852.00/5–2047: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Douglas ) to the Secretary of State

top secret

2840. For the Secretary and Under Secretary. Deptel 2110, May 15. Bevin away on vacation, therefore discussed Spanish question with Sargent FonOff this morning.

He had received long despatch from British Embassy recounting conversation there with Reber. Explained to him our view.

Over a considerable period, we believed, Spain, under the present regime to which we could offer neither political or economic assistance, would experience progressive deterioration and finally violence invoked by the extremist elements on both sides. In order to dispel any misunderstanding of our previous discussions, pointed out that we not proposing action which would involve joint US and UK economic sanctions but that our proposal was that an objective expression of our views be presented to Franco, the Generals of the Army, industrialists, and the opposition documenting the necessity for a change by pointing out the advantages rather than by suggesting threats. The timing of any change was to be determined by the Spaniards.

Referred also to the growing disposition of the United Nations to invoke economic sanctions despite any opposition by US to their imposition.

Sargent had not discussed the matter with Bevin and was therefore speaking informally and personally when he said that he could find no fault with the argument. He raised the question, however, as to how the approach to Franco, etc., was to be made. Having withdrawn the heads of the British Mission and our mission it was not likely that Franco would receive the Chargé d’Affaires.

Two alternative methods of achieving the objective were discussed. First, a public announcement. This Sargent felt might give encouragement to the intransigent members of the UN who are anxious to have US invoke economic sanctions. As a defense it was suggested that in any public announcement the disadvantages to many countries resulting from economic sanctions might be explained. This, however, he felt [Page 1081] would be construed as an anticipation of the discussion of economic sanctions which properly should take place in UN. He was, therefore, doubtful about the wisdom of his own suggestion that a public statement would be an appropriate method of approaching the interested parties and groups in Spain. Second method contemplated the appointment of special emissaries representing the US and the UK respectively, who would explain our position to Franco and to other groups. This method, however, Sargent thought could not ultimately be kept from the Spanish press and would therefore lead to much publicity which Franco could capitalize for his own benefit were the proposal for a change to be unfavorably received by him and the parties supporting him.

Sargent thought that either of these two methods, should our suggestions be rejected, would be interpreted by Franco for Spanish consumption as intervention by foreign powers in the domestic affairs of Spain. They might therefore have the effect of strengthening Franco instead of furthering the objective we have in mind.

The solitary question in Sargent’s mind was how and by whom the approach to Franco and other Spanish parties can be made without running the risks which he informally and personally indicated he thought would be implicit in our proposal, and which he was confident Bevin would want to avoid. He will give matter further thought.

Please give us your advice covering the methods by which the type of approach we have in mind may best be made.

Sargent assured me that there have been no discussions with the French. Massigli, the French Ambassador, has inquired of him on several occasions whether consideration was being given to the possibility of taking any action, vis-à-vis, Spain. Sargent has consistently refrained from giving him any indication that the matter was in the discussion stage.

Impressed upon Sargent the need for greatest secrecy and in this connection referred him to the article in the London Sunday Observer of May 11. He assured me that he had no knowledge of the source of this information and would take every possible step to guard with greatest discretion the conversations on the Spanish question.