173. Telegram From the Embassy in Portugal to the Department of State1

2188. Subj: First Conversation with New Prime Minister.

I made my initial call on new Prime Minister late afternoon, November 4, having held off asking for appointment during his first month in office to give him time to settle in. Brazilian Ambassador also saw Prime Minister yesterday.
Caetano received me in his office alone, rising from meticulously clean desk as I entered and greeting me with warm courtesy. He has reputation from his days at university of enjoying conversation and exchange of ideas, and gave every impression of welcoming opportunity for exchange of views. (Interestingly enough, Franco Nogueira had sought to dissuade me from requesting appointment, asserting that new Prime Minister did not wish to receive foreign Ambassadors.) I believe we can look forward to reasonable discussion and rational argumentation with Caetano, even though we may not always find agreement.
Caetano emphasized he was greatly looking forward to Secretary’s visit. He spoke of his interest in a “renewal of dialogue” with USG after some years of what he described as “misunderstandings” between our two governments. He went on to suggest, in more generous approach than we are accustomed to hear from Portuguese officialdom, that both sides had suffered from misunderstandings. I assured him of USG and my personal interest in exploring differences between us and in trying to ameliorate them.
For my part I stressed mutual interests and common tasks which USG and Portugal share, mentioning that I had come to his office direct from ceremony of delivery to Portuguese Navy of third destroyer-escort built under shared-costs arrangement to meet NATO commitment. Prime Minister proved already well informed on that program. We reviewed recent Lisbon meeting of Atlantic Treaty Association as example of common interest. I brought up also our interest in program for exchanges of students and professors and expressed satisfaction over recent decision by GOP to make financial contribution to program. I said we thought it useful to have American students and professors coming to Portugal; before I could finish sentence Prime Minister broke in to comment that it was very valuable for Portuguese students and professors to have opportunity of spending some time in US.
Neither Prime Minister nor I brought Azores base or African problems into conversation. It would have been counterproductive in this initial talk, particularly in view of his lack of maneuverability at present on latter issue.
I took occasion to compliment Prime Minister on dignity and self-discipline shown by Portuguese during difficult period of past two months in Portuguese life. He expressed appreciation and said he took pride in the calm way in which the country had managed the change-over from Salazar regime and was now adjusting to new ways of doing things.
He commented with satisfaction that there was now a new spirit in the country. I agreed and remarked that one was particularly conscious of it in the daily press, going on to add that evidences of more freedom of expression had made a very favorable impression in US, with our devotion to freedom of the press. Caetano took up this theme, stating that censorship had been relaxed a great deal already. He put emphasis on fact that his is a new administration which feels itself free of the past, but balanced that by saying that this is a difficult and delicate time and that transition would have to be carried out in a “suave” manner. After all, he said, laying his palms out expressively and smiling, Portugal is changing from a regime which went on for forty years.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 15-1 PORT. Confidential; Limdis.