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France: Nervous Host

3 minute read

Charles de Gaulle fussed like a nervous host. He recited to his Cabinet the list of official visitors. He lined the Champs Elysées with hundreds of the visitors’ flags, authorized an unprecedented 101-gun salute and ordered up a 70-car motorcade and a 50-man motorcycle escort. He called for a gala performance by the Paris Opéra ballet company, even summoned Opéra Director Georges Auric to ask him to “do it right for us, because they always do it so well themselves.”

“They” were the Russians, and all the fuss was about the nine-day state visit of Russian Premier Aleksei N. Kosygin. To reciprocate the warmth of his reception in Moscow last June, De Gaulle seemingly left nothing undone for Kosygin’s return visit. Although protocol did not demand it, he himself went to Orly Airport to greet Kosygin, later received him at the presidential palace through the gold-tipped Grille du Coq, usually reserved for presidents and kings. “Vous étes le trés bienvenu,” said De Gaulle, making use of a courtly French superlative to show Kosygin just how welcome he was.

There were hardly enough foreign policy reasons for De Gaulle to thus exaggerate the importance of the visit. Still, there were plenty of domestic causes. Parliamentary elections in France are scheduled for March, and every kind word Kosygin says about De Gaulle can only divide the left and aid the government’s candidates.

Embarrassing Impulse. To the consternation of French Communists, Kosygin seemed to go out of his way to praise De Gaulle—if only because Soviet policy calls for keeping the doors open to the West at any cost. “The emptiness in Franco-Soviet relations, whatever its origin may have been, is now an appendage of the past,” he told De Gaulle. “The evolution of events in Europe has shown the benefits of a Franco-Soviet rapprochement.” But Kosygin embarrassed his hosts when, at a purely ceremonial luncheon, he impulsively attacked what he called the resurgence of “the forces of fascism and war” in West Germany. This not only violated all protocol; it also hardly pleased De Gaulle, who is anxious to encourage the new German government in its desire for closer relations with France.

This week Kosygin heads south in the company of Premier Georges Pompidou for a tour of the show places of modern French industry, including the Concorde supersonic-transport plant in Toulouse and the nuclear-research center at Grenoble. By coincidence, his trip will take him through precisely those areas of France where De Gaulle is weakest and the left strongest. If Kosygin keeps on singing his praises, that, at least, will please De Gaulle.

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