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139. Memorandum of Conversation1

PRESENT

  • Dr. Henry Kissinger
  • General Walters
  • President Pompidou
  • Mr. Gaucher

Dr. Kissinger opened the conversation by expressing his thanks to President Pompidou for the excellent arrangements that had been made for his trip and also for President Pompidou’s kindness and hospitality in having him to lunch. He said he had seen the Vietnamese that morning. President Pompidou asked how things had gone, adding that the Vietnamese were tough bargainers and that it was difficult to deal with them. Dr. Kissinger said that he did not want to say much about it before he had talked to President Nixon; but, if President Pompidou so desired, we could give him a short briefing on the subject during his stay in the United States.2 President Pompidou said that he would appreciate this very much. Dr. Kissinger then said that he expected to have an afternoon session with the Vietnamese at 1600 that day.

Dr. Kissinger said that President Nixon was looking forward with pleasure to President Pompidou’s forthcoming visit to the United States. We were anxious to do all we could to ensure that this trip would be a success. We had expressed our displeasure to the politicians in New York who were making a political issue out of this. Three or four Congressmen might walk out on the speech, but we expected that this would be compensated by an expression of esteem and consideration for the President from members of Congress.3

President Pompidou said that he was somewhat surprised to find that there was such a distinct Jewish feeling in the U.S. In France Jews, as well as Protestants and Catholics, thought of themselves as French [Page 496]first of all. He felt that France was perhaps the least racist country in the world and was proud of this.

Dr. Kissinger again said that President Pompidou could be certain that the U.S. Government would do everything it could to ensure this visit would be successful. He then asked how President Pompidou would prefer his talks with President Nixon—like those with General de Gaulle, that is to say just the two Presidents and two interpreters alone, or with a larger group. President Pompidou said that he would prefer the former, that is the more restricted meetings. He added humorously that he had not yet found someone in whom he could repose the confidence that President Nixon had in Dr. Kissinger, but he would eventually find someone.

Dr. Kissinger inquired what subjects President Pompidou might wish to discuss with us. We would not bring up anything that he did not wish to discuss. He could assure him that we would not bring up anything relating to the return of France to the military organization of NATO. President Pompidou nodded appreciatively and said that there were powers like France and superpowers like the United States. France was not an equal of the United States. If she were, it might make the relationship between the two countries easier.

First, he would want to discuss France’s relationship with Europe. Then he would want to discuss France’s relationship with the Soviet Union which was also a superpower. After all, Moscow was only 2800 kilometers from Paris; that is closer than New York to San Francisco. The USSR was present also on the Oder Neisse Line, and even further west on the border of the DDR and Czechoslovakia, 380 kilometers from Strasbourg. At this point Mr. Gaucher said that he had discovered quite by chance that there was a direct phone from the Elysée Palace to the White House. As far as he could find out, it had only been used once, in an awkward conversation between General de Gaulle and President Kennedy on the subject of Berlin.4 After that it had been taken out of General de Gaulle’s office and connected with the Elysée switchboard. President Pompidou commented that he believed General de Gaulle really trusted no one.

President Pompidou also said that he might wish to talk about the stability of the dollar as this was vital to the anti-inflationary struggle of most of the Western countries.

Dr. Kissinger then asked whether Mr. Pompidou would want to discuss military matters or not. President Pompidou replied that he did want to discuss such matters and could.

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Dr. Kissinger then asked Mr. Pompidou for his opinion of the new German Government.5 Mr. Pompidou said that he believed Chancellor Brandt was sincere and that he dominated the Government by his personality. He did not believe that Brandt would ever betray the West. He commented briefly on Minister Scheel and said he felt Minister Schiller’s stature was somewhat less than before the revaluation of the Mark. A revaluation was a difficult thing to do. He himself had had to carry out a devaluation and if he had to implement another devaluation, it would indeed be a very difficult thing to do. President Pompidou added that he did not think that the talks on Berlin6 were helpful. They gave the Russians a chance to make their presence felt in West Berlin, whereas they would never let us have the slightest influence in East Berlin. President Pompidou said the Germans were a patient and dynamic people. Dr. Kissinger commented that they had been deeply marked by the loss of two world wars and the Nazi period. President Pompidou said that because it had taken the whole world in arms to defeat them, they really did not feel humiliated by their defeats.

