207. Memorandum for the Files1


  • Spanish Base Negotiations and Palomares


  • The Honorable Angier Biddle Duke, U.S. Ambassador to Spain
  • The Honorable Paul C. Warnke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
  • Mr. Frederick S. Wyle, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
  • Captain William Golden, OASD/ISA
  • Mr. Robert Funseth, EUR/SPP

I. Palomares

Before the arrival of Mr. Warnke, the question of the proposed U.S. gift of a desalting plant to Palomares was discussed. Ambassador Duke stated that he had just come from a meeting with Mr. Herman Pollack, Director of the Office of International Scientific and Technological Affairs, in which Mr. Pollack had reported that a telegram had been received from Madrid forwarding the results of the water sample tests made at Palomares. Mr. Pollack said that a preliminary reading of these results indicated a desalting plant was technically feasible. (At this point, Mr. Warnke joined the meeting.)

The Ambassador said he hoped a public announcement of the U.S. gift could be made as soon as possible in order that the date of the announcement would be as far in advance of the January 17 anniversary of the accident. He believed it was important that our offer become part of the historical record during the current calendar year and in advance of the BBC special television program on the accident now scheduled for early 1968.

Referring to the BBC program, he said it was the Embassy’s understanding that the BBC was favorably impressed on two counts: first—the work of the U.S. Claims Commission; secondly, the manner in which the nuclear contamination problem of both the residents and the area had been promptly examined and the happy results of these examinations. However, there was a third area, he said, in which the BBC apparently believed there was some legitimacy to complaints. He [Page 407] said this was the question of something being done about the problem of non-measurable damage—psychological as well as material. It was with this problem in mind that the Embassy had originally proposed a gift to the people of Palomares. He thought we could effectively meet this point by announcing the gift as soon as possible.

The Ambassador said the prompt announcement of the U.S. offer could not help but improve the atmosphere for the base negotiations. He said we must remember that the accident brought home to the Spanish, in a most dramatic way, that the American military presence in Spain was not without serious risks to Spain.

II. Spanish Base Negotiations

The Ambassador said that he had seen several estimates by the U.S. military services and they appeared persuasive of the U.S. need for continued use of the Spanish bases for an additional five years. He said he had not seen a specific Department of Defense position, but he assumed that Defense would sustain the services’ estimate.

Mr. Wyle stated there were several studies or reports which all supported the strategic importance or need for the Spanish bases and indicated no real disagreement with the individual estimates of the services.

The Ambassador said that the problem we face as we enter into negotiations with the Spanish for a renewal of the Base Agreements hinges on the Spanish political objectives and their anticipated requests for military hardware. He said it was his view that to the extent we can meet their political requests, the military shopping list will be correspondingly reduced. However, the Ambassador said it is apparent that we cannot meet their objectives for membership in NATO and admission to the EEC, nor are we prepared to extend to Spain diplomatic support in their dispute with the British over Gibraltar. He noted that the Secretary had reaffirmed the U.S. policy of absolute neutrality on Gibraltar to the Spanish Foreign Minister on November 13, 1967.2 He said there remains the Spanish request for an escalation of the present commitment (contained in the 1963 Joint Statement) to a U.S.-Spanish treaty.

The Ambassador said the State Department’s Legal Advisor was examining the various forms of commitments which the U.S. might make, ranging from a simple executive agreement on the one hand to a legal treaty on the other. [4 lines of source text not declassified] The Ambassador said in negotiating with Spain he hoped he would be able to demonstrate to Spain that we are prepared to offer it the same type [Page 408] guarantee we have extended to others [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].

With regard to the Spanish request for a treaty, he mentioned that Mr. Aguirre de Carcer, Director General for North American Affairs in the Spanish Foreign Ministry, had reported that in a conversation with Senator Fulbright in Geneva, Switzerland, the Senator had told Mr. Aguirre de Carcer there would be no difficulty in getting Senate approval of a U.S.-Spanish treaty.3

In considering the kind of commitment we are prepared to offer Spain, the Ambassador said he thought it was important to bear in mind that the Spanish were more interested in the form than the actual substance of such a commitment. For this reason, he said, their first objective is a treaty which would be public and would demonstrate that Spain had obtained something of significance from the U.S. in exchange for the bases.

