218. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Spanish Base Negotiations


  • Spain
    • His Excellency Fernando Castiella, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain
    • His Excellency the Marquis de Merry del Val, Ambassador of Spain
    • The Honorable Ramon Sedo Gomez, Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Spain
    • The Honorable Nuno Aguirre de Carcer, Director General of American and Far Eastern Affairs, Spanish Foreign Ministry
  • United States
    • The Secretary
    • The Honorable Paul N. Nitze, Deputy Secretary of Defense
    • Mr. John M. Leddy, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
    • Mr. George W. Landau, Country Director for Spain and Portugal

The Foreign Minister stated that normally he always looked forward to coming to the Department of State but that today he came to the Secretary’s office sadly and with a lump in his throat. For several days, while in Washington, he had come to realize that no progress was being made in the negotiations and that matters were beginning to turn in the wrong direction. This was a painful fact, sad both to the Secretary and to himself. Nevertheless, despite the difficult situation he now faced, the Foreign Minister still wished to thank the Secretary, Messrs. Nitze, Leddy, Landau, Deming, and Colman for their hard work and for having shown so much good will towards Spain.

The Foreign Minister stated that he wanted to summarize the situation as he now saw it and to compare what Spain had to offer and what the U.S. was ready to come up with in return. Spain offered four important military bases, two of which were of the greatest importance for the defense of the Western world. The base at Rota was the only other base together with Holy Loch where nuclear-powered Polaris submarines could enter. Rota’s location is unique at the entrance to the Mediterranean. Also there was Torrejon, headquarters of the 16th Air Force, a powerful base with the longest airstrip in Europe. As a matter of fact, General Burchinal had told General Munoz Grandes two or three days ago that it was his hope that Torrejon might eventually become [Page 434] the headquarters for the whole U.S. Air Force in Europe. In addition to the four bases there were also communications facilities, assisting the U.S. and Europe. There were a number of other factors such as Colossus I and the privilege of U.S. overflight rights in Spain. If it were not possible for U.S. aircraft to fly freely over Spain and France, a problem would be caused for the U.S. Finally, pursuant to a secret agreement, Spain did not require prior consultation or notification if its bases were used in times of crisis. Spain is the only sovereign state that has gone so far in granting such valuable privileges.

The Foreign Minister said that it is not the fault of Spain that they are faced with such pressure of time and that such serious matters had to be discussed during the brief period of September 16 to September 26. There still exists a very big gap between the Spanish request and the U.S. counter-offer. The U.S. has offered some $20 million of military assistance per year and a line of credit of $100 million. On the other hand, Spain had listed its needs not in terms of money but in terms of actual requirements. The Foreign Minister stated that he wanted to table the latest Spanish proposal prepared by his military team which, although not expressed in terms of dollars and cents, should amount to about $500 to $600 million. It was indeed a drama that U.S. inability to provide Spain with $100 million of equipment per year would liquidate a friendship and an alliance. Next March the U.S. might have to start dismantling its bases and what was really painful was to see how much harm could be done to a cooperation and friendship that had developed over a 15-year period.

The Foreign Minister stated the news of this situation would be known around the world and that it would harm U.S. prestige in other countries. Greece, Turkey, and Italy have bases in the Mediterranean where they deny use of their facilities to Polaris nuclear submarines. These countries will be happy about the Spanish gesture because it will make their contribution more valuable in the future. There will be a quick and strong reaction on the part of the press. Regrettably, by looking at newspaper articles and editorials in the U.S. press, one could see that there was a lack of knowledge with regard to Spain’s real contribution to Western defense. The American press usually dismisses the four bases in a cursory manner and neglects to take into account the communications centers, and the overflight rights. Spain would continue to be a friend of the U.S. but it hurt the Foreign Minister deeply to see how the U.S. could be harmed by the present situation.

The Foreign Minister stated that he could not understand why the U.S. could not come up with $100 million a year for these bases when the U.S. had a total defense budget of $72 billion. He said he felt that $100 million was a ridiculously low sum. He said that he did not know exactly how much could be purchased with $100 million or whether [Page 435] in fact the bases were worth that amount in terms of the defense of the free world. Spain had asked for this figure not because of blackmail but because it needed that level of assistance to cover its defense needs and, furthermore, Spain was willing to make its own contribution to the defense of the free world. The Czech crisis and other recent events had underlined once more the importance of conventional armies. While a country such as Denmark could contribute only several thousand troops to the common defense, Spain had 120 thousand men in uniform and in case of need could contribute half a million men to the defense of the West. But in the face of such offers there seemed to be no attempt on the part of the U.S. to attach great value to Spain’s contribution. It appeared as if the U.S. wanted to defend the entire world alone and as if only U.S. lives could be committed to the defense of a civilization, which Spain also wanted to defend. Offering lives and taking risks was something that could not be evaluated in monetary terms and, therefore, $100 million was truly a ridiculously low sum. Spain refused to trade human lives in return for an insufficient package. Spain wants to make its contribution to the defense of Europe and of the West. While it was true that the U.S. had suffered 350,000 casualties since World War II, Spain’s anti-communist stand had cost half a million lives during its bloody civil war.

