241. Telegram from the Embassy in France to the Department of State0

4219. Embassy telegram 4041.1 Called on PriMin Debre this morning to discuss among other things his press conference of last week in which he was quite critical of US nuclear policy vis-à-vis France.

I began by telling him I had intended to see him before I returned to Wash but knowing how busy he was I hesitated to ask for appointment. I told him that although I realized that differences of views existed between our govts on some problems, I was anxious to work closely with his govt with a view to keeping to a minimum such differences as may exist. For this reason, I was a bit disturbed to read of press backgrounder he had in which he had been critical of US nuclear policy. I added that when I was in US and talked to President, President had read article in [Page 686] New York Times by Doty and asked me about it.2 I informed Debre I told President I would discuss it with him upon my return here.

Debre replied by saying that press always dramatizes and exaggerates news. He said primary purpose of getting four members of US press together was to talk about Algerian situation. After talking to them about Algeria, Debre was asked by correspondent if he thought Atlantic Community would be stronger and more effective after Algeria was settled. He replied by saying as everyone knows, there are differences of view about what is best for Atlantic Community. From point of view of France one fundamental fact is that the great strength of Atlantic Community is in atomic power. The US supports NATO with its atomic power. It shares nuclear info with UK. He then went on to say fundamental nature of nuclear power is real to France also, and that just as US thinks it should have nuclear power to defend itself, France believes it should have nuclear power to defend itself and Europe. Debre said it was unfortunate that US has not been of more help to France, but France is going ahead with her own nuclear program. He added that France and Germany and all of free Europe had to have capability of defending itself with nuclear weapons.

I told Debre we were aware of importance of nuclear weapons in defense of Europe and it was for this reason we are trying to provide for this through NATO. He did not reply directly to my comment and made reference again to Franco-German situation. I asked him then if he foresaw likelihood of French-German nuclear weapons program. He said that Germans could not make weapons because they were forbidden to make them by treaty, and further that nuclear weapons in German hands would be a catastrophe for Soviets and would cause very dangerous conditions to arise. He avoided answering my question and I did not press him further. Our conversation lasted over one-half hour and at no time did PriMin admit to the strong criticism of US nuclear policies as reported to us by journalists who had been present.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.51/3–962. Secret; Limit Distribution.
  2. Telegram 4041, February 27, reported that Debré had invited four U.S. newsmen to Matignon on February 26 for an interview during which he stated that Franco-American relations had badly deteriorated. He characterized many American actions as “stupid,” and singled out U.S. attempts to prevent France from becoming a nuclear power. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, France)
  3. Gavin talked with the President on March 1, but no other record of the meeting has been found, (Kennedy Library, President’s Appointment Book) The Doty article appeared in The New York Times, February 27.