218. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Relations with Germany


  • French
    • Foreign Minister Couve de Murville
    • Ambassador Alphand
    • M. Charles Lucet, Director of Political Affairs, Foreign Ministry
    • M. Pierre Pelen, French Emb.
  • U.S.
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Bohlen
    • Mr. William R. Tyler
    • Mr. Johannes V. Imhof, WE

M. Couve de Murville said that the chief French concern with regard to the current talks with the Soviets was the impact which these talks could have on Germany. France considered it essential that Germany [Page 588] remain firmly tied to the West. This was one reason why France concluded the Treaty of Collaboration with Germany. The talks with the Soviets could awaken in Germany a spirit of neutrality. The very basis of French policy in Europe was to prevent this.

M. Couve de Murville said that he felt certain that on this there was agreement in principle between the U.S. and France (though not necessarily with the UK) and that the differences concerned the question of tactics. Germany was a divided country, basically unhappy and extremely sensitive to changes in the relationship between the West and the Soviet Union. Nobody can assure the Germans that their problems—especially reunification—will be dealt with soon, not to speak of a settlement.

The Secretary said that we strongly support German reunification. The Oder-Neisse Line was another matter. M. Couve de Murville noted that France was the only Western country which had made a declaration on the Oder-Neisse Line. Ambassador Bohlen observed that this declaration had not been reiterated recently. M. Couve de Murville said France would gladly reiterate its declaration as soon as we made a declaration.

The Secretary said that despite our strong support for German reunification, we have not moved an inch closer toward realizing this goal. East-West tension has, therefore, not advanced the cause of reunification. On the other hand, a lessening of tension might advance this cause. In general, a detente was bound to work in favor of the West and ideologically the Chinese Communists were probably right in opposing peaceful coexistence as harmful to the Marxist-Leninist system. New opportunities might open up if Soviet controls over Eastern Europe were further loosened. For example, a change of regime in East Germany might advance the cause of reunification.

M. Couve de Murville said that he shared the view that a detente in the long run would work to the advantage of the West. The problem was what would happen in the short run. It was essential that this detente is not reached on the basis of agreements which might hurt Western interests. M. Couve de Murville illustrated this point by referring to his recent talks with German Foreign Minister Schroeder. He had told Schroeder that the best one might expect from the current series of talks with the Soviets was that they would not change the status quo. Even a crystallization of the status quo (through a non-aggression pact for instance) would be a change for the worse. Couve said that Schroeder had not agreed with him and had instead advanced the concept of “movement” in East-West relations. Couve indicated that he considered this concept harmful and that it could lead to a bitter German disillusionment. The Secretary referred again to the possibility of improvements in the Soviet satellites which could improve the situation. Couve remarked [Page 589] that such a development would be most welcome and would in itself represent the beginning of a detente. If such a development came about, he thought it would occur not as a result of talks or agreements but because of changes in the situation and in power relationships.

The Secretary said that the Sino-Soviet split had changed the situation in favor of the West. However, we must not count on this because it always remained in the realm of the possible that this trend might be reversed and that the Soviets and the Chinese might patch up their differences. Couve asked whether there was anything that we could do to prevent this. The Secretary said that we could see to it that the ball was kept in the game and that the talks with the Soviets be continued.

Couve took exception to this view which he said was advanced primarily by the British and which he considered dangerous. He said that from a Western point of view and particularly from a European point of view, the Soviet-Chinese split was a most encouraging development. Europe, for a long time, had felt threatened by the Soviets and Soviet involvement with the Chinese lessened Soviet pressure on Europe. It would be a mistake, however, and most harmful, to argue that because of this situation the West should “help” Khrushchev. We should, on the contrary, take fullest advantage of this split. The Secretary agreed but pointed out that we must take no action that would discourage the split from continuing. Couve felt that the best way to keep the split in exist-ence was not to interfere nor to intervene. The Secretary asked what Couve understood by “intervention”. For example, would an agreement to sell wheat to the Soviets be regarded as “intervention”? Couve said that such a sale would not constitute intervention. On the other hand, to conclude agreements simply for the sake of reaching agreements would constitute intervention. Mr. Tyler asked whether, under this definition, we should overlook an improvement of the situation in Germany through Soviet action. Couve said we should not overlook such an improvement but he believed it unlikely that it would occur. The Secretary said that there was perhaps one chance in a hundred.

M. Couve de Murville then referred to the widespread feeling in Germany that they were being confronted with a choice between the U.S. and France. He said that this was also a dangerous development. It would lead the Germans to question their relationship with the West which is neither in the U.S. nor in the French interest. The uncertainties created thereby could also set in motion a trend toward neutralization. Couve said that Britain favored a neutralized Germany and the British therefore saw this problem from quite a different angle. The Secretary said that Germany may become an issue in the British elections. He said he would like to discuss the relationship with Germany in greater detail. A harmonization of U.S.-French policies would automatically dispose [Page 590] of this problem. One of the causes of concern in Germany was France’s reduced role in NATO.

Couve agreed that this problem should be discussed in greater detail. He said that defense was one aspect of it; another, perhaps even more important aspect, was the general question of European policy, the status of European countries, and their relations toward each other. Mr. Tyler added that the relationship of the European countries to the United States was another very important part of this problem and Couve agreed.

The Secretary said that we were not at all interested in any rivalry over Germany. Of course, we had wanted to be consulted on the inclusion of Berlin in the French-German Treaty of Collaboration because of our interests and responsibilities in Berlin. It was probably unavoidable that as long as policy differences between Washington and Paris existed they would be reflected to some extent in the relations with third countries. There certainly should be no need for a “choice”. Couve agreed and said that France had never posed a choice for Germany but “they” (i.e., the Germans) were being told “every day” that they had to choose.1

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330. Secret. Drafted by Imhof and approved in S on October 13. The source text is labeled “Part 3 of 6 parts.” Couve de Murville was in the United States to attend the 18th session of the U.N. General Assembly. In addition to Germany, the Foreign Ministers discussed NATO, East-West relations, and French-U.S. relations.
  2. On October 8 Rusk and Couve de Murville continued their discussion of Germany, focusing on agricultural and military aspects of Germany’s role in Europe. A memorandum of this conversation is ibid.