The Special Assistant to the Ambassador in Portugal ( Xanthaky ) to the Secretary of State

top secret

No. 246

Ref: Embassy’s Telegram No. 114 of September 29, 19501

Subject: The Franco–Salazar conversations of September 25–27, 1950: comments and views of the Portuguese Minister of Defense

Closely following the recent visit between Generalissimo Franco, the Spanish Dictator, and Dr. Salazar, the Portuguese Prime Minister, in Galicia and Northern Portugal, the American Ambassador gave a luncheon in Lisbon to the newly-appointed Portuguese Military Attaché to Washington at which the Portuguese Defense Minister, Lt. Col. Santos Costa was the principal guest. Since the Minister had [Page 1575] just returned from spending an entire day with the two national figures above mentioned, I took the opportunity, at the Ambassador’s suggestion, to sound him out as to the content of their conversations, which, as the Department knows, have been the subject of considerable speculation. His account of the matter, which he gave freely, is recorded below, and may be found of interest both in itself and as affording substantial first-hand confirmation to conjectures already hazarded by this Mission. He also added some information as to conversational exchanges between himself and Franco, not only as to the latter’s wisdom in publicly criticizing the United States at this time, but as to the urgent necessity of Luso-Spanish General Staff talks in connection with Iberian Defense.

The Minister stated that there were three factors which prompted Dr. Salazar to undertake his visit with Franco. These he said were (1) Portugal’s obligations inherent in the 1939 Treaty with Spain; (2) The desirability of keeping the door to Spain open through Portugal, as long as the former continues isolated from the rest of Europe; and (3) The need of considering Spanish pride and susceptibilities. The importance of this last, the Minister emphasized, should not be underestimated, since psychologically, he said, the Spaniards are still living in the age of Charles V.

The Minister then said that Dr. Salazar had loyally informed Franco as to the attitude assumed by the Portuguese Foreign Minister, Dr. Paulo Cunha, in so far as concerns the defense of the Iberian Peninsula, during the September meeting of the North Atlantic Council of Foreign Ministers in New York.2 He said Dr. Salazar told the Caudillo that Dr. Cunha had expressed the regret of the Portuguese Government that no provision had been made within NATO for the global defense of the Peninsula, owing to the continued exclusion of Spain, and that furthermore the Council had been notified that as long as this problem remains specifically unsolved, Portugal cannot contribute its troops to an integrated NAT force and must restrict its contribution to the defense of its own metropolitan and overseas territories (see paragraphs of Enclosure to Embassy’s Despatch No. 230, September 273).

The Minister then went on to say that although Franco appeared less portly than heretofore, he also seemed to be in good health. He added that he was struck with the Caudillo’s keenness of mind and understanding and that, taking advantage of an extremely cordial atmosphere, he had counselled him against making press statements [Page 1576] critical of the United States Government. He referred specifically to a recently published interview in which Franco, while praising the American people, was contemptuous of our leaders. The Minister said he told Franco quite plainly that he considered that statement to be a mistake, and recommended that in the future he remain discreetly silent where the United States is concerned, as he was convinced that the latter is doing the best it can for Spain, taking into account the controversial political problems involved and the fact that the sentiments of America’s close friends and allies, Great Britain and France, cannot be ignored. Franco replied that he must think of public opinion within his own country, whereupon the Minister retorted that in view of the nature of the Spanish regime, which he said is, like the Portuguese regime, responsible rather to history than to contemporary opinion, such consideration is unnecessary. To this, according to the Minister, Franco made no reply but shrugged goodnaturedly.

In conclusion, the Minister said that he suggested to Franco the urgent necessity of joint Luso-Spanish General Staff studies for the defense of the Peninsula. (He explained to me that although this subject has been explored orally with the Spaniards, no formal arrangements or studies have yet been made.) Franco, he said, agreed to the suggestion, and the Minister told me he intends to pursue this matter further after his return to Lisbon from the NAT Defense Ministers’ Conference in the United States at the end of this month.4 He reminded me that his own views on the defense of the Pyrenees were set forth in the letter which he addressed to the then Secretary of Defense, The Honorable Louis Johnson, a few months ago (see Embassy’s Despatch No. 24 of July 14, 19505) and added that, in conversations with the Spaniards on this subject, it has been more or less understood that in the event of an attempted invasion of the Peninsula via France, the Portuguese would defend the extreme western part of the frontier. The Ambassador, who had joined our conversation, remarked that the Portuguese would thus be defending the main gate to the Peninsula, the most vulnerable part of the Pyrenees line, and the Minister said that it was for that very reason that he had suggested in his letter to Mr. Johnson the support of three American divisions.6

Theo. A. Xanthaky
  1. Not printed; in it Ambassador MacVeagh reported on a luncheon with Defense Minister Costa who stated that the purpose of the Franco–Salazar conversations was to allow Salazar to “inform Franco, in accordance 1939 treaty, of loyal Portuguese attitude expressed New York by Cunha and also through consideration of well-known Spanish susceptibilities, to keep door open to Spain through Portugal in event former continues isolated from rest of Western Europe.” (753.13/9–2950)
  2. For documentation on the meetings of the North Atlantic Council and the Foreign Ministers of the United States, United Kingdom, and France in New York during September, see pp. 285 ff. and 1108 ff., respectively.
  3. Not printed.
  4. For documentation on the NATO Defense Ministers’ meeting in Washington, October 28–31, see pp. 415 ff.
  5. Not printed.
  6. On October 6 Dunham had discussed the Franco–Salazar meeting with Christian de Margerie, Counselor of the French Embassy, and on October 10 he discussed it with Kenneth D. Jamieson, Second Secretary of the British Embassy, indicating the United States interpretation along the lines presented in this despatch and denying any possibility that the United States was planning a defense line on the Pyrenees. Memoranda of conversation, October 6 and 10, neither printed. (652.53/10–1050)