153. Memorandum of a Conversation, Lisbon, November 7, 1956, 5 p.m.1


  • Dr. Paulo Cunha, Foreign Minister
  • Dr. Caldeira Queiros, Political Director, Foreign Office
  • Ambassador James C. H. Bonbright


  • Azores Facilities

At Dr. Cunha’s request I went to see him at 5 o’clock this afternoon. The interview lasted close to an hour and a half.

After the usual exchange of amenities, Dr. Cunha said that he had sent for me prior to his departure for New York in two days to attend the meeting of the UN General Assembly in order to inform me regarding the decision of his government on the subject of the Azores Agreements. He said that his government had given this matter very deep thought and that they had decided to offer us a provisional solution which they regarded as reasonable. He referred to our meeting at the end of August,2 at which time he had indicated that, since his government had not yet reached a final decision in the matter, they had wanted to assure us that in their view the peacetime rights granted [Page 459] us under the 1951 Agreement did not expire on the first of September, but continued in force until January 1, 1957. He went on to say that in the meantime and due to the extraordinary events which had been taking place in the world his government was still in the position of not being able to reach a more definite decision. Consequently, what they proposed was to offer us an extension of one year, during which we could proceed with some of our programs and have time to negotiate a more definitive arrangement. In the course of his remarks concerning uncertainties prevailing in the world it was quite apparent that he had in mind primarily uncertainties concerning the position of the United States on the colonial problem. He referred specifically to Mr. Dulles’ remarks on the American attitude toward independence for dependent peoples at his press conference on October 2nd,3 as well as statements (which he did not specify and which are unknown to me) allegedly made on this subject during the campaign by Mr. Nixon. It also came out in the discussion that the Portuguese were extremely unhappy regarding the split which had developed between the United States on one side and the British and French on the other with respect to the situation in the Near East.

I told him that while I naturally had to reserve the position of my government, I could say at once that the solution which he suggested was deeply disappointing and I was quite sure that my government would share my feeling on the subject. It seemed that the extension of the Agreement for only one year would be regarded not only as a blow to NATO but as a clear indication of lack of confidence in the United States on the part of the Portuguese. I pointed out that his solution left the basic problem unsolved, it left the Azores defenseless and involved the delay of a year in construction programs which were considered of the utmost importance by our military authorities. At this point the Minister interposed to say that the Portuguese solution specifically envisaged that we would be authorized to proceed with certain of these programs (he referred specifically to the extension and strengthening of runways and the installation of more up-to-date navigational aids). He had discussed these matters with the Minister of Defense and he saw no reason why our military authorities should not immediately get in touch with the Defense Minisry and iron out these details.

In reply I told him that perhaps he did not realize the seriousness of some of the problems which this would present from our point of view. I pointed that these things cost many millions of dollars and that these dollars all had to be approved and appropriated by our Congress. What could be our justification for asking the Congress for [Page 460] further sums to be expended in Lajes when we had no certainty that we would be allowed to remain in the Azores after the end of 1957? I asked him to look at the situation in this light: if, at a moment when the peace of the world was more directly threatened than at any time since the war, the Portuguese Government was unwilling to commit itself to our presence in the Azores for more than a year, how could we imagine that they would take a less restrictive view one year hence? I added that frankly speaking our experience with this subject over the past year, and long before the present crisis in the Near East arose, did not reassure us on this score either. I pointed out again that the new military facilities which we had thought necessary for our mutual defense and that of NATO had been under discussion since a year ago September and substantial agreement had been reached on this insofar as the Portuguese military authorities were concerned. Moreover it was early last March when I furnished Dr. Cunha himself with a proposed text of a new Defense Agreement and indicated my readiness to enter into negotiations on the political level. Since that time absolutely nothing had happened and I had been put off time after time. With this background I did not see how my government could entertain anything but the gravest doubts about their future intentions.

