252. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State0

5700. Eyes only Secretary. I called on de Gaulle as scheduled Saturday morning.1 I presented him with copy of personally autographed book from President Kennedy To Turn the Tide which I had been holding for appropriate occasion. He received it, nodded, laid it aside.

De Gaulle said he realized we did not complete what we had to discuss at luncheon last week and he welcomed opportunity to exchange views with me. I began by drawing upon Deptel 6203,2 once again pointing out that we have had to take active part in combat in Europe in two World Wars, which we did at great sacrifice, and now we felt we believe we have responsibilities in Europe and as member of Atlantic Community we want to take active part in affairs of Europe, that to us, it was not enough to assume we would merely become active in European affairs in event of war. De Gaulle replied by repeating almost word for word my statement, then saying that he realized isolationism was a thing of the past, that NATO in fact does now exist. Further that he was aware of important role U.S. had played in First and Second World Wars. In First War U.S. did not enter until 1917 after much had happened. Again the U.S. did not enter Second War until 1941, after France had been defeated. He said that he noted too that U.S. did not enter war until Pearl Harbor was attacked. He said France is not likely to forget contribution made in both wars by U.S. Now, however, situation is entirely different. The U.S. is committed beforehand and he considers it essential that she be so committed since if Western Europe is lost then U.S. will not last long. He said his fears are not that US will not be committed in time, nor that it will not play an active role in European affairs. He said he fears exactly the opposite, that U.S. will play a somewhat excessive role in European affairs. He said he realizes that U.S. enjoys a very great superiority of weapons, that it is by far the most powerful nation but nevertheless there are other countries. If U.S. assumes total responsibility in matters of defense this then becomes total political responsibility. Other nations, in fact, become protectorates. The Alliance will then break down within itself. If U.S. continues to exercise excessive leadership this will occur. He said he is not at all sure that our policy vis-à-vis Germany [Page 706] was most appropriate. He said he tried to present this view to President Kennedy last spring.

I replied by saying we considered NATO a very valuable instrument of the Atlantic Community and we wanted to fulfill our obligations in NATO. With this in mind we were curious about his thinking regarding role that Six would play in NATO. We were aware of growing importance of Six and of significant role he was playing, and I told him I would appreciate talking with him about relationship between the two as he must have foreseen it. He replied by saying that when NATO was created that was one thing but now situation is different.

Role that U.S. is now playing in Europe, and in NATO, will only contribute to breakdown within Alliance. He said he was disturbed by our excessive leadership and then said he would cite two specific examples.

  • First, he said we entered into negotiations with USSR on Germany. He said U.S. obviously wanted to do this and that Allies did not. Nevertheless we went ahead. Result was to commit France and Germany to course of action they could not agree to. U.S. entered into negotiations despite views of her Allies. I did not have opportunity to mention U.S. soundings with USSR are supported by British and certain other Allies.
  • Second, he said that official view of U.S. borne out by President himself, was that France should not have an atomic force.3 He said that this attitude shakes very foundation of our Alliance in public mind. France is responsible for herself, it is responsibility that she cannot delegate and her people know this. If U.S. persists in this attitude then there is nothing to do but for each country to act in its own best interests.

Before I could reply he brought our meeting to a conclusion by saying he appreciated my coming in and did not want to impose on my time any further. Note of finality in how he expressed this thought made it quite apparent to me that “exchange of views” had come to end. I had number of items yet to talk to him about, so as tactful approach I expressed my appreciation to him for time saying I did not want to leave before telling him we have been sympathetically following his determined efforts to put Algerian situation under control. I told him that we hope he will achieve his goals and further that we would like to be of every possible help to him. He merely acknowledged what I had said and I then went on to say I was anxious to have an opportunity to discuss with him role that he saw UK playing in Europe particularly in the Six. I added that if he did not have time now perhaps we could talk [Page 707] about it another time but if he did have the time now I would like to discuss it. On this note he began to rise from his chair making it evident meeting had come to an end and so I took my departure. I have never seen de Gaulle in more unfriendly and tense state of mind. I would attribute it among other things, to Salan verdict4 and Malraux’s report to Cabinet. Salan verdict was shock to everyone and to de Gaulle particularly it was a personal and political blow.

When Malraux reported his conversations in Washington to Cabinet, reaction was highly critical of U.S. I will report on this separately.5 Obviously de Gaulle’s attitude changed greatly between our luncheon of about ten days ago and this meeting. At luncheon he was willing and anxious to talk and, in fact, asked me to return but on this occasion told me what he thought of our own policy and would receive no comment. Gap between our two governments is now farther apart than it has been in a long time. As seen from here likelihood is that this will widen unless a change, not now foreseen, takes place.

Visit of Secretary Rusk to Bonn will be considered against the interests of France and in fact an effort to isolate France. Long-range implications of our widening differences with France to our own country are deeply disturbing, particularly in realm of economics where it could hurt us at time when we need cooperation of France and European Common Market. If there ever has been need for an agonizing reappraisal of our policy vis-à-vis Europe certainly it is now.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.51/5–2862. Secret; Niact.
  2. May 26.
  3. Document 251.
  4. At his press conference on May 17, President Kennedy had stated that he did not agree with France’s decision to go forward with its own atomic force. For a transcript of the press conference, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1962, pp. 400–408.
  5. On May 23 General Raoul Salan had been sentenced to life imprisonment rather than given the death penalty.
  6. Telegram 5706 from Paris, May 28, reported that the French Cabinet was deeply disturbed by Malraux’s report on his meeting with Kennedy. (Department of State, Central Files, 751S.00/5–2862)