26. Message WH31875 From President Nixon to British Prime Minister Heath 1

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I appreciated your message of July 25 and your account and assessment of the meeting of the Nine in Copenhagen. Although I accept your view that a certain amount of progress was made in the general direction of what we hope to achieve, I must tell you frankly that I am quite concerned about the situation in which we seem to find ourselves.

I thought we had agreed when we discussed what later became known as the Year of Europe initiative in our January meeting that this was a major enterprise in the common interest at a critical time. In that meeting and in numerous subsequent exchanges in this channel and in conversations with your representatives, it was common ground that the revitalization of Atlantic relationships is at least as much in Europe’s interest as in our own and that extraordinary efforts with strong public impact were required.

As you know, in stressing the urgent need to bring the Atlantic association once again into the forefront of the consciousness of our public and Congress, I am motivated solely by the recognition that if present trends are not reversed, Europe, even more than the United States, will be the loser. I had thought that similar considerations motivated my friends and colleagues in Europe, given the attitudes that are prevalent in virtually all the Atlantic nations. Certainly, that is what all the European leaders with whom I have met or corresponded this year indicated.

It is for these reasons that I find the kinds of debates being carried on in European forums so disturbing. It frankly had never occurred to us that the principal European pre-occupation would turn out to be with procedure which after months of discussion would lead to the conclusion that we cannot devise the extraordinary forum that would [Page 115] be appropriate for this important endeavor—even though all my colleagues except one had previously agreed to its utility and France had gone no further than to reserve its position.

As you know, we have no quarrel with the European desire to establish and build its own identity. We applaud it because it is integral to what we are trying to accomplish—even if some shortsighted people in this country disagree. We do not find the Atlantic initiative in any sense incompatible with these European purposes; on the contrary we consider them mutually reinforcing.

Consequently, we have no objection whatsoever to the idea that the Europeans should concert among themselves how they wish to conduct the dialogue with us. Not wishing to get delayed by procedural issues, we employed bilateral channels because that was the European preference and indeed because no other channel seems to be available. Every attempt at multilateral talks including some proposed by your government when Dr. Kissinger visited London in May has been rebuffed. We finally accepted bilateral talks because we agreed with your judgment that the French should not be isolated, but our preference for multilateral channels was always clear. We consistently stated that the various bilateral talks as well as discussions in existing multilateral forums should be pulled together multilaterally as soon as this was feasible. If we have sought to preserve the privacy of our bilateral exchanges it was largely at European request and because we agreed that under the circumstances it was the best way to make progress. I find puzzling what you say about the exploitation of our private bilateral contacts by the country that had initially insisted on them.

Although, in view of Sir Burke Trend’s imminent visit, I do not in this message wish to enter into further detailed discussion of procedural issues, I would like to make certain basic points.

My proposed trip to Europe was intended not as an end in itself but as a major symbolic and substantive act of policy giving strong new impetus to all our joint endeavors. I cannot believe that the West can contemplate a multitude of major negotiations with the East, including collective and bilateral summit meetings, while at the same time enmeshing intra-Western relations in a complex procedural web. It is hard to understand the refusal of our Allies to discuss the substance of our mutual relationships after three months of strenuous efforts on our part to elicit their views.

I am convinced that if I were to travel to Europe in 1973 and do essentially no more than repeat the itineraries and events of my previous trips, the effect could be highly negative. I would have no objection to meeting once again with the North Atlantic Council and, in some manner, with the European Community, but unless such meetings [Page 116] yield concrete results and occur in a spirit and at a level commensurate with the urgent needs of the times, I wonder whether it would be wise to consider holding them at all. Certainly, in the United States, in the light of the objectives we have proclaimed, there is a strong likelihood that if I were to participate in multilateral meetings which my colleagues found it impossible to attend, it would be considered highly inappropriate. For these reasons, I doubt that I shall avail myself of your suggestion that you will do your best to have the Foreign Ministers join me in a meeting of the NATO Council or the Nine.

Until now, my impression had been that the approach I have outlined had struck responsive chords among most of my colleagues. But if this was inaccurate, or is no longer true, then perhaps the best thing to do would be to let these matters be handled in the routine channels and forums, which you seem to recommend. Whether such a course would produce significant and positive results, however, is questionable.

May I note, incidentally, your comment that you had heard from the Germans and Italians that I had been considering a summit meeting of sixteen. I believe your government was fully informed of this possibility when Mr. Sonnenfeldt briefed your officials about the discussion with Foreign Minister Scheel. We would, also, of course have fully vetted it with Sir Burke Trend if it had proved feasible to arrange a meeting with him some weeks ago as we had hoped.

Let me conclude by stating that we remain quite flexible concerning the number and form of documents to be issued this year. The main criterion, again, should be the spirit and content of such documents. Our working drafts were intended to convey at least the flavor of what we thought was needed and it has been a source of disappointment that so far only the Germans have given us any ideas of their own in this regard. If the documents are to be the product of what appears almost like adversary bargaining, or if they are to be simply one more in a series of relatively routine Western communiqués, then I question whether the effort, or my personal involvement in it will be worth it.

I have given you my very frank reactions to the present status of the American-European discussions. I still believe that statesmanship can prevail to make this common enterprise a success. But I believe this requires commitment and impetus at the highest levels of all our governments. Otherwise I fear that the injury to the interests of all our countries could be severe and lasting, though we would of course have no alternative but to live with such a result.


Richard Nixon
  1. Summary: Nixon expressed his concern about the outcome of the July 23 EC Foreign Ministers meeting and its implications for U.S.-West European relations.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 431, Backchannel, Hotlines (all circuits) PRESUS IN/OUT thru Aug. 9, 1974. Secret; Immediate; Sensitive. In a July 26 telephone conversation with Kissinger, Sonnenfeldt noted that the West Europeans were at least “working on the documents.” Kissinger replied, “Yeah, but in a framework that is suicidal. Unless we shoot one across the bow to them brutally now . . .” Sonnenfeldt responded, “Well, I think that you should do.” (Ibid., Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 21) In a July 26 telephone conversation with Sykes, Kissinger stressed that Nixon wanted Heath to know that he, Nixon, had personally dictated this message and that “it was not a staff effort.” (Ibid.)