752.5 MSP/4–152: Despatch

No. 847
The Ambassador in Spain (MacVeagh) to the Department of State

No. 1016
  • Reference: Embtel 1039, March 31, 19521
  • Subject: Conversation with Spanish Foreign Minister on Forthcoming Negotiations, March 31, 1952

Immediately after presenting my credentials to the Spanish Chief of State, General Franco, on the afternoon of Thursday, March 27,2 I sought an interview with Señor Alberto Martin Artajo, the Foreign Minister, for the purpose of discussing with him our forthcoming military and economic negotiations. He fixed the following Monday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m., this being his usual time for receiving foreign representatives. He said that on Friday he would be busy with the weekly cabinet meeting, and indicated [Page 1829] that neither Saturday nor Sunday would suit his personal convenience.

I duly reported at the Foreign Office at the time mentioned, and was kept waiting only briefly while the Minister completed a conversation with the British Ambassador. My own talk with the Minister (which was carried on in French with no other person present) then began on a very friendly note, the Minister saying that General Franco had been especially pleased with his conversation with me following the presentation of my credentials, and that both the General and he felt I was someone they would enjoy working with. I thanked the Minister for his kind words and then explained to him that I had sought this meeting especially to find out when it would suit his convenience for me to call forward the military and economic negotiating teams whose names had already been communicated to his Government. I expressed my Government’s appreciation of the help which had been given here to the exploratory missions under General Spry and Dr. Sufrin, and said that the reports rendered by those missions had been carefully studied in Washington and that definite proposals for possible agreements with the Spanish Government had now been finally drawn up, the time consumed in reaching this result being due to the number of departments and agencies which were interested. I said the teams referred to were now ready to bring these proposals here for discussion with the appropriate Spanish authorities, but that I did not wish to call them forward without his permission, in view of the inevitable publicity which would be attached to their arrival. He seemed pleased by this evidence of consideration, and replied that he would be glad to have the teams come foward as soon as possible, but that he felt he should first report to General Franco. He said he could see no reason why there should be any further delay, and that he thought it was in the common interest that we should get started promptly, but that both he and the General had imagined that I was bringing the proposals here with me. I explained that these had not been quite ready when I left Washington, and that the Department had wished me not to put off my departure since the proposals would certainly be ready by the time I could present my credentials. I said I had been advised that General Kissner, now in Germany, where he is waiting to hear from me, has them in his hands and that he will bring them with him when he flies down. I then informed the Minister of exactly where all the members of our teams now find themselves, and of my confidence in their getting here promptly once he should give me the word to summon them. He said he hoped to be able to give me this word the next day or shortly thereafter, indicating that it would depend on when he could see General Franco and get his concurrence, [Page 1830] and added that in any case no date for the actual commencement of discussions could be fixed before the next cabinet meeting on Friday, April 4. He asked whether it was my idea that the discussions should begin on the team level rather than the governmental, and I said I thought this would be advisable in view of the many technical matters involved. He said that this was also his own idea, and added that he would be absent on his forthcoming Eastern tour until the end of April, but hoped that by his return considerable progress would have been made by the experts. I then reminded him that though our teams might initiate the negotiations with their Spanish counterparts and would be competent to carry them forward on the technical level, they would be under the Embassy’s supervision and to begin with would need to be properly introduced here under the aegis of the Foreign Office. Accordingly, I asked him if he would be so kind as to tell me who in the Ministry would be the Embassy’s special contact in connection with the negotiations. He expressed himself as pleased with my desire to insure introductions in the proper form, and at first named several officials to whom we might refer: the Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Emilio Navasques y Ruiz de Velasco; the Director General, Mariano de Yturralde y Orbegoso, and the new Director of the American Section, Juan Bárcenas y de la Huerta. When I asked him to name one individual, he said Señor Yturralde should be our principal contact, but Señor Bárcenas would handle minor questions.

