240. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • US-France Divergencies: Berlin, The Nuclear Question and NATO


  • U.S.
    • The President
    • William R. Tyler, Act. Asst. Sec., EUR
  • France
    • Edgar Faure, former Premier of France
    • Hervé Alphand, French Ambassador

Mr. Faure expressed his warm sentiments of admiration for the President’s speeches during his campaign in 1960, and for the spirit and the goals of the New Frontier. He said this term was difficult to render in the French language, as in French a frontier is something which marks a boundary or limit, whereas the New Frontier opens up new horizons.

[Page 683]

The President acknowledged Mr. Faure’s remarks and said he was glad to have this chance of talking with him. He noted that the United States is very much interested in developments pertaining to France, and sets great store by Franco-American relations. Unfortunately, he added, there seems to be a general sentiment that these relations had become less close of late.

Mr. Faure said that there had been no substantive change in the situation to justify this, but several articles in the press had magnified difference of views between France and the United States out of all proportion.

The President said that we fully endorse the French Government’s policy with regard to Algeria, and that what differences of opinion there had been with regard to the Congo were not really important. There remained the areas of divergencies of views concerning Europe. If these were to continue, it would be unfortunate. Among the major problems of concern to us was that of the possibility of the Germans acquiring nuclear weapons for themselves. The President said that this was most undesirable and would doubtless not be desired by other European countries. The Soviets would probably be inclined to view such a development as a provocation. Then, the President continued, there was the question of Berlin. The talks in Moscow had not so far shown any disposition on the part of the Soviet Union to meet us on a basis which would make fruitful negotiations possible. The Berlin crisis might well become critical this spring or summer, and there was the question of what steps we might have to take.

Mr. Faure replied that with regard to Berlin, the vast majority of French political and public opinion is in favor of the United States approach, and not of that of de Gaulle. There was a question in his mind whether de Gaulle’s tactics reflected his real belief or whether they constituted a tactical position designed to remind the military that France was faced by other and even graver problems than that of Algeria. He also thought that de Gaulle liked to cast himself in the role of a mediator, and that he had been disappointed at not being able to play this role. However, he was sure de Gaulle had not given up this idea, and his tactics reminded him of Richelieu’s remark that some people liked to move toward their goal in the position of a man rowing a boat, i.e., with their back turned toward the direction in which they were going. He also said that de Gaulle was like the Knight on a chessboard: He was inclined to take a couple of steps in one direction before moving finally in the direction in which he wished to go.

Mr. Faure said he did not think that the nuclear question was insoluble. He was convinced that France would not provide, or encourage Germany to obtain, nuclear weapons. He said the French people would not favor this, if only because of the effect it would have on the Russians. [Page 684] Mr. Faure pointed out that the protocols to the Paris Agreement of 19541 absolutely prohibit Germany from manufacturing or acquiring nuclear weapons, as well as biological and chemical weapons. He thought that the French nuclear program would certainly continue in its present form until after an Algerian settlement, but he thought that there might be a subsequent evolution in French willingness to work with the United States through some cooperative arrangements which would preserve French national nuclear capabilities.

Ambassador Alphand said he thought de Gaulle was absolutely sincere, both with regard to the tactics which he had followed on the Berlin question, and with regard to the French nuclear program. He said he did not agree with Mr. Faure’s interpretation of de Gaulle’s thinking on these two subjects.

The President referred to the danger of Germany ultimately acquiring control over nuclear bombs through a joint Franco-German program.

Mr. Faure emphasized that he did not believe that such a program was contemplated nor that it could ever be carried out, because of the limitations already imposed on Germany by international agreements, to which Germany had subscribed.

The President said he was anxious to re-establish personal contact with de Gaulle at an appropriate time, and he speculated that this might be sometime after the settlement of the Algerian problem.

Mr. Faure thought this was most desirable. He was convinced that the President’s personality and authority would have a profound influence on de Gaulle in the direction of finding a solution to outstanding differences between our two countries.

The President observed that before arranging a meeting, there would first have to be some preparation, and an indication that our views were moving closer toward each other; otherwise there would be a damaging let-down if he and de Gaulle were to meet only to disagree. Mr. Faure said he shared the President’s opinion.

Turning to the question of an East-West conference, Mr. Faure said he was very much in favor of maintaining contacts and exchanges of views with the Russians. He thought that if a Heads of Government conference were held, the Russians would be more likely to make some concessions before or after, than during, the conference. He recalled that the Summit conference in 1955 had been preceded by the unexpected Soviet agreement to an Austrian State Treaty, and had been followed by some liberalization measures in Poland and Hungary. He observed that the [Page 685] Soviet psychology is such that they do not like to yield or make concessions during actual negotiations, but are rather inclined to do so before or after them.

Summing up, the President said that the three major issues over which the United States and France had at the present time far-reaching divergencies of views were: Berlin, the nuclear question, and NATO. These were important areas of disagreement, but he hoped it would be possible to make a move toward reconciling our views on these subjects, after a settlement of the Algerian problem.

Mr. Faure thanked the President very much for the conversation and said that, if the President had no objection, he would like to report the President’s views re the subjects they had discussed informally to de Gaulle, on his return to Paris. He thought this would be of great interest to de Gaulle, and that it would be helpful to the cause of Franco-US understanding.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.51/2–2862. Secret. Drafted and initialed by Tyler and approved by the White House on March 7. The meeting was held at the White House.
  2. For text of this protocol, signed at Paris, October 22, 1954, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. V, Part 2, pp. 14351457.