277. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Spanish Base Negotiations


  • Spain
  • His Excellency Fernando Castiella, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain
  • His Excellency the Marquis de Merry del Val, Ambassador of Spain
  • The Honorable Nuno Aguirre de Carcer, Director General of American and Far Eastern Affairs, Spanish Foreign Ministry
  • United States
  • The President
  • Mr. Henry A. Kissinger, Special Assistant to the President
  • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, National Security Staff
  • Mr. Emil Mosbacher, Chief of Protocol
  • Mr. George W. Landau, Country Director for Spain and Portugal
  • Mr. Fernando Van Reigersberg, Interpreter

The President welcomed the Foreign Minister and said that both he and his family had fond memories of their visit to Spain. He asked the Foreign Minister to convey his best personal wishes to General Franco whom he had called on in Barcelona, during his visit to Spain.2

The Foreign Minister thanked the President and expressed the hope that he would have an occasion to come to Spain as President Eisenhower had done while he was President.3

The President said that President Eisenhower had often talked to him about his memorable trip to Spain and that he had been most impressed with the beautiful dining room where General Franco had hosted a state dinner for him.

The Foreign Minister stated that he had stayed at Blair House as President Eisenhower’s guest and that he had also met with President Eisenhower in London at the American Embassy.

[Page 853]

The President said that he had not had the opportunity to follow the very intricate U.S.-Spanish negotiations closely but that it was his understanding that an agreement in principle had been reached.

The Foreign Minister said that Spain was very friendly to the U.S. and had been so for 15 years. Spain was the best example of a country loyal to the U.S. and therefore it was now very embarassing to have encountered some small difficulties.

The President stated that true friends can have difficulties but that should not change the nature of their friendship. He knew full well that Spain was a good friend of the U.S. and he stressed that the U.S. was also very friendly towards Spain.

The Foreign Minister congratulated the President on the success of his recent trip to Europe4 and the President replied that he had been sorry not to have been able to go to Spain, but that he would visit Spain some time during his term in office.

The President continued that Mrs. Nixon and their two daughters have also insisted that they wanted to visit Spain, especially because both daughters spoke Spanish and would very much like to visit Segovia and Toledo.

The Foreign Minister stated that Spain was fortunate to receive frequent visits of Americans who came not only as tourists but who were interested in developing economic and industrial activities in Spain. Spain had received over 18 million tourists last year and its industry and commerce were steadily growing. In the last five years, the U.S. has had a $2 billion favorable balance of payments with Spain, which shows that Spain was a good client for the U.S. During that same period the U.S. had provided $100 million worth of military assistance to Spain but Spain had purchased $187 million worth of military equipment in the U.S. and had continued to do so after September 26, 1968, although there had been no compensation for this from the U.S.

The President asked the Foreign Minister to evaluate the situation in the Mediterranean for him. He said that he had discussed recent developments in the Mediterranean with our friends in Europe, especially in Italy and France,5 in view of the importance of increasing movements of Soviet naval vessels in the Mediterranean.

The Foreign Minister said that there was a definite arms race going on in the Mediterranean. The President must have been aware of the great friendship that exists between Spain and all of the countries around the Mediterranean as reflected in their unanimous support for [Page 854] Spain at the UN and in other international bodies and of the special bond of friendship existing between Spain and the Arab countries, such as Morocco, Algeria (which the Foreign Minister would visit in early April), Tunisia (where President Bourguiba was an old and trusted friend), and, of course, Greece, Turkey, and Italy, with whom Spain had excellent relations.

The Foreign Minister stated that all countries were interested in buying weapons, for example, Yugoslavia and Algeria, and this has led to some very serious imbalances. For instance, Algeria now has a Soviet-equipped force that is considerably better than that of Spain.

The President stated that it was very important for Spain and other countries to have good relations with nations around the Mediterranean for the good of the rest of the world.