The Spanish military team had found the American military representatives to be very unbending during their last meeting, which was a very short one, and the U.S. counter-offer remained basically unchanged. The Foreign Minister said he had remained in Washington hoping that tension would decrease. On Sunday, the Foreign Minister had called Mr. Landau to the Spanish Embassy (and he thanked him for coming so promptly) to describe some of the difficulties that he faced in view of the rapidly approaching deadline. The Spanish Council of Ministers was to meet on September 24 and the Spanish Chief of State was to leave Madrid on September 25. The Foreign Minister had said to Mr. Landau that he and his military advisers had to report to the GOS on the course of the negotiations by Monday night. In response to his report, the Spanish Government had met and had sent him the following cable:

At the Cabinet meeting on September 24 the Spanish Government has studied the position of the United States. The decisions of the Spanish Cabinet are as follows:

The U.S. offer of military assistance as presented on September 23 is totally unacceptable.
The Spanish minimum requirement cannot be reduced any further.
The Spanish Government cannot consider any alternate formulae through readjustment of the U.S. military presence in Spain.
In view of U.S. inability to meet the Spanish request, the Spanish Government wishes to apply the procedure provided by Article V of the Defense Agreement.
The Spanish Government authorizes the Foreign Minister to seek with the Secretary of State a jointly-agreed presentation to the press.

The last point was the only concession the Foreign Minister had been able to obtain from his Government to enable him to try to present the best possible picture to the press in the midst of this catastrophe.

The Secretary thanked the Foreign Minister on behalf of his colleagues and of himself for the Foreign Minister’s very friendly remarks about their own role. He said he esteemed the Foreign Minister’s able diplomatic expertise very highly. First of all, the Secretary expressed regret at the conclusions reached by the Spanish Council of Ministers. It was apparent that if the procedures provided for in Article V were now invoked, some serious problems would arise for both sides. From the diplomatic point of view, it was necessary to take note of the fact that the U.S. was in the midst of an election period and it was impossible to know at the present time who the next President would be and what the political composition of the next Congress might be. If Article V were to go into effect right away, the next Administration would only have two months for consultations while at the same time it would have to organize itself and look at some major problems, including the matter of negotiations with Spain. Secondly, it would be important to explain to the peoples of both countries why an agreement had not been reached. From that point on Spain and the U.S. would be following diverging paths. Regardless of what the explanations to the press might be, relations between Spain and the U.S. would begin to deteriorate. What the Spanish Government and the U.S. told their respective press and people would probably lead to a number of different interpretations and this was a problem that should not be minimized. It would probably result in a bad press for Spain in the U.S. and also for a bad press for the U.S. in Spain. While it was difficult to see the bearing of all of this on U.S. and Spanish prestige, it was clear to see that it would damage both sides. Its effect on Spain would be serious because Spain’s prestige had risen in recent years, partly due to its good relations with the U.S.

The Secretary stated that the Foreign Minister had had a chance to consult with his Council of Ministers but since the Secretary did not know what Spain’s latest reaction would be, he had not consulted with his own colleagues in the Cabinet or with the President. He would like to have a chance to do so before he gave a final reply to the Foreign Minister. He added that he would like to suggest to the Foreign Minister that, to avoid the negative consequences resulting from the invocation of Article V, he ask his Government for a six-month extension of the Agreements. This would give both governments and especially the new U.S. Administration enough time to analyze the problems before [Page 437] Article V was invoked. He hoped that the Foreign Minister would be able to consult with Madrid about this matter and to indicate its reaction as soon as possible. At the same time, the Secretary would discuss the problem with the President and with the Secretary of Defense. Unfortunately, the Secretary had to leave for Philadelphia to make a speech and would not be back until later today, but he would be at the disposal of the Foreign Minister as of tomorrow morning. In any event, Messrs. Nitze and Leddy would represent him in the meantime.

The Secretary stated that if it were difficult to get in touch with the full Council of Ministers or with the Spanish Chief of State another solution might be to waive the September 26 deadline and so to speak use the parliamentary procedure of stopping the clock.

The Foreign Minister said that with reference to the difficulties caused by the present election period that Spain had not chosen the date for these negotiations and that when the Agreement was signed initially the negotiators on both sides did not realize that the Agreement would expire during the time of the election campaign. Spain had studied the problem of the renewal for quite some time and had realized what some of the difficulties might be. Nevertheless, it did not want to play up to one or the other political parties in the U.S. and had always preferred to deal with the U.S. on a Government-to-Government basis and hoped that if there were to be a change in the Government in Spain, the U.S. would also deal with Spain on the same basis.

