176. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Tunisia 0

173. Ref Embtel 336.1 Deptel 174.2 Following is text of letter to be delivered to President Bourguiba in accordance instructions transmitted separate telegram (Deptel 174).

“Dear Mr. President,

I greatly appreciate your letter of August 12, and want to thank you also for the welcome visits to Washington of Messrs. Ladgham and Hourani.

I am indeed anxious to reestablish with you a communication which seems to have been partially interrupted by the incidents of Bizerte. I am deeply aware of the reasons why your press and public opinion should feel a sense of disappointment or even disillusionment with what must have seemed to be a lessening of the support and friendship of the United States for Tunisia in an hour of need.

But I hope that I do not have to reassure you, Mr. President, of the constancy of our feeling towards Tunisia. You have been kept informed by Ambassador Walmsley as well as by Mr. Ladgham, Mr. Hourani, Ambassador Slim and Ambassador Bourguiba, Jr. of the deep personal interest which Secretary Rusk and I personally have exerted in an effort to seek a solution of this tragic crisis between two nations who have many close ties with each other. Standing as my country does close to a holocaust that could destroy the US as well as Europe and much of the East, I have not found it possible to take a public position on this matter satisfactory to you. I regret this greatly, but I am hopeful that you will recognize our difficulties as well as those of your country in these days.

We have felt deeply this tragedy, not only because of our own intimate association with both parties, but because we know that essentially [Page 264] the differences between you are not irreconcilable. It is for this reason that we felt that careful diplomacy could heal the wounds of pride and prestige which both sides feel they have suffered.

We have tried to be helpful, as a sincere friend of both parties. We intend to continue these efforts, Mr. President, by whatever means appear to be propitious. If there has been a difference of opinion between us, it has been solely on tactics, how best to exert our influence usefully to help bring about a solution which, ultimately, can only result from negotiations between Tunisia and France.

Secretary Rusk has told your representatives that this is a battle which Tunisia, in the exercise of her sovereignty, cannot lose. There remains the problem of working out the details. Knowing as you do my disposition and sentiments, you will I trust not hesitate to communicate to me an indication as to the means by which you may now deem it would be useful for the United States to act to bring about a genuine settlement of the problem of Bizerte.

Sincerely yours, s/John F. Kennedy.”3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 772.56351/8-2861. Confidential; Niact; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Witman; cleared by Tyler, Veliotes, Wallner, Fredericks, Ball, and Schlesinger; and approved by Johnson. Repeated to Paris and USUN.
  2. In telegram 336 from Tunis, August 26, Walmsley reported that the Tunisian Foreign Office had suggested he meet with Bourguiba before Bourguiba’s departure from Tunisia on August 31. Walmsley recommended that he be given a message from President Kennedy for Bourguiba with “some soothing words of encouragement and sympathy.” Walmsley added that it was extremely important that the United States signify its intention to support both U.N. resolutions and to continue its efforts to bring about negotiations. (Ibid.)
  3. In telegram 174 to Tunis, August 28, the Department of State conveyed to Walmsley the text of oral remarks to be made to Bourguiba while delivering the letter from President Kennedy printed here. Walmsley was to emphasize U.S. efforts since the start of the crisis to be helpful in bringing the problem to the negotiating table, and would continue to do everything possible to be helpful. (Ibid.)
  4. On August 29, Walmsley reported that he delivered the President’s message to Bourguiba who had been grateful but who had no constructive suggestion for U.S. diplomatic activity unless the United States was prepared to anger De Gaulle. (Telegram 352, August 29; 772.56351/8-2961)