305. Letter From President Nixon to Spanish Head of State Franco 1

Dear General Franco:

As you know, the United States has put forward a law of the sea proposal which would provide for a right of free transit through and overflight of international straits.2 The successful negotiation of this right and of our proposal for a twelve mile territorial sea at the Law of the Sea Conference scheduled for 1973 is of the highest importance to the United States and, we believe, to the security of the West. I was disturbed, therefore, to learn that Spanish officials have expressed opposition to this proposal at various international gatherings, including the General Assembly of the United Nations.3

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We believe that the right of free transit is essential for preserving the mobility of both our general purpose and nuclear deterrent forces, not only in meeting our commitments in Western Europe, but in fulfilling our responsibilities in other parts of the world as well. This right would be an objective one, established by international agreement and applicable to all straits used for international navigation. We do not think that the present international law right of innocent passage is sufficient for Western security requirements because it is a subjective standard, does not include the right of overflight, and carries a requirement that submarines must navigate on the surface.

Your Government has closely identified itself with the Western defense effort and we are pleased to know that you anticipate an even more active role in the future. I am confident, too, that Spain shares the concern of many Western nations over the recent increase in Soviet naval strength in the Mediterranean. It is to counter this potential threat by maintaining the maximum strategic flexibility for our own forces and those of our allies that we have proposed a right of free transit through and over international straits. We have concluded that an international agreement recognizing this right would benefit all countries interested in maintaining the political and military balance on which world stability is presently based.

We have discussed these issues with officials of your Government4 and will continue to do so, but I wanted you to know of my deep personal concern. I will welcome your views on this subject and have therefore asked Ambassador Hill to deliver this letter personally to you and to provide you with any additional information on this issue which you may require.5

With warm regards,

Sincerely,

Richard Nixon
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 762, Presidential Correspondence, Spain Franco corres. Secret. Hill presented Nixon’s letter to Franco on October 22. He reported on the meeting in telegram 4815 from Madrid, October 22; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–1, Documents on Global Issues, 1969–1972, Document 413.
  2. See ibid., Document 405.
  3. According to an October 12 memorandum from Sonnenfeldt and Marshall Wright to Kissinger: “Lopez Bravo has become a major barrier to the success of our Law of the Sea policy. He has been very active and effective in opposing our proposal for free passage through international straits. Without international agreement to such free passage, the broadening of territorial waters to 12 miles will very seriously endanger the mobility of our strategic forces.” The memorandum continued that following a meeting, senior officials from the Departments of State and Defense “are all agreed that it is time to move hard with Spain on this issue.” Hill had suggested an approach to Carrero Blanco and Franco. “To enlist Franco’s aid, we need a Presidential communication.” Initial plans, subsequently discarded, called for Vice President Agnew to deliver the message personally to Franco. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 762, Presidential Correspondence, Spain Franco corres.) An October 8 memorandum from Johnson to Nixon provides details on Lopez Bravo’s opposition and includes a draft of a Presidential letter to Franco. It is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–1, Documents on Global Issues, 1969–1972, Document 410.
  4. Johnson met with Ambassador Arguelles on October 7 after Arguelles returned from New York where he discussed the issue with Lopez Bravo. See ibid., Document 409.
  5. In a November 18 reply, Franco linked Spanish opposition to the prosecution of its claims to the Strait of Gibraltar and its concerns about the extension of right of passage to the ships of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Franco added that he believed that the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the United States already gave it access to free passage through Spanish waters. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 762, Presidential Correspondence, Spain Franco corres.)