171. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

1885. Our current assessment is that we are heading into very heavy weather with France and de Gaulle on Berlin/Germany policy, and that there has been a deepening of differences, which is most acute on issue of negotiations, but which extends also to substantive aspects. In view recent trends we would not be surprised to see de Gaulle soon expressing publicly his disaccord with direction US policy, which he came close to doing in October 2 speech2 (reference to France’s vocation to hold Allies firm) and which he reportedly did semi-privately September 25 to MRP delegation (reference to almost lost hope of maintaining Berlin status quo because of Allied, especially US position). There is a possibility that de Gaulle’s position will lead him to a break with the US and UK on policy in Central Europe, particularly if he has the support of the Federal Republic.

There are four major aspects to French discontent. 1) Negotiations. de Gaulle has been using almost every public opportunity to restate opposition to negotiations with Soviets on Berlin/Germany unless these preceded by détente, condition regarded here as most unlikely to be fulfilled. de Gaulle feels that under present circumstances negotiations mean in fact Western concessions.

One difference in viewpoint on negotiations concerns likelihood of war, which looms larger to US than to French and de Gaulle, who has suggested that “K” will finally back down. Consequently argument does not find resonance here that negotiations are necessary to show world everything was done prior to war to settle questions peacefully. Couve de Murville in speaking 5 October to Foreign Affairs Commission used de Gaulle reasoning of 5 September press conference3 that opening of negotiations largely irrelevant to question of whether there will be war.

Although French policy on Berlin not governed by policy on Algeria, Berlin tension fits in with de Gaulle efforts disengage from Algeria, [Page 482] and prospect of early negotiations or settlement would complicate his efforts to draw military and civilian attention away from Algeria to missions which France may have in Central Europe or Berlin.

French including de Gaulle have now indicated that they might not take part in negotiations even if these arranged. While we would not want to accept this as final word, we think it constitutes important warning signal.

Allied consultation. We have impression—admittedly speculative—that de Gaulle feels he is not privy to American thoughts on where we are going in respect to Berlin. This is not a case of being excluded from important meetings (although he may have the usual suspicions that the US and UK talk more frankly to each other than to French). Rather it concerns the failure to pierce to essence of top US political thinking about what is acceptable and unacceptable in Central Europe, especially with reference to East Germany and European security.

Berlin/Germany. French position basically has been to defend occupation status of Western powers. Lack of public appeal in a position based on World War II has meant less to de Gaulle regime than to US or UK and indeed the authority of General de Gaulle has allowed France to defy many segments of world opinion (Algeria, Bizerte). His well-known views on the UN emphasize this. de Gaulle has, however, been careful to add that perspectives of negotiation are still open once Soviet agitation and menaces cease.

French apprehensions about Berlin negotiations compounded of two principal factors, concern re their own position in Berlin, likely to be weakened in any newly-negotiated status, and concern over the effects of a deal on the Federal Republic. French attitude toward latter is crucial and boils down to firm support for West Germany as far as present territory is concerned. French have been cool to Federal Republic efforts to embrace West Berlin, they are lukewarm on German reunification, and they have no sympathy for German ideas of regaining “Eastern territories” lost to bloc. However, they oppose any steps in direction de facto recognition East Germany which they think would shake Federal Republic. They are nervous about possible new trends in West Germany if policies of postwar years do not pay off. In this sense de Gaulle is oriented toward German position and will probably continue support fully FRG position re Berlin/Germany problem. Although nature of possible deal on Berlin not yet clear (if possibility in fact exists), French will be unhappy if West gives up anything significant re Federal Republic in return for Soviet-GDR permission for Western powers to maintain rights which French think should never have been challenged. This position of course tied in with a less pessimistic estimate than ours concerning [Page 483] both danger of war and danger that a Western policy of no concessions and no negotiations would increase possibility war.

European security agreement. French get nervous whenever mention is made of agreement with Russians on European security, and have indicated unhappiness over allusions in President’s speeches of 25 July and 25 Sept. Particularly since there is no real Western agreement on propositions to be put to Soviets, we expect further French negative reaction (see Embtel 1823)4 to Secretary’s mention of possible arrangements in Central Europe. French do not think these should be introduced into Berlin talks and are hostile to such ideas. They recognize that US careful not to engage Allies, but they feel that Soviets will take ball and run to detriment especially of French and German positions Central Europe.

In this situation we wonder what useful steps could be taken to avert a collision that could have profound consequences on Franco-American relations. We recognize that French have been cut in fully in Washington talks. Following additional steps might be considered:

We might try again delicate operation of convincing de Gaulle and other French leaders that one real prospect is that—despite best efforts West—war may come from Berlin crisis, not because Khrushchev has already decided to have or not have war (de Gaulle position) but because we may not be able to convince him that West will not yield. It is in this perspective that West needs not only to speed-up military preparations but also to arrange negotiations as demonstrating will of West to find peaceful solution if one with honor feasible. There is also ever present danger of incidents that may get out of hand.
We might try in bilateral conversations with French to suggest more fully the nature of our thinking as to possible solutions of the Berlin/German problem and as to our possible proposals re European security. Such conversations might alleviate French feelings that they are ignorant of US thinking, and might reduce their jumpiness re the nature of the solutions in Central Europe that we are prepared to accept.
As mechanism for above it seems indispensable to have another Foreign Ministers meeting of the US, UK, France and FRG in the near future. We think thought should be given also to a get-together of the Chiefs of State, to which the French have recently alluded. A top-level exchange of messages between President Kennedy and de Gaulle might also help to alleviate current strains.

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Comment: The above was drafted prior to the receipt of the Dept’s 1990 of Oct. 6.5 but is being sent as Embassy considers above views merit consideration.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/10-761. Confidential. Repeated to London, Moscow, Bonn, and Berlin.
  2. For text of this speech, see Major Addresses, Statements and Press Conferences of General Charles de Gaulle, pp. 151-153.
  3. For a transcript of this press conference, see ibid., pp. 140-150.
  4. Telegram 1823, October 4, reported French reaction to the Rusk-Gromyko talks. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.61/10-461)
  5. In this personal telegram from Rusk, Gavin was informed that if France was somewhat withdrawn from the present discussions on Berlin it was by its own choice. The Secretary went on to speculate that de Gaulle might be distancing himself to avoid any responsibility for a failed solution of the crisis. (Ibid., 762.00/10-661)