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

5144. Three weeks after Foreign Minister’s return from US, it might be worthwhile take stock present status US-French relations as seen from here. Unfortunately despite all-out effort which was made in Washington to discuss matters in fullest spirit friendship with Couve, French Government has not behaved in fashion befitting an old ally in recent weeks and there are abundant signs both latent and apparent of stress in our official relations.

[Page 90]

In view its role as number one topic among our foreign problems, Vietnam has held special significance in our relations with France recently. We will not repeat here abundant evidences of Franco-American differences on Vietnam as these have been repeatedly reported by Embassy. Furthermore it is not so much fact French policy differs from ours that causes us concern but particularly exasperating way in which French keep reiterating their call for an international conference without preconditions and apparently deliberately misunderstanding our viewpoint.

It will be recalled that within matter of hours following Couve’s return from US on February 24 Information Minister Peyrefitte issued call for Franco-Soviet “concert” of policy on Vietnam. On subject Franco-Soviet relations incidentally Paris is, of course, full of rumors of impending closer ties between two continental states whose interests parallel in some instances (see Embassy Airgram 2008, March 10, 1965).2 There is little hard evidence of any sharp alteration in these relations except appointment Zorin to Paris seems indicate tendency on part Soviets get French to “put up or shut up” particularly on European and German matters and to some extent responds to French nibbles.

Effect of French attitudes towards Soviets inevitably has repercussions on relation with US and impression is widespread in Paris that De Gaulle policy towards Soviets intended annoy US as much as anything. Embassy does not believe situation calls for alarm on our part or indeed any special notice of French flirtation with East at all beyond occasional reminders this is not passing unnoticed, especially since French do not seem to be getting anywhere. However, indubitably impression is left here that de Gaulle policy of increasing independence from US is furthered by recent developments in French policy towards Soviet Union. Thus net effect despite fact French have made relatively little headway is to give impression further deterioration US-French relations.

While nuclear control question within Alliance is dormant for moment in French mind it could spring back into limelight if current

German-British discussions lead to call for multilateral meeting on subject. French impression is that major victory over US achieved last December when MLF as then conceived not pushed further.3 Since it remains unclear that new formula has been found, French at moment passive. However they have made clear their unswerving opposition [Page 91] to any form of Allied Nuclear Force and will return to charge if we seem to be getting off dead center. Furthermore French at moment consider they have upper hand over US because they do not believe other allies will ever find formula that can be successfully “sold” at least prior German elections. This issue then remains quiet but potential major explosive issue in US-French relations if situation changes.

In other European fields our relations with French less tense. French have retreated from de Gaulle press conference implication that US (and UK) should not be concerned with German problem. This is probably tactical move however and appointment Zorin may presage Soviet effort deal with French on German problem without US. For moment this also quiescent though French still seek give impression that US is attempting break down smooth running Franco-German partnership and that we seeking exclusivity in our relationship with Federal Republic.

In more general field European integration French, of course, less directly at odds with US because of our non-membership in “Six.” However, it is clear that despite encouraging noises made at Rambouillet by de Gaulle, French do not intend to take initiative on tentative agreements reached there towards calling series of meetings at high levels during spring and summer to attempt make progress in integration field. On contrary every indication we have here is to effect French, while ostensibly ready to listen to other five, are making no moves towards implementation Rambouillet at this time and we have been categorically told this is case by de Gaulle (Embtel 3873)4 [and?] by pertinent Foreign Office officials.

In purely bilateral questions matters have also not been going too well. Without entering into relatively minor irritants, French attitude towards US requests for assistance with important scientific projects (including Apollo-Gemini) involving Tahiti indicates unjustified suspicion US motives in area. Their failure give US clearcut approval in these cases appears to us to be clearly motivated by suspicion in connection with French nuclear tests scheduled for this area.

French public attacks on present international monetary system on ground it gives special position to dollar and unjustified advantages to United States are significant irritant in our bilateral relations and cause us some difficulty in multilateral discussions. While some elements of these French views are often sincerely held by technicians and specialists, it is hard to escape conclusion that the special twist they [Page 92] have been given in recent months is motivated at least partly by political desire to strike new blow for “independence” from the United States.

Coupled with above outline of substantive problems in our relations, official radio and TV plus UNR press continues sniping at US along lines reported.

Should above summary indicate lives of American residents and Embassy personnel in Paris in any way personally difficult, it would give totally erroneous impression. Curiously enough atmosphere and attitudes French public generally appears more friendly than during difficult days of Fourth Republic through which France passed. Present French outlook seems one of self-confidence and self-reliance (partially of course caused by Fifth Republic) in which dependence on US has disappeared. As result anti-American attitudes among French public seem to have waned, perhaps partially as reaction to Gaullist policies. Difficulties reported above are almost entirely on government-to-government level and appear largely reflect personal policies of General De Gaulle which in many cases are opposed, largely ineffectively, by his own officials. Nevertheless, finally it should not be concluded that our problems with France are nearer to solution because French public remains almost entirely friendly to US.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL FR-US. Secret. Repeated to Bonn, London, Moscow, Rome, The Hague, Brussels, and Luxembourg.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid., POL FR-USSR)
  3. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIII, Documents 6365. For text of the NATO communiqué, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pp. 507-508.
  4. Telegram 3873 from Paris, January 8, reported that during discussions with Bohlen, De Gaulle stated that he saw no important question affecting NATO arising in 1965. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 15-1 FR)