25. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

3857. We appear to be heading for a confrontation with French on Cuban trade. For Embassy to be effective in circumstances, we will need clear-cut instructions on real US objectives. Following are considerations bearing on such instructions:

Four Major Actual or Potential Issues Between US and French on Cuban Trade:
French Credit Guarantees for Exports to Cuba. $10 million has already been approved for trucks and tractors (Embtel 3832)2 and indications are there may be more. In particular we have no assurance credit guarantees would not be issued for locomotives should request again be made.
Request for information specific firms involved in Cuban trade and their connections (based on Deptel 3780)3 now outstanding in FonOff. We understand from Wormser (Embtel 3818)4 we will get negative reply.
On shipping, FonOff has forwarded forms transmitted CA-63595 to companies, but none have been returned, either directly or through FonOff. Basis Deptel 4004 and Depcirtel 1227,6 we understand there is question whether French performance can be considered satisfactory under amendment to Foreign Assistance Act. Would appreciate information re application this amendment to British situation.
If French performance on shipping or on general Cuban trade policy judged inadequate, US may have to inform French Govt of termination aid. While remaining US aid program is minimal (Embtel [Page 39] 3824),7 public announcement such action inevitable and certain create political storm, especially coming on top of press attention already given to US-French differences on Cuban trade.
French Position on Credit Guarantees for Cuban Trade:
Despite our best efforts here and in NATO, GOF (even officials basically sympathetic to US position) not persuaded basic validity our position. As Alphand indicated (Deptel 4008),8 French believe effort isolate Cuba essentially governed by US domestic considerations; they tend to doubt desirability, as well as practicality, of economic warfare against Cuba. Hence their relatively cooperative attitude to date governed by desire accommodate US rather than by any conviction of their own.
Until recently FonOff (which has on whole tried restrain French participation in Cuban trade and shipping) has had upper hand. British bus deal, however, led to intensive industrial pressures reflected through Industry and Finance Ministries. In view British Govt action, and absence political conviction based on French national interests, FonOff has been unwilling (and probably unable) in truck case to veto credit guarantees on political grounds; same may apply to locomotives and other upcoming deals.
FonOff position until recently was strengthened by technical consideration that Finance Ministry considered Cuba bad debtor. It now appears (from Guindey, Embtel 3804 and DeLattre, Embtel 3833)9 that Cubans have taken some action which removes this technical block.
Result is that GOF position has been shifting towards treating Cuba on same basis as any other country for credit purposes (although strategic exports as defined COCOM list apparently still apply), unless in any particular case FonOff exercises veto on political grounds. In present atmosphere, however, FonOff will have hard time using only argument they feel they have—i.e. that such deals would displease US.
Sovereignty Issue. Problems described para 1B, C, and D above all raise in different ways issue of French “sovereignty” in face alleged US efforts to enforce its own will on French Govt or private citizens by use of our greater power. This is issue on which French always sensitive, but particularly so in context Gaullist foreign policy.
French have already indicated (Embtel 3758)10 their objection to Embassy’s dealing directly with firms under French jurisdiction on [Page 40] Cuban trade matters. In private conversations, several French officials have mentioned (without specifying) cases in which US officials have allegedly “threatened” French companies with retaliation if they engage in Cuban trade.
In same line, we already know (Embtel 3818)11 French will give us negative answer to request for information on American connections of firms engaged in Cuban trade. Assume grounds will be professional secrecy, but reason will be to protect French firms from danger of American “sanctions.”
While French have not recently objected to US efforts to force French shippers out of Cuban trade under Executive Order of Feb. 6, 1963,12 there is little doubt that they resent these efforts and are liable to make this point in any over-all approach they make to us. For same reason, we doubt they will go much farther than they have in cooperating with us on this subject. In particular, a written commitment such as suggested Deptel 4004 seems almost out of question.
As already indicated, cut-off of US aid under amendment to FAA, though amounts involved are very small and effect on French policy nil, will provide easy basis for dramatization accusation US attempting to treat France as “colony;” Gaullist La Nation has already taken this line in commenting on US reaction to recent announcement credit guarantees to Cuba. Tiny nature of “stick” also likely be ridiculed by French and European press.
Courses of Action. In this situation, we cannot in Embassy’s view expect to hold the line on French participation in Cuban trade and shipping, as we have relative successfully so far, by informal low-key, low-level dealings with essentially sympathetic officials. We seem have choice between two possible courses of action:
To pursue piecemeal effort to apply brakes on selective basis to French actions which might be of particular importance in terms of Cuban economy. This would require high-level approach to FonOff or FonMin, making clear we not attempting dictate policy to GOF but asking them exercise maximum restraint on Cuban matters in order avoid creating problem which could aggravate already unfortunate state Franco-American relations. To succeed in this approach, we would have to limit our objectives to questions of real importance (e.g. locomotives) and be prepared abandon any vigorous effort enforce our policy against private companies either in shipping or non-shipping business. Possibility of success would be much enhanced if we could [Page 41] persuade British to modify their position; another vigorous effort in NATO to obtain multilateral support for policy of restraint on Cuban trade would also contribute a great deal.
Alternatively, we can make a more formal approach to French Govt, asking for GOF refusal to grant credit guarantees for Cuba, and full GOF cooperation in preventing French shipping and other companies from participating in Cuban trade. Such approach would be backed up by straightforward implementation of amendment to FAA. In diplomatic terms, such approach would certainly be a failure, as GOF under present circumstances would not accept what they would interpret as US “dictation.” We would, however, make a clear record that we had done our best to stop Franco-Cuban trade. The price would be a public issue on this subject between US and GOF, which will further exacerbate US-French relations with possible broader impact on relations with other EEC countries, who might well accept French lead on this particular issue.
Choice between these two courses of action depends essentially on whether we are more interested in making a record or in limited practical results on Cuban trade itself. In light considerations earlier part this telegram there is no guarantee at all that first course (para 4A) would succeed; we can only find out by trying. If, however, Dept judges it more essential we make record, or if mandatory legislative provisions leave us no choice, then we must choose course of action in 4B and do what we can to limit damage to Franco-American relations.
Would appreciate Dept’s instructions soonest, as we expect FonOff to call Embassy in at high level in next few days on this subject even if we do not take initiative.13

