70. Telegram From Secretary of State Rusk to the Department of State1
9131. Secto 66. Eyes Only for President from Secretary. Accompanied by Bohlen, I paid a call on General De Gaulle and we had approximately one hour’s conversation. The only other person present was Andronikov, the interpreter.
After an exchange of amenities during which I conveyed to General De Gaulle your personal greetings and De Gaulle requested that I give to you his cordial personal wishes, De Gaulle said they had been following very closely reports of your operation2 and had been delighted at your complete recovery. We then discussed the following subjects: Soviet/Chinese relations; Vietnam; and East/West relations in Europe.[Page 136]
I mentioned that we thought the developments in China were of greatest importance although we did not know exactly what their meaning was. We had felt in our discussions with the Russians that China was always present in the background of their talks. De Gaulle replied that relations between the Soviet Union and China were not good and in his opinion would get worse. He said they had discussed this subject with Kosygin during his recent visit and that my observation had been quite correct, that China was always present in Soviet thoughts. China had not yet acquired the means of power but they were working hard to obtain them. He considered they were more fearful of the Soviets which surrounded China to the north than they were of the U.S. The Soviets see everything in Chinese terms, even including Vietnam.
I told the General that in recent conversations with the Russians, who had never been willing to discuss China, Gromyko had nonetheless said there was an element of irrationality in Chinese developments which made it difficult to draw correct conclusions. I said that if Vietnam were only a question with the Soviets, we were convinced that they would be prepared for settlement along the lines of the Geneva accords of 1954 and the 17th Parallel but that because of Peking and the limited Soviet interests in Hanoi there was not much that could be done.
De Gaulle remarked that the Russians were very much worked up against the U.S. over Vietnam and that Kosygin had said that were it not for Vietnam there could be a real détente in the world. Kosygin had stated that the Soviet Union was in fact making war against the U.S. in Vietnam, not with troops, but with material, construction, etc.
I mentioned to the General (and of course our entire conversation was confidential) that we had at the end of 1965 been told by the Soviets that if there could be a bombing pause for from fifteen to twenty days this would permit governments to explore with Hanoi the possibility of a peaceful settlement. We had ceased the bombing for almost double that period but nothing had come from Hanoi except the standard four points. Hanoi would not talk, possibly for fear of Peking, and the other governments cannot speak in their own name, but with the NLF and Hanoi it is difficult indeed to determine with whom to talk in the interest of peace. In the case of Cuba it had been procedurally simple since there the conversation was direct with Moscow. I said General De Gaulle would recall Hanoi’s four points, three of which presented no problems, but point three, which insisted on the acceptance of the NLF program as a basis for future South Vietnam. Last spring, through contacts, we had attempted to propose a revision of point three, but received no reply.
De Gaulle said that he was of the opinion that the North Vietnamese will not negotiate under present conditions no matter how [Page 137] costly the war became. He said the North Vietnamese would persist even under bombardment, and would continue to fight rather than to yield or renounce their aims, and he repeated that they would never negotiate under the condition of the U.S. being present in the country.
I told him that the military problem of the twenty organized regular North Vietnamese regiments was not too difficult to deal with. The main problem was that of guerrilla infiltration and infrastructure in the villages. I mentioned that in addition to SEATO obligation the U.S. had security treaties with Japan, Formosa, Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines, New Zealand and Australia, and that obviously in any action we took in regard to Vietnam we would have to consider the effect on general security in the area. I agreed with the General that there would probably be no formal negotiations or any conference but that rather the problem might be settled de facto as had been done in Greece. We had even attempted indirectly with Hanoi to de-escalate the war to facilitate de facto settlement. I told the General that in our one hundred thirty talks with the Chinese Communists over ten years that they had always insisted that Formosa, with its thirteen or fourteen million population, must be given to China.
I asked General De Gaulle whether he had any impression from his talks with Kosygin in regard to Soviet policy towards Europe, and in particular whether the Soviets would respond to any possible German initiative.
De Gaulle replied that he thought the Russians were very anxious for a détente in Europe and, he said parenthetically, even with the U.S. in regard to Vietnam; that they were no longer aggressive or menacing, even in Berlin, which had receded to second place in their thoughts. They wished to develop economic and technical relations with France and not only with France. However, they continued to show themselves to be very suspicious and distrustful of Germany. Part of this may have some truth in it, but he is convinced the larger part is simply a politically motivated attitude. He said they wished to have a détente with the Federal Republic, but only on condition of the German acceptance of existing frontiers and renunciation of any pretensions to nuclear weapons, and acceptance of two Germanies.
De Gaulle said he told Kosygin there might be two German states but there was only one German people and sooner or later, although it will take a long time through the process of détente, the two Germanies will come together. Kosygin said perhaps one day this could occur, but the moment had not yet come, but he did say perhaps. It is conceivable that Kosygin meant that by the increasing of contacts between the two Germanies there might some day in the future be a sort of confederation, but at present he would not say this and kept reiterating the point about two Germanies.[Page 138]
I mentioned to De Gaulle the enormous cost the failure to solve the German problem had been to both sides. The cost to the U.S. for armaments in the post-war period had been in the neighborhood of nine hundred billion dollars and a large part of this had been due to failure to settle German problems. The Soviets had likewise incurred heavy expenses. The German question as it now stood was the only question I could conceive of which might lead to a war directly between the U.S. and USSR. If the German question could be settled and stability returned to Central Europe this would open very wide perspectives to the world in the form of trade, disarmament, and other fields.
De Gaulle answered that the French had been trying for some time to persuade the Germans to make some gesture to show that they did not have any evil design on Eastern Europe. It is possible that Brandt and Kiesinger will produce something of this nature. He said that it was ridiculous for the Germans to expect that they can by abrupt action recover the lost territory of Prussia and Saxony. He went on to say that he was convinced that the Soviet Union was interested only in China and their own development and had no intention of initiating any armed attack in Europe and that the Germans really should do something and not just say “America, America” and hope that this will solve all their problems.
I then mentioned to the General that time is getting short since we are on the threshold of new dimensions in defense problems, namely the ABM; the Soviets are beginning to deploy ABMs in the Moscow area and if both sides began to deploy them the cost would be phenomenal. This in turn would lead to an increase in offensive missiles to overcome the ABM and then armaments would have an indefinite expansion. He said he thought it was very important that we should find some ceiling or some method of controlling this armament race before it entered into a new phase. De Gaulle remarked that the only policy there was to make peace and he felt this was also true in Vietnam.
I remarked that in Laos in 1962 we thought we had achieved a real solution but unfortunately the North Vietnamese continued the guerrilla infiltration and the area controlled by the Pathet Lao was barred to others. I said personally I thought there was a good chance that the Soviet Government had wished to support that agreement but it was just about this time, around 1962, that the Soviets had lost influence in Hanoi. I said I was convinced if it was only up to Moscow and Washington, peace would soon be made in Vietnam but Chinese influence was too strong in Hanoi.
De Gaulle said the U.S. had its own policy and it was not up to him to give advice but he felt the U.S. was becoming bogged down in [Page 139] secondary and ridiculous considerations in Vietnam, particularly when we think of what could be done for world peace if this issue was settled.
I replied we could easily stop the half of the war we were responsible for, but what about the other half.
De Gaulle said if the U.S. was not in Vietnam there would be no war.
De Gaulle in conclusion said that he felt that despite our differences the Franco-American friendship remains strong, to which I replied that I thought the history of the post-war period would show that American and French interests in most cases had been identical.
As we left De Gaulle particularly asked that his cordial greetings be extended to you.