171. Telegram from Secretary of State Rusk to the Department of State 0

Secto 3. Following based on uncleared memo conversation of Secretary’s long conversation re Bizerte this afternoon.1

Secretary explained that while we did not wish meddle, Franco-Tunisian matter one which vitally touched our own interests, particularly its effect on Berlin problem. Secretary regretted fact already some 47 nations which were anxious scold France, US and other western powers would in GA probably use against us words which we might want employ ourselves with respect to Berlin before end of year. Secretary explained saw no reason why question could not be solved since he did not believe either France or Tunisia contemplated future hostilities toward each other; matters probably had gone further and faster than anyone had wanted them to and he thought it would be useful to explore means of easing tensions.

Secretary said he understood that French would be prepared pull their forces back into base if they could receive assurances regarding communications and that law and order would be maintained in area concerned. Secretary also said he understood Tunisians prepared give such assurances. Thus question was how get matter started.

Foreign Minister said he thought he should start beginning and explain how whole matter evolved. After considerable detail of past since 1955, including Bourguiba-De Gaulle talks, Couve said he thought immediate cause of Bourguiba’s action last month resulted from latter’s failure obtain Moroccan and FLN support for his maghrebian ambitions, his Sahara claim difficulty, and generally finding himself on bad terms with Morocco, Egypt and Algeria, thus Bourguiba felt forced play role on international stage.

Incident with which everyone familiar ensued. Couve explained France’s present position very much as set forth Embassy telegram 658:2

French must maintain base as long as world situation remains tense and must be judge of when it is safe to leave. They do not intend stay in Bizerte “forever,” but not publicly prepared at this juncture make declaration that effect. Quite prepared discuss future of base with Tunisians, [Page 258] but obviously cannot do this while under pressure. Believe that these discussions which must take place between Tunisians and French divide into two stages: (A) reestablishment of peaceful situation in Bizerte or modalities of evacuation, and (B) reestablishment of some sort relations which will permit discussions concerning future of base. They cannot accept Bourguiba’s conditions under present situation with some two thousand Tunisian soldiers in Bizerte City, exits of which French control to prevent smuggling in of arms. Foreign Minister explained complicated physical situation of base which is well known. When he referred to contact telephonic and personal between French Consulate General and Tunisian Government Secretary asked why these would not afford opportunity for Consulate General to discuss matter of troop withdrawals, etc.

Foreign Minister indicated that might be possible for Consulate General’s conversations to develop more substance than so far but that he thought it would take time for them progress very far. In answer direct question he said he did not foresee much progress within next few days; he mentioned possibly weeks to discuss matter reestablishment normal life, evacuation, etc. Said French must move very cautiously to avoid future incidents.

Foreign Minister touched on matter of “hostages,” or some five hundred French civilians being held in prison, an amount approximately same as some six hundred Tunisians being held by French. He agreed this might lead to exchange of prisoners.

Foreign Minister was not too concerned with regard to possibility special General Assembly. In first place he did not feel at all certain it would take place, since Soviets were opposed to addressing letter directly SYG.

Secretary indicated we were extremely concerned with possibility special GA and President Kennedy himself was most anxious avoid this, particulary in view Berlin. Foreign Minister asked how Secretary saw Tunisian crisis affecting Berlin, saying he believed a crisis must be nourished and once GA over Tunisian matter would normalize itself.

Secretary disagreed, believing there would be calls for volunteers, guerilla activities, reprisals against French, etc. Foreign Minister doubted Bourguiba prepared take on both French and Algerian armies. He also thought Bourguiba would not wish have his Saharan action discussed GA since Bourguiba had endeavored establish his position by force. Bourguiba had never mentioned fact that some two hundred Tunisian casualties involved this operation.

In answer to Secretary’s suggestion that France, more powerful nation, might make some gesture toward smaller nation, Couve replied that he had thought two days ago of taking initiative for direct discussions [Page 259] with Tunisians but learned that Tunisians did not want discussions.

In summary, Foreign Minister indicated he saw no difficulty in French Consul General’s conversations with Tunisians being broadened and would see what could be done this connection. Couve entirely appreciated Secretary’s views that were conversations in progress, GA would be easier handle.

It is recommended that Department alert Ambassador Walmsley to Foreign Minister’s views regarding possibility of broadening scope of French Consulate General-Tunisian Governor conversations in order latter may be prepared for any possible initiative on France’s part in this connection.

Memo conversation will be pouched later.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 772.56351/8-561. Secret; Niact. Repeated to Tunis and USUN.
  2. The conversation took place between Secretary Rusk and French Foreign Minister Couve de Murville. Rusk was in Paris August 4-9. (Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330)
  3. Not printed. (Ibid., Central Files, 772.56351/8-461)