230. Memorandum of Conversation0



Paris, May 31-June 2, 1961


  • US
    • The President
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Gavin
    • Mr. Bohlen
    • Mr. Kohler
    • Mr. McBride
  • French
    • General de Gaulle
    • M. Debré
    • M. Couve de Murville
    • Ambassador Alphand
    • M. de Courcel
    • M. Lucet

General de Gaulle opened by saying that he would sum up the discussions which the President and he had had. The President was of course free to interrupt at any time.

With regard to Berlin General de Gaulle said the two Presidents had been in agreement.1 President Kennedy will see Khrushchev and it depends on the latter whether there will be any Berlin crisis, De Gaulle said the President could tell Khrushchev for him that France agreed with us that the Berlin statute should not be modified by force. Perhaps [Page 663] one day the German question would be reopened but certainly not now in the cold war period. Any change must be approved by the four powers. De Gaulle said he also agreed with the President that our military experts should concert closely on Berlin contingency planning.

President de Gaulle said that President Kennedy and he had also had a frank talk concerning Laos.2 He said he understood the US commitments to Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. He agreed that the situation was bad. If US honor and prestige forced us to intervene militarily, France would not oppose. On the other hand, France would not intervene herself. He considered Southeast Asia a bad terrain militarily, politically and psychologically to fight a war. France has long experience in Indochina fighting against Communism. She had been partly successful. However, the situation had become worse as more and more outside effort was poured in. De Gaulle repeated his thesis that India and Japan were the most important free nations in Asia but that most of the other nations of the area are fictitious.

The President said he had explained that while we realized France would not intervene in Laos, it was essential to keep this position quiet. The possibility that the US and two or three other countries might intervene remained a factor in the situation which would be adversely affected should the French position be publicized. The President said he was not absolutely certain what we would do until we see what happens in Geneva. He mentioned opposition of the US to intervene in Laos.

De Gaulle said he agreed entirely with the President regarding not publicizing the French position. With regard to the Geneva Conference, General de Gaulle thought it was best to return to the 1954 accords. In Laos itself the need is for a new government and Souvanna Phouma seems the most qualified and least bad person. The French would not hide their support for him.

The President agreed that the military situation was so bad that Souvanna Phouma was really the only hope but wondered if the situation had not gone even too far for him to be acceptable. The President said that our relations with Souvanna Phouma were bad while those of the French were good. Furthermore, France has some responsibility under the 1954 agreements. He hoped France would use her influence. France can play a role which we cannot.

De Gaulle asked if Souvanna Phouma planned to go to Washington. The President said we had wanted him to come there from Moscow but the Cuban matter had intervened and he had decided not to come, partly as the result of misunderstanding and partly because of his decision against it.

[Page 664]

General de Gaulle then said that the disappearance of Trujillo had given President Kennedy the occasion for a rundown on Latin America.3 He said France considered the US should have a dominant role in the hemisphere and anything we can do for Latin America is to the good. He had thought that Latin America should be left alone with the US. However, the President had stressed that there should be a constructive European role in this area so the French will do what they can in the cultural, economic and even political field so that the Latin Americans can see they had another valid interlocutor, and he thought this was important because of the evolution of Latin America in the political field, the poverty of the area, Soviet propaganda and the example of Cuba. He thought assisting Latin Americans in selling their raw materials was particularly important.

De Gaulle said President Kennedy had referred to the July OAS meeting in Montevideo and to invitations to the United Kingdom and the Community of the Six. He said France would send an observer to Montevideo and he would also ask that Latin America be put on the agenda of the meeting of the Six Heads of Government in order to study how Europe can help in this area.

De Gaulle said that he and the President had discussed principally the Congo and Angola as African problems. He said President Kennedy had explained that US policy in the Congo was still acting via the United Nations. France did not believe the United Nations was either impartial or effective in the Congo and expected little good to come from its activity. He saw some elements of hope in the Congo situation and believed some form of government was developing. France would encourage Kasavubu through her friends in Africa. He felt the UN was too divided to be of much help but concluded he had no opposition to US policy in the Congo. He noted overt Soviet intervention would, of course, change the situation.

De Gaulle then said both he and President Kennedy felt the Angola situation was serious. Portugal was behind the times in Black Africa. Portugal has a certain concept of her relations in this area but he agreed that bit by bit the Portuguese should take a constructive line. However, Salazar should not be pushed. Pushing him too hard might cause a revolution in Portugal and it would be dangerous to have a Communist state in the Iberian peninsula. He thought the UN attitude towards Portugal was wrong.

De Gaulle then said that in response to the President’s request France would encourage the Portuguese to make a constructive approach. [Page 665] He said France wanted a solution to the Angola problem and agreed that repressive measures would fail.

The President concluded by saying the longer the present situation went on, the worse it would be. He agreed military means would not succeed. Some political advances must be made. He thought because of the constructive French influence in Africa, France could be helpful with the Portuguese.

General de Gaulle then said he hoped he had clarified the French position in defense matters, especially NATO.4 He said the President had certainly clarified the US position. De Gaulle reviewed what he had said to the President. Eleven years ago NATO had been created in a certain situation. The US had a nuclear monopoly. The European states were in decline. For example in France the economic situation was poor and politically the country was confused. France had no defense but the US and was furthermore engaged in the decolonization struggle. The important nations of Europe—Germany, Italy and France—were all in a defeatist mood psychologically. US nuclear weapons covered Europe, so integration under US command was natural.

