51. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer and Harold H. Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to President Kennedy0


  • Action Program to Spur French-Algerian Negotiations

Can we afford any longer to pursue such a cautious policy on the Algerian question when we may well be heading for a major blowup?

DeGaulle appears to be heading toward a showdown with the OAS, with a final desperate coup attempt possible. The PAG is preparing large-scale Moslem demonstrations in Algeria on 1 November, and European extremists probably hope to provoke fighting. French indignation at Moslem demonstrations in Paris has already made DeGaulle’s task even harder. DeGaulle himself seems ready in default of a quick negotiated solution to abandon most of Algeria “to chaos”.

If negotiations fail, DeGaulle seems determined to proceed with a shadow government and then, if the PAG won’t join in this indirect solution, with regrouping the European population and cutting off aid to the rest. Such partition could lead to a bloodbath, diverting French attention and resources from Berlin, and driving the two sides even farther apart. The U.S. then would face the intolerable choice of flouting DeGaulle to help the Algerians or leaving a vacuum for the Communists to fill. In short, the next round of talks between the French and Algerians, expected soon, may be the last chance for a decent settlement.

Hence from our viewpoint, a negotiated settlement and transitional Algerian cooperation with France are essential. But is there anything we can do in this situation where our interests are so vitally at stake? To date, we have played the role of “friendly bystander” largely because we saw no other recourse. There are strong arguments for continuing this role: DeGaulle would undoubtedly be offended by any “U.S. interference”, however motivated; powerful segments of French opinion would also be [Page 71] aroused. Nor do we have much leverage with the PAG because we can’t offer recognition.

However, in a situation containing the seeds of disaster, anything we could do, however marginal, is at least worth considering. In the basically new situation created by DeGaulle’s desperate search for a settlement, the target of these initiatives must be the PAG. DeGaulle and Joxe have come a long way already, perhaps as far as they can go. But the PAG smells victory and shows little inclination to compromise. They do not appear to understand that DeGaulle’s fall would ruin chances for a quick settlement. Nor do they appear to understand that DeGaulle needs a few basic concessions to sell decolonization in France and to the colons.

Our objectives. First, if possible, we want to stave off the 1 November demonstrations in Algeria. Second, we must be willing to talk more specifically with the PAG about post-independence relations, particularly economic assistance. Third, we might seek help of friendly pro-PAG quarters in convincing the PAG to negotiate reasonably.

Specifically, we want to get across the following points to the PAG:

Large-scale demonstrations now could destroy chances for a negotiated settlement. The best way for the PAG to win control over the Moslem population is to cooperate with DeGaulle and get in on the ground floor of the transitional government—not by mounting demonstrations that could lead to bloodshed. If negotiations begin by 1 November, the PAG would have reason to call off their demonstrations. The demonstrations in France have already weakened DeGaulle’s case for a negotiated settlement and increased anti-Algerian feeling, which strengthens support for the OAS.
Failure to negotiate a settlement now could make Algeria one of the worst battlegrounds of the cold war and deprive it of real independence. Partition could cut off French assistance and, frankly, make U.S. aid all but impossible. Algeria’s resultant dependence on Bloc aid would deprive it of freedom to pursue a policy of genuine neutrality. Algerian aspiration to control all of Algeria could become a cold war victim with France and the Soviet Union contesting control. On the other hand, the PAG can have everything essential now simply by negotiating reasonably.
The PAG must face the fact that DeGaulle’s fall would disrupt French efforts at decolonization. They should take advantage of DeGaulle as the one man able to go through with it. They misjudge the situation if they think a rightist successor would not quickly scrap the whole idea.
The PAG must understand that DeGaulle, desperately as he wants a quick settlement, needs realistic guarantees for the European minority in order to sell decolonization in France. This is the gut issue. If the PAG will only give guarantees now, no one can stop it later from making gradually [Page 72] whatever reasonable adjustments may be more consistent with the status of the Europeans in the new nation.
The U.S. will naturally want to help independent Algeria economically. As mentioned, however, it will be almost impossible to do so if Algeria is partitioned. Moreover, a negotiated settlement will be very important to the U.S. government in selling a substantial aid program to the Congress.
If the PAG showed real movement toward an accommodation, we would be willing to begin exploratory planning of post-independence assistance, in order to be ready to move quickly after independence. Perhaps the PAG could prepare some of its UN delegates to begin such talks, which could be followed up regularly in Tunis. Many complex problems will demand solution; the sooner we establish contact, the better.
But far more important than any conceivable allocation of US aid would be what PAG might get from the French, if it were sufficiently forthcoming. PAG might even be able to get a French commitment to continue the Constantine Plan program. Moreover, PAG should not underestimate the economic value to them of the European minority. Reasonable guarantees for them would be farsighted and help to preserve them as a significant economic asset.
Bloc aid could not conceivably add up to what France, backed by US, could do. Moreover, it is folly for PAG not to look at the other side of the coin. The economic chaos created by partition or the political upheaval created by Algeria’s direct embroilment in the cold war would inevitably delay Algeria’s assuming its rightful responsible role in Arab and African councils.

