[Page 456]

120. Memorandum of Conversation1

PRESENT

  • The President
  • General de Gaulle
  • Mr. Andronikov
  • General Walters

The President opened the conversation by expressing his gratitude for General de Gaulle’s attending General Eisenhower’s funeral.2 General de Gaulle recalled that the President had told him of General Eisenhower’s critical illness during his visit to Paris.3

The President said that General de Gaulle would have noted that he had made his decision on the ABM system4 as he had told him he would privately when they met in Paris. This was a very controversial decision, but the President felt that it would be approved by a small majority in the Senate and a larger majority in the House, although it was always difficult to predict the Senate and the House. General de Gaulle said that he noted this and that he was grateful to the President for telling him in advance, but made no further comment.

The President said that he welcomed this opportunity to talk to General de Gaulle again about various matters that had come up since they had met in Paris.5

Middle East

On the Middle East, the situation seemed perhaps less hopeful than when they had talked previously. We were insisting that the Four-Power approach be continued and were grateful for the close consultations we had had with the General’s representatives.6 There were some Israelis who felt they could “go it alone,” but the President felt that some sort of consensus of the Four Powers was necessary. The whole problem was complicated also by the fact that the Israelis were [Page 457]having an election this fall. The President inquired what General de Gaulle’s views were on this matter.

General de Gaulle said he agreed with the President that the situation had not improved in the Middle East, and he felt that the only chance for improvement would be some new fact. Such a fact would be an agreement between the Four Powers with, of course, subsequent sanction by the Security Council.

Vietnam

The President then said that on the matter of Vietnam, General de Gaulle would of course understand that any progress could be achieved only through private discussions rather than through public negotiations. It was being closely held, but there had been already one such private contact. An additional new factor was the fact that President Thieu appeared more disposed towards giving the NLF some role in the government than previously. This could lead to a greater possibility of South Vietnamese getting together, but fundamentally the key of this situation lay with the North Vietnamese whether they thought the time was right and whether they wanted peace now. He would be grateful to hear General de Gaulle’s views on this.

General de Gaulle then said that the real key to this situation was what the President did, what the United States did. The U.S. was really the master of the situation, and alongside of it the South Vietnamese or the North Vietnamese amounted to very little. He had told the President in Paris that he felt the U.S. should put an end to this war as quickly as possible and indicate that it was leaving this matter to the Vietnamese themselves. This did not mean, of course, that such a departure should be precipitate. It should be organized and planned. He felt that the problem really had to be solved by the South Vietnamese, by the people who supported Thieu, by the Front, and by others who were supporters of neither one nor the other. He felt that the sooner it was clear the U.S. was leaving, the greater would be the willingness of the Thieu regime and the NLF to get together and work out some sort of a solution. Conversely, the longer they believed the U.S. would remain, the less likely they were to arrive at some solution. He felt that when it was clear that the U.S. was going to leave, they would get together and form some sort of a transition government which would have consistency and enable them to go forward. But he repeated that the essential thing was for the U.S. to end the war. If we did so, the power and prestige of the United States would be vastly increased and confidence in it throughout the world would be renewed.

The President said that he was hopeful that we might soon make a proposal which would go further than anything that had been put forward before, leading to the possibility of some sort of constructive ne[Page 458]gotiations. The probability was that without fixing any time limit or date, by the end of 1969 there would be some progress in the direction of lessening the U.S. commitment there.

A new factor was the apparent disposition on the part of President Thieu to go further than he had been willing previously. His position today was not what it had been in the past. The President felt that the U.S. and he himself in particular had the confidence of the South Vietnamese, and that this would perhaps make progress possible.

General de Gaulle said that he understood the enormous complexity and difficulty for the President in making decisions in this matter, but he still felt that the essential thing was for the U.S. to make the decision to end this war. He said that the President had asked his opinion about whether or not the North Vietnamese were disposed to make peace at this time. He could not answer directly for them, but he could tell the President something that might be a useful indication. The North Vietnamese Government had recently asked the French Government to make agreements on cultural and technical matters. They wanted to send people to France and, conversely, they wished the French to become further involved in cultural and educational matters in North Vietnam, as they had been in the past. This was to him an indication that their thinking was more oriented towards peace than a continuation of the war.

Franco-German Relations

The President then said that he would like perhaps to talk to the General about another matter which had come up since they had last talked in Paris, and this was the question of Franco/German relations. The Franco/German reconciliation was one of the great achievements of General de Gaulle’s Presidency. Many people had believed this could not be done, but he had made it a reality. Recently the President had seen the President of the Chamber of Deputies, who had indicated some concern about the Anglo/German agreement to produce enriched uranium by the ultra centrifuge process.7 This and other matters had led him to believe that there was some tension in the Franco/German relationship, and while this was, strictly speaking, none of our business, nevertheless matters affecting the relationships between our mutual friends were of interest to us. The President felt that it was most important that a warm and close relationship between France and Germany be maintained.

