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

5481. Pass Ambassador Watson.

1. I am concerned about the way the French, after a long period of relative quiet about Viet-Nam, are beginning to disassociate themselves publicly from US in that area. So far this has been more implicit than explicit, but Schumann’s remarks in his widely circulated statement to the National Assembly April 28 (Paris 5426)2 revives and strongly reaffirms the Gaullist line on Indochina which was so harmful to us on previous occasions. Schumann’s line on Cambodia, lauding as he did Sihanouk just at a moment when we are offering badly needed help to Lon Nol, is symptomatic and worrying. This more blatant anti-Lon Nol and pro-Sihanouk GOF line is also reflected on the French television which on occasions has presented the Cambodian affair as largely a civil war between two Cambodian factions, overlooking the presence of 40 thousand NVA/VC in Cambodia.

2. My fear is that this implicityly anti-U.S. line on Cambodia could soon be expanded into an explicitly anti-U.S. line on the whole Indochinese question, including Viet-Nam. This could do a lot of mischief.

3. Certainly efforts should be made to prevent such a development. I do not think we could in the short run persuade the French to change their policy, for they seem to be convinced that it is in their interest to maintain a sort of pro-Communist neutrality throughout Indochina. I do feel, however, that by high-level intervention we might get them to shut up or perhaps even take a slightly more benevolent “wait and see” public line towards coming events in Indochina.

4. Therefore, I suggest that Ambassador Watson might carry an oral message on the Cambodian situation from President Nixon to Pompidou which he could deliver during the private conversations after the presentation of credentials ceremony on May 6.3 Before the [Page 515] President’s statement tonight about the Indochina situation, we do not wish to suggest anything specific.4 However, as the aim of the exercise would be to persuade the French to keep quiet, Ambassador Watson could well ask Pompidou to withhold judgment on our policy and maintain a public posture which would not make our efforts to manage the situation more difficult.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 676, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. V. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Not found.
  3. No oral message was prepared. In telegram 5748 from Paris, May 6, Watson reported that during the presentation of credentials ceremony, “Pompidou repeated small quotation of Sihanouk to him that Sihanouk would like us to gradually leave but not all of them. Pompidou stated that he is trying to keep as moderate a view as he can possibly do in the current Cambodian situation, but he is very much against current operation for he fears that the Far East can be as harmful to the US as Algeria was to France, adding that an American undoing would therefore be an undoing of France, Europe and the West.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 676, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. V)
  4. Nixon gave a speech on southeast Asia at 9 p.m. on April 30. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 405–410)