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

6008. Ref: Embtel 5514 (not rptd info addressees).2 Impact of Gromyko visit to Paris next week3 on future French-Soviet relations and on European scene generally will be difficult to judge until the event has taken place. It seems especially prudent to reserve judgment before and since it appears that both Russians and De Gaulle are seeking to profit from secondary, or psychological, effects of rapprochement [Page 93] they are cautiously exploring. This tends to obscure realities of Franco-Soviet relations. Neither side can go very far without creating unpredictable and dangerous consequences to their rear: for the Soviets, too much truck with Gaullist ideas about “greater” Europe could have unsettling influence on Soviet position in Eastern Europe; for the French there are the obvious dangers of undermining French influence in FRG and French leading position in EEC. We therefore think that talk about reversal of alliances and a Franco-Soviet “deal,” prevalent in much opposition press speculation, seriously misses the point.

As suggested in reftel, one cannot feel entirely confident that De Gaulle will give nothing of importance away to Soviets. De Gaulle’s Asian policy (Vietnam, SEATO) and failure thus far to help Erhard in latter’s efforts to make some progress in European integration before FRG elections, despite fact De Gaulle apparently allowed Erhard to leave Rambouillet4 thinking he had such a commitment, are not encouraging signs. On other hand, Quai officers have tried to assure US, and apparently FRG Embassy as well, that we needn’t worry about Gromyko visit. Quai characterizes it as merely probing exercise, such as that periodically conducted by US and UK with Soviets, and claims De Gaulle is fully aware of its dangers and limitations.

It seems to us that what Soviets obviously would like to get out of France at this stage is some form of recognition of status quo in Germany. De Gaulle’s Feb 4 press conference5 may have encouraged them to hope they can get French to accept language more favorable to GDR than anything French have previously agreed to multilaterally or stated themselves unilaterally through De Gaulle’s speeches or press conferences. We believe, however, that French are fully aware of possible adverse consequences this might have in FRG, fresh reminder of which was German press treatment of recent exchanges of correspondence between De Gaulle and Adenauer and Erhard.

There remains possibility of some kind of friendship or non-aggression pact being concluded. However, we think this prospect very remote, particularly since Gromyko visit (with return Couve visit to Moscow) is only first chapter of Franco-Soviet dialogue. More likely possibility would be for De Gaulle to move step closer toward committing himself to visit USSR, which Soviets have been pressing him to do repeatedly.

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Itemized below are what we consider will be main topics dominating discussion during Gromyko visit:

Germany. The French have made no effort to disguise that Western security and/or Germany will be main item on agenda. From De Gaulle’s standpoint, it would be risky to jettison all prospects for his continued popularity with certain sectors of German opinion by overt indications of his presumed desire to see Germany indefinitely divided. However, his Feb 4 press conference placed German reunification in realm of distant future where this could be acceptable to Germany’s eastern as well as western neighbors. Numerous statements recently made on formal occasions by Ambassadors Vinogradov and Zorin here in Paris to effect that France and USSR are primarily responsible for European security, and De Gaulle’s happy acquiescence of this echo to his own thesis, suggest this may constitute basis for expressing “common views” or “mutual interest” in joint communiquéwhich doubtlessly will be issued. Absence or tardiness of public concern in German quarters (at least as far as we can judge from here) over implications of De Gaulle’s Feb 4 press conference, would, we would imagine, encourage De Gaulle to pursue theme that German reunification is exclusively concern of European countries, rather than matter also primarily affecting US or even UK. On other hand Quai publicly denied any French intention depart from quadripartite responsibility for settling German problem after Feb 4 press conference and same assurance was given to Secretary by Couve during latter’s visit to Washington.
Vietnam. Here seems to be even less basis for genuine dialogue, despite previous French expressions of readiness to concert policy with USSR to end hostilities. While De Gaulle doubtless would be delighted to claim or jointly share with USSR credit for moves leading to an international settlement over Vietnam or better yet a “great power” concord on Southeast Asia, this vision of glory apparently has shrunk as events have escalated far beyond the possible diplomatic impact of communiqués issued by MinInfo Peyrefitte after Elysee Council of Ministers’ meetings. Nevertheless, it possible that Kremlin and Elysee will try to agree on some vague language expressing desire for a negotiated settlement—fuzzing over issue of what conditions, if any, should precede them. On this matter Russians also operate under obvious limits imposed by other members of socialist camp.
Eastern Europe. Although it safe bet that future status of Eastern Europe will be omitted from communiqué, and probably even from forthright private discussion, this problem will remain in background as reminder of wide gulf that really exists between France and Russia regarding Western security. Sore point with Communists, which we sensed from Soviet diplomats here and which has been strongly registered [Page 95] by French Communists, is Gaullist theme that Eastern European countries, not to mention USSR, must “evolve” out of Communism to merit inclusion in De Gaulle’s “enlarged Europe.” Such evolution is quite fundamental to De Gaulle’s concept of a Europe free from US “hegemony.” Although former Soviet Ambassador Vinogradov apparently succeeded in getting some influential French circles to believe that USSR has changed sufficiently to permit early consideration of Franco-Soviet cooperation in place of France’s present reliance on its Western allies for security, we doubt that when it comes down to discussing brass tacks with Gromyko and Zorin, De Gaulle will find there is hope for early realization Europe from Atlantic to Urals.

One related but not unimportant factor which may also influence de Gaulle in his flirtation with Soviets is effect which ostensible rapprochement with Soviet Union may have on French Communist Party in connection with presidential election this December. De Gaulle undoubtedly hopes that some PCF voters will vote for him (or his heir) and partial justification for such vote could be provided through improved Franco-Soviet relations.6

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 1 FR. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to Moscow, Bonn, and London.
  2. Telegram 5514 from Paris, March 31, reported on the increasing signs of dissatisfaction with De Gaulle’s foreign policy among French elites. (Ibid.)
  3. Gromyko visited France April 25-30.
  4. They met in Rambouillet January 19-20; for text of the press release by the German Government, see Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1965-66, p. 20707.
  5. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1965, pp. 476-478.
  6. For text of the communiquéissued at the end of Gromyko’s visit, see ibid., pp. 522-523.