181. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France 0

3798. French strategy to liquidate Bizerte problem seems now to be nicely complemented by Tunisian desires not to be isolated from main train developments in North Africa.

Dept encouraged by French-Tun agreement to talk at ministerial level,1 though we cognizant troublesome central issues remain (Tunis tel 792 rpt Paris 376)2 and pace toward definitive solution is perhaps decisively dependent on timing Algerian denouement.

Emb Tunis and Emb Paris, in conveying to appropriate levels Foreign Ministries our gratification at new fluidity their respective government’s positions, should state our conviction that present conjuncture [Page 272] seems propitious for agreement.3 Emb Tunis may note to Tunisians our belief French now giving clear signs they ready liquidate problem on basis which could be agreeable to Tuns and our hope Tuns will give full consideration magnitude France’s Algerian and domestic difficulties in presentation demands. Emb Paris may say we continue be convinced Tuns will be flexible re timing Bizerte base reconversion but convinced also that Tuns must emerge from ministerial talks with something they can represent as solid progress on what for Tunisians is main issue, eventual evacuation. Failure ministerial talks might irretrievably weaken Bourguiba and could set back solution for months to come.

FYI. Although French desire for access rights expressed by Guiringaud (Paris tel 3312 rptd Tunis 305)4 understandable, we hope negotiations will not break down on this issue.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 772.56351/1-1062. Confidential. Drafted by Stackhouse, cleared by Imhof, and approved by Witman. Repeated to Tunis.
  2. Franco-Tunisian talks on Bizerte at the ministerial level began in Paris on January 16. On January 20, the Tunisian delegation suspended the negotiations because of what it called French intransigence.
  3. Telegram 792 from Tunis, January 6, called Bourguiba’s decision to negotiate without previous French commitment to a calendar both audacious and realistic, but also noted the potential conflict between the Tunisian condition that the item of eventual demilitarization of Bizerte be included on the agenda and the French goal of negotiating re-entry rights to the base. (Department of State, Central Files, 772.56351/1-662)
  4. Gavin reported on January 12 that an Embassy officer had discussed Bizerte with a French Foreign Ministry official, who was going to be “heavily involved” in the forthcoming negotiations. The Ambassador emphasized that the French were “actively interested in emergency re-entry rights” to Bizerte, which was not the minor issue for the French that the last paragraph of telegram 3798 seemed to imply. (Telegram 3436 from Paris, January 12; ibid., 772.56351/1-1262)
  5. Dated January 4. (Ibid., 772.56351.1-462)
  6. On January 13, Walmsley cabled that French re-entry rights to Bizerte would not, in his judgment, be “politically defensible” for the Tunisian Government. He pointed out that the “tragic element” in this situation was that Bourguiba, more than any other North African leader, could be counted upon in time of real emergency, but could not afford to sign up in advance to “any new servitude which would again expose him to attack as Western puppet.” (Telegram 799 from Tunis, January 13; ibid., 772.56351/1-362)