276. Note From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


I thought I would bring you up to date on the Spanish bases problem. Everything here is based on several telephone conversations I had yesterday.

At 3:30 Friday afternoon Alex Johnson called in Ambassador Merry de Val and read to him an oral statement on which Johnson, Elliot Richardson, and Defense had agreed. Johnson told the Ambassador that we had considered all aspects of the problem, had reviewed the lists of equipment developed in the bilateral military talks in Madrid, and were prepared on that basis to provide the Spanish $175 million in grant military aid over the remaining five years of the potential life of the Defense Agreement. This, he underlined, was not a negotiating figure; it was a final US position.2

Johnson also gave the Spanish the post-Vietnam option of purchasing surplus matériel at no cost to the US Government. He made no mention of credits for military sales; however, the Ambassador raised the question afterwards, and Johnson responded that if the Spanish wished to pursue the matter in the forthcoming political talks, we would be prepared to hear their arguments. All other elements in the package—such as the US-Spanish military consultative body—were left unmentioned. Nothing was given to the Spanish on paper.

Merry de Val agreed to report the offer to Madrid and await instructions. I am informed that he and his Minister-Counselor left the State Department looking crestfallen, but appearances may be deceiving.

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Johnson’s statement was designed to meet the Spanish request for formal notification of the end of the military talks, with some firm benchmark that could be considered by the Spanish Council of State. Johnson also told the Spanish that Secretary Rogers’ schedule would be fully taken up by the Trudeau visit on Monday and Tuesday,3 and by other matters through Wednesday evening. It would appear appropriate therefore for the Spanish to send someone at a lower level than Foreign Minister Castiella to Washington early next week to discuss the terms of the final agreement. If accord was reached, the Spanish Foreign Minister could come to Washington somewhat later when Secretary Rogers would be free for the amenities usually associated with the renewal of the Defense Agreement.

There were several reasons why it was decided to present the Spanish our maximum $175 million grant figure at the outset as a non-negotiable US position. First and most important, everyone at State got the distinct impression that General Burchinal—who is back in Washington after a flying trip to Madrid, of which more below—already had leaked the information to the Spanish anyway, so that it would be pointless and rather embarrassing to start with a lower negotiating figure. Burchinal merely said that the Spanish almost certainly would have derived something very close to the $175 million level from the agreed lists of military equipment, and that therefore we ought to play straight with them. Second, since the talks last September ended with our proposal around $140 million in grant aid, we could scarcely have offered the Spanish less now. If we were to open at the $150–160 million level, within a short time we would have reached $175 million anyway. Therefore, it was decided to give the Spanish a firm grant figure, and do our negotiating on the credit sales and peripheral issues.

Choice of this tactic obviously was affected by the latest escapade of Generalissimo Burchinal. I understand, that, when he left the US last weekend for Germany, he was instructed by Packard not to go back to Madrid. On Monday, March 17, the Spanish Desk at State got an urgent telephone call from the American Embassy in Madrid, reporting Spanish inquiries why General Burchinal was coming back to Madrid, since the military talks were considered over. State immediately checked with Ralph Earle at Defense, and he flatly denied that Burchinal was returning to Spain. In fact, Defense reported that they had telephoned Burchinal in Germany to verify his travel plans, interrupting the good General at dinner, and he had been highly indignant at being bothered about such nonsensical rumors.

That was Monday evening. On Tuesday morning, March 18, Burchinal arrived in Madrid and met with his Spanish military counter[Page 851]parts. He telephoned Earle on Tuesday to request permission to give the Spanish the $175 million grant figure in writing (it had just been approved by the President that day). Earle told him absolutely not, that the figure would be handled in the political talks; allegedly, Burchinal did not tell Earle that he was calling at the time from Madrid. Earle reported this to Buzz Wheeler, who also called Burchinal to reiterate that no figures were to be given to the Spanish. Burchinal replied that Earle must have misunderstood his earlier request, and that of course he (Burchinal) would do no such thing. The consensus is that he proceeded to do, or already had done, just that.

Meanwhile, George Landau and Richardson have been busy on the Hill working on the Congressional consultations. They report that the big problem is still funding. The dimensions of the probable quid pro quo are less disturbing than the proposed transfer of the Spanish payments from the MAP budget to the Defense budget, with the consequent switch in Congressional committee jurisdiction.

The best guess at this point is that the Spanish will accept the $175 million grant figures; agree to send someone to Washington early next week; bargain hard to get the full $100 million extra in military sales credits, about which they almost certainly are fully informed; and finally agree to a package in approximately the form approved by the President. This may be accomplished by the deadline of March 26, or very soon thereafter.

Meanwhile, I wonder whether some means ever will be found to harness the great untamed natural resource that is General Burchinal for the benefit of the US Government.

Don Lesh4

P.S. You probably also have noted the news reports today that the Spanish have decided to lift the “state of exceptions” as of next Tuesday, March 25. I am just guessing, but in making that decision they may have been influenced by the fact that some people had been advising us not to conclude any base renewal agreement with the Spanish while the special restrictions remained in effect.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 706, Country Files—Europe, U.S.-Spanish Base Negotiations. Secret; Nodis.
  2. A memorandum of this conversation is ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 15–4 SP–US.
  3. March 24–25. See Documents 9092.
  4. Lesh signed for Sonnenfeldt above Sonnenfeldt’s typed signature.