151. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Tensions with the French

You should be aware of a number of recent events which, taken together, are increasing friction in French-American relations. As I have previously suggested, this is to a large extent due to the predictable loss in the momentum of the atmospheric improvements of 1969–70. There simply are certain non-congruent interests that will assert themselves. Also, Pompidou has to operate in a complex political situation and, of course, has his own convictions. But in view of the President’s personal investment in relations with the French and the obvious desirability to keep control over any spontaneous cumulative deterioration in our French relationship, I thought it worthwhile to round-up the elements in the current situation.

The Middle East: As already reported to you by Hal Saunders, Assistant Secretary Sisco upbraided Ambassador Lucet on March 9 regarding the lack of French cooperation with us on the Middle East.2 Specifically, Sisco rightfully complained about the deterioration in consultation between the French UN representative, Kosciusko-Morizet, and our Mission in New York with respect to the Four Power Talks. Other Sisco objections concerned France’s support for Soviet positions in formal meetings of the Four, despite contrary statements in working [Page 548] sessions, and French criticisms of our stance in European six power discussions on the Middle East.

Sisco’s barrage reportedly caused “waves” in Paris. Referring to it in his meeting with Ambassador Watson last week,3 Pompidou indicated that Lucet would make a formal response (expected in a meeting with Secretary Rogers in the next few days). From contacts in Paris we expect the French to counter with complaints about our past failures to consult them on Middle East matters.4 However, the Secretary’s statement yesterday,5 counseling in effect some Israeli withdrawal, does represent a movement toward the French position and may help mitigate our differences over consultation.

Algeria: The recent Algerian nationalization of French petroleum and natural gas concerns has greatly complicated French-Algerian relations, and rumors of a US advisory role to the Algerians have appeared in the Paris press. In his recent talk with Watson, Pompidou, while accepting our Ambassador’s assurance that the US Government is neutral in this affair, nevertheless commented that private Americans were advising the Algerians. (He specifically mentioned General Gavin of Arthur D. Little.) Pompidou asked Watson to inform the President of his hope for US cooperation during this difficult period, particularly in deferring the El Paso contract negotiations on liquified natural gas. A day later Pompidou’s concern was reiterated by Elysée Secretary-General Jobert to another official of Embassy Paris,6 in lieu of his sending a personal message to the President. Again there was specific reference to a possible discreet delay in any decision by El Paso. Ambassador Watson has recommended that US negotiations for investment in Algeria be postponed as long as possible in order to assist the French. Pompidou is reported to be personally vexed over the Algerian action, certainly understandable in view of his personal involvement in French-Algerian negotiations over the past eight months and the challenge the recent nationalizations represent to his overall Mediterranean policy.

Integrated Circuits: The French have been informed of the President’s negative decision concerning COCOM assent to French manu[Page 549]facture of integrated circuits in Poland.7 Ambassador Lucet is expected to make another appeal on this question when he sees Secretary Rogers.

Indochina: After Pompidou’s public disapproval of our Laos operation8 the French have yet to respond to our request that they set the record straight on this matter, particularly as regards their lack of recognition of North Vietnamese intervention in Laos. However, the French have not “condemned” the South Vietnamese action, in spite of some Soviet pressure that they do so. (Note: We still have no confirmation that Pompidou actually received and read the President’s message9 before making his statement in Africa.)

Uranium Enrichment: France has just announced an agreement with the Soviet Union providing for Soviet enrichment of uranium supplied by France, to be used for an atomic power plant in Fessenheim in Alsace. A recent Moscow policy shift now permits Soviet uranium enrichment services to Western countries. In effect this breaks the US monopoly on supplying fissionable materials for peaceful purposes in the West. The French decision to deal with the Soviets appears to be motivated by at least two factors: the recent price rise of US enriched uranium from $26 to an expected $32 an ounce; and US evasiveness after French probings last year regarding possible bilateral cooperation on uranium enrichment, together with our preference to supply Western Europe through Euratom, not an approach in favor with the French. Although underlining their independence, the French action probably does not mean they are abandoning hopes of cooperating with us in the enrichment field. France is planning to build eight or nine more nuclear power reactors over the next five years and will need enriched fuel for them.

In a related action, the French government has also announced a feasibility study of a gaseous diffusion plant for civilian purposes, which will be open to other European countries’ participation. Again, the lack of response from us to the French interest last year in bilateral sharing of enrichment technology, plus delays in formulating our position, have been factors in the French decision.

On the positive side, it should of course be noted that Franco-American cooperation in other areas, including exchange visits, continues—in marked contrast to the periods of tension during the de Gaulle years. For example, the Attorney General was recently in Paris to sign a protocol on cooperation in curtailing heroin traffic,10 French Labor Minister Fontanet was just here, and the new French Min[Page 550]ister for the Environment, Poujade, is expected in May. And collaboration between a number of our government agencies with their French counterparts goes on. However, we should be careful not to allow any of the areas of current friction to undermine the basic tone of cooperation and rapprochement set by this Administration in our relations with Paris.

We will be sending you very shortly a decision memorandum for the President on NSSM 100 military cooperation issues,11 recommending limited assistance to the French in all three areas—computers, missiles, and nuclear safety. The present charged atmosphere is of course not the best context for favorable decisions on this subject. On the other hand, a willingness on our part to do something with the French in the military field could help reset the balance and underline again our basic desire to cooperate.

Several relevant telegrams are appended at Tab A.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 677, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. VII. Secret; Nodis. Sent for information. Initialed by Kissinger. Tab A is not printed.
  2. Reported in telegram 39815 to Paris, March 10. (Ibid.)
  3. Watson reported on this meeting in a March 12 letter to Kissinger. (Ibid.)
  4. Telegram 4022 from Paris, March 13, had reported on Lucet’s instructions for a presentation to Rogers. (Ibid.)
  5. For the text of Rogers’s statement during a March 16 press conference, see Department of State Bulletin, April 5, 1971, pp. 478–486.
  6. The meeting took place on March 15 and was reported on in telegram 4113 from Paris, March 15. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 677, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. VII)
  7. See footnote 5, Document 150.
  8. See footnote 6, Document 150.
  9. Pompidou was in Africa February 3–13.
  10. Signed in Paris February 26.
  11. Document 152. NSSM 100 is Document 144.