250. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France 1

Drafted by Bundy and Beigel, cleared by EUR and S/AE, and approved by Rusk.

3655. Verbatim text. Eyes only for Ambassador. Embassy requested deliver following letter from the President to President de Gaulle.3 Letter should be dated December 31. Delivery should be made to Elysee immediately if possible even though de Gaulle may be at Colombey. Inform date, time, delivery.

“Dear Mr. President: I feel the need to write you at some length about two of the problems that we have before us. The very fact that in important matters we have differences makes me think it needful for us to keep in close contact. Moreover, both of us have had recent conversations with Prime Minister Macmillan and Chancellor Adenauer on matters which we can well consider also together.

Let me talk first about Berlin. Here, as we know from our exchange of letters in October,4 we have a serious tactical difference—though our basic goals are the same. We on our side believe that further diplomatic efforts are essential, for the exploration of Soviet intentions and to give clearer understanding to the Soviets of what we can and cannot consider in the settlement of the problems of Berlin and Germany. We do not believe that our people—and still less the people in many allied countries—will face a possible war with the necessary unity and determination unless they are confident that every honorable possibility of a peaceful settlement has been explored. We have taken note of the very strong and general sentiment in favor of negotiation among most of our Allies; we note also that the Soviets seem to have recognized the dangers of forcing the issue, in their postponement, once again, of the deadline for what you have accurately called Khrushchev’s treaty with himself. We believe, in these circumstances, that it is important for us to leave no doubt anywhere that if satisfactory negotiations turn out to be impossible, it will not be our fault. Moreover, the possibility does exist, in our view, that an improved arrangement can be made. I do not believe that it would be safe to stand immobile in face of the present situation in Germany and Berlin.

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You have powerfully argued a different view, and your Minister sustained it strongly at Paris in December. You believe that K does not want war—and I agree.5 You believe that concessions are therefore unnecessary, and I agree again. I believe that nothing should be granted in this case except in return for a genuine improvement in our own position and that of the people of Berlin. But there is room for such improvement, and so I do not want to stand still where we are. Moreover, we must measure our course not only against where we are, but against what may happen if we take a different road. I believe that if Khrushchev takes the path of his separate treaty, and if no prior settlement is made, there will be a further deterioration of the whole situation in Europe, even if he avoids war, as I am sure he will wish to do. Yet he must sign the treaty sooner or later; he is too far in to turn back now. And so we must make clear to him, by all available means, that a prior settlement is in his interest as well as ours.

We cannot tell how the present discussions may go. I myself suppose that in some fashion they could lead to more serious and formal negotiations. Those negotiations may be in the framework of an improved hope of agreement, or they may come in the shadow of imminent war. But I think they may come. We must conduct ourselves, in either case, so that our strength, our determination, and the intrinsic values of our position are as clear to the Soviets as to our Allies and our own peoples. And we must be ready for the day when negotiations may break down.

In the current explorations we are proceeding without the help of direct French participation. I continue to hope, however, that if and when serious negotiations take place, France will join us again. Your presence would add strength and influence to our course.

I recognize of course that in any difference of this sort, when unity is so desirable for all, either party—and perhaps both—may be responsible for the divergence. I have hoped in this long discussion to show you as clearly as I can the reasons for the position I am taking.

I want to take this opportunity also to consult you frankly on the question of nuclear weapons. Here again we may have differences, and I think it will be helpful to be candid.

The root of the problem, to me, is the need for reconciling two great objectives. On the one hand, the nuclear arms race is a terrible danger in itself, so that means to limit it must be sought with constant energy. On [Page 718] the other hand, the free nations require effective protection against the danger of Soviet nuclear blackmail. Prime Minister Macmillan and I discussed this problem particularly in connection with the possibility of American atmospheric testing of advanced thermonuclear designs. Such tests would continue the thermonuclear arms race renewed by the Soviets in September—but they may be necessary for the protection of all. I have ordered that preparations be undertaken, but I shall make no final decision for the time being. In any case the preparations will not be completed until spring.