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, STR 12-3 CUBA-FR. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to London, Bonn, and Brussels for the Embassy and USEC.
  2. Dated February 11. (Ibid., STR 12-3 CUBA FR)
  3. Telegram 3780 to Paris, January 27, requested information on French firms selling to Cuba. (Ibid.)
  4. Dated February 10. (Ibid.)
  5. Dated October 23, 1963. (Ibid., STR 10 CUBA)
  6. Neither printed. (Both ibid., AID (US))
  7. Telegram 3824 from Paris, February 11, outlined the U.S. military assistance program in France. (Ibid., STR 10 CUBA)
  8. Not printed. (Ibid., STR 12-3 CUBA-FR)
  9. Telegram 3804 from Paris, February 6, reported French Foreign Ministry views on the subject of trade with Cuba. Telegram 3833 from Paris, February 11, reported that the French Government no longer considered Cuba a debt risk. (Both ibid.)
  10. Telegram 3758 from Paris reported that France would oppose as a matter of policy contacts between U.S. representatives and French companies trading with Cuba. (Ibid., STR 12-3 CUBA-FR)
  11. Not printed. (Ibid.)
  12. Reference is to a White House announcement that action would be taken to assure U.S. Government-financed cargoes would not be shipped on foreign flag vessels trading with Cuba. For text, see Department of State Bulletin, February 25, 1963, p. 283.
  13. Telegram 4096 to Paris, February 14, instructed that the handling of trade issues should follow the outline of paragraph 4B of telegram 3857 and that the Embassy should avoid public comment. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, STR 12-3 CUBA-FR)