The Foreign Minister said that it was a great honor for Spain to represent U.S. interests in Egypt, where Jewish families had been freed as a result of Spain’s good offices,6 and where Spain had also assisted the U.S. in similar humanitarian efforts in Mauritania and Iraq and this was something which Jews all over the world appreciated.

The President stated that this was extremely important, especially in view of the current Middle East crisis. It was important that the Arabs should not feel that the Russians were their only friends. In view of the very delicate situation it was important for them to feel that Spain was a loyal friend.

The President then asked the Foreign Minister about Spain’s relations with Latin America. The Foreign Minister said that Spain’s relations there were fantastically good. Secretary Rusk had told the Foreign Minister on five, ten, or maybe twenty different occasions that relations between Spain and Latin America had made incredibly good progress. The Latin American countries support Spain as a block and this support never fails. The Argentine Foreign Minister would soon visit Madrid and all the other Latin American countries constantly want to improve their contacts with Spain. Trade between Colombia and Spain and between Peru and Bolivia and Spain has also improved very much. The Foreign Minister reminded the President that he had once served as Spanish Ambassador to Peru. He added that Spain can count on at least 40 votes on any issue in the UN thanks to the support of the Arab, Latin American, and most African countries. As a result of this support, Spain was recently elected to the Security Council by 110 votes.7 Many of these countries constantly ask Spain for guidance and advice and of[Page 855]ten ask Spain how to vote on certain issues, which is indeed a great honor for Spain.

The Foreign Minister stated that he wanted to clarify a very important matter. He had very great respect for Secretary Rusk and considered him a true friend whom he had invited to visit Spain with Mrs. Rusk some time in the spring of 1969. The Foreign Minister had been under the impression that Secretary Rusk would have preferred to complete the current negotiations during his term in office. The Foreign Minister said he had heard some reports indicating that Secretary Rusk had expressed the concern that Spain might embark on a policy of isolation and the Foreign Minister now wished to state very clearly that Spain had no intention of becoming isolationist. There were many witnesses in the President’s office today who knew that the Foreign Minister had always worked earnestly to improve relations between Spain and the U.S.

He said that in addition to what he had said earlier about support for Spain among Latin American, Arab, African, and Asian countries, it was also fair to say that relations with European nations, especially Germany and France, were excellent.

Unfortunately, now there seemed to be some problems with the U.S. with regard to base negotiations. Spain felt strongly that it did not want to be isolated or to play a passive role in defending the common interests of Spain and the U.S. No other country, not even Greece, had suffered as much as Spain from communism or had gone through such a bloody civil war. Spain does not simply want to offer its geographic location or real estate without being able to participate actively in defending common ideals. Spain had offered its soil, its blood, and its enthusiasm in the defense of American ideals and could not remain content as a passive partner. Spain wanted to help the U.S. share its burdens and not simply provide some military bases. All of this should be a clear indication that Spain would not follow an isolationist policy.

The Foreign Minister said that one of Spain’s difficulties was prejudice on the part of many people who had not forgotten the Spanish civil war, primarily Marxists and Socialists all over the world and especially in Europe. For instance, there was a hostile Denmark, which after all was a country that benefited a great deal from trade with the U.S. and a country whose people had not suffered as much as the people of Spain in the fight against communism. Then there was Sweden which allowed German troops on its soil, which is something Spain refused to do even though during the civil war Germany rendered valuable assistance to Spain. The Socialist governments in the UK and in Holland (now temporarily out of office) and the Scandinavian countries constantly objected to full Spanish participation in the defense of the West. Spain was outside of NATO while countries such as Portugal and [Page 856] Greece with equally or even more authoritarian regimes had full membership in NATO. This was a source of irritation to Spain and Spain frequently felt that the U.S. could do more to redress this unfair situation. The U.S. Congress on two occasions had expressed its hope that Spain would enter NATO.8 Informal soundings of certain European countries on the part of the U.S. had only led to comments from such countries as Denmark and the UK opposing Spanish entry into NATO. He suggested that a more forceful stand on the part of the U.S. could well lead to more favorable results. In any event, Spain believes that it deserves to be considered on an equal basis with other European countries, especially because of its important strategic location. Spain expects that if the defense of the Western world is reorganized, as is frequently rumored, it will not be forgotten.