De Gaulle said that now the situation had changed. The US had kept nuclear weapons but the Soviets had developed them too. It did not matter who had more, since each can kill the other and either could kill Europe.

Europe has made progress, he went on. This should not be exaggerated but there had been some achievements and political stability exists. The European countries are stronger economically and are terminating the colonial problem. They should, therefore, have a role in Europe itself. Furthermore, France will have a modest nuclear force. Both Germany and Italy are firmer now than before. Of all the European countries, France especially has the air of a nation. France wants to express her personality in defense matters.

Therefore, De Gaulle went on, integration can no longer satisfy France. France, of course, cannot defend herself alone and there is no question that the Atlantic Alliance is essential. However, in defense organization France wishes a national defense posture. France will not tear down or demolish NATO now in an international crisis. But NATO cannot go on as it is indefinitely and France wants to reaffirm this.

De Gaulle then passed on to the question of use of nuclear weapons. He said he had insisted that President Kennedy define the US position because Europe needs to know when and how the US will use nuclear weapons and under what circumstances. He quoted President Kennedy as saying, and invited him to interrupt if he was mistaken, that US security [Page 666] was tied to Europe and that US security would be wrecked by a Soviet takeover in Europe. [2 lines of source text not declassified]

[4 paragraphs (1/2 page of source text) not declassified]

De Gaulle then said he and the President had discussed how to arrange the use of nuclear weapons by the three countries in the West which would have them. These weapons are of a world-wide scope and might be used in the off-shore islands, in the Far East or even Cuba. It was not the affair of NATO to decide the use of nuclear weapons but a tripartite affair to settle how under different circumstances the three would deploy their weapons. One day there should be a tripartite plan in this sense. A small standing group should be created to apply this plan and develop it. De Gaulle said he had expressed this idea and the President did not seem to oppose it.

The President said he had mentioned to General De Gaulle it was important to consult on all matters in which the three countries were involved all around the world. He said that in the case of Laos he had not realized there were such divergencies of view until this exchange of correspondence with General De Gaulle. This showed a need for better consultation. The President added that it was also a matter of concern that the non-nuclear members of NATO should not feel that they have no voice in their security. He mentioned Turkey and Germany as examples. He thought that there was need for better consultation, not only with regard to the use of nuclear weapons. The President then said he believed that the US should consult Great Britain and France on the use of nuclear weapons. He said he hereby extended to France the guarantees given to the United Kingdom by his predecessor that he would consult France regarding the use anywhere in the world of nuclear weapons, unless an attack were so imminent that our survival was threatened.

The President wondered whether our arming NATO with submarines did not help to meet the French view regarding national defense. He agreed that the present tripartite consultative arrangements were not satisfactory and said he would nominate someone to meet with the British and French to maximize the arrangements for agreement and in the case of disagreement, at least define quickly and well in advance what disagreements existed. He added that French and British opinion would also be given much weight when he consulted them regarding the use of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world.

The President added that if Khrushchev should present us with a Berlin crisis following the German elections, perhaps the Heads of Government should meet.

De Gaulle said he was very favorable to the statements the President had made with regard to consultation. He thought close contact to [Page 667] be highly desirable. He added that if subjects of direct interest to countries such as Germany or Turkey were discussed, they should be consulted. However, only the Three have world-wide responsibilities. Those of the United States are enormous but France and Great Britain have some as well and therefore there should be tripartite consultations on a world-wide basis, while the other countries might be consulted at the local echelon.

De Gaulle said he was, of course, favorable to the President’s position on consultation with regard to the use of nuclear weapons. He said perhaps the President had not quite decided with regard to the tripartite military group suggested by the French to study this nuclear weapons program along the same lines the President had suggested for tripartite consultation.

De Gaulle said that with regard to NATO he had no objection to furnishing Polaris to NATO but this, of course, did not change things fundamentally for Europe since these are US nuclear weapons which would of course remain under US control. He thought this quite normal.

The President said there had been little time this morning for detailed discussions on consultations and proposed a further meeting at 3:45 p.m. on June 25 in order to take some concrete decisions to obtain the advantages of a greater tripartite intimacy without the disadvantages of upsetting other countries.

De Gaulle concluded the meeting by saying he had been genuinely pleased to see the President who had a great future which he, De Gaulle, obviously did not have since he would be passing on the reins to younger men. He thought perhaps the President and he himself would be taking certain dramatic actions together although he of course did not exactly know what the future would hold. He thought the atmosphere of the talks had been excellent. The Franco-American alliance is fundamental to the French people on the basic issues and all the rest is mere mechanism and machinery. Never have the common destinies of the two countries been closer.

The President thanked General De Gaulle and said that not even the magnificence of Versailles was his most vivid impression of France, but rather French vitality. Never has he seen more vigorous people. Although we may not agree on all matters, he thought these talks were most helpful.

He closed in expressing his greatest confidence in General De Gaulle.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1891. Secret. Drafted by McBride. A summary of this conversation was transmitted from Paris in Secto 9, June 2. (Ibid., CF 1892) The President visited Paris on his way to the summit meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna.
  2. For memoranda of the Presidents’ discussion of Berlin, see vol. XIV, pp. 8086.
  3. For text, see vol. XXIV, pp. 214220.
  4. A memorandum of the discussion on Latin America, US/MC/3, is in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1891.
  5. See Document 107.
  6. See Document 11.