The President thanked Mr. Chaban-Delmas for presenting to him General de Gaulle’s ideas. He himself feels the need for more harmony in French-American relations and has been discussing with the French Ambassador the methods for obtaining such harmony. He intends to improve the necessary exchanges of ideas. Two main areas must, however, be distinguished one from [the] other. One of these is that of a variety of problems on some of which agreement exists (as on Berlin) while on some others there is as yet no agreement but there is at least time for seeking and obtaining an agreement. This is the area in regard to which improved techniques on consultation and exchanges of ideas may be developed. The other area is one in which agreement between the two countries must be obtained immediately. This is Laos. The President would like Mr. Chaban-Delmas to be thoroughly acquainted with the American position and the American thoughts on Laos so as to be able to present this position and these thoughts to the French Government on his return to Paris. The President asked Mr. Kohler to arrange for briefings of Mr. Chaban-Delmas on this question in the Department of State.

Mr. Chaban-Delmas said that he would be happy to discuss the Laotian question as suggested by the President. He would be accompanied by Ambassador Alphand in his conversations in the Department.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.51/3–1061. Confidential; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Kohler and Glenn and approved by the White House on March 17. Chaban-Delmas visited the United States March 2–16, and in a memorandum to the President on February 16 Rusk had recommended that the President receive him. (Ibid., 033.5111/2–1661)
  2. Following the conversation reported here, the President and Chaban-Delmas discussed Algeria at some length. A memorandum of this part of the conversation is ibid., President’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 66 D 149.