149. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Ambassador Arthur K. Watson
  • Arthur T. Downey

After opening greetings and a photo opportunity, Ambassador Watson complimented the President on the State of the Union message2 which he termed invigorating, bold and fundamental.

In response to the President’s question concerning the state of our relations with France, Ambassador Watson said that there seemed to be an opportunity for genuine movement toward greater cooperation in the defense area. He noted that Defense Minister Debré held a working luncheon for Secretary Laird earlier this month,3 and that the French Chief of Staff, General Fourquet, was meeting today with General Goodpaster at SHAPE.4

Another example of potential French cooperation, the Ambassador reported, is the French interest in becoming a part of the NATO Integrated Communications system (NIC). They have already indicated that if such an agreement can be worked out they would make their portion of the system available to the other Allies “under all circumstances.” This represents a major breakthrough in French thinking. The Ambassador said he hoped this same principle could be applied to the use of the pipeline which runs through France. If the French could be brought around to this, then there would be little need to construct an expensive ($78 million) pipeline through Benelux, and so would save the US some $25 million. The Ambassador said if he knew that the President was interested he would pursue this with the French, though of course it would have to be done in a very delicate way.

The President said this sounded like a fine idea, and that it was important for France to return to Europe. The President knew this would be difficult for President Pompidou, and that the US should not under [Page 532] any circumstances apply pressure on Pompidou to do this. Pompidou must work this out in his own time frame. But, over time, Pompidou will be able to distance himself from the past; the US must allow him to do this gracefully.

The Ambassador remarked that President Pompidou showed himself to be fully in command during his January 21 press conference.5 His posture and bearing during that conference was masterful. The Ambassador added that, while he did not have a complete report, he understood that the Brandt-Pompidou meeting went well.6 Pompidou apparently convinced Brandt to be more flexible on the question of monetary union within the European Community. He also reportedly told Brandt rather flatly that the two German sides should not discuss Berlin in the course of their own talks, that France would consider this unacceptable.

The President smiled and remarked that it was interesting that Pompidou talked so frankly with Brandt. Pompidou, the President continued, is a strong man, with great intelligence. He is firm and responsible. In many ways Pompidou is similar to Prime Minister Heath. The President commented that he hoped that Heath would be successful, that he represents the last opportunity for Britain to remain close to being a great nation. If the British cannot pull themselves together under Heath’s policies, they never will, and Britain will decline to the status of any one of the Scandinavian countries.

Continuing his comments on the British scene, the President noted that Heath had two basic problems to surmount. The first is the African nations in the Commonwealth. So far Heath has been successful in not allowing these nations to control his vital national security policies. Nevertheless, in the longer run, one can only hope that Heath will be able to hold firm in his position. The second problem for Heath is the irresponsibilities of organized labor. If the Wilson policies of compromise and concessions had continued much longer, Britain would have strangled itself. Heath, however, has taken hold of this problem, and, the President added, he will probably be successful.

Concluding these remarks, the President suggested that both Pompidou and Heath were strong and highly intelligent men—the best in Europe. Brandt, on the other hand, was not of their quality. He had charm, and that is important, though when matters become critical, that is not sufficent.

[Page 533]

Ambassador Watson concurred in the President’s assessment of Prime Minister Heath, whom he has known for twenty years. The Ambassador noted that his brother-in-law, Under Secretary John Irwin, spent a year with Heath at Oxford and had a similar high opinion of him. President Pompidou genuinely wants Britain to join the European Community, the Ambassador remarked, but Pompidou is still uncertain whether Heath can successfully bring Britain in to the Common Market without insisting on basic changes in the Market structure.

In response, the President confirmed his view of the importance of Britain’s entry, and his conviction that Prime Minister Heath could accomplish this task. The President said that the visit of Prince Juan Carlos7 reminded him of the equal importance of Spain’s entry into Europe. Spain is making tremendous advances, and very much wants to be an effective part of Europe. The President recognized that it was probably impossible for Spain to make any major moves until General Franco leaves the scene, but at that point Spain can offer a great contribution to Europe.

The Ambassador commented that Pompidou wants Spain to join Europe. Indeed, in his press conference, Pompidou expressed the hope that Spain would re-enter Europe through France’s intermediary. In the same comment, Pompidou was critical of the recent Burgos trial in Spain and its aftermath.

