57. Editorial Note

On February 23, 1970, French President Georges Pompidou arrived in the United States for 1 week of high-level consultations, including discussion with President Nixon, on matters relating to Germany and Berlin. The morning of his arrival, the National Security Council met to consider the role of France in the “Post-De Gaulle” era. The formal minutes of the meeting record the following conversation on the French attitude toward Germany:

“R[ichard] N[ixon]—I would like to hear some comment on French/German relations.

“[Martin] Hillenbrand—There is a growing resentment of Germany, especially among the Gaullists. There is a fear of German expansionism. There is more and more thinking of the UK as a counterweight in the Common Market. There is also concern over Germany’s Eastern policy. The French see that the Germans have more to offer than they do.

“The French are worried that the Socialists will be led down the garden path by the Russians. They basically resent the German socialists.

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[Henry] Kissinger—I agree. The more actively the Germans go toward the East, the more the French will countermove. The French are also worried about our Berlin overtures. This could lead to the French moving closer to the UK, and even to France/UK nuclear collaboration.

[George] Lincoln—Could this also move them more toward the United States?

Hillenbrand—I don’t think so. There is a growing acceptance of the removal of the U.S. They are hedging their bets and they foresee a weakened NATO.” (National Security Council, Minutes Files, Box 119, NSC Minutes, 1970 Originals)

Kissinger also raised the German question in a meeting with Pompidou on February 21 in Paris where Kissinger was conducting secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese. According to the memorandum of conversation, Pompidou stated his belief that “Chancellor Brandt was sincere and that he dominated the Government by his personality. He did not believe that Brandt would ever betray the West.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1024, Presidential/HAK Memcons, The President and President Pompidou (Paris), 12 November 1970 [1 of 2]) In a briefing memorandum for the President’s meeting with Pompidou, Kissinger doubted, however, that such confidence extended to Brandt’s policy:

“The French are concerned that Brandt may be moving too fast in his Eastern policy (to some extent they resent that the Soviets now find the Germans more interesting to talk to than the French); and they are worried about German economic power. de Gaulle, you will recall, stressed the disparity between German economic recovery and its political weakness. You should be cautious about saying anything that might be construed as critical of Brandt or the Germans because it is likely to get back to the Germans through the French bureaucracy. You may wish to make the following points:

  • “—Ask for Pompidou’s assessment of the Brandt Government (he has met twice with Brandt since entering office).
  • “—Make the point that all of us have an interest in not seeing the Germans paralyze themselves in violent political debate over Ostpolitik or because excessive hopes from their dealing with the East are frustrated by failure.” (Memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, February 26; ibid.)

On February 26 Nixon met Pompidou for a private discussion; only the interpreters, including Major General Vernon Walters, were otherwise present. The memorandum of conversation (evidently drafted by Walters) records the following exchange on Germany:

“President Nixon said that if President Pompidou had a moment we would be interested in hearing his views on the German problem. He knew the president had a high personal regard for Brandt, as he [Page 157] did himself. Did he think that the German opening to the East presented dangers or was it helpful?

“President Pompidou said that fundamentally he thought this was useful but it could bring dangers. He said that when the Western countries seek a rapprochement with the Soviet Union they did not want anything from them.

“President Nixon said that this was very important.

“President Pompidou then said all we wanted was for the Russians to leave us alone. The Germans, on the other hand, were largely dependent on the Soviets for the hopes of reunification of their country. Hence, there was danger. He trusted Brandt but he felt that it was important that the U.S. should emphasize to him and the German Government that we must be really informed on the negotiations going on and perhaps know in advance the positions and concerns. We might have to speak frankly on this. France had no reason not to recognize the German Democratic Republic except that she did not want to irritate the Federal Republic and the French would not want to see the Federal Republic take initiatives while the French were maintaining an even more hostile attitude for the sole purpose of pleasing the Federal Republic. He felt that we should follow this very closely and even be consulted. We have a right to be consulted. They had taken a certain number of commitments to the Federal Republic and to the United States even more so. While Brandt was moving relatively cautiously, there were others who were more impatient. The Mayor of Berlin wanted to make contacts with the other side. Others wanted to wait. He felt we should try and calm the situation on Berlin. For his own part, he regretted the negotiations on Berlin. He felt that this could only be advantageous to the Soviets and give them an opportunity to make their presence felt in West Berlin while denying us as always the influence in East Berlin. He felt that negotiations on these matters should be by all three and not indirectly by the Germans. He felt we should keep in close touch with the Germans. President Pompidou said that to sum up his feelings, he trusted Chancellor Brandt. He also trusted the desire of sixty million Western Germans not to become Communists but everything else required vigilance. He had told Brandt quite frankly that they had taken a firm attitude on the German Democratic Republic because of Western Germany and would not want to learn from the press that the Federal Republic had recognized East Germany.

“President Nixon said that we should consult on this. Our views were the same. We should realize that the alliance had been set up 20 years ago for several good reasons. First, the threat from the East. Second, the economic and military weakness of Western Europe after the devastation of World War II and third, the German problem. There had to be a home for Germany—a place for Germany to go. Now the threat [Page 158] from the East had receded, not perhaps as much in reality as some thought. Western Europe was now strong economically and had developed some military strength. But one thing had not changed and this was the German problem and the Soviets in 20 years have always kept their eye on the German problem.” (Ibid., Box 1023, Presidential/HAK Memcons, The President and Pompidou, February 24–26, 1970)

Further documentation on the Pompidou visit, including the full text of several documents excerpted above, is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XLI.