General de Gaulle said that the Franco/German reconciliation had taken place. They had felt that it was necessary, and he himself had carried it through. This had been consecrated by a treaty which he had [Page 459]signed with Chancellor Adenauer in 1963,8 a treaty of friendship and cooperation. Relationships between France and Germany were very close and numerous. France was Germany’s No. 1 supplier and also Germany’s No. 1 customer. They were cooperating closely in the economic field in the framework of the Common Market. The Germans had been most anxious for these relations, the French understandably less so in the light of their past experience, but nevertheless this had been necessary and it had been done. The French knew the Germans well. This is why they were prudent in dealing with them. They realized all of the tremendous vitality, drive, and capacity of the Germans. They knew that they had a certain bonhomie, but they also had driving ambition which, when it became uncontrolled, had led to bitter experience in the past. The French had experienced this under the German empire with Bismarck in 1870, with William II in 1914–18, and even more terribly with Adolf Hitler. For this reason, the French were determined that the Germans should not possess their own nuclear weapons. The Germans were well aware of this because the French had told them so. They were therefore prudent in their dealings with the Germans. They were aware of the Anglo/German agreement to produce enriched uranium by the ultra centrifuge process. They could not stop this agreement, but it did irritate them. General de Gaulle said that when you have enriched uranium and you are Germany with all of its technical capacity, it is not a far step to the production of nuclear weapons, and this the French could not accept.

U.S./U.S.S.R. Relations

The President then said that he would appreciate General de Gaulle’s views on the central subject which, in a sense, dominated the formulation of U.S. policies. This was the relationship between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. On the one hand, we saw the U.S.S.R. making a tremendous effort to increase its missile capacity, its naval strength, particularly in submarines, and its defense capabilities generally; while on the diplomatic front it appeared more disposed towards a lessening of tensions. The President himself was not personally acquainted with the rulers of the Kremlin. There were reports of doves and hawks in the Kremlin, but he did not know these men personally, and General de Gaulle did. He would appreciate the General’s views on what sort of people these were with whom we had to deal.

General de Gaulle said that facing us first of all there was Soviet Russia above all Russia, the power and the drive of a large country [Page 460]living at the time of its power. It had tremendous ambitions, but he did not believe they were for conquest in the classical sense, but rather to make itself unassailable and not inferior to anyone, particularly the United States. Concerning the leaders, he would speak of three of them whom he knew personally.

First of all there was Podgorny, “allegedly the Chief of State;” Brezhnev, who was the Secretary General of the Communist Party; and Kosygin, who was the Head of the Government. Podgorny was an aging man without the drive and ardor of Brezhnev, who was The Communist. He was supported by the party and in turn supported it himself in order to maintain the dictatorship. He wished to be the master in the main decisions and, in fact, he was. Kosygin was a skillful, hard-working man who had made a career of government and was more flexible than Brezhnev. According to French information, he had in fact been much more temperate on Czechoslovakia9 than his colleagues, but on the main things, such as he had described at the beginning of this statement—namely, Russia and its unassailability—they were in agreement. They might differ on little things like Czechoslovakia which, after all, was a small matter to them, but on the big ones they were united.

In his relationships with them, he had found that one could talk directly to them, that they seemed to answer forthrightly and frankly and, in fact, with sincerity, though this might well have been a pose or an attitude that they assumed with him. Nevertheless, he believed that they were people with whom one could speak. He said that the whole world was waiting for the President to make contact with them, or for them to make contact with the U.S.

The President then asked whether the General thought that such direct contacts would be useful, and the General replied, “Most assuredly so.” General de Gaulle then said that he realized the President was extremely busy and would take his leave, but before he did so, he wished to draw one single matter to the President’s attention. And this was the increasing strength and independence of the Soviet Armed Forces. They were large, powerful, and popular. On May Day, it was no longer the people who paraded, but the Soviet Armed Forces. Their attitude was enigmatic, but it was increasingly important. He felt that he should draw the President’s attention to this fact.

General de Gaulle said that originally he had planned to return to Paris right after General Eisenhower’s funeral, but he understood that the President was having a reception10 and he would be very happy to [Page 461]attend, and had notified Paris in consequence that his return would be delayed in order to enable him to attend the President’s reception.

The President thanked him for this and mentioned that Mrs. Nixon would be at the reception and was looking forward to the honor of seeing General de Gaulle. With this, the meeting concluded, and the President escorted General de Gaulle to his car.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1023, Presidential/HAK MemCons. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House.
  2. Former President Eisenhower died on March 28. The State funeral took place on March 30.
  3. No record of this discussion was found.
  4. For the text of the President’s statement on the deployment of an ABM system, March 14, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 216–219.
  5. See Document 118.
  6. Sisco had been regularly briefing French officials on these issues.
  7. Chaban-Delmas, on March 20. See footnote 2, Document 119.
  8. For the text of the Franco-German Treaty on Organization and Principles of Cooperation, signed at Paris, January 22, 1963, see Documents on Germany, 1944–1985, pp. 834–838.
  9. Reference to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, August 1968.
  10. The reception took place on March 31 from 7:02 to 7:50 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary)