270. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Prime Minister Caetano
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
  • Ambassador Coelho
  • General Vernon Walters

The President opened the conversation by expressing his thanks to the Prime Minister for all he had done to facilitate the meetings on Portuguese soil; it was very important that we solve the thorny monetary problem and if we could make progress on Portuguese soil so much the better. The President recalled that this was his first visit to Portuguese soil as President. He had been to Lisbon in 1963 and he believed that General Eisenhower had been the last U.S. President to visit Portugal.2

Dr. Caetano said he had been happy to do what he could to facilitate the meeting and if progress could be made in this delicate field on Portuguese soil this would be a source of pride and satisfaction to the whole Portuguese people.

The President said that prior to his visits to Peking and Moscow3 he had wanted to talk to all of our NATO allies but that time had not made this possible and he was therefore particularly pleased to have [Page 832] this occasion to talk to the Prime Minister and exchange views with him. The President said that he was also happy that the Agreement on the Azores had been successfully concluded.4 The Prime Minister said that he too was happy at this but that looking at it realistically, Portugal had received little and given little, yet both he and the President would be criticized for it at home.5

The President then recalled that he had told the Prime Minister when the latter had been to Washington for General Eisenhower’s funeral6 that the new administration would seek ways not to make things more difficult for our friends and allies and Dr. Kissinger could bear witness to the fact that he had himself intervened personally to ensure that our position on various matters in the United Nations was not unfavorable to Portugal. The Prime Minister replied that he was well aware of this and wished to thank the President for this as he knew how much criticism he received at home for it.

The President then said that he would take a few minutes to discuss his forthcoming trips to China and the Soviet Union with the Prime Minister.7 He was going to Peking without illusions. He knew that they were tough Communists and did not believe that his trip would dissipate the profound differences between China (Mainland) and the United States. We had gone about this pragmatically. He wished to thank the Prime Minister for the way Portugal had voted in the United Nations on the matter of Chinese representation when we had been abandoned by many of our NATO Allies.8 He knew it had been difficult for Portugal and therefore appreciated it particularly. He felt it would be useful if Dr. Kissinger spoke for a few minutes about his trip to China as he had been there and the President had not yet.

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Dr. Kissinger then said that preliminary contacts with the Chinese had revealed their concern at being surrounded by nations which they believed for one reason or the other were hostile to them, USSR, Japan and India. They wished to have relations with at least one of the great powers. They were perhaps the most ideological of all the Communist countries but they were also pragmatic and knew that we did not threaten them.

The Prime Minister asked whether the Chinese entry into the UN would not make things more difficult for the U.S. particularly in our relations with the USSR. The President said that the Chinese would undoubtedly oppose us on many issues, but he felt that they would find themselves more often in opposition to the Soviets. Dr. Kissinger commented that they had already had a go at one another over the Indian-Pakistani War.

The President then said that we would not talk with them at the expense of our old friends and allies. We would discuss strictly bilateral matters and all of the problems around the periphery of Asia which were of interest to us as a Pacific power so that these could become matters to be discussed rather than a source of clash or conflict.

Prime Minister Caetano said that his concern was not so much what was done as the way it was interpreted. Many felt that the President’s going to Peking would be presented as a loss of face for the West. The President said that he did not believe that this would be the case. The Chinese were not so much interested in making the U.S. lose face as they were in balancing their relations with the Soviets. The Prime Minister then said that he wished to make clear he was not expressing opposition to our policy but merely to express some of his concerns as to how these moves would be interpreted. In Europe today—he did not know what the situation was in the U.S.—there was a tremendous offensive of socialist ideas in the media among the intellectuals and among the professors and the youth. The President said that we faced the same problem in the U.S. The Prime Minister went on to say that he did not find a real conviction in the European bourgeoisie regarding their ideals and having something worth defending. The President said that we faced similar problems at home but one had to consider the alternative of doing nothing at all. He felt that the world would be a safer place.

The Prime Minister expressed some concern that the President’s trips to Peking and Moscow would be used to show that the Communists had changed and that the West had been forced to recognize not only that they controlled their countries but that they had now become respectable. The President said that we had weighed this concern and these possibilities against the alternative of doing nothing.

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With regard to his trip to Peking, Dr. Kissinger said that indications were that the Communists were tough but pragmatic and there were indications that they might want to talk realistically and establish a relationship with at least one of the superpowers.

The President said that for various reasons they suspected their neighbors who were superpowers or had the potential of becoming powerful like Japan and India. All of them could derive far less advantage from an even-handed U.S. policy toward both China and the USSR than from a policy which favored one to the detriment of the other. If the Chinese talked to the U.S. they would lose some of their aura as apostles of world revolution and become just another Communist country that was talking to the U.S. This too should be considered.

