852.00/10–2347: Telegram

The Chargé in Spain ( Culbertson ) to the Secretary of State

top secret

904. At his request I called this evening on José Erice, Director General Foreign Policy Spanish Foreign Office. He showed me copy of note which Spanish Foreign Office delivered yesterday evening to British Embassy here protesting fairly mildly and in somewhat injured tone against Bevin’s action in having received Prieto1 and Gil Robles.2 First paragraph of note quoted statement allegedly made by Prieto upon leaving Bevin’s office to effect that Bevin agreed with his (Prieto’s) program. Note called attention to fact that British Foreign Office had issued no denial of accuracy of Prieto’s statement.

Erice then showed me copies of telegram received by Foreign Office from Duke of Alba, then Spanish Ambassador in London. There were three of these telegrams, one each in 1940, 1941 and 1942. First of these telegrams gave account of conversation between Alba and Eden in which Eden expressed British friendship for Spain and called upon Spain to do nothing more than keep Germans from entering or transiting Spain. This telegram also contained assurances by Eden that England would not permit Spanish refugees to operate in Great Britain.

Second telegram quoted Eden as promising British consideration of Spain’s desire to have Gibraltar as well as to assist Spanish aims in other territorial adjustments.

Third telegram gave account of alleged proposal by Eden to Alba with regard to Britain’s desire for Spain to move in on French zone of Morocco, a subject which Spanish Government required Alba to take up with Churchill. Churchill confirmed this proposal, adding [Page 1089] that once war had been won by British, France would owe Britain much and Britain would owe France nothing; that Churchill expected obtain naval aid from United States which would assist her in Mediterranean fight; that at end of war ships and other aid would be given to Spain and that although he, Churchill, bad made public statement favorable to Spanish Government, he would make another one.

Erice then showed me memo of conversation between Ambassador Hayes and Foreign Minister in 1943 in which Ambassador Hayes is said to have asked Spanish Government to permit United States to use port of Barcelona for evacuation of Allied wounded and sick and also to use that port for sending into France for use of civil population food and other materials. Memo stated that Ambassador’s requests were granted.

Erice then elaborated to some extent how seriously Government takes fact that Bevin had seen Prieto and Robles in his capacity as Foreign Secretary, adding that he personally could understand gasoline embargoes and that sort of thing but that for Bevin not to deny Prieto’s statement as mentioned above placed very substantial strain on present relations between two Governments, and Erice again called attention to telegram in which British were supposed to have promised that Spanish refugees would not be permitted to operate on British soil.

Erice assured me that this resentment was not purely his but also that of Franco and Foreign Minister and government as whole. He expressed hope to me that my government might find it possible to bring to attention of British Government the strength of feeling which this Prieto-Bevin conversation has had and that we might suggest to British utility of at least denying accuracy of Prieto’s statement. I naturally told Erice that all I could do would be to submit his request to my government.

Erice also dwelt at considerable length on position of Spain in event of war between Western Powers and Russia. He said there could be no question as to eventual position of Spain in event of such war but that should Spain by reason of her weakness remain neutral for even as much as three months, Russian armies could then easily have reached Pyrenees and probably North Africa. He pointed out that because of Spain’s present inadequately equipped army and because of Spain’s almost complete lack of airdrome facilities, she could not in spite of her interests undertake to oppose Russia, and in view of inadequate airport facilities, Western Powers would not be able to send in their air forces and airborne troops. He rather appealed to me in hope that something in way of policy modification could be found, protesting [Page 1090] that Spain did want to liberalize and did want to evolve toward more liberal situation. He asked me at lunch other day and again this evening whether I could not define to him just what we mean by evolution. I did not endeavor to correct him by saying that our policy had not envisaged evolution under Franco.

I appreciate that it is hardly up to us to approach British in this matter but I do hope Department can give me early guidance for use in any future discussions which I may be called upon to have with Spanish officials on this subject. I do not know whether Department in light of world developments as they are envisages possibility of policy modification or not. I personally feel that this is not opportune moment to develop antagonisms between United States and Spain or to in any way upset applecart here regardless of number of rotten apples in cart.

Sent Department 904, repeated London 75.

Culbertson
  1. Don Indalecio Prieto, leader in Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party.
  2. José Maria Gil Robles, Catholic Action Party leader.