253. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Portuguese Prime Minister Caetano’s Call on the President


  • United States
  • The President
  • Mr. Henry A. Kissinger, Special Assistant to the President
  • Mr. Emil Mosbacher, Chief of Protocol
  • Mr. George W. Landau, Country Director for Spain and Portugal
  • Portugal
  • H. E. Dr. Marcello Caetano, Prime Minister
  • H. E. Vasco Vieira Garin, Ambassador of Portugal

The President thanked the Prime Minister for having made the trip on such short notice and said he felt greatly honored that Portugal had [Page 796] sent a man of the high status of the Prime Minister. The President briefly reminisced how he had enjoyed his trip to Lisbon and expressed the hope that he and his family would return some day.2

The Prime Minister said that it would be a joy for Portugal to receive him at any time. He then said that his trip to Washington was justified for two reasons: (1) to show Portugal’s esteem for the late President Eisenhower and (2) to stress Portugal’s desire for the best possible relations with the United States.

The President replied that he too was looking forward to the best possible relations which were in the interests of both countries and referred to the forthcoming 20th anniversary of NATO as a useful instrument to renew contacts. The Prime Minister said that the Minister of Defense would attend the NATO meeting.3 Speaking about NATO, the Prime Minister said that he would like to explain the thesis of his government that the NATO Treaty was somewhat out of date. Important areas were not covered by the Treaty and as a matter of security the South Atlantic should also be included because it would be difficult for the free world to survive if Latin America or Africa fell into the enemy camp.

The President said he considered the forthcoming NATO meeting important because after twenty years the world had changed and we had to see where we go from here. Twenty years ago, he said, there was not the same ferment in Latin America as there is today, and the African continent did not play the large role it does now. Perhaps NATO should not only look after its relations within the North Atlantic but also in other areas because, after all, the world has become much smaller during the last twenty years.

The Prime Minister said that twenty years ago the paramount concern was a military attack from the Soviet Union on Europe. Now the danger is subversion coming from the same camp.4 The President said the danger of subversion is not limited to Africa or Latin America but also exists within the European countries which are part of NATO and in the U.S. He referred to slogans like “peace at any price” or “no danger” and said that this attitude was very destructive to mutual security which is paramount to world peace.

The President said that were it not for the existence of NATO a world conflict could not have been avoided and he agreed with the [Page 797] Prime Minister that although the character of the threat had changed, it still existed. The Prime Minister said that now the problem was that the enemy was out to conquer the minds of the people. The President replied that it was easier to deal with weapons than with corrosion of the mind and spirit.

The President then asked the Prime Minister for his evaluation of the situation in Brazil,5 which, considering Portugal’s close relations with that country, would be most valuable. The President said that Brazil was very important and that anything which might happen there could have great effect on the future.

The Prime Minister said that what happened in Brazil would be absolutely decisive for other parts of the world. He said that in the first place we should remember that in fact the idea that Brazil is a democracy is pure fiction. There existed in Brazil two forces in their pure form and those are the armed forces and the communists. The question was which of the two would carry it off. If the military experiment could be brought to a successful conclusion by the civilians, the situation in Brazil would come out well. However, should the military not find civilians either capable or willing to take over from them, the communists might well get the upper hand.

The President said that this very apt analysis undoubtedly applied to other Latin American countries and he was generally disturbed about the failure of the civilian establishment in Latin America. He thought the basic problem was lack of governmental stability.

The Prime Minister said that formerly the Catholic Church had been a pillar of strength in Latin America but now it was divided against itself, and that was a victory for the communists. In reply to the President’s question on how the Church was divided, the Prime Minister said that there was a great disorientation within the Church and that it had started a very dangerous dialogue with extremists which it was unable to finish.

The President said that he understood that the situation in Portugal was good and that the economy was sound and the prospects good. The Prime Minister agreed with the President but added that his principal concern was the creation of the broadest possible popular base for his government. He said that so far he had received a good response from his people. The President said that he realized that government really is a great mystery. It certainly was not a science but an art and that political scientists had been his poorest advisers because [Page 798] they write only about “how not to do it,” but they cannot make positive suggestions. The best solution would be to put political scientists back into the universities. The President made it a special point of saying that he did not consider Dr. Kissinger a political scientist but a foreign policy expert.

The Prime Minister reiterated his appreciation for having had this meeting and how delighted he was for the opportunity of having this talk with the President.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Memos for the President. Secret. Drafted by Landau. The meeting took place in the White House. Caetano was in Washington to attend the March 30 state funeral ceremonies for former President Eisenhower, who died on March 28. In telegram 626 from Lisbon, April 29, Bennett reported that he had given a copy of the U.S. record of this meeting to the Portuguese Foreign Minister. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 701, Country Files—Europe, Portugal, Vol. I)
  2. Nixon visited Lisbon in June 1963 during a European family vacation.
  3. The 20th anniversary of NATO included a commemorative meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Washington April 10–11.
  4. Caetano made a similar presentation to Rogers at an 11:30 a.m. meeting. In the course of this discussion, he also stressed Portugal’s desire to see its colonial possessions under a NATO guarantee. A memorandum of conversation is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL PORT–US.
  5. The military regime in Brazil, in power since 1964, was facing increasing unrest. On December 12, 1968, President Medici suspended the operations of the Brazilian Congress. A constitutional revision process intended to establish military control more firmly had met strong opposition.