88. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US–Portuguese Relations


  • United States
    • The President
    • Mr. Henry A. Kissinger, Special Assistant to the President
    • Mr. Clement Conger, Deputy Chief of Protocol
    • Mr. George W. Landau, Country Director, Spain and Portugal
  • Portugal
    • His Excellency Alberto Franco Nogueira, Foreign Minister of Portugal
    • His Excellency Vasco Vieira Garin, Ambassador of Portugal

The Portuguese Foreign Minister thanked the President for seeing him and for being so generous with his time at this moment when he faces so many complex and critical issues. Before launching into bilateral matters the Foreign Minister wanted to thank the President for addressing the NATO Council and explaining the ABM question in such a persuasive, convincing and lucid manner. Armed with this information [Page 204] the Portuguese Foreign Minister said he would be able to explain to his government this problem which affects NATO and the whole world. The President said that the credibility of the U.S. deterrent is of course essential to NATO and the solution to the problem depends precisely on our credibility on this subject.

Turning to US/Portuguese relations the Foreign Minister said that it was no secret that these relations had not been very good after 1961 although he did not want to belabor this point. Now with new administrations in the U.S. and in Portugal the time had come to start a fruitful dialogue between both countries. Since 1961 there had been no true exchange of communications between the two governments and this was one of the reasons for the deterioration of relations. The President asked whether the view that there had been no useful communications between the two governments was generally shared by his government. The Foreign Minister assured him that the feeling in Lisbon was that the USG had not been interested in hearing the Portuguese view but he hoped all this was now over and that there existed a new climate. The Foreign Minister said he wanted to make two points.

He could assure the President that the Portuguese derived no pleasure or amusement out of bad relations with the U.S. and moreover he did not believe it would be in the U.S. interests to have bad relations with Portugal. Therefore as a first step to improving relations there should be a dialogue between the two countries.
As the President was certainly aware, the US/Portuguese difficulties arose in the context of Portugal’s African policies. There were no problems in other areas as U.S. and Portuguese views on European matters and on the defense of the West largely coincided.

In regard to Africa, Portugal has followed a different policy than the rest of the world. But he wanted to assure the President that Portugal considered this policy vital. Moreover, it was not a personal policy of former Prime Minister Salazar who has now disappeared from the political arena. Portugal’s African policy remains unchanged because it fulfills the needs and desires of the Portuguese people. This policy has been carried out for many years and is supported by the vast majority of the Portuguese. Finally, it was his view that Portugal’s African policy does not run counter to the U.S. policy but that it is useful to the long-term aims of the U.S. in Africa. This point is important and needs to be discussed further and therefore we must have a dialogue. It was his feeling that in the past the U.S. view had been much affected by the general world position which was against Portugal and by UN doctrine. He said he did not want to use a harsh word but he thought the confrontation should end and the dialogue should start. The President said he did not at all object to the use of the word confrontation [Page 205] and that he was in favor of fair and tough negotiations. The President assured the Foreign Minister that his was a new administration with a completely open mind. He said he knew Mr. Landau who had been dealing with this area and Mr. Landau in turn clearly understood the President’s views. The President said that we wanted the dialogue and that he did not want his administration to continue using doctrinaire views. There were a number of important questions to be discussed between the two countries. The President said his first concern were the U.S. allies in Europe because what they do is important to the U.S. He told the Foreign Minister that he could look to our Ambassador in Lisbon as a channel and we would look to their Ambassador in Washington to talk frankly with Mr. Landau and others or of course at any time with Mr. Kissinger. This was a new game and the U.S. wanted good hard-headed discussions, and good relations with Portugal. The President asked Mr. Landau whether the State Department had already started something in this respect. Mr. Landau said that the Secretary has set up a meeting for next week with the Assistant Secretaries for European, African and UN Affairs to discuss this matter. The President then asked Mr. Kissinger for any additional views.

Mr. Kissinger expressed appreciation for the important role Portugal has played in NATO. He said that in accordance with the President’s wishes the National Security Council has ordered a study of the Southern African problem2 and that he hoped this complex matter would come before the Security Council within the next two or three months.

In closing the Portuguese Foreign Minister said that he had found some of the policies of its NATO allies hard to understand because Portugal’s allies in the West had placed an embargo on arms sales to Portuguese territories in Africa while at the same time Portugal had a standing offer from the Soviet bloc for arms of any kind and that the Czechs have been very actively offering arms sales to Portugal. Talking about Czechoslovakia the President said he noted with sadness how little public attention had been paid in the U.S. and in Europe when it became apparent that the last vestiges of freedom in Czechoslovakia had disappeared.

The President assured the Foreign Minister that Portugal would get an opportunity to state its case and that it would have a fair hearing from the U.S. He of course expected that Portugal would give the same fair hearing to U.S. views. Meantime we would work on our policy review and in closing he wanted to assure the Foreign Minister once [Page 206] more that he agreed with him on the importance of a good dialogue between the two countries.3

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL PORT–US. Secret;Exdis. Drafted by Landau and approved by the White House on April 22. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting was held in the Oval Office and ended at noon. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  2. NSSM 39, Document 6.
  3. In an April 22 memorandum Sonnenfeldt expressed his concerns to Kissinger regarding the bureaus in the Department of State conforming to Nixon’s approach to Portugal: “I think it important that AF and IO take note of the President’s remarks about our having a completely open mind and not using doctrinaire views.” Kissinger approved sending the memorandum to the Assistant Secretaries of European Affairs, African Affairs, and International Organization Affairs before a meeting on April 23. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 701, Country Files, Europe, Portugal, Vol. I) Minutes of the meeting were not found.