I am conscious of the real divergence between your views and ours in another part of this problem. You believe that France requires the protection of a national nuclear capability, and you have undertaken a determined and extensive effort in this direction. We for our part, while we are fully committed to the defense of Europe, have not been able to believe that a national nuclear force for France is something we should assist. Your country is faced with heavy efforts in this area, and I wonder if there is not some way in which, in a wider framework, our support might not be helpful in providing the kind of protection France needs and must have, in the coming years.

What troubles us, decisively, in the case of a specifically French nuclear capability, is that if we should join in that effort, we would have no ground on which to resist certain and heavy pressure from the Germans for parallel treatment. Yet it is imperative that the Germans not have nuclear weapons of their own; memory is too strong, and fear too real, for that.

Moreover, on technical grounds, we have grave doubts that a truly effective deterrent can be developed and maintained even by nations as strong and far advanced as France, over time. We believe that more space and larger resources are going to be necessary for the deployment of up-to-date weapons systems that will effectively neutralize the blackmailer’s threat, especially when his new and highly sophisticated weapons of great strength are taken into account. This may be especially true if progress is made in the antimissile missile field.

Indeed, we have the same doubt about Great Britain. We have cooperated with the British on atomic energy since early in World War II, and we cannot now break a connection so long developed in mutual trust. But we do not believe that as the nuclear age advances the United Kingdom will be able to sustain an effective deterrent of a national type alone. I believe this view is shared by some of our most knowledgeable British friends. If Great Britain were today in the position of France, and if we did not have existing commitments on the exchange of information, I can assure you that our policy toward her would not differ from our present policy toward France.

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At present, and I believe for some time to come, the deterrent force of the United States protects Europe too. This is so because of the clarity of our commitment, the superiority of our overall force, and, if I may say so, my personal determination. But I must recognize that as the years pass and the intercontinental capabilities of the USSR increase, the countries of Europe will feel increasingly that they must have ways and means of providing nuclear strength which will clearly and specifically respond to any attack on Europe. I do not believe that the preliminary discussions of this problem in NATO have been prosecuted as strongly and constructively as is necessary, nor do I suppose that NATO in exactly its present form is the only conceivable framework for a new solution. What I do believe is that this problem cannot be solved while France and the United States pursue widely different courses. I have directed an intensive analysis of the problem of the nuclear defense of Europe in the coming age of the effective second-generation thermonuclear missile, in order that I may review the premises of American policy. Is there, do you think, sufficient prospect of a modification in your position to make it useful for us to consult further on this problem?

These two great topics, Berlin and nuclear policy, are perhaps enough for one letter. But I do not wish to close without a more general comment. When I think in larger terms of France and the United States—and of your policies and mine—I do not find it right to emphasize our differences above our agreements. Not only do we share the same fundamental purposes—as we found so clearly in our happy meeting in Paris—we also assess the real lines of force and policy in very similar ways. Even when we differ on tactics—as in the Congo, I fear—we can be helpful from different positions for a common end. And in many cases we do not have such differences. I have heard from Secretary Dillon, for example, of the excellent cooperation between our Governments on the problem of the International Monetary Fund. I have also heard from Averell Harriman of the growing understanding between our two countries on the problem of Laos. And finally, if I may speak of a matter which concerns France alone in direct responsibility, I have greatly admired your statesmanship in the infinitely difficult and important conduct of your affairs in Algeria. Your service here is first to France, of course, but not to France alone.

This letter comes with great personal esteem, and with the warmest good wishes for the New Year, to Mme. de Gaulle and to you from Mrs. Kennedy and me. Sincerely yours, John F. Kennedy.”

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.0221/1-162. Secret; Niact.
  2. The time of transmission is illegible.
  3. A preliminary draft of this letter, which dealt solely with Berlin, was an attachment to a memorandum from Rusk to Kennedy, December 27. (Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/12-2761)
  4. Regarding the October 13 letter to de Gaulle, see footnote 2, Document 176. Regarding de Gaulle’s October 21 reply, see footnote 2, Document 187.
  5. This sentence is handwritten. A January 2 memorandum for the files, attached to the source text, stated that this sentence was added to the text after delivery of the letter. The memorandum continued that this sentence would be transmitted to the Elysée Palace for insertion.