100. Memorandum of Conversation1



Paris, August 4-9, 1961


  • United States
    • The Secretary of State
    • Ambassador Gavin
    • Minister Lyon
  • France
    • President de Gaulle
    • M. Andronikoff, Interpreter


  • Berlin

President de Gaulle welcomed Secretary Rusk, expressed pleasure at seeing him, said that it was always a pleasure to see him and added that he imagined he would be seeing him frequently in the coming months. He said that M. Couve de Murville had informed him of the meetings, and he would be glad to hear from the Secretary himself how he thought the meetings of the Foreign Ministers had gone.

The Secretary expressed appreciation for the President’s remarks and said that he brought the best wishes of President Kennedy to President de Gaulle.

The Secretary continued by saying that President Kennedy had charged him to do all possible to further the matter of consultation which President Kennedy had discussed with President de Gaulle 2 and said he hoped that President de Gaulle would be satisfied with what had been accomplished in this connection. Obviously the Three Powers would be in close consultation in the coming months. In Washington, he himself met regularly with the British and French Ambassadors, he had asked the Pentagon to furnish such military help as seemed desirable, and we would welcome any military officials that the French cared to send to participate in this work. The Secretary continued that at least three meetings between the three Foreign Ministers were in view, one before the General Assembly, one before any possible Four Power meeting with respect to Berlin, and one before the NATO meeting in December. There would also probably be a Chiefs of Government meeting.

[Page 313]

President de Gaulle replied that this type of consultation was all to the good but not exactly what he had had in mind. There was no objection whatsoever to the Ambassadors meeting in Washington but this was not as he had seen it. He had envisaged a special body such as the Allies had maintained in permanent session following the Versailles Treaty for political cooperation between governments to deal with both political and military matters. The United States did not see it that way. That was all right, the President said, and then asked Secretary Rusk how he thought the Ministers’ meeting, which had just taken place, which was necessary, and in which Mr. Von Brentano participated, had gone.

The Secretary said he thought the meetings had gone well. He said that there had been a large degree of unity insofar as the conversations had proceeded. There were still many points to be formalized with respect to military matters, economic matters, psychological matters, but good progress had been made. Further progress was required on Contingency Planning and certain other matters which effect better solidarity. They had not really attempted to formulate a program. There was one matter, the Secretary continued, which concerned President Kennedy. He felt that by early September we would have to indicate publicly that we would be entering negotiations with the Russians, perhaps at the end of October or early November. He did not feel that we could postpone too long the knowledge that negotiations would take place. Mr. Khrushchev talks of negotiations. We talk of negotiations. We are asking a great deal on the part of our people. They will be anxious for us to carry out negotiations before they are faced with the possibility of war.

President de Gaulle replied that the Foreign Minister had told him of our views on this matter. There were, he said, various ways of handling the question of Berlin. Mr. Khrushchev had created the situation. We could say to him, “No, we will not change the status of Berlin. We will not have our rights interfered with. We are there legitimately. We have been there for sixteen years. If you change the status of Berlin by force, we will reply by force. There is another way, such as you Americans propose. You have your views, the British have a view, we have our view. They are not all the same. It is difficult for us to reach common agreement. I know you are thinking that you must negotiate with the Soviets to satisfy your public opinion. I understand your view. If you see there is something which develops from these negotiations which is worthwhile, we will join you. But you really are doing it on your own account. In fact, you have really begun already. Mr. McCloy has seen Mr. Khrushchev; Mr. Thompson has had conversations too. If you had taken the first course, we would have been with you but this way is not our way. We don’t like the idea of commencing negotiations without [Page 314] knowing what we are negotiating about. But it is quite natural for you Americans, you are far away and you are in a hurry with respect to Berlin. You are not Europeans. You are naturally very concerned about Berlin, but not as immediately nor as directly as we are. We here in Europe are much more directly concerned. But we have no objections. Please go on with your probing, we have nothing against it. Tell us if you find some substance in these negotiations and we shall join you.”

The Secretary indicated that he would like to comment on two points made by President de Gaulle. In the first place, we did not have in mind negotiating without knowing what we were negotiating about. We don’t think we are very far apart from the views of the French and British and we think that the remainder of August can be devoted to working out a common plan. However, we believe that we must have some type of calendar, some sort of schedule, or matters could be delayed indefinitely and we might be faced with a Berlin crisis without having any plan.

A second point, the Secretary said, and he wished to make this extremely clear, was that we had no intention of withdrawing from Berlin. We had no more intention of doing so than had France. We regarded Berlin with the greatest seriousness. The Secretary said he wished to remove any other impression which President de Gaulle might have in this connection.

