178. Telegram From Secretary of State Rusk to the Department of State0

Secto 36. Following based on uncleared memcon:

Bizerte crisis discussed at length by Secretary with Mokkadem today.1 Mokkadem reviewed steps taken by Tunisia to help France pull itself with dignity out of the trough (“orniere”) in which it was stuck, emphasizing statesmanship of Bourguiba in seizing on slender openings in De Gaulle statement of September 5.2 Mokkadem stressed negotiations [Page 267] on dead center. Despite fact agreement reached on withdrawal of French troops to previous positions and on supervision of withdrawal, no actual movement taking place owing to fact French have been waiting for six days for instructions from Paris. Sec indicated Dept would look into this delay.
Mokkadem stressed Tunisian desire achieve friendly statesmanlike resolution of Bizerte negotiations which he described as composed of three phases: (1) withdrawal to previous positions; (2) determination of length “dangerous period” caused by Berlin crisis and (3) agreement on eventual French departure from Bizerte base.
Sec explained that US position on UN resolution may make it possible for US play constructive role in resolving crisis. He made clear he not offering US assume “good offices” role but that nonetheless he hoped Tunisian Govt would keep him informed of developments as he was prepared do everything possible to end this quarrel among friendly states with whom we on most friendly terms. He pointed out that US should not be assumed have particular influence with General De Gaulle but that he felt there was nonetheless a role which the US should be willing to play.
In commenting on US attitude toward Bizerte problem, Sec stressed following fundamentals: (1) Bizerte indisputably Tunisian and subject to Tunisian sovereignty; (2) US security interest in base limited to desire it not fall into unfriendly hands; (3) in commencing negotiations and taking action withdraw troops, French were on path which would eventually end with French return of base to Tunisian Govt.
In conclusion Sec informed Mokkadem very confidentially that he tentatively anticipated that within next four to six weeks there would be some clarification of Soviet intentions with regard to Berlin. It was possible and he devoutly hoped there would be a detente. On the other hand, a worsening of the crisis would lead to a situation the end of which no one could foresee but which would assuredly affect scope of considerations bearing on Bizerte issue.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 772.56351/9-2661. Confidential. No time of transmission appears on the source text. Repeated to Paris and Tunis.
  2. The conversation between Secretary Rusk and Tunisian Foreign Minister Sadok Mokkadem at the United Nations in New York was recorded in a memorandum of conversation; ibid., Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330.
  3. At a September 5 press conference, De Gaulle asked the Tunisian Government to agree first to a modus vivendi for Bizerte and then to open negotiations on conditions for the use of the base during the dangerous period through which the world is currently passing. For text of his remarks, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, p. 748. On September 8, Bourguiba announced that he was prepared to allow the French to retain the naval base, subject to its eventual evacuation, and negotiations between the two countries were begun.