166. Memorandum of Conversation1

SecDel MC-30


New York, September-October 1965


  • Portuguese Acquisition of U.S. B-26’s


  • U.S.
    • Secretary Rusk
    • Robert L. Barry
  • Portugal
    • Foreign Minister Franco Nogueira

Foreign Minister Nogueira said that he wished to bring up the problem of the B-26’s which Portugal had acquired. This matter had recently been under discussion in Lisbon and Washington.2 He asked [Page 338] if the Secretary knew of these discussions, and the Secretary acknowledged that he did. Nogueira remarked that it appeared that there was a violation of U.S. laws in connection with the seven B-26’s which finally landed in Portugal not long ago. The Secretary was kind enough to send a message via Ambassador Anderson on the subject. An investigation was at once carried out, Nogueira said, as the Secretary may be aware.

Nogueira pointed out that he would like to repeat what he said to Ambassador Anderson in Lisbon.3 Portugal made the agreement to purchase the B-26’s from a European firm which the GOP had every reason to believe was bona fide. The firm had headquarters in Switzerland, owned its own airport and dispatched a representative with proper credentials. The purchase contract was negotiated without any knowledge of the involvement of any other firms. Nogueira said that he himself had seen the contract and given a copy to Ambassador Anderson. As a result of the Portuguese investigation it has been discovered that the Swiss firm seems to have cooperated with a Canadian firm which in turn had dealt with an American firm (Hamilton Aircraft).

Portugal has a clear conscience in this matter, Nogueira said. The contract was negotiated in the same way that such contracts are always negotiated and the GOP was unaware that any U.S. laws were being violated. Portugal paid hard cash for the aircraft and did not know the planes were supposed to fly from the U.S. The investigation has not revealed whether the planes were the property of the U.S. Government or whether they were surplus.

The Secretary interjected that this made no difference, as in any event there had been a violation of the Munitions Export Control Act. The Secretary said he was no lawyer and would have to get further details on the legal questions involved. However, one of the firms involved is in serious violation of U.S. law and Portugal is in a position of a country which had received stolen property, whether or not they knew they were doing so.

Nogueira said this was not quite the case, since Portugal had paid for the aircraft and paid a man who was not a thief. Hamilton Aircraft, he went on, had made it clear in a letter to the Portuguese Government that there are political reasons behind the U.S. objections. If the planes had been sold to any other country except Portugal there would have been no problem, thus a political factor has been injected.

The Secretary said the problem centered on the fact that the planes had been exported without an export license.

[Page 339]

This is none of Portugal’s business, Nogueira said. The GOP is aware that the U.S. Government is not responsible for a letter which might be written by a private American firm. But Hamilton has made it clear that if the GOP will make a declaration as to where these planes are to be used, the U.S. Government will withdraw its objections to the sale. Portugal is very honest on this subject, Nogueira said, and will not make any declaration unless it can be implemented, which it cannot and will not. Portugal wishes to preserve its integrity of its position and will not mislead other governments by making meaningless declarations for the purpose of avoiding controversy. Further, he said, Portugal will not return these planes to anyone. They were paid for in cash and purchased in very good faith. The GOP does not feel guilty politically, morally or legally.

The Secretary said that he would have to explore the question further upon his return to Washington.

The Portuguese Embassy has been told that the matter might be brought up in a U.S. court, Nogueira said, and the U.S. Government has released information to the effect that bilateral conversations will be held with Portugal on the subject. “I must frankly state” Nogueira said, “that I have instructed Garin (the Portuguese Ambassador in Washington) to make a statement that the conversations have taken place, that the planes were bought in good faith, and that Portugal is not responsible for any violation of U.S. law which might have occurred. I wanted to let you know this,” he went on, “and I feel the Portuguese position is irreproachable.” Only the U.S. and Canadian firms can be blamed for any illegality.

Nogueira said that the fact that these aircraft left the U.S. unarmed should also have a bearing on the case.

The Secretary said illegal traffic in arms is a very serious matter for the U.S. Nogueira responded that this was an American law but when foreign governments are called in, the matter takes on a political coloration. Secretary Rusk said that foreign governments are normally called in on cases where mutual enforcement of laws is required. He cited the examples of Interpol, agreements to halt the white slave traffic, and others.

Nogueira said that he could agree with this but that when American private organizations sent arms or war materials to groups of Angolan refugees or armed bands in Angola, the U.S. Government never made a fuss. The U.S. does all it can to enforce its laws on arms traffic, the Secretary answered. Portugal does not dispute this, said Nogueira, but these are your laws and it is your business. If the U.S. courts are to deal with the problem, it is one thing, but Portugal has been asked to do certain things at the governmental level. The GOP has a very clear conscience, he reiterated, and has violated no U.S. laws.

[Page 340]

The Secretary asked if the contract specified delivery of B-26’s and Nogueira said that it called for 20 of them. Asked whether the GOP had expected these B-26’s to come from Switzerland, Nogueira said he did not; but they might have come from Germany, France, Italy or any place in the world. Portugal has ascertained that France is now selling B-26’s and the GOP did not “have to know that these aircraft had to be U.S. property at the moment” they were sold.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 347, CF 2548. Secret. Drafted by Barry on October 11 and approved in S on October 19. The memorandum is Part I of VIII. The other memoranda of this conversation are ibid. The meeting was held at USUN.
  2. No record of the discussion was found.
  3. Not further identified.