231. Memorandum of Conversation0

MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION WITH THE PRESIDENT AND THE CONGRESSIONAL LEADERSHIP

PRESENT

  • The Vice President, Senators Mansfield, Humphrey, Russell, Fulbright, Dirksen, Saltonstall, Hickenlooper, Wiley
  • The Speaker, Congressmen McCormack, Albert, Vinson, Morgan, Arends, Chiperfield, Hoeven, Byrnes (Wisconsin)

I. General de Gaulle

The President opened the meeting by expressing appreciation to the Leadership, and explained that his object was to bring them up to date on the events of his trip to Europe. The President first discussed his meeting with de Gaulle. Although there was much discussion in the papers about trouble with the French, he found the differences of secondary importance compared to the agreement and to the common interest which he found between the United States and France, especially on policy toward Europe.

Disagreements had turned on two subjects—NATO and de Gaulle’s desire for a nuclear deterrent of his own. His grievances go back to World War II when he had difficulties with Churchill and Roosevelt, and the meeting was worth it in moderating this part of his attitude. Another element in his attitude was his resentment of the fact that nuclear help had been given by the United States to the United Kingdom and not to France. To these unexpressed grievances should be added his stated view that the whole position in Europe has changed since NATO was founded. Then there was a nuclear monopoly; now there is a nuclear balance. The United States could say that it was prepared to act by trading New York for Paris, but would we really do so? In addition, General de Gaulle was opposed to integration, which he thought ruined the morale of the armed forces and was one reason for the recent trouble with his generals in North Africa.

Nevertheless, the General agreed to make no attack on NATO, now, although he will want to act later after the present Berlin crisis ends and after he gets his army back from Algeria. But he is alone in this posture toward NATO and his position does not bother the President [Page 669]much. Moreover, de Gaulle himself had said that what would settle the position in Europe was not what he, de Gaulle, said, but what happens in West Berlin.

The President reported general agreement with de Gaulle on Africa and Latin America. To a question from Senator Fulbright on Laos, he said that de Gaulle’s position was good with respect to the present conference in Geneva and that he was prepared to go back into Laos, but not to take military action there. To a further question, the President said that de Gaulle appeared to expect an Algerian agreement by the autumn, although other Frenchmen were not so optimistic. The General seemed to have no interest in a transfer of Polaris weapons to NATO since they would not reinforce French forces. He was for the alliance but against integration. He was agreeable and friendly in every way, although he treats the press as only Sam Rayburn does in Washington, The President read from his talking paper most of items 1–11 on pages 3 and 4 (attached)1 and reported that he had given the French the same assurances as he had the British with respect to consultation on the use of atomic weapons, if time permitted.

The President reported that the French seemed to him a long way from having a nuclear force of their own.

In response to a question from Senator Fulbright, the President indicated that in his judgment General de Gaulle does not really want the British in the Common Market. He appears to believe that they will not make the necessary political commitment, and in any case de Gaulle prefers the present situation in which he is the dominant figure. To a question about de Gaulle’s successor, the President said Debre seemed to him a fine fellow without much political stature who does at present appear to be de Gaulle’s favorite.

The President said there had been no discussion of the test ban—de Gaulle had not raised it and the President had followed the same course because the prospects for the test ban seemed so dim at present. De Gaulle seemed to want help from us on missile guidance systems, but there had been no discussion on the point.

[Here follows discussion of the President’s meeting with Khrushchev in Vienna; see volume V, Document 66.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings with the President. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text. Printed in part in Declassified Documents, 1986, 2256.
  2. Not found.