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

22164. Subj: Franco-American Relations on Eve of Debre Visit to Washington.

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In mid-summer we reported several straws in the wind blowing in the direction of somewhat improved Franco-American relations. We observed (Paris 18471)2 that although there were no basic changes in French foreign policy, one result of the May events had been improved atmosphere of our bilateral relations. Since then, Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia has intervened. Some thought this would lead de Gaulle to consider closer military and political cooperation for the sake of Western collective security; in contrast this demonstration of raw Soviet power apparently confirmed the General even more in his determination to work against Western political and military unity and “against blocs.”
What then remains of the hopes of July in this Indian summer of political uncertainty? In our view, there remains something quite important, even if intangible and perhaps fragile—namely the improved atmosphere. This has two aspects, present and future. For the present, one principal reason for this improved atmosphere is that De Gaulle does not want acutely unpleasant relations with US. This attitude is not due to any change of heart, but rather, we believe, to his recognition that with Soviets on warpath this is not time to be feuding with US. In other words, this is implicit recognition of elements of weakness in his international posture, especially now with Soviets occupying Czechoslovakia.

How does the improved atmosphere still show? By: (A) The continuing absence of the former snarling anti-American quality of statements by French leaders—at least in public—and despite such vitriolic statements by the rather emotional Debre, as reported by Luns (The Hague’s 7316).3 Part of this better tone is due to France’s role as host to the Vietnam negotiations and part may be due to the evident unpopularity of “way out” anti-US rhetoric.

(B) The continuing desire of French Government officials below the top for closer communication with the USG and at the top for the first time in two years the visit of a French Foreign Minister to Washington. This should not be considered as too important in our view. At the working level at the Quai, the new friendliness, greater openness and cooperation has been continued and even developed somewhat.

(C) For the first time in years, the granting by ORTF of coverage in depth to the activities of our Ambassador. ORTF even ran his entire speech given at the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of St. Mihiel and today ORTFs presentation of feature of Shriver family. This is a relatively minor although much noted gesture and again, this may in part be a personal gesture to the Ambassador.

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(D) Closer cooperation and coordination in intelligence and security affairs has continued to develop in a satisfactory way. This is important to US and to the French.

The future aspect of improved atmosphere is that for some French politicians at least the “pre-post-De Gaulle” period has begun, despite the General’s absolute hold on power right now. New leaders are preparing themselves for the re-ordering of French political life after De Gaulle, and while French independence remains a cardinal article of faith, we do not believe most of them share De Gaulle’s distrust of US. What US does now will have important effect on these leaders who are waiting in wings. Improvement in atmosphere in recent months gives us elbow room to work towards a better future, and we do consider it vital to keep post-De Gaulle France in forefront of our European planning. While we probably cannot change the General’s course, we hope to do far more with France in future, and we must continue to lay the groundwork for this now.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL FR-US. Confidential; Immediate. Repeated to Bonn, Brussels for the Embassy and BUSEC, The Hague, London, Rome, USNATO, and Moscow.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 83.
  3. Telegram 7316 from The Hague, September 25, reported on anti-American remarks by Debré. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL FR-NETH)