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

19777. Ref: State 206658.2 I saw Couve de Murville this afternoon at 5:00 o’clock for about half an hour.

Couve was in complete agreement with our assumption that war in the Middle East would be disastrous. He also agreed that the Israelis consider the blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba a matter of the highest national importance. He also agreed that the Soviets’ behavior is far from clear and did not question my statement that they had not shown any inclination to act responsibly in the present crisis. He said that when the Soviets gave their refusal to French suggestion of a four power get together last Sunday3 night it had been couched in very courteous way but did not appear to be categoric in its refusal. He said it was impossible to determine exactly what had started this crisis and did not completely exclude an element of Soviet responsibility, but said that this had been bypassed by events. He agreed however that the ultimate [Page 252] Soviet objective was to reduce Western influence in the Middle East and substitute therefor Soviet influence.

Couve then said that he would give me what he had just said this afternoon to the Israeli Ambassador, which he thought fully reflected present French attitude toward the situation [in] the Middle East. It follows:

Soviet attitude still uncertain although there had been some indications in New York from Fedorenko of his desire to maintain contact individually with Western powers and that Fedorenko showed no desire to poison the atmosphere. He said he had told Eytan that there were essentially only two solutions to the present state of affairs in the Middle East. One was to go to war, which he impressed on Eytan would be folly since even if Israel scored a military victory it would certainly not lay any groundwork for the future which must in some form or other and at some time or other include accommodation between the Arab states and Israel. If war is excluded, the only other way was negotiation, which would include not only the question of the Gulf of Aqaba but also other questions of a military nature dealing with terrorism, etc., in the area. He told Eytan if the status of the Gulf of Aqaba is discussed neither side will get one hundred percent of what they want and compromise would probably be necessary and to the French Government this should include the normal passage of civilian goods. Couve admitted that the question of the Egyptian attitude towards POL as to whether or not it is a strategic cargo remains unclear and would obviously be a subject of discussion. Eytan asked how could any negotiations take place, to which Couve had replied that it was obviously not possible at the present juncture to have direct Arab/Israeli discussions but there were many other intermediaries, including the great powers. He said he had taken the liberty of mentioning to Eytan that he was convinced of the good will of the U.S. but some indication of a comparable attitude was needed from the USSR. Couve said Eytan had made no comment but Couve had emphasized very strongly the point with him that apart from war the only way out was negotiation. Couve then told me that in regard to the Security Council it was quite clear that neither the U.S. resolution nor the Indian (of course Egyptian inspired) had any chance of obtaining the votes ofall members of the Security Council. Therefore, Seydoux had been instructed to point this out to the Council and to suggest the drafting of a resolution which would merely urge calm on the countries directly involved, which conceivably might obtain the support of all members. Couve however admitted that there was as yet no sign that the Russians were willing to meet in a group of four.

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I asked Couve (although State 2067524 arrived afterwards) what was meant by the statement following the cabinet meeting that the country that fired the first shot would receive no support and no arms from France, and asked him if this meant that stoppage of a ship going into the Gulf of Aqaba would fall within this category. Couve said that if the Egyptians fired on a ship that this would undoubtedly fall within the terms of the declaration but was not clear at all as to whether or not a forceable stoppage of a ship by the Egyptians would be so considered. In fact, he said that in his view it was the height of prudence to avoid the passage of any ships through the Straits of Tiran for the immediate future.

Couve said the statement issued after the cabinet meeting this morning set forth France’s opinion towards the Maritime Declaration. He said France did not consider this a good idea at the present time and was therefore not “a partisan” thereof. In reply to my question he said it was not an absolute flat refusal but a disinclination to go along with it at present.

Comment: Couve’s general attitude showed that French position had not really changed since the beginning of this crisis; that they still are hopeful that the Soviets will change their negative attitude and be willing to join in some form of negotiations and that through these negotiations there might be some arrangement made which would cover the passage of cargo of a non-strategic value, particularly POL through the Straits. He showed no willingness at all to consider the issuance of a Maritime Declaration and certainly none to even contemplate the action in the event it was rejected.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received at 4:46 p.m.
  2. In telegram 206658 to Paris, June 1, Rusk asked Bohlen to see Couve de Murville as soon as possible to review the British proposal for a Maritime Declaration and to urge French cooperation. (Ibid.)
  3. May 28.
  4. Telegram 206752 to Paris, June 2, noted that news reports were quoting a comment by French President De Gaulle concerning the Middle East to the effect that whoever shot first would not have French support and asked the Embassy to check on the accuracy of the statement and its meaning. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL ARAB–ISR)