The Ambassador in Portugal (Baruch) to the Secretary of State
[Received May 24—1:10 a.m.]
460. For Hickerson from Culbertson.32
- “1. A week ago today the US Government thru the Embassy’s Counselor, Mr. Crocker, requested the Portuguese Government thru yourself to permit American operations at and thru the Santa Maria airdrome to continue on a day to day week to week or month to month basis until the negotiations on which Mr. Culbertson and General Kuter are engaged could be completed.
- 2. After his conversation with you Mr. Crocker stated that you believed a note authorizing such operations could be expected within a day or two after you had had an opportunity to talk with the President of the Council and the US Government was so informed. From your conversation with Mr. Xanthaky33 yesterday however it appears that no decision has yet been reached with respect to this proposed temporary arrangement and that the anticipated note may be delayed.”
Mathias said matter would be referred to Salazar who left yesterday and will be out of town for several days. There is no indication that Mathias took any action as result of Crocker approach on May 15.[Page 986]
Mathias response to Kuter included belief that request in last paragraph of memo would be approved without hesitation but extension of status quo also requested would depend upon some overt recognition of resumption of unqualified Portuguese sovereignty. We therefore feel we should be prepared to go thru with some brief symbolic ceremony at the airfield or possibly public statement by Ambassador here in Lisbon if that is what they need to satisfy their sovereignty complex, provided basic operations at Santa Maria remain absolutely in our hands. We would like urgently your views on how far we might go in this matter. Also we need your instructions and authorization to go thru with closing down June 2. We take it there is no thought of staying on in the absence of Portuguese agreement to do so. We find it difficult to believe that Portuguese will go so far as to require us to cease operations but Mathias did tell Kuter they realize what is involved should operations cease.
In spite of Kuter’s repeated unsuccessful efforts to interrupt Mathias indulged in an hour of … oratory focused around the Salazar theory that provision of air base rights to the US without US written guarantee to defend Portugal may make this poor weak little country the first “no mans land” when the next war breaks out. Thus even when discussing day to day extension of Santa Maria agreement we cannot avoid “nouvelle hypothèse” and “juridical basis”.
We have departed from your instructions to obtain a 6-months extension of the Santa Maria agreement for two reasons. In the first place we introduced the subject prior to receipt of your instructions with the request for purely stopgap action. If we, subsequently change to a 6-month proposition we are not only embarrassed but we would be providing sound grounds for Portuguese suspicion of our good faith. We must not forget that the agreement itself included an extension of only 3 months. In the second place our judgment of tactics led us initially to request the day to day extension in order to keep attention focused on the objective of our negotiations and to indicate an expectation of mutual agreement in a matter of days. Such tactics still are sound. Our principal reason for departure from your instruction is the tactical factor and our assurance that you would wish us to exercise tactical discretion.
In addition to action you take Kuter requests that the operational aspects be passed to Operations Division for Army Air Forces and necessary secret planning by Air Transport Command. None of the operational aspects or implications of the June 2 possibilities have been made known to any office or activity in ATC except by this message.[Page 987]
In another effort to get an answer on the interim extension question Kuter saw Mathias yesterday afternoon in order particularly to discuss operational problems. The following memo was left with Mathias:
- Mr. Culbertson and General Kuter feel that some arrangement or procedure is readily possible by which the airfield at Santa Maria could be opened to civil aviation June 2 and which would give complete recognition to Portuguese sovereignty while still enabling the US Government to continue to enjoy the present facilities and privileges and to continue American operation of the field. For a variety of technical reasons, however, the US Government must know within a very few days from today whether the status quo may continue after June 2; otherwise General Kuter as the commander of the American air transport operations will be compelled for the stated reasons to give orders on May 28 to effect a cessation of operations by June 2 and withdrawal from the island will be undertaken immediately with the consequent disruptions and dislocations.
- General Kuter feels in duty bound to acquaint you with the
following air-operational facts:
- In the absence of any further indication from the Portuguese Government, having in mind full recognition of Portuguese sovereignty and of the good faith of the US Government, it will be necessary for General Kuter to issue the orders referred to not later than noon on May 28 so as to ensure that no American flights are cleared thru Santa Maria after June 2, 1946, the date of the expiration of the present agreement.
- It will be impossible for the US Government to provide air transport for an adequate volume of mail or otherwise to furnish sufficient air support to the American forces in Europe after June 2 without operational rights at Santa Maria.
- The cessation of American air operations thru Santa Maria can scarcely be interpreted by public opinion in our US as other than evidence of the failure of the Portuguese and US Governments to reach an understanding with regard to the Santa Maria air base.
- Having these thoughts in mind it is earnestly hoped that
in the interests of all concerned you may be able to confirm
the following interim understanding:
- In the event the current discussions are not concluded prior to noon on May 28 operations at Santa Maria may continue as at present on a day to day basis.
- In the event the desired accord now under negotiation is not consummated the US Government will be given a reasonable period within which to remove American material and personnel from Santa Maria.