242. Letter From the Ambassador to France (Gavin) to President Kennedy0

Dear Mr. President: In our meeting last week, you suggested that I send you a memorandum listing the problems on which a fundamental difference of view exists between the United States and France. I am attaching such a list.1 It covers only military and technological matters but its very length, for which I apologize, emphasizes the magnitude of the problem.

Our basic differences with France today lie in the military field. France’s determination to build a modern military force clashes with our policy not to assist the development of independent nuclear deterrents. Our policy starts with the Atomic Energy Act by prohibiting assistance relating to nuclear weapons and has been extrapolated into other technical areas, notably the missile area.

Here are some of the effects of this policy difference. France will spend at least $700 million to build a gaseous diffusion plant which will produce enriched uranium by 1965. We sell enriched uranium to the United Kingdom. We have failed to give France any assistance in building a nuclear submarine despite Secretary Dulles’ offer to do so to de Gaulle in 1958. We are asking France to help us in redressing our balance of payments by making more military purchases in the United States, but we will not sell the very items France wants because they are associated with modern weapons systems.

France for its part is extending the range of non-cooperation with us into a variety of areas only remotely connected with modern weapons, as for example, seismographic test detection and military communications systems. There is in my opinion a real danger that this non-cooperation may extend into the economic field and could, as I mentioned to you, raise increased difficulty for us in the future both in trade relations with France and in our negotiations with the EEC.

It seems to me that it would be in our own best interest to enter into broad discussions with the French Government on this entire problem of military cooperation. We should seek to deal with France on a quid pro quo basis, and as pointed out above and in the attached memorandum, there is ample basis for both discussions and exchange. I believe we should take a close look at France’s nuclear program by the test of [Page 688] “substantial progress” in our Atomic Energy Act. I have considered the merits of offering to sell enriched uranium to the French Government beginning at the time they would be producing their own but I believe it may be too late now for this offer to be attractive to them. There may be other areas, [such] as sale of U.S. missile technology, where we can narrow the gap between U.S. and French policies.

In conclusion, Mr. President, I believe that our own interests must come first and that they can best be served by developing a national policy that will enable us to take such actions with France as will serve our national interest while at the same time they are helpful to France. This seems to me to be entirely possible.

I appreciate the opportunity to present these views to you.

Respectfully yours,

James M. Gavin2
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.51/3–1262. Secret. The source text was attached to a letter from Gavin to Tyler, which stated that Gavin was enclosing it for Tyler’s information.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.