The President replied that he was aware of the problems which the Foreign Minister had mentioned but that they could not be solved immediately. He stated that his Administration wanted the most friendly relations with Spain and that frank discussions about bases, money, and national interests should not be taken as an indication of a lack of friendship. It naturally takes time to reach agreement on such points. The NATO question was a very special problem of which the President was well aware, but he was also pleased to receive the Foreign Minister’s views first-hand. He said he had been fully briefed on the matter and would continue to give it his utmost attention in the coming months.

The Foreign Minister stated that he was very disappointed and displeased by some aspects of the negotiations. On October 17, 1968,9 he had agreed with Secretary Rusk on the desirability of continuing good U.S.-Spanish relations and in developing a common strategy with regard to Spain. A political agreement had been reached in principle on having closer relations between the two countries and the Foreign Minister and Secretary Rusk had agreed that preliminary military talks were to be very realistic and based on the concept of a common strategy. The military talks were handled with great zeal but they had not been completed until the end of last week. They were to have been followed by very delicate political talks during which the Spanish Government considered that some 14 documents would have to be discussed and the State Department had submitted 10 documents for that same purpose. The Foreign Minister asked himself how anyone could expect both countries to reach political agreements on such vast and [Page 857] delicate matters in the brief span of two days. He felt that this was no way to treat a 15-year old friend and objected to having been asked to sign documents on a take it or leave it basis. Furthermore, having only twenty minutes set aside for a meeting with the Secretary of State during which to discuss such important matters was something that would truly horrify the Spanish people.10 This is why Spain had proposed an extension of the period of consultation for up to four months in the hope that agreement could be reached, possibly in a matter of only one or two months. The Foreign Minister asked forgiveness for having spoken in such a frank manner, especially in view of the fact that he respected the President so much, and considered him a wise and prudent statesman who was a true and sincere friend of Spain.

The President said that he understood the Foreign Minister’s frankness and that he knew that an agreement had been reached in principle between the U.S. and Spain. He knew that negotiations were always difficult and he personally regretted that there might have been some rough edges.

The Foreign Minister said that Mr. Landau and Mr. Aguirre de Carcer were emaciated as a result of all their hard work and that he himself had spent several sleepless nights just working on a simple press release. How could anybody expect serious work to be accomplished on 14 documents if it had taken so long just to agree on a simple press release. Having been Foreign Minister of Spain for 12 years, he was an experienced negotiator and knew that such things took a longer amount of time.

The President said that he was glad that a very good and close personal friend and associate was going to Spain as Ambassador.11 He was [Page 858] a man in whom he had complete confidence. The new Ambassador was someone with whom the Foreign Minister could talk as if he were talking to the President himself. He also stated that one of the major objectives of his Administration would be to continue friendly relations with Spain based on mutual respect. The President himself had strong personal convictions about the role that Spain could play in world affairs and he hoped to be able to continue talking about this important matter in the future.

The Foreign Minister thanked the President for appointing such a capable Ambassador and said that next Friday the Council of Ministers of Spain would officially give its agrément. He said that many of those in the President’s office today knew that the U.S. had not been adequately represented in Spain in the past. The Foreign Minister had advised the U.S. Government of this frequently, without of course wishing to interfere in American internal affairs. While recognizing that each country had a right to appoint whomever it wished as its Ambassador, the fact of the matter was that the U.S. had not been adequately represented. This was very unfortunate in view of the existence of excellent American diplomats who should have been sent to Spain in order to report more accurately on the situation there.

