299. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Secretary Rogers
  • Dr. Kissinger
  • Amb. Hill
  • Maj. Gen. Walters
  • Generalissimo Franco
  • Foreign Minister Lopez Bravo
  • Ambassador
  • Ambassador Aragones

The President opened the conversation by saying how happy he was to come to Spain. He had received a great welcome and had seen many smiles. At this time of instability in the Mediterranean, Spain was very important. It was independent and stable. He was happy at the improvement in Spanish-American relations that had taken place, particularly since 1953 under the administration of President Eisenhower. We had worked together not only in the field of defense but also in the economic field as well. At this time of difficulties in the Mediterranean, the President said he would value the Spanish evaluation of the situation in the Middle East and the consequences of the death of Nasser.2

General Franco said that he was very happy that the President had come to Spain. He would have the opportunity to see that the Spanish people felt genuine friendship toward him and towards the American People. With respect to the Middle East, Franco felt considerable concern over the death of Nasser, since he was the only one who could take certain decisions.

Foreign Minister Lopez Bravo said that he had been very impressed by the fact that there did not appear to be any real leadership in the upper ranks of the Army. He feared that someone in the junior ranks (Majors and Lt. Col.) might move to seize power, just as Nasser had done. These younger officers had been in large part trained in the Soviet Union and had lived with Soviet officers after their return to Egypt. Should they take power they would be even more radical and [Page 922] uncompromising. The President agreed and recalled that Nasser had been 34 years old when he seized power.

Lopez Bravo had also been impressed with the Soviet position in the UAR. For example, the Soviets had been given absolute preeminence in all the ceremonies. It was true that Kosygin had been the first head of delegation to arrive, and this had given him precedence. The other stars of the occasion had been Arafat and Qadhafi of Libya. Secretary Rogers asked in what way they had been stars. Lopez Bravo replied that when Acting President Anwar Es Sadat had been taken sick at Nasser’s funeral, a committee had quickly been formed to preside. This Committee was headed by Arafat, the President of the Assembly and a member of the Council of the Revolution. At all ceremonies Qadhafi had been the outstanding figure. He had been given more time and prominence than anyone else except Arafat.

The President noted that he was informed that Nimeiry, the Sudanese President, also had great influence. Nimeiry and Qadhafi had been loudly cheered replied Lopez Bravo. Hussein had lost prestige.3 He had had to sign an agreement in Cairo which was humiliating for any Chief of State. Nasser had been almost obsessed with Libya; and the last time Lopez Bravo had seen him, he had talked of almost nothing else. Nasser did not want to repeat his Syrian experience and take Libya into the UAR, but he was seeking some formula for closer cooperation with both Libya and Sudan—something like a Common Market.

Lopez Bravo said that he was concerned by his talk with UAR Foreign Minister Riad. Riad feared the radicalism of the younger Egyptian Army officers and asked him to pass to the President and the Secretary the thought that, unless something additional were offered along with the Rogers plan,4 he felt that the situation might become more radical. Lopez Bravo felt that it was essential that the truce be prolonged.

The President said that he was interested to note that Kosygin had come out in favor of an extension of the truce.

The President asked what had been the reaction of the Egyptian masses to Kosygin and the other Soviet leaders who had attended the funeral. Lopez Bravo replied that for security reasons they had had little contact with the Egyptian masses, but he had been impressed at the size of their delegation. In addition to Kosygin, some four Marshals of the Soviet Union and about eighty other dignitaries had attended the ceremonies. The Soviets, the Libyans and the Sudanese had gotten [Page 923] most of the attention. The President said that it was Tito who had told him that the Sudanese were very influential.5 Lopez Bravo agreed and said that Nimeiry was most influential.

More broadly, the President said that we understood and appreciated the Spanish efforts to maintain good relations with the Arabs. He felt that this was a positive development. He than asked how the Spaniards evaluated the Libyan leaders. Lopez Bravo said that they were in an awkward situation for Revolutionary leaders. They were very young and had too much money. The President then inquired about Morocco.

The main problem Lopez Bravo said was the weakness of the Moroccan Throne. If Hassan6 were to be replaced it would certainly be by a group even more radical than the Algerians. The President asked whether the problems connected with the Spanish Sarara had troubled their relations with the Moroccans.