With regard to his trip to the USSR, the President said that he was going to discuss strictly bilateral matters between the U.S. and the USSR. There would be no U.S.-Soviet Condominium over Europe any more than there would be one against China. We would talk about Arms Control, trade and other matters which might be ripe at that time for discussion at the highest level between the two countries. We would not discuss the future of Europe unless that had been agreed with our allies in exhaustive consultation. We did not intend to establish our relationships with the Soviet Union and China at the expense of our allies.

The President said that on the occasion of his 1963 visit to Europe he had talked to both General de Gaulle and Chancellor Adenauer about their views as to what U.S. policy towards Communist China should be. Both had stated emphatically that the U.S. would be better off it if played one off against the other rather than having relations with only one of them.

The Prime Minister said he hoped that it was understood that he was in no way trying to be critical but really just trying to clarify his own thinking. The President said that he fully understood this. He emphasized the importance of the need for real leadership and cited the case of President Medici in Brazil.

The President said that at the present time the USSR was supporting India in a policy that might result in the destruction of Pakistan. Without regard to the fact that one of these countries had 600 million people and the other 120 or 60 depending on how you looked at it, if one country could cross the borders of another country and wage war with the support of the Soviet Union, this would create a very dangerous situation. The Prime Minister fully agreed. The President said that he was under no illusions. He had fought the Communists all over the world for 25 years. But to be absolutely frank, if his initiatives towards Peking and Moscow had been taken by a liberal President he would have been scared to death, but as a conservative whose views [Page 835] toward Communism were quite clear he felt sure that this would ensure that we would not be deceived by them.

The President then said that his meetings with President Pompidou were very important and that we must try and find a solution to the difficult monetary situation and the problems of the U.S. surcharge. He knew that this had affected a large part of Portugal’s exports to the United States but that Portugal had shown great understanding for our position and he wished to thank the Prime Minister for this. We would talk with the French who were very tough and the real stumbling block. If something could be worked out in the way of a general solution we would be quite disposed to review the question of surcharges and remove them. The Prime Minister expressed his pleasure at hearing this piece of good news.

The President once again thanked the Prime Minister for facilitating the meeting and for everything he had done. The Prime Minister said that if a solution was found the Portuguese government and people would be pleased and proud to have made some contribution.

The Prime Minister then said in a jocular vein that he knew that the President would want to get some rest as he had to face President Pompidou the next morning and the French President had arrived much earlier in a downpour of rain and had several hours rest. The President in a similar vein replied that he would then have to sleep faster to equalize things. He noted that President Pompidou had come in a supersonic transport. The Prime Minister said that he had arrived with a French fighter escort and given a little airshow as he arrived in a tremendous downpour of rain.

The Prime Minister said that he was particularly pleased to have this occasion to meet Dr. Kissinger who was one of the most talked about men in the world, especially by women. “Not as much as I talk about them,” replied Dr. Kissinger who said that the President would note that there were some conservative professors in the U.S. after the Prime Minister noted that they had this in common.

The President and Prime Minister expressed their satisfaction at this exchange of views where they had found so much in common, and the Prime Minister left.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Memos for the President. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in the quarters of the U.S. Commanding General, Lajes Field. Nixon was in the Azores for meetings with French President Georges Pompidou.
  2. Eisenhower visited Portugal May 19–20, 1960.
  3. Nixon visited the People’s Republic of China February 21–28, 1972, and the Soviet Union May 22–30, 1972.
  4. The Azores agreement was extended with amendments on December 9. For text of the agreement, see 22 UST 2106.
  5. During a December 12 discussion with Rogers, Foreign Minister Patricio made the same point, adding: “He hoped the United States Government would show understanding and good will and noted that, during his last visit to Lisbon, the Secretary had agreed that the five million [dollar] figure on surplus military equipment was not a ceiling. The Secretary commented that he thought things would work out satisfactorily. We would have some difficulties in the Congress, but the agreement was good to have behind us.” (Memorandum of conversation, December 12; National Archives, RG 59, Executive Secretariat, Conference Files, 1949–72, CF 532)
  6. See Document 253.
  7. Caetano had expressed his concern over the upcoming meetings during a July 26 meeting with Vice President Agnew, reported in telegram Vipto 118 from Lisbon, July 28. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 701, Country Files—Europe, Portugal, Vol. I)
  8. On October 24, the United States had sought Portuguese support in its efforts to block the admission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations and the expulsion of Taiwan. The text of the U.S. note, contained in telegram 195062 to Lisbon, October 23, and a report on Knight’s discussion with Caetano, in telegram 3611 from Lisbon, October 24, are ibid.