President de Gaulle said that he was very interested in the Secretary’s remarks. However, if one were to engage with Mr. Khrushchev, one would have, as the diplomats say, to reach a conclusion. To reach a conclusion with him, one would have to compromise. Either you reach no result or you give up something. If you give up anything, the situation gets more and more difficult, eventually intolerable. However, if you want to probe, we have no objection.

The Secretary said that we don’t envisage that negotiations need lead to a compromise. We have no intention of giving our rights away. In fact, the Secretary said, he recalled one negotiation which led to improvement in our situation; in 1949 the negotiations with respect to the blockade. If we get nowhere in negotiations, we intend to make it clear to Mr. Khrushchev that we stand by our rights. We can’t prevent his signing a piece of paper, a peace treaty, but we shall make it clear to him that we won’t sign it and we won’t be influenced by that piece of paper.

President de Gaulle replied that he understood our desire to make matters less disadvantageous for Berlin but said that if we negotiated, it was because Mr. Khrushchev told us he was going to make a treaty. We might hope to improve Berlin’s situation, but our negotiations under the circumstances might lead to something worse for Berlin. We would be negotiating because Mr. Khrushchev asked us to. But anyway, why not try? However, asked President de Gaulle, how can we negotiate when [Page 315] Khrushchev insists on what the results will be? He threatens to crush us. He insists on getting his own way. He says come and talk, but if you don’t talk, the result will be the same anyway. He’ll have his treaty with East Germany. How can anyone negotiate under these threats?

The Secretary said that what was proposed by Mr. Khrushchev need not be a basis for the proposals of the West.

Still, de Gaulle replied, negotiations will be started because Mr. Khrushchev has whistled.

The Secretary asked President de Gaulle how he saw the Berlin matter developing.

At first President de Gaulle misunderstood the question and said that if nothing from outside occurred, there would be no problem in Berlin, which had lasted now for sixteen years. Mr. Khrushchev had created the problem, otherwise it would not exist. Berlin could have gone on living as it had. The situation in Berlin was not impossible. In fact, the West Berliners were quite well off, but Khrushchev was compelling us to negotiate.

Then President de Gaulle explained that he hadn’t quite understood the question and said that he himself had explained to Mr. Khrushchev that it would be impossible to have East-West negotiations under the circumstances of cold war which he was creating. If he was serious about trying to reach an accord with the West, he should not have picked on Berlin. However, if he undertook to threaten and issue “dictats”, there could be no serious negotiations. President de Gaulle believed that we should explain this to the people of the world. With Khrushchev behaving the way he was, we should have to either compromise with him and avoid war or not compromise with him and face war. Thus, we should not negotiate because he summons us. But, de Gaulle said, he realized there were sound reasons for the Americans feeling as they did, but the French did not want to negotiate for the sense of negotiating.

The Secretary remarked that if we should reach a crisis over Berlin through some rash act of Mr. Khrushchev’s prior to negotiation, we would not be able to aid Europe since the Western Alliance would not allow us to do so. The members of the European Alliance would demand negotiations beforehand.

President de Gaulle replied he understood our position. We were not in Europe. We would have to come to Europe and fight and die in Europe. But the Europeans had a different point of view. They were not in a hurry. If the negotiations went wrong and Berlin were lost, then Germany would be lost and this would be very difficult for France, but again President de Gaulle said there was no objection to our probing. He [Page 316] understood our desire to establish contact with the Soviets but so far he saw no reason for doing so.

The Secretary thanked President de Gaulle for his views and said we would keep in touch with him. He said he must repeat that there was absolutely nothing tentative in our commitments with respect to Berlin. He said it would not be a question of Americans coming to Europe to die but tens of millions would die in the United States for Berlin “as you will die in Europe over Berlin.” We are extremely serious in this.

President de Gaulle said he had only remarked what he had because the Secretary had indicated that if there were no negotiations beforehand the United States could not come to Europe.

The Secretary said he wanted to make this very clear because he thought there might be a misunderstanding. He had said that it could not be possible for us to come to Europe because the Western European Alliance would not permit us to defend the Alliance without having tried negotiations first.

President de Gaulle asked what was the Western Alliance? France would want us to come.

The Secretary remarked that this was quite a different question.

President de Gaulle thanked the Secretary for this clear explanation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1-PA/8-861. Secret. Drafted by Lyon and approved in S on August 9. The meeting was held at the Elysée Palace.
  2. See Documents 30 and 31.