The President said he had not read the Pompidou press conference, but that such intentions were good to hear. It would be very useful if France could take the lead in easing Spain into Europe. This is something that Pompidou could do, the President said. The British are in no position to do it, though Heath is more able to move in that direction than Wilson was. The Scandinavian countries refuse to forget the events of thirty years ago, and so will not take any action. The President then asked the Ambassador to speak to President Pompidou about this. The Ambassador should tell Pompidou that the President thought his press conference was masterful, and explain that while the President does not want to interfere or to even appear to give advice to Pompidou, it is the President’s view that only Pompidou has the authority and stature to take effective action in bringing Spain into Europe. Anything that Pompidou could do in this direction would be most welcome.

Ambassador Watson said he would be pleased to report this to Pompidou. He noted that he had luncheon privately the prior week with Jobert,8 one of Pompidou’s key advisers, and stressed to him that [Page 534] the President clearly wanted a strong Europe and a strong and friendly France. Most importantly, he underscored that the President had no intention to conclude deals over France’s head—a rumor he often heard in France.

The President said that was exactly correct. He also instructed Ambassador Watson to tell Pompidou that the US will always continue to consult closely with France on Berlin, Ostpolitik, and other matters. The US has no vision of a bi-polar world. The world of the future, continued the President, will have five power centers: the US, USSR, China, Japan, and a united Europe. We are hopeful that Europe will be fully oriented toward the US, but we also recognize that at times it will have to look to the East. Latin America and Africa may have importance as power centers in a century, but certainly not for the foreseeable future. This is why, the President continued, it is so important for Pompidou and France to take the lead in making Europe stronger. At the moment, the vast energies of the Italian people are being wasted by a clumsy governmental structure; Italy needs a French constitution. The President remarked that the need for a strong central leadership is prevalent throughout the Latin world, and that in general democracy as we have it in the US is at this time not suited to the Latin temperament. The President reviewed developments in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay and Chile. He commented that some say that the Italian people will not permit a situation such as in Chile to happen in Italy, but, he cautioned, they may not be able to stop it until too late.

The Ambassador noted that, in a sense, the tax laws introduced in the US forty years ago were beneficial in that they encouraged the wealthy to engage in philanthropy. From this, the wealthy and not-so-wealthy have developed the habits of charity. In Latin America, on the other hand, the wealthy have no such habits, and simply send their money overseas without any benefit to the development of their own nations. The President remarked that he had never considered this impact of our tax structure.

Shifting the conversation, the President asked the Ambassador to work on securing a more appropriate residence in Paris. The US, he said, should have a great house in Paris, such as the residence of Ambassador Annenberg in London. The present residence is inadequate, and indeed was too small for the state dinner the President hosted for General de Gaulle.

The Ambassador said he would work on this question, and noted that he had admired the work of Mr. Clement Conger. The President said that Mr. Conger perhaps should assist the Ambassador in this effort, but that in any event the Ambassador should inform Deputy Under Secretary Macomber that this question had been discussed and [Page 535] that the President was very interested in having a suitably impressive residence in Paris.

Concluding the conversation, the President presented Ambassador Watson with gifts for his daughters. The President encouraged the Ambassador to continue his good efforts in France, and noted that all the reports indicate he is doing an extremely effective job.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 677, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. VII. Secret; Nodis; Sensitive. Sent for information. Drafted on January 27, presumably by Downey. The meeting took place in the Oval Office.
  2. January 22. For text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 50–58.
  3. The January 7 meeting was reported in Department of Defense message C–6000, January 7. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 677, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. VII)
  4. No record of this meeting was found.
  5. A summary of Pompidou’s press conference together with the English language version of his remarks on foreign policy is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 677, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. VII. His remarks were summarized in Henry Giniger, “Pompidou Terms British Unrealistic on Market,” New York Times, January 22, 1971, p. 11.
  6. They met in Paris January 25–26.
  7. The President met with Prince Juan Carlos on January 26. See Document 302.
  8. Watson reported on this January 23 meeting in telegram 1074 from Paris, dated January 2, but actually January 23. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 677, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. VII)