321. Telegram 6595 From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

Subject: Pompidou’s declining health—contingency preparations for his succession.

1. During past several months, and with increasing frequency since early January, we have received variety of reports, [less than 1 line not declassified] indicating that President Pompidou is afflicted with malignant, incurable disease which could well require him to resign prior to end of his term of office in 1976. While reliability of our sources varies, as do estimates of Pompidou’s life span; public indications of Pompidou’s work pattern—greatly shortened hours, efforts to spare physical exertion—sustain the thesis that his ability to carry the bur-dens of the Presidency is declining sharply.

2. While reports of Pompidou’s deteriorating health have been circulating for some time, it was only in February that we first began to hear that Elysee political strategists close to Pompidou were beginning to discuss the succession problem. The most recent report was received on March 14 from Georges Suffert, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Le Point magazine. He told PolCouns that he had certain knowledge that Pierre Juillet, Pompidou’s principal domestic political advisor in the Elysee, is already preparing contingency plans for Pompidou’s succession. According to Suffert, since “Pompidou is slipping rapidly,” Juillet believes that he might have to resign as early as within the next two to four months. (Another reliable journalist, just back from accompanying Pompidou to USSR, showed us March 15 his confidential report to his editor, in which he reported that “unanimous view” of senior journalists on Soviet trip (including Michel Tatu, Raymond Rounoux, Roland Faure) is that “this is Pompidou’s last foreign trip” and that he would resign before summer or early fall at the latest.) Juillet’s principal concern, said Suffert, is to insure the candidacy of Pierre Messmer as the leader of the majority forces. To illustrate the type of contingency planning that is reportedly going on, Suffert said that press release timing is seen as all-important; i.e., it would be necessary for an Elysee announcement of Pompidou’s resignation to be followed instantly by a Matignon announcement of Messmer’s candidacy for the Presidency. [Page 989] This would effectively “neutralize”—it is hoped in the Elysee—the candidacy of other aspirants, especially Chaban-Delmas.

3. We are not able to verify the accuracy of these reports, particularly re length of time Pompidou can remain in office—weeks, months, or longer according to some speculation. From all indications, he appears to be in complete command of his mental faculties. Nevertheless, given the burden of evidence available to the Mission, it seems highly plausible that Elysee political intimates of the President should already be engaged in contingency planning. We will report further as information becomes available.

  1. Summary: The Embassy discussed Pompidou’s declining health.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 680, Country Files, Europe, France Vol. XII (June 1969–April 1974). Secret; Nodis. Pompidou died on April 2.