131. Letter From President de Gaulle to President Kennedy1

Dear Mr. President: I have carefully reflected on the contents of your message of August 25 [24].2 Let me tell you, first of all, that I was not surprised by it. Various reasons, which are those of the United States, make me, indeed, well understand the attitude to which you have been brought in the crisis created by the Soviets concerning Berlin.

You emphasize how much you are concerned with seeking the approval of the States “of the third world”, that of the participants in the coming conference at Belgrade, that of certain sections of American public opinion, and that of the average NATO members. However, these various elements, whose opinion is certainly not without importance but who for the most part have already made up their minds, and you know in what way, do not bear real responsibilities in the question which faces the United States, Great Britain, and France. You indicate that you have thus been led, while strengthening your military means of defense, to contemplate for the Three to enter promptly and openly into negotiations with the Soviets, whatever be the threats that they are hurling at us and the actual acts that they are committing in violation of agreements. Moreover, it is only too clear that the geographic situation of Berlin gives them locally many advantages for pressure and action with respect to the population and the Westerners, advantages which they will certainly continue to use as open negotiations unfold. Lastly, in the situation of strength in which they are already placed one cannot see what could be the field, the basis, and the result of negotiations if not the field, the basis, and the result that the Soviets have ceaselessly proclaimed and that they would not fail to demand more and more loudly as soon as conversations were engaged in before the whole world on the subject of Berlin.

As these facts of the situation do not escape anyone, I believe that the opening of negotiations in the present circumstances would be considered immediately as a prelude to the abandonment, at least gradually, of Berlin and as a sort of notice of our surrender. I am convinced that this would be a very grave blow to our Atlantic Alliance and that the consequences as concern the possibility of approaches, then of arrangements, [Page 378] between Soviet Russia and a number of our allies of today would rapidly follow.

France, as you know, strongly desires that a broad and real international détente—which can only come from acts of the Soviets just as the present tension comes only from them—would permit one day the opening of objective discussions between the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, and France on all the problems of the world and especially that of Germany. France will reiterate this in the note that it will address to the Government in the Kremlin in reply to the latter’s note of August 3. Meanwhile, as a precaution, France is reinforcing its means of defense in Europe. But in the present state of affairs, as it has been created in Berlin by the violation of agreements, acts of violence, threats, and demands of the Soviets, France insists for its part in not engaging in the negotiations which are in fact demanded by Moscow.

As I said on August 8 to Mr. Dean Rusk,3 it is up to the United States, if they consider it useful, to try to induce the Soviets to define in a precise manner by the normal diplomatic channel their claims and thus to seek to determine if the elements of a positive and honorable negotiation exist. To this my government could not raise any objections. If it should appear as a result of this exploration that such a negotiation could be possible, France would undoubtedly reconsider its position. However, the reasons that I have set forth to you will make you understand, I am sure, why the French note addressed to Moscow cannot include “a proposal for the examination of the possibilities of negotiations by the foreign ministers at New York at the end of September”.

I am, moreover, convinced that you will not see anything in this position which indicates the least separation of my country from yours as to their will to safeguard, together, freedom in the world and to bear, side by side, all the responsibilities that this duty imposes upon them.

With the very cordial assurance of my very high consideration,4

C. de Gaulle5
  1. Source: Department of State, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204. Secret. The source text is a Department of State translation. Alphand delivered the letter at 7:15 p.m. on August 26. A memorandum of his conversation with Rusk on that occasion is ibid., Central Files, 762.00/8-2661.
  2. See footnote 5, Document 126.
  3. See Document 100.
  4. On August 27 Rusk met individually with Alphand, Hood, and Knapf to tell them that, in view of the French position on negotiations, the United States no longer wanted to reply to the August 3 Soviet note. Rusk also gave them drafts of a statement calling for a Western Foreign Ministers meeting to begin in Washington on September 14 and a statement that the United States would begin exploratory conversations with the Soviet Union on Berlin and that these talks might take place at the United Nations or through normal diplomatic exchanges. (Memoranda of conversation; Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/8-2761)
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.