Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert E. Barbour
Q: Of course, every Congressman and Senator hits France once a year probably on a tour of some kind or other.
BARBOUR: The French Embassy was also an important factor. Herv� Alphand, the Ambassador, and his sparkling wife were the ultimate of Embassies. Everybody wanted to be invited to the French Embassy. They entertained all the time, very skillfully, not lavishly but very, very well. The French Embassy was the social center of Washington. They used it extremely well; Alphand was a consummate diplomat, very popular, he had a reach all over town. He could pick up the telephone and call anybody, I guess no longer the President at that time, he could go see them, and he made no bones about laying down the French position in whatever terms it took; he was very effective, and it didn't interfere with his personal popularity.
Q: We are talking about the time when de Gaulle was de Gaulle. This was a real change in the situation in that France was moving on an independent course.
BARBOUR: In the first instance the French preoccupation had been with Algeria, a policy with which we were very uncomfortable but about which we were very uncertain. No one really knew what de Gaulle's intentions were; whether he was going to be the person he turned out to be, or whether he was going to crack down and make his peace with the military. We suspected the former, but had nothing to go on. We did have a superb Ambassador in Paris who had a communication, a dialog with the French that has rarely been equaled. This was Chip Bohlen. Our relations with France were correct, sometimes cordial, sometimes frosty, but he never lost communication. He could see anybody; he could see de Gaulle whenever he wanted, but of course he didn't overwork that. He played golf with Couve de Murville almost every Sunday. They found him worth talking to and therefore they gave him the time and the access. So we had a very active relationship with France for all those reasons and they encompassed all fields but were particularly focused on France and Europe, France and NATO, France and us.
Q: Were you the desk officer?
BARBOUR: I was the desk officer and so—how did the lowly desk officer play in that?
Q: Yes; this is a whole different game from before; this is the 1964 to 1967 period.