Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert E. Barbour
BARBOUR: People were very upset about it but there was nothing we could do and we, the President, took the position that we should comply with it. If they wanted us to be out within a defined period we shall be out. And we were out! We had a lot of bases, rather large facilities, in France.
Q: What sort of work did this cause for you?
BARBOUR: I am trying to recall any specific activities that resulted from that aside from papers, the usual papers—what lies behind it, what his intentions are. Life on the desk at that level went on; the turmoil obviously was much higher. Bill Tyler was the Assistant Secretary, he knew all about France and then he was replaced by John Leddy who was working with Ball and the Secretary. The turmoil in the relationships existed side by side with business as usual and I was more the business as usual side.
Q: There was no order to cool it with France, or something like that?
BARBOUR: They went through that and decided no. There was no point to it; there was nothing we could do and France was still France and de Gaulle was very much in charge and he was changing the rules of the game. We had constant frustrations with his strategic policies—the independent force de frappe and their own, as it was sometimes called, “tear off an arm” strategic policy—we may not be able to do much but we will at least tear off an arm and make them sorry. So they developed their own strategic forces...
Q: You are talking about nuclear forces?
BARBOUR: Nuclear forces. At that time they only had two of the manned bombers and then they got into submarines, with no help from us. Their refueling aircraft were all American. They had their testing; they continued to test in the atmosphere long after we stopped. That was an annoyance but there was nothing we could do about it. We had one awful episode in which American aircraft based in France, this would have been before 1966, in 1965 I guess, flew over the French nuclear plant at Pierrelatte, made a number of passes at it photographing all the time. The French sent their aircraft up to intercept and force us down but we could outrun them. It was for four or five days a wild time; the French were incensed, our Air Force was evasive, the Department of State had one reaction and I think the Pentagon had another. When the aircraft returned to their base which was French, there was the base commander to greet them saying “give me that film.” And they handed it over to him! It was the only time in my entire service that the Secretary of State called me at home; he asked, “What on earth is this all about? What has happened? What is the state of play?” He could not believe it when I told him that we handed the film back. That was Dean Rusk. It was a very active time.