Now that Spain was required to ask for the cancellation of the Agreement, the matter of press relations became very important. The Spanish press is free and not controlled, and whoever thinks otherwise is obviously ill-informed. Be that as it may, the Spanish press had been silent during the course of the present negotiations because the Foreign Minister and his team had not sent out any information and there had been no leaks on the Spanish side. The press had reported just the fact that meetings had been held but had not divulged any of the substance. The Foreign Minister would now have to make the necessary efforts to inform the Spanish press, the world, and American public opinion of what had happened in connection with the bases and with the Agreement. This would obviously lead to a certain reaction on the part of the press, even though the Spanish Foreign Ministry would officially try to smooth things over as best it could.

With regard to the subject of stopping the clock, the Government of Spain and Spanish jurists had given some thought to the matter but the fact was that the Agreement had been approved by the Spanish Cortes and that certain legal requirements had to be met so that stopping the clock was not a feasible solution. In view of this, the six-month period of consultation would start tomorrow and the only possibility [Page 438] would appear to be the issuance of a joint announcement saying that the present negotiations could continue. This could be done only if it were possible to see that a fruitful solution would be forthcoming. The gap between $20 million and $100 million a year appeared to be a very rigid one, since the amounts quoted by both sides seemed to be final. If the U.S. felt that it was not worthwhile to pay such a price for the bases, then there was nothing that could be done. If, on the other hand, the U.S. agreed that they were worth the price, then it might be possible to find a formula to which both sides could agree, even if negotiations then had to continue for maybe another week or possibly as much as another month.

The Secretary stated that he assumed that under Article V consultations would continue for as long as six months. He stated that looking back on US/Spanish relations, the U.S. was now faced with a new situation because of the order of magnitude of Spain’s present needs which bore no relation with the order of magnitude of its needs when the original Agreement was signed. He added that there must be a misunderstanding of our Constitutional system in the attempt to compare $100 million with the total of the $72 billion defense budget. The Congress appropriates funds for certain specific purposes and the $72 billion have been assigned to specific activities. Therefore, when it comes to funds for military assistance, we are really looking at just one small and restricted item in that overall budget. A great battle was continuously being fought in Congress in order to avoid further reductions in military aid appropriations. Finally, he stated that he had made an official proposal in his capacity as Secretary of State to extend the Agreement for six months and he hoped that since this was a new question put to the Spanish Government, the Foreign Minister would go back to his Government and submit it for its consideration. It was not too late to extend the Agreement for six months or a year and, therefore, he hoped that the matter would be given serious consideration and that he would be able to obtain a prompt reply.

Mr. Nitze stated that it had been his impression for many years that the Agreements had mutually benefited Spain and the U.S. and that the negotiations were not a matter of simply evaluating the direct benefits to the U.S. or to Spain but rather to recognize that both countries had worked together for their mutual interests and that the U.S. had done the best it could to strengthen the Spanish armed forces. Therefore, the matter should not be viewed by the Spanish solely as a question of payment to Spain for the use of some bases. He felt that the expression of this view would not be well received by his colleagues and by members of the U.S. Senate.

The Foreign Minister said that the new order of magnitude of Spain’s needs compared to 1953 should not have come as a surprise [Page 439] since the cost of the most elementary consumer items had increased considerably since 1953 in every country in the world. He repeated that $100 million per year was the amount that Spain needed to cover its defense needs and that the U.S. Government should have foreseen such a request because it had been reminded several times in the past by the Foreign Minister himself that the negotiations would start soon. He added that Spain had very good friends in the Senate as proven by the fact that twice the Senate had asked for Spanish admission into NATO and as seen by attempts to fight any move to cut funds destined to Spain.

With regard to the proposal to extend the Agreement by six months, he felt that the Spanish Council of Ministers could not meet because some of its members were out of town and, furthermore, that it could probably not accept the proposal. Moreover, the period from September 1968 to the spring of 1969 would be a very dramatic one. Spain could not stop the clock just as the U.S. could not get the Russians out of the Mediterranean or out of Czechoslovakia. He stated that he was not refusing to continue his present round of talks but that he felt that the Spanish Government would not accede to the Secretary’s last minute proposal.

The Secretary stated that the Foreign Minister was not saying that communications between the two governments had ceased and he suggested that the American Ambassador in Madrid could see members of the Spanish Government to transmit this latest proposal. He asked the Foreign Minister whether he would transmit the proposal through his own channels to the Government of Spain and the Foreign Minister replied that he would do so but that he did not see much hope for a favorable decision.

The Secretary stated that he would be at the disposal of the Foreign Minister for additional meetings on September 26.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, DEF 15-4 SP-US. Secret. Drafted by Landau and approved in S on October 1. The meeting was held in Secretary Rusk’s office.