In reply, Lopez Bravo indicated that, despite the meeting at Tlemcen between the Moroccans and the Mauritanians where they had sounded as though they were in agreement on this problem, both King Hassan and President Ould Daddah had both told him separately that they could not accept the results of a plebiscite that was unfavorable to them. He went on to say that he wished the President to know that Spain got nothing out of the Spanish Sahara. On the contrary, Spain was spending (not investing) there $250 per capita. Spain was currently investing $200,000,000 there to develop the production of phosphates and the profits would remain in Morocco. The head of the Assembly and another member had been named to the board of the Phosphate company which was controlled by the Spanish Government. They would thus be able to ensure that the profits remained there. The Spanish Sahara had nothing but sand and phosphates. There were only 46,000 inhabitants (nomads for the most part) in an area of 280,000 square kilometers. The Algerians were always dreaming of an outlet to the Atlantic and Spain was quite prepared to give it to them through this area—but without any change in sovereignty. In the matter of the Sahara, the Algerians had kept quiet. They would rather have things go on as they were at present. They felt they would eventually become the strongest power in this area and would then say their piece.

General Franco said that this territory was crucial because it backed up on the Canary Islands. If Spain transferred sovereignty to some other power, they might lease or lend it to the Soviets, who would [Page 924] then have a base on the Atlantic from which they could threaten both the Atlantic and Mediterranean maritime trade routes and extend their influence further into the area. This is what they had been trying to do: use their presence in the Arab countries to extend their political influence and then stimulate coups by ever more radical groups. On reflection, General Franco felt that it was best for the time being to leave the situation in the Spanish Sahara the way it was.

Secretary Rogers asked about Algeria. Lopez Bravo replied that according to his information there had been a drift towards a more radical position and that for the first time there were indications of corruption at the administrative level, something that had not previously existed in Algeria.

In response to Secretary Rogers’ question about Spanish relations with Israel, Lopez Bravo said that he had met Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban at Luxembourg when he was there to sign Spanish agreement with the Common Market.7 Eban had made it plain that Israel was anxious to establish diplomatic relations with Spain. Lopez Bravo, however, shared General Franco’s concern that such recognition at this time would not assist Spain’s efforts to maintain friendly ties with the Arab countries. He emphasized that Spain had no anti-Israeli bias but did not feel that such a step now would contribute to tranquillity in the Middle East. Secretary Rogers said that, while we were by-standers, we would favor such relations. Lopez Bravo repeated his previous comments.

The President inquired whether France’s pro Arab stance had gained the French much stature with the Arabs. Lopez Bravo said he did not think so. If he were to rate the European countries in terms of standing with the Arabs, he would probably rate Spain first, Italy second and France in third place. Italian Foreign Minister Moro had asked him to see what he could do to coordinate the position of the three countries vis-à-vis the Arabs. It was not easy as the French were much concerned with their prestige.

The President then turned the discussion to the question of an evaluation of the Soviet intentions. He noted that the US had agreed to discuss the limitation of strategic weapons with them and had indicated our willingness to discuss other matters of common concern. He felt, however, that we should bear in mind that—though the leadership had changed—their aims were still the same. They had the same missionary zeal to expand Communism all over the world and we should not forget this. That is why it was important for the Western countries to maintain their defensive strength. The President stressed the ear[Page 925]nestness with which he had said that we should move from a period of confrontation to a period of negotiation; but to do this, it was essential that we maintain with NATO and our other friends and allies a strong position.

General Franco cautioned that it was alright to talk to the Communists, but we must remember that they were still seeking to spread Communism and would be seeking to trap and weaken us. We could play the game with them but we should remember this.

It was Lopez Bravo’s feeling that as the Russian people became more educated and their standard of living rose they would demand more freedom. The President said that there had indeed been changes in the Soviet Union, but such developments would take a lot more time, more like fifty years than five.

Turning to bilateral issues, Lopez Bravo expressed concern about the possibility of the imposition by the US Congress of quotas on certain Spanish imports into the United States.

The President said that he was aware of this Spanish concern. We would try to show the kind of leadership that would prevent the erection of obstacles to the development of trade between the two countries. We knew that Spain bought far more from us than we did from her and he would bear this in mind. The President noted his pleasure at seeing the great economic progress that had been made in Spain in recent years. Spain had the highest rate of growth in Europe. This had been due to good leadership, stability, and a hard working and dynamic people. The President hoped that the recent agreement between Spain and the United States would open the way for further cooperation, not only in the area of defense but also in economic and trade areas that had not hitherto been explored.