Referring to what he had said concerning the colonial issue, I agreed that there was no use denying that differences did and would probably continue to exist between the points of view of the Portuguese and American Governments. With regard to Mr. Dulles’statement of October 2, I did not see why the Portuguese should be surprised at an expression of American belief in ultimate independence for dependent people. This was the basic philosophy of Americans based on a deep historical tradition and I could conceive of no government in my country which would renounce it. On the other hand my recollection of Mr. Dulles’ remarks was that they had been carefully qualified to show that we only supported independence for those people who wanted it and who were able to maintain it. I thought this was exactly the position which Mr. Dulles had taken when this matter was discussed between him and Dr. Cunha in Washington last December, so that I was at a loss to understand why there was any new anxiety in the Portuguese minds on this score. Finally, while I knew that the Portuguese were reluctant to separate this issue in their minds from the Azores issue, I was sure my government would find it difficult to understand how the Portuguese could permit this problem to deter them from reaching a truly adequate solution of the Azores question which involved the defense of the whole West.

With respect to the difference of opinion between the United States and the French and British on the Near East question, I said that I did not wish to indulge in criticism of our Allies, but that if anyone wanted to talk about a split it seemed to me that by departing, without [Page 461] prior consultation with us, from the line of peaceful negotiation which had been the tripartite policy up to that time, it was the French and British, rather than the United States, who had created the split. In addition, both the President and the Secretary of State had gone to great pains to emphasize in their public statements that while we might and did differ with the French and British concerning the wisdom of their action, this in no wise affected our fundamental friendship and solidarity with them. Dr. Queiros intervened to say that the point in their minds was that when a member of a family does something which other members do not approve of, family solidarity requires that the erring member be supported. Dr. Cunha added that of course in this matter the Portuguese were in sympathy with the French and British action since they felt that unless the line had been drawn somewhere our whole position vis-à-vis the Arab world, which was being systematically eroded, would be lost by default.

Referring to my earlier remarks, Dr. Cunha said that he could not accept the thought that their proposal would be regarded as a blow to NATO. He was equally insistent on assuring me that this in no way reflected a lack of confidence in the United States. He wished to make clear that what his government was proposing was not simply a one year extension, at the end of which time we would be automatically requested to leave the Azores. On the contrary the extension of one year was meant to give us breathing space, and at the same time to give the Portuguese Government an opportunity to resolve some of the problems in its mind. He assured me that it was not his intention to postpone negotiation of a more definitive agreement to toward the end of the new period. On the contrary he hoped that we could enter negotiations of a more definite nature in “two or three months”. As I knew, he was leaving for New York where he would stay no more than two weeks and he hoped to be able to give more attention to the problem on his return.

With regard to my remarks concerning proceeding with certain construction work in the Azores, he could see that certain difficulties might be involved for us, but that fundamentally if our military authorities thought that certain things, such as the lengthening of runways, were now necessary and if the facilities were to be adequate in time of war, he really could not see why we should be unwilling to go ahead with them so that these facilities would be available in an emergency, even if the presence of American forces in the Azores was to end next month, which was not the case.4

[Page 462]

In conclusion he wanted to stress once again, as he had before, that all they were trying to do was to make it possible to have more time to talk. They were not putting a terminal date on the presence of our forces.

After leaving the Minister, Dr. Queiros accompanied me down the hall. He said frankly he appreciated the fact that what the Minister had just told me would be a disappointment to me and to my government. While he naturally agreed with his government’s decision, he wanted to add one or two things on his own. The first was that with regard to past delays in entering into the negotiations he wanted to give me his word of honor that these had not been intentional and that they had been due solely to the fact that the Foreign Minisry, which was desperately overworked (this is true), had simply been unable to give the problem the attention it deserved. Also, as I knew, the Foreign Minister had negotiated the 1951 Agreement himself and nothing could be done in the Ministry on this subject without Dr. Cunha. Next, he wanted me to know that the Portuguese Government’s decision in the matter had been reached prior to the outbreak of hostilities in the Near East so that this development had not influenced their decision in the least. [15 lines of source text not declassified]

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 711.56353B/11–856. Secret. Transmitted as an enclosure to despatch 255 from Lisbon, November 8.
  2. See supra.
  3. For the transcript of Dulles’ press conference on October 2, see Department of State Bulletin, October 15, 1956, pp. 574–580.
  4. Handwritten notation regarding this paragraph [(3½ lines of source text] not declassified.