177. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France0

1250. We share USUN’s concern (550 rptd Paris 104)1 at damage which could be caused by renewal Bizerte issue in 16th GA.

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We have considered carefully USUN’s suggestion for Presidential letter to De Gaulle and believe such an approach would prove counterproductive at this time.

Believe, however, it essential we make our grave concern patently clear to French. You should, therefore, seek appointment with FonMin, and make following points:

You have been instructed by Secretary of State with full approval of President to raise urgently problem of Bizerte.
Bizerte has become far more than issue involving only France and Tunisia. Recent debate in Special Session indicates that renewed debate on Bizerte in 16th GA could rapidly turn into generalized political attack by Soviets and Afro-Asians on Western defense policies. Furthermore, continued existence unresolved Bizerte problem affects adversely our interests on such vital questions as Berlin.
With Special Session out of way France and Tunisia have short period in which to arrange modus vivendi. This period may expire when General Assembly convenes. Should it pass without forward movement, highly likely UN will directly condemn France for intransigence and may even entertain proposals for sanctions.
Tunisians are attending Belgrade conference and it unlikely they will take major actions by themselves before testing atmosphere that conference. We have indications, however, Tunisians ready make some accommodations which could lessen tension now existing. (FYI. August 28 Tunisian note to GOF sent through Swedes. End FYI.)
As major power and as country which achieved military victory on ground, a magnanimous gesture by France could have catalytic effect and lead to gestures by Tunisians.
As example of definite actions France might take, we believe announcement of withdrawal to base perimeter and willingness negotiate as envisaged in exchange of letters of 19582 would prove most effective as means reach bilateral accommodation necessary and to prevent further growth anti-French feeling throughout world.
FonMin. will appreciate fact we worked hard at Special Session prevent condemnation of France and to re-focus Bizerte issue on bilateral plane. Our efforts have not been without heavy cost. We cannot hope be as successful in future.
Therefore, we wish FonMin. to convey to President De Gaulle and French Govt. our fervent hopes France will make gesture needed and [Page 266] move this vexatious problem towards resolution so that allies may concentrate on crucial problem now facing us.3

For USUN: We are considering further suggestions re approach to Algerians noted your 580.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 772.56351/8-2661. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Brown; cleared by Tyler, Manfull, Wallner, Ball, Fredericks, and Smith (White House); and approved by Ball. Repeated to Tunis and USUN.
  2. Stevenson reported on August 26 that the U.N. special session had shown that the Bizerte crisis had been “gravely damaging” to the reputation not only of France, but to the United States and the West as a whole. The United Nations’ reputation as the defender of small states against military intervention by large ones had also been tarnished. Stevenson warned of the most serious effects on Afro-Asian attitudes if the situation were allowed to persist during the 16th General Assembly session beginning September 19 and noted that all of these factors warranted a strong appeal by the President to De Gaulle that he make a “bold and generous initiative” to resolve the Bizerte situation before September 19. (Telegram 550 from USUN; ibid.)
  3. On June 17, 1958, France and Tunisia reached agreement that all French troops except those at Bizerte would withdraw from Tunisia and that negotiations for a provisional agreement on Bizerte would begin immediately. For text of the French and Tunisian statements announcing the agreement at the June 18 U.N. Security Council meeting, see U.N. Doc. S/PV.826.
  4. On September 2, Ambassador Gavin reported that he had raised the Bizerte problem during a tour d’horizon with De Gaulle that morning before receiving the instructions in telegram 1250. De Gaulle had said that the situation was “all Bourguiba’s doing” and that Bourguiba “knew full well that France had no intention of staying in Bizerte forever.” He said that France was “ready to do what must be done to relieve tension” but it was up to Bourguiba to take the first initiative and France would “not relinquish control of the base while present international tension continues.” (Telegram 1198 from Paris, September 2; Department of State, Central Files, 772.56351/9-261) Since the Foreign Minister was absent from Paris, an Embassy officer conveyed the points in telegram 1250 to the chief of the Moroccan-Tunisian section of the French Foreign Ministry that afternoon. (Telegram 1204 from Paris, September 2; ibid.)
  5. Telegram 580 from USUN, August 30. (Ibid., 772.56351/8-2961)