13. Editorial Note
On February 28, 1969, President Nixon arrived in Paris on the fifth stop of his European trip and met with President Charles de Gaulle. In the course of a wide-ranging conversation, Nixon discussed with De Gaulle prospects for détente with the Soviet Union and asked De Gaulle’s opinion on the efficacy of linking negotiations on strategic and political issues:
“The President said that he would like to indicate his reasons for announcing his policy up to this point. When he was inaugurated six weeks ago if he had announced that on the next day he was going to meet Kosygin and Brezhnev at the summit, the US press and the world would have applauded and said that now progress was really being made. He had not done this because he felt it was necessary to have very careful planning for a meeting at the summit, there had been the spirit of Glassboro, of Vienna and of Camp David and these hopes had been dashed. It was different when we were meeting with our friends and people who were basically like us. He felt that it would be a mistake for the President of the United States to go to a meeting without knowing what we were going to talk about or where we were going. [Page 62] This would simply raise hopes that would subsequently be dashed. Consequently he believed that we should have talks first with our friends and allies including France. The Soviets had interest in talks on the limitation of strategic weapons. This was a matter that could affect the capability of the US forces in Europe. Another reason for not rushing into arms talks was that it was generally claimed that an arms race increased the risk of war. He thought it was clear that both the USSR and the US would like to reduce the financial burden on themselves. He wished to make clear that on this matter he would not make the decision in this matter on a financial basis, the US had to be able to afford whatever security required. One had to recognize a historic fact that wars also were caused by political tensions. If a freeze on strategic arms were to take place an explosion would still occur in the Middle East, at Berlin or in Vietnam and this could lead to war. He felt that this opportunity should be seized by the new administration and he shared the General’s view that détente was desirable. However we should be hard and pragmatic in dealing with the Soviets. They knew what they wanted and we must know what we want. While we would not make talks on Middle East and other matters a condition for talks on limitation of strategic weapons, we did feel that it was proper to suggest at Ambassadorial level as indeed we had that we felt that we should try and make progress on all fronts to achieve a détente. We should talk in the UN in the framework of the Four Powers on the Middle East and discuss later what could be done there. We would like the Soviets’ help on solving the Vietnamese problem, we realized that their situation in this matter was delicate with the Chinese but the Soviets did have great influence on the North Vietnamese. After all 85 percent of their weapons came from the Soviet Union. Perhaps we could also make some progress in the Central [Europe?] area on Berlin. Not of course a solution as neither side could give enough to settle the matter; we could perhaps make some progress. The President said he would like to know the General’s opinion whether he thought we were correct in proceeding cautiously in asking the Soviets to talk on several areas rather than discussing only limitation of strategic weapons with them. The reason why the President was opposed to an agreement on arms limitation only without progress on political issues such as the Middle East, Europe and Vietnam was because such an agreement would create a sort of euphoria of peace.
“General De Gaulle said he felt that the President was quite right. A détente was the only acceptable policy. One must be cautious and not speak of everything at once, nor should one be overly polite and make concessions to them. The French who had started the policy of détente with them had never made any concessions even on Germany and they certainly had reasons to do so but had not. Now France was on much [Page 63] better terms with the Soviets and had made no concessions to them. Practically if the US were to start conversations on political subjects as well as on strategic missiles—ABM’s and so forth—and if contact could be made with them on other subjects such as Vietnam and the Middle East he felt that the US could do this with all prudence and dignity. He believed that the President should not rush to Moscow and lay out the red carpet before Brezhnev but that the President was quite right in seeking to have adequate preparations made in advance.” (Memorandum of conversation; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 447, President’s Trip Files, Memcons-Europe, Feb 23-March 2, 1969)
The meeting was held in De Gaulle’s office in the Elysée Palace at 3:42 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary) The full text of the memorandum of conversation is scheduled to be published in the Supplement to Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, China, 1969-1972.