221. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • General Situation


  • United States
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Wagner
    • Mr. George W. Landau, Country Director, Spain-Portugal
  • Spain
    • General Franco
    • Foreign Minister Castiella
    • Spanish Ambassador to U.S. Merry Del Val
    • Mr. Aguirre de Carcer, Director General for North American Affairs

The Secretary regretted that he had been forced by illness to postpone his appointment by one day and he wished to express his gratitude [Page 447] to General Franco for accepting the changed schedule. He delivered greetings from President Johnson to the Spanish Chief of State and said that he did not believe the election in the United States would make any difference to U.S.-Spanish relations. The safety of Europe was basic to the security of the U.S. and as this was a bipartisan policy he felt certain that the new Administration would follow the same approach. He was equally certain that the new Administration would continue the policy of esteem and friendship towards Spain and he did not foresee any policy changes. He said that the U.S. continued to be concerned about the situation in Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Vietnam, and invited questions from General Franco.

Franco said that he was greatly interested in all topics mentioned by the Secretary but that he was primarily concerned with the Mediterranean area. He said that the Mediterranean was of great importance to all of Europe and that Spain looked with justified alarm at the continued presence of the USSR in the Mediterranean.

The Secretary reported that he had been encouraged by the growing interest of the NATO countries in the Mediterranean situation, a welcome change from views expressed in previous years. Not only did Turkey, Greece and France show interest, but so did some of the countries more distant from the Mediterranean like Belgium and Holland. The Mediterranean was more of a political than a military problem—and the situation of Soviet ships in the Mediterranean was similar to the position of U.S. troops in Berlin, surrounded by hostile territory and cut off from their home base. The Secretary referred to the possibility that the Soviets might acquire base facilities and other support in Algeria and said that he had mentioned this subject to the French Foreign Minister. The latter shared his concern, but did not think that the Soviets had acquired any bases in Algeria. France, according to Debre, was opposed to the Soviet presence in Algeria and would follow the matter closely. What France might do to counter a possible Soviet build-up remained a matter of speculation.

General Franco said that the Mediterranean is most important to the life of Europe and that the Russian presence there was a total menace to all European countries and weakened the posture of NATO, particularly that of Greece and Turkey. He referred to the southern shore of the Mediterranean as the weak link because the countries located there received Soviet arms which mortgaged their freedom. He compared the Soviet presence in the Mediterranean to a steadily growing oil slick and said that if Soviet action in Czechoslovakia2 constituted a menace to Central Europe and in particular Germany, the Russian presence in the Mediterranean was a menace to all of Europe.

[Page 448]

The Secretary assured General Franco that the U.S. had warned the U.S.S.R. very strongly against any move against what the U.S.S.R. called “State interests of the U.S.”, and that the U.S.S.R. had assured the U.S. at the time of the invasion of Czechoslovakia that there would be no infringement of those interests. He said the Soviets were under no illusion about our interest in countries where we have bases, or with which we have treaties or agreements. Although the Russians had responded seriously to our serious warning, they would have to be watched carefully because we were dealing with a communist government. As General Franco was aware the U.S. has the means of watching in some detail the movement of Soviet forces, but as of this moment there did not seem to be any indication that a use of force was contemplated or that what happened with Czechoslovakia would be repeated with Romania, Austria, Yugoslavia or Albania. The Secretary told Franco that we would advise Spain of any indications, as we understood Spain’s interest in the matter. Another matter of concern was Soviet arms build-up in Egypt and Algeria and there were a number of Soviet technicians in Egypt. He hoped that the Jarring mission would be successful and would result in a limitation of Soviet presence in Egypt. The Secretary expressed appreciation for the interest the Spanish Government took in the Mediterranean situation and referred to the exchange of information during the last two or three years on this subject which had been of mutual interest.

General Franco asked whether the Czech situation was a result of spheres of interest established in Europe between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. at the end of World War II.

The Secretary said it was just the opposite. The U.S. had agreed at Yalta to popular elections under Allied Commission supervision, but Stalin, behind the strength of the Red Army, simply snapped his fingers and invaded Eastern Europe. He added that we had never had any agreements with the U.S.S.R. about spheres of interest and that the Soviets did not consult with us prior to the invasion of Czechoslovakia although we had warned them twice about this matter. The fact remained, however, that the Warsaw Pact and NATO existed and that use of force by one or the other meant war. He assured General Franco that the strong American reaction over Czechoslovakia was not based on friendship for the government of Czechoslovakia and that the Dubcek government gave us great difficulties. Soviet arms had been killing American soldiers in Vietnam. Nevertheless the U.S. wanted to make clear that even a small country was entitled to work out its own destiny.

General Franco wondered whether the U.S.S.R. decision to invade Czechoslovakia and Hungary could have been decided on strategic grounds by the Soviet Armed Forces overruling the political leaders.

[Page 449]

The Secretary thought that this was possible because contrary to normal procedure the political leaders of the Soviet Union kept quiet and statements were made mainly by TASS, Pravda, Izvestia and on the radio. It was only two days ago that Brezhnev made his first statement. It was unfortunate, the Secretary said, that we had so little information and that complete secrecy was kept about what happened in discussions between the top Soviet leaders.

The Secretary and General Franco agreed on the strategic impact on Europe made by the invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and the Secretary suggested that Soviet leaders might be frightened of peaceful coexistence which had brought about closer ties between Eastern and Western Europe. The trend towards closer ties, however, was permanent and he was sure that there would be further changes in Eastern Europe.

In reply to General Franco’s question about NATO reaction to Czechoslovakia, the Secretary made these points:

  • —Some European countries have finally abandoned their illusion about détente;
  • —It improved French willingness to cooperate;
  • —It made it possible for some countries to improve their defense budgets because public and parliamentary opinion had been aroused.

The Secretary said that NATO was composed of national forces and any strengthening in the military forces of an individual country would result in a strengthening of NATO.

He said he hoped that France would re-join NATO and added that the U.S. would hope that Spain would become a member of NATO, although there were some well-known difficulties.

General Franco said that the weakest parts of Soviet power were the occupied countries and lack of Soviet domination over those countries prevented the U.S.S.R. from attacking the West. He said it would be important to encourage resistance in the occupied countries in order to make it more difficult for the Russians.

The Secretary agreed and said that last June at Reykjavik he had proposed mutual withdrawal.3 If the Soviet forces would leave Eastern Europe development in those countries would be accelerated. The U.S.S.R. unfortunately understood this, too, and had declined the suggestion. Events in Czechoslovakia had been costly to the Soviet Union and he was optimistic on a long range basis about development in Eastern Europe notwithstanding short-run difficulties.

[Page 450]

General Franco said that we should not forget that there was no liberal movement in Czechoslovakia but only a different type of national communism.

The Secretary agreed but stressed that nevertheless it gave the Czechs more room to express their views. He said that even in the U.S.S.R. there are groups who are no longer under Communist Party control. Scientists in nuclear energy and space fields had become members of a world scientific community and were no longer controlled by the Party and this was a good development.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, ORG 7 S. Confidential. Drafted by Landau and approved in S on November 25. The memorandum is Part I of II. Part II, which covered bilateral issues, is ibid., POL SP-US. The meeting was held in El Pardo Palace. Rusk visited Brussels November 12-16 for the North Atlantic Council Ministerial meeting, before traveling to Spain November 16-18 and Portugal November 18-19.
  2. Reference is to the August 30 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
  3. Reference is to the North Atlantic Council Ministerial meeting June 24-25. For text of NATO’s statement on mutual and balanced force reduction, see Department of State Bulletin, July 15, 1968, p. 77.