At this point the President thought it would be useful to exchange views about the situation in Latin America, where Spain fortunately had such close and growing ties. General Franco said that Castro and Che Guevara had gained great popularity, but more dangerous than Castro was Castroism. These were more social reform times than Bourgeois times and there were no Latin American countries where real social reforms could be carried out without falling into some form of extremism. Foreign Minister Lopez Bravo pointed to Chile where a Christian Democratic period in power had led to the present situation where Allende had obtained a plurality with the support of the Communists. If he were elected he would probably be moderate for a short period but it would not last long.

If Allende were elected, the President commented, there would probably not be another free election in Chile. This would be the result despite the fact that the Communists had actually polled 4% less votes in this election than in the previous one. General Franco and Lopez [Page 926] Bravo agreed. Lopez Bravo added that he blamed the Christian Democrats in part for this. Recently in Rome Archbishop Benelli (whom the President knew) had expressed the opinion that the Christian Democratic movement had nothing to offer for the future. They had served a useful purpose for twenty five years in the post war period but were now “played out.” General Franco dryly commented that Mgr. Benelli had been wrong so often that this did not prove much. He added that, should the Communists take over Chile, the Soviets would certainly try to do something in this area (Latin America) to humiliate and embarrass the United States.

The President noted that many of the same people in the media and elsewhere who had been taken in by Castro were now saying that Allende was not so bad. He could assure them that we understood what Allende really was and that there was no one in the State Department who did not understand this too. One of the problems in this area was that a number of members of the clergy were so obsessed with the social problems of the area that they had sided not with the liberals but with ultra-leftists. The Spaniards said they were well aware of this. Concluding, Lopez Bravo said that at the present time there were only three countries in South America where the constitution was being applied—Colombia, Venezuela, and Chile—and who knew now what would happen in Chile.

Secretary Rogers suggested that General Franco might appreciate a word from the President about the situation in Vietnam. The President then said that the situation there had greatly improved since our action in Cambodia had deprived the Communists of one of their main sources of supplies. American casualties in the past week had been far below what they had been a year ago. Our deliberate withdrawal plan was being implemented as the South Vietnamese forces became increasingly capable of handling the situation. They had finally jelled into an effective fighting force. From our point of view and that of the South Vietnamese the situation was most favorable. From the point of view of the Communists there was now no hope of imposing a solution by force. We would continue to explore the possibilities of negotiation with the Communists but this had not so far much hope of results. We would go forward with our plan and program.

Continuing, the President said when he had been elected it would have been very easy and popular for him to have simply withdrawn the troops from Vietnam and washed his hands of the whole thing as a bad business. He could not do this because it would have discouraged all the free nations in Asia from Japan all the way around to Indonesia, and because of the effect it would have had on the American people themselves. A defeat or humiliation would have tempted them to draw in upon themselves and to say if we got out of one foreign adventure [Page 927] why should we have other foreign commitments. As long as he was President this would not happen. Whatever reports General Franco might have heard about the US withdrawing from its commitments this simply was not true. He knew how important it was to maintain our commitments and to stand by our friends and he also knew what a stalwart friend Spain had been. We knew who our friends were and would not forget them. General Franco expressed his appreciation for this and repeated the importance Spain attached to its friendship with the United States.

Lopez Bravo raised the question of response to the press. It was agreed that they would inform the press of those who had participated in the conversations and note that the talks had been helpful and constructive.8 They had discussed matters of common interest to Spain and the United States, trade and economic problems, East-West relations, the Middle East and Mediterranean. Lopez Bravo asked whether the Spanish could announce a visit by Secretary Stans to further implement the non-military aspects of the recent agreement. It was agreed that no names would be mentioned but that it would be said that further exchanges of visits on both sides would take place on these matters.

Both sides expressed their satisfaction at the constructive nature of the talks. The Spaniards again expressed their pleasure at the President’s visit, and the President offered his gratitude of the warmth of his welcome in Spain.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 467, President’s Trip Files, Europe 1970. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The meeting took place at the El Pardo Palace. Nixon visited Spain October 2–3, during a six-nation European trip September 27–October 5.
  2. The Egyptian President died September 28 of a heart attack.
  3. King Hussein of Jordan.
  4. Reference to a December 9, 1969, statement by Rogers on a formula for Arab-Israeli peace. (Department of State Bulletin, January 5, 1970, pp. 7–11)
  5. During the President’s September 30–October 2 visit to Yugoslavia. A memorandum of conversation is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIX, Eastern Europe; Eastern Mediterranean, 1969–1972, Document 221.
  6. King Hassan II had ruled since 1961.
  7. Spain and the EC signed a preferential trade agreement on June 29, 1970, as did Israel and the EC.
  8. The President and Franco commented on their talks during toasts at a State dinner that evening. For texts, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 799–801.