After these matters had been disposed of, the Minister settled back in his chair and said he would like to talk with me in friendly and informal fashion on some basic questions. He recalled that in the past two World Wars Spain had remained neutral. However, a war precipitated by Soviet aggression against the West would be a different thing, an ideological affair threatening the very existence of our civilization. This, he said, meant that all who share in that civilization must be ready to fight in its defense, and constitutes the reason for the collaboration which Spain is willing to consider with the United States. I asked him whether Spain would enter such a war immediately, or would try to remain neutral for as long as possible at the outset, and he replied that he was unable to answer that specific question, but that in general the course Spain would have to pursue was logically clear and she must be prepared to take it, her efforts in preparation being part of a common effort toward a common end. He then went on to say that the idea had been expressed in America, “chiefly in the press,” that the United States might “lease or purchase” Spanish bases for its own use. Such an idea, he said, was quite impossible, and Spain would never agree to it. “We are proud, perhaps too proud, but that is the way [Page 1831] we are.” The only manner, he said, in which Spanish bases could be developed and used by others would be jointly with the Spanish. He then turned to economic matters and said that to support adequate military preparation here would require a very large and long-term program of assistance. He implied that the 100 million dollars of American aid which have been voted for Spain are a mere drop in the bucket compared with actual needs, and mentioned the huge sums which the United States has given to France. To this I replied by pointing out the difference between the Marshall Plan for European reconstruction, which has now terminated, and the new MSA program, which specifically relates economic assistance to the defense effort. I admitted that many economic factors affect a country’s military potential, but said we must tackle first things first with the means at our disposal, and I described in general terms our idea of dividing the hundred million dollars percentagewise between the development of the bases and related military projects, on the one hand, and general economic assistance in the form of increased imports of consumer goods to prevent inflation on the other. He said he was no economist, but that he felt we could spend much more than 100 million dollars here without having any serious effect on prices. “The soil of the Spanish economy is so dry that it would take torrents of financial assistance to wet it.” I said that there was no telling what we might be able to do for Spain at any future date. I pointed out that there are national elections coming up in the United States, and that making guesses as to executive and congressional action thereafter would be futile. But I thought that in the present hundred million dollars we had something in hand which not only could be used constructively now in the interests of both countries, but could also provide a sound basis for further developments should these be desired and feasible. I reminded him of the great strides which have been made in the past couple of years in improving Hispano-American relations and said I hoped we were now only at the beginning of our collaboration.

After some further conversation, in which I informed the Minister, to his expressed satisfaction, that I do not intend to hold personal press conferences in this country and that I have told the American correspondents that I could only refer them to the Foreign Office in connection with any questions they might ask me in regard to the progress of our negotiations, I took my leave, the Minister again assuring me that he would let me know promptly about calling our teams forward.

comment: From this first talk with the Foreign Minister, I believe that, with sufficient tact and patience on our part, the psychological atmosphere surrounding the forthcoming negotiations may [Page 1832] be kept satisfactory on the government level. Our negotiating teams, however, will equally have to show great tact and patience if they are not to run into insuperable obstacles in their technical discussions. They are not likely to find their Spanish opposite numbers any less sensitive than the Foreign Minister and will have very carefully to keep out of their talks, as well as out of the documents which they table, anything which could appear to infringe Spanish sovereignty or be offensive to Spanish pride. They will also certainly have to face here considerable periods of inaction, a test of this kind being likely to arise at once, since our proposals are being put forward just before the beginning of the Easter holiday season, and the Spanish negotiators will probably need some time to digest proposals which it has taken us months to produce. On substantive matters, it would appear that the two sides will begin their talks, especially as regards economic aspects, almost poles apart. Finally, the Minister’s remarks about Spanish neutrality in the case of war with Russia may be found of some interest. It will be noted that I took advantage of his voluntarily introducing this subject to ask him directly whether Spain would fight in such a war at the drop of the hat, and that he pleaded inability to answer except by reference to the “logic” of the situation. By this I would suppose him to mean that a few days of neutrality could be of no value to Spain in a conflict to which she was inevitably committed ideologically, provided always that she were properly prepared to fight, which is what she hopes we will help her to be. This question is of course a critical one especially for our Air Force which will not want to be impeded by Spanish neutrality, even for a moment, in launching its planes from Spanish fields, but it may be doubted whether any more definite answer than the above can be obtained here officially.

Lincoln MacVeagh
  1. Telegram 1039 noted that Artajo wished to speak with Franco before assenting to MacVeagh’s request for permission to summon the American negotiators. (752.5 MSP/3–3152)
  2. A very brief account of the presentation ceremonies is in despatch 999 from Madrid, Mar. 28. (752.00(W)/3–2852)