The Ambassador in Spain (Armour) to the Secretary of State
[Received December 2—6:39 a.m.]
2438. After a farewell luncheon yesterday at the Foreign Minister’s I had an opportunity for a further talk with him.
I expressed disappointment in my talk with General Franco (see my 2430, November 30, 7 p.m.) indicating that I nevertheless hoped Franco had realized from what I had said what a serious view I took of things. The Minister said that he had been in touch with Franco and that the latter had been left in no doubt as to my views which had given him pause for thought.
I took occasion to reiterate to Martín Artajo that the standing of Spain had steadily deteriorated in recent months, mentioning the resolution against Spain at San Francisco, the Potsdam Declaration, and the clear statements by high officials of the British and American Govts and the breaking of relations by various American Republics with the probability that others might soon follow. I said I was personally convinced that there could be no real amelioration in the situation so long as Franco remained as head of the Govt. The Minister indicated that he himself had been aware of the seriousness of the situation and that both Ambassador Cárdenas and Manuel Aznar35 had confirmed to him much of what I had said. On the other hand, he felt that, much as Franco and many of his supporters would regret a worsening or a break in relations with other govts, they would prefer this rather than to compromise themselves or take premature action here which might result in grave disorders or civil war.
I told the Minister that, while it was a purely internal problem, I could not believe that the Spaniards would be willing to admit that Franco was the one and only man in the country who could handle the situation; that I could not see why, if Franco could be induced to hand back the power to the generals from whom he had originally received it, and if those in turn were to call in some outstanding civilians [Page 696]and together work out a form of constitution, to be submitted to plebiscite, this might not prove to be a way out of the present impasse. The Minister agreed that such an arrangement seemed practical and logical but interposed that unfortunately the military could not be given a free rein the danger being, and he felt sure Franco knew this, that once they had been given the power, they would not willingly relinquish it. Franco, he said, being a military man himself, knows the weaknesses of his own military.
He said Franco always had in mind what happened to Alfonso XIII in 1931.36 He said that the King had abandoned the power in the mistaken idea that the country was against him which as a matter of fact events subsequently proved was not the case and with the result that disaster ultimately followed. Franco feared that if he were to transfer the power when he is not convinced that the time has come, a similar situation might [now?] result. For this reason Franco had gone back on [to?] his original idea of creating shortly a Council of the Realm (in this connection the Minister stated that the very frank discussions the British Ambassador and I had with him in the summer in San Sebastian had been useful in bringing Franco around to his original plan) composed of six to eight leading figures. This council would be submitted to the new Cortes formed after the March municipal elections. Once approved by the Cortes, it would be submitted by referendum to the people. Franco would then turn over the power to the Council thus formed with the full approval of the people, which in turn would decide upon the form of govt to be established, presumably a monarchy. The Foreign Minister said that he was satisfied that the British Govt would accept a monarchy but had some doubts as to what our Govt’s position would be. I told him that in my opinion it was a question for the Spaniards themselves to decide what form of govt they desired, but that I did not believe there would be any difficulty if the govt decided upon appeared clearly to have the approval of the majority of the reasonable elements of the country, adding however that time was of the essence. As the municipal elections would not be held until March and the Minister himself stated that such a plan could not be put [apparent omission] as to whether they would weather the storm until then.
The Minister said that Franco was a man who did not respond to pressure or rough treatment, and that he thought it might be useful if some form of statement or message could be received from the Secretary of State or from Mr. Bevin37 or both. I asked him what type of statement he had in mind, but he replied vaguely that he thought we [Page 697]would be the best judges. I then said that I did not see how our Govt could send any such statement to Franco under existing circumstances.
I suggested that General Franco put his plan in writing, with definite details and dates, and that this statement be given Ambassador Cardenas to carry back to Washington. My British colleague who joined us at this point and who expressed in the strongest terms the serious view he takes of the situation mentioning the strong criticism already evidenced on the Govt side of the House of Commons against Bevin’s policy towards Spain appeared to agree that this could be a constructive procedure.
The Minister not only agreed with this suggestion, but added significantly that this would likewise have the effect of committing General Franco to a definite schedule. I then pointed out that while such an arrangement might be helpful it still did not meet the question of public opinion abroad which would be in ignorance of Franco’s plans and would see the situation as unchanged. For this reason I suggested that they might also wish to have the plan perhaps in less detail made public. Here again the Minister expressed concurrence adding that Cardenas had brought back an invitation from the NBC38 for Franco to broadcast to the US at the end of the year which might offer an excellent opportunity for some such declaration.
My British colleague and I agree that the above is interesting but it remains to be seen whether or not Franco is prepared to commit himself which is after all the crux of the situation.
In the meantime both Cárdenas and Aznar have assured me that they intend to present in realistic colors the situation as they know it to be.