Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert E. Barbour
Q: How did the French diplomats in the Quai d'Orsay deal with you on these things? Did they think we might go fishing in their waters, or anything like that?
BARBOUR: They were unquestionably ambivalent. On the one hand they thought, quite rightly, that we could never supplant them because of the cultural ties, that we would never really try for economic reasons. They were right on both scores. But they hoped we would be mindful of French interests and I think to a large degree we were. So I don't recall any acrimony or tension over black Africa, over Laos, yes, but not over black Africa.
Q: What was the tension over Laos?
BARBOUR: Various Laotian crises—SEATO, France was a member of SEATO—when it looked as though we were going to get involved in a larger conflict in Laos and the French didn't want to. Remember this was 1961, the beginning of the Kennedy Administration, and there was a lot of muscle flexing and there were various Laotian crises. One of these brought the Secretary and Selwyn Lloyd to Paris for a ministerial meeting on Laos. Can you imagine such a thing today? There used to be a fair number of these things. SEATO saber rattling. The French position was that we were complicating the Laotian crisis and didn't really know what we were doing. Their position was consistently that they understood what we Americans were doing but thought we were wrong; and that was what they maintained. So we had a lot of conversations with them on the subject of Laos. It was not accidental that the people we dealt with in the Foreign Ministry on Southeast Asia and on French Africa were either people who had been integrated into the Quai d'Orsay from other Ministries or, in the case of Africa, were in the other Ministries.
Q: So they brought with them a strong commitment to these areas.
BARBOUR: They did, but I think that for their Minister they represented an annoying distraction. I don't think we had any routine contacts with Couve de Murville on either subject.
Q: Were you there when the Kennedy Administration came in?
Q: This must of made an impact, because Kennedy as a Senator had made at least one speech about how Algeria should be free. During your time there how did you deal with this?