How can we get these points across? The first hurdle is to get reluctant French acquiescence if possible for the above approach to the PAG. One possibility would be a Presidential letter to DeGaulle. Or a quiet talk between Porter and Joxe, who appears more receptive than DeGaulle, might accomplish the same thing (in any case, the Porter-Joxe channel would be useful to inform the French of our new initiatives). We would have to decide in advance whether to seek French approval or merely clue them. They might even prefer the latter. Then we should instruct Walmsley to present our eight-point case to Krim or Dahlab in Tunis.

2. AID should draw together what we know about Algerian economic needs and should prepare an appropriate officer to talk knowledgeably with the PAG about U.S. assistance after independence. We should begin planning our economic assistance program and should arrange for working level contacts, to begin here and to continue in Tunis.

3. We should try to create a sense of urgency and reason in as many pro-PAG quarters as possible. If U.S. advice carries little weight with the PAG, let’s start talking through other mouths as well. For instance, Bonsal [Page 73] might approach the Moroccans to urge use of such influence as they have with the PAG. (King Hassan’s recent expressions of concern about Algeria provide an opening.) Stevenson could ask Lebanese Foreign Minister Takla, now at the UN, to explore the possibility of his pressing our line with the Iraqi (who have given the PAG financial help) and other Arab nations. Let’s make our case to President Senghor of Senegal during his visit here on 3 November.

Recommendation: We have already gotten some movement from State by a gentle nudging on Algeria. (Our meeting with State last Tuesday led to Outgoing ____ to Paris, etc.1 But State may still be moving too slowly to meet the need. AF is toying with the idea of proposing a Task Force, but EUR will no doubt oppose. Perhaps a Presidential action memo is called for. We’ll draft one if we don’t see signs of movement in next few days.2

  • Robert W. Komer
  • Harold H. Saunders3
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Schlesinger Papers, French-Algerian Negotiations. Secret; Noforn. On October 27, Komer sent this memorandum to McGeorge Bundy under cover of a memorandum that reads: “FYI, here is a draft Memorandum to the President which I originally intended to propose you send forward with an NSC Action Memo attached. Since the talk which Arthur, Hal Saunders, and I had with the State people, however, I prefer holding up a few days until we can get a better idea as to what, if anything, State proposes to do. Hence, attached is merely to fill you in on the sense of urgency which we feel about this problem. Admittedly, our leverage with the PAG may be marginal and the costs of offending De Gaulle at this juncture high. But the cost of not doing whatever we can, however little, to forestall a frightful mess and push a negotiated solution might be higher still.”
  2. On October 24, Komer, Schlesinger, and Saunders met with Tyler, Brown, and Imhof of EUR and Fredericks, Herz, and Witman of AF. EUR officials indicated that above all, they were concerned with not offending De Gaulle and argued that current channels were sufficient for all necessary contact with the PAG, while AF insisted that these channels were not adequate and that it was absolutely essential to begin practical preparations for Algerian independence. (Memorandum of conversation; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memos Series, Staff Memoranda, Robert W. Komer) Reference is presumably to telegram 2432 to Paris, Document 52.
  3. The memorandum was also sent to Arthur Schlesinger with a handwritten note in the margin of the transmittal memorandum from Komer to Bundy asking for Schlesinger’s reaction. On October 30, Schlesinger responded that the PAG should not be the exclusive target of the initiative, to which Komer replied on November 1 that he doubted it was feasible to press the French at this point, noting that so far De Gaulle had done all the giving. (Kennedy Library, Schlesinger Papers, French-Algerian Negotiations)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears these typed signatures.