The President said that he had personally selected the Ambassador and that the Spanish Government should talk with him with great frankness.

The President said that it was important to realize that a whole generation had gone by since World War II and that many who used to be former enemies now worked together hand in hand. The Spanish civil war was 30 years old and while much residue remains in some of the countries the Foreign Minister had mentioned, many of the attitudes in Europe had changed. The President said he liked to look at the world as it is today and not as it was in the past, especially in view of the fact that there already were enough issues dividing the world at the present time.

The President asked Dr. Kissinger whether he wanted to make some comments. The Foreign Minister interjected that he was a great admirer of Professor Kissinger and that his books were very well known in Spain.

Dr. Kissinger said that he had often spoken with the President about Spain and that the difficulties that might have arisen in the last few days should not be construed as affecting the basic friendship that exists between the two countries.

The President stated that the important thing was to go on from here and that the Foreign Minister, the two Governments, and the Ambassadors would have to work earnestly together in the months ahead.

[Page 859]

The Foreign Minister said that the dignity, the temperament, and feelings of the Spanish people did not allow them to play a passive role and that it was a serious mistake to view U.S.-Spanish relations as a simple exchange of real estate in return for U.S. guarantees of defense. He said Spain wants to help the U.S. and wants to lighten the burden which rests on the shoulders of all American mothers whose sons are in uniform.12

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 15–4 SP–US. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Landau and approved in the White House on April 4. The meeting took place at the White House. A separate memorandum of the meeting, apparently prepared in the White House, is ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Memos for the President.
  2. During a June–July 1963 visit to Europe; see Nixon, RN, p. 248, for a brief summary of Nixon’s impressions of Franco.
  3. Documentation on President Eisenhower’s December 21–22, 1959, visit to Spain is in Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, volume VII, part 2, Western Europe, Document 318.
  4. February 23–March 2. The President visited Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, and the Vatican.
  5. See Documents 179 and 118, respectively.
  6. Egypt broke diplomatic relations with the United States at the time of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
  7. Spain won election for a 2-year Security Council seat, to expire December 31, 1970, during the 1968 General Assembly meeting.
  8. In 1955 Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told a Congressional committee hearing that the United States would be “sympathetic” to Spain’s membership in NATO. In 1957, Congress passed a joint resolution that called for Spanish admission to NATO.
  9. Apparently the October 17, 1968, meeting between Rusk and Castiella. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XII, Western Europe, Document 220.
  10. A memorandum of conversation of the Rogers-Castiella meeting is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 15–4 SP–US. Rogers had met with Castiella at the Spanish Foreign Minister’s request at 9:40 a.m. on March 25. He had departed for meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and his delegation after about 20 minutes and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson continued the talks. A separate memorandum of conversation is ibid. In his March 26 briefing memorandum for the President’s meeting with Castiella, Kissinger noted that Castiella had proposed a 4-month “extension” of the negotiating period but that subsequently the Spaniards “made clear that Castiella’s proposal would have meant deduction of the four-month extension from the year already allotted for US withdrawal if no agreement were reached.” He added: “On March 25 the Spanish were given draft papers covering all the points you had approved [see Document 275], with one exception: as a result of Congressional consultations State estimated that it would be dangerous to propose the establishment of a new US-Spanish Military Consultative Committee. Instead they offered the Spanish a technical expansion of existing procedures.” (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Memos for the President) In telegram 1131 from Madrid, March 26, the Embassy reported on official Spanish indignation at the “summoning” of Castiella to Washington. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, DEF 15–4 SP–US)
  11. Robert C. Hill. His appointment was formally announced on May 1. Hill presented his credentials on June 12.
  12. The Department of State Spokesman announced on the evening of March 26 that the United States and Spain had agreed in principle to extend the defense agreement for 5 years, subject to completion of the negotiations. See Benjamin Welles, “U.S.-Spanish Pact On Military Bases Extended 5 Years,” New York Times, March 27, 1969, p. 1.