The Ambassador said that if we were unable to accommodate satisfactorily the Spanish on their request for an improved form of a mutual defense commitment and at the same time, because of the lack of U.S. military assistance funds, we could not satisfactorily meet their request for military equipment, then the Spanish might very well ask for our withdrawal from the bases because not even the Franco regime could justify to its citizens our continued use of the bases if there was no demonstrable benefit for Spain.

Mr. Warnke said that Defense recognizes the difficulty we will have in meeting Spain’s political objectives and that we will have to consider offering them some form of military hardware. He said the problem in meeting either their political or military hardware requests originates in the same place: the Congress. He recalled that the Congress has indicated it is opposed to any new defense commitments by the U.S. and at the same time is cutting back on appropriations for U.S. military assistance. He said this latter action is, at least to some extent, inter-related to the first because the Congress believes that military assistance results in the U.S. becoming involved in increased commitments; hence by cutting back military assistance, the Congress puts a block on increased U.S. involvement.

Mr. Warnke said that part of the problem in obtaining military assistance funds for Spain is that all of the various types of military assistance are lumped into one appropriation. He explained there are two types of assistance in which there is not much Congressional opposition. These consist of the assistance to countries where we are helping improve the indigenous forces in order to replace American troops, [Page 409] such as South Korea, and assistance to countries as “rent” for essential bases, as in the case in Spain. These types of assistance are the easiest to justify but, unfortunately, they are included with the “conventional” form of military assistance against which the Congress is directing its objection. He said Defense was trying to find some way to sort out the various types of military assistance. Specifically, he said, we might have to separate out the “rent” in order to get the necessary funds, and he wondered what the Spanish reaction would be if U.S. military assistance to Spain was publicly described as “rent”. He asked the Ambassador if he thought he could live with such a development.

On balance, the Ambassador said he thought we could. He said while there might be some rumblings in Spain—such as critical editorials in certain newspapers—he thought the Spanish Government would not strongly object. He said there was a tacit realization among Spaniards that the U.S. would not be giving Spain assistance if it were not for the bases.

The Ambassador said he would like to mention some positive factors as far as the base negotiations were concerned. While the difficulties that had been already discussed were valid, he said we also have certain “pluses” in our favor. He said that the Foreign Minister had told the Secretary on November 13 that Spain and the U.S. had successfully maintained a relationship for 15 years which had been of mutual interest and advantage to both countries. The Foreign Minister said Spain, for its part, was prepared to continue this relationship and it was the Foreign Minister’s estimate that this was also the wish of the U.S. The Foreign Minister said that it was on this basis that the two countries should negotiate an extension of the agreement. He had concluded that as it was in the interests of both countries to continue the relationship, he believed that both countries had the same goal of achieving a successful completion of the negotiations. The Ambassador said he thought we could expand on this point by adopting the point-of-view in the negotiations that the U.S. and Spain shared what might be described as a community of interest in the continuation of our relationship.

The Ambassador said he was looking forward with keen interest to hearing the preview of the Briefing Team’s presentation at the State Department, December 8. He hoped the Team members would very much have in mind that the Spanish would be listening attentively for anything that would support their contention that the bases are more valuable to us now than they were five years ago. They attribute this increased value to the new Soviet presence in the Mediterranean. The Ambassador said he recognized this was a very delicate and difficult task for the Team, but he thought they should place emphasis that the Soviet presence represented a real political threat to all the countries of the Mediterranean, including Spain.

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Mr. Wyle said he was in agreement not only with the objectives as described by the Ambassador but also with his assessment of the difficulties of achieving these objectives because the fact of the matter was that the U.S. Navy, for example, is making the same point as the Spanish—the Soviet presence has increased the importance of the U.S. bases in Spain.

The Ambassador said we should also try to think of ways we can suggest to the Spanish that while the bases are important, their importance is lessened because of restrictions in their use. By restrictions he said he meant the suspension of nuclear overflights and that Spain’s present policy in the Middle East restricted the use of the bases by the U.S. in support of possible U.S. actions in the Middle East.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 15-4 SP-US. Secret. Drafted by Funseth and approved in draft by Ambassador Duke on December 8.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 206.
  3. Not further identified.