The conversation then turned to the Sino-Soviet differences. Dr. Kissinger said that according to our information the Soviets now had more troops facing the Chinese than they did facing Western Europe. They had modern armament as well. Mr. Pompidou said that the Soviets were buying large quantities of foodstuffs in Western Europe and sending them to Siberia. One could draw one of two conclusions from this. Either they were stockpiling foodstuffs against the eventuality of a conflict with China, or the military was looking to their requirements and as usual they tended to magnify the requirements. He tended to the latter belief. It would be insane for the Soviets to fight the Chinese. Yet if they were to attack the Chinese nuclear installations what could the Chinese do? They could not attack the well-armed Soviet forces in the Far East. The Chinese were also a difficult people to understand. The Japanese were also a difficult people. Dr. Kissinger said that they were very self-assured. They had not lost the First World War. Mr. Pompidou said that they had been defeated practically single handedly by the U.S., not by the whole world as was the case with Germany. Mr. Pompidou said that he had read somewhere that around 2020 they [Page 498]would pass the U.S. in income. Dr. Kissinger noted that this might be so in per capita income but not in gross national product.

Dr. Kissinger said that there were some in the U.S. who felt that the Japanese should make more of an effort in the field of defense. He felt that this would come soon enough without anyone’s urging. We were not pushing this. He found it difficult to believe that the Japanese were spending 500 million dollars a year on rockets simply because they wanted to study the weather. Mr. Pompidou nodded agreement.

Mr. Pompidou commented that he had given an interview to CBS’s Walter Cronkite.7 It had been quite taxing because he had not known any of the questions in advance. Whereas, with the New York Times interview he had had such an opportunity.8 He then asked whether the questions at the National Press Club would be tough. Dr. Kissinger said that they would. Usually they tried to trap a speaker into revealing something he might wish to keep concealed. President Pompidou smiled and said that he hoped to disappoint them.

President Pompidou said that he had met General Eisenhower at SHAPE. He had met President Kennedy when the latter came to Paris. He had never met President Johnson, who had never been very popular in France. Nor had he met Mr. Nixon. But from all he had heard about him he felt that he and Mr. Nixon had much in common. Dr. Kissinger said he was sure that President Nixon has this same feeling about Mr. Pompidou.

Dr. Kissinger noted that President Nixon was dining at the French Embassy with Mr. Pompidou. It was the first time since he had become President that he had dined at a Foreign Embassy. President Pompidou said he was well aware of this and greatly appreciated it. He only hoped President Nixon would not be disappointed by the food. Dr. Kissinger also noted that Vice President Agnew would be attending the dinner in New York. President Pompidou said he appreciated that also and added that the Vice President was an unusual figure. Dr. Kissinger said that after his statement about the one-sided attitude of the press,9 he had built up quite a following and that the press had been more even-handed in their presentations of events since the Vice President’s speech.

Dr. Kissinger again thanked President Pompidou for all his courteous help and said that he looked forward to seeing him the following week in the United States.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 916, VIP Visits, France Pompidou Visit. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The meeting took place at President Pompidou’s apartment, Ile St. Louis, Paris, on February 21. Kissinger was in Paris to carry on secret negotiations with representatives of the North Vietnamese Government. He discussed the circumstances of the meeting in White House Years, pp. 421, 438.
  2. No record of this discussion was found.
  3. Pro-Israeli organizations in the United States were planning demonstrations to protest the sale of arms to Libya and the suspension of French aid to Israel. Subsequently Pompidou was subject to hostile demonstrations in a number of stops on his trip, the most vocal of which took place in Chicago.
  4. No record of this discussion was found.
  5. In September 28, 1969 elections, Brandt’s SPD finished second but enjoyed a strong gain in seats. The CDU, its coalition partner, conversely finished first in the popular vote but with a significant loss of seats. Brandt announced his intention to seek a coalition with the Free Democratic Party and after securing an alliance was elected Chancellor by the Bundestag on October 21, 1969.
  6. On December 16, 1969, the Western powers presented identical notes to the Soviet Union proposing Four-Power discussions for improvement of movement to Berlin and between the Eastern and Western zones of the city. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XL, Germany and Berlin, 1969–1972, Document 47.
  7. No transcript of this interview was found.
  8. The interview with C.L. Sulzberger was published on February 15.
  9. The Vice President had strongly attacked press coverage of the Nixon administration in speeches in New Orleans, October 19, and in Des Moines, November 13.