308. Telegram From the Embassy in Spain to the Department of State1

4690. Subj: Conversation with Gen Franco, FoMin Lopez Bravo.

1. Following is memorandum of my conversation with Gen Franco and FoMin Lopez Bravo on occasion presentation my credentials at noon Oct 11, 1972.2 The conversation was conducted entirely in Spanish. The exchanges on certain subjects (paras 4 and 5 and para 6) have been reported in septels.3

2. Gen Franco received me very cordially. I apologized for my limited command of Spanish. Franco appeared pleased. With some apparent difficulty in speaking, he asked me about President Nixon’s health. I told him that the President was well and extremely busy these days in connection with preparations for national elections. Franco nodded understandingly and said he was sure the President’s re-election was a foregone conclusion.

3. The FoMin asked me what I thought about the growing strength of the Soviet fleet in the Med. (Lopez Bravo had told me the day before that Franco would bring up this subject. The FoMin apparently raised it because of Franco’s difficulty in speaking). I said I thought the action of [Page 944]the Egyptian President in expelling the Soviets from their bases had reduced the effectiveness of the Soviet fleet in the Med since the Russians would now have to depend more heavily on Black Sea bases for their logistics. Of particular importance, I added, was that the Russian fleet was deprived of its air arm in the Med. This would limit their capability for surveillance and reconnaissance. I felt that the loss of the reconnaissance and fighter bases in Egypt represented a substantial disadvantage for the Soviet fleet as compared to the US fleet with its organic air power. Without its air power, I noted, the Soviet fleet would be much more vulnerable. Although the air range from Egypt had been limited to the Eastern part of the Med, this nevertheless represented a development of importance.

4. I said I suspected the Russians would attempt to obtain a replacement for this air component possibly in Syria. Lopez Bravo interposed that he had asked the Syrian FoMin point blank when he was at the UN recently whether the Syrians would bring in the Russians who had been thrown out of Egypt. The Syrian FoMin had replied in the negative stating Quote We do not have a treaty with Russia like the Iraqis. Unquote Lopez Bravo added that the Syrian President was a moderate and would oppose any such concessions to the Russians but he was having trouble with the party. The Russians would surely apply every possible pressure through their friends in Syria.

5. Bravo went on to say that he thought after the US elections would be an ideal time for the US to try to improve relations with Egypt. He believed the Egyptians would be receptive. He didn’t think this was possible before the elections but any US moves in this direction would strengthen the position of Sadat, who was subject to attack unless he could show some movement with the West to balance his action against the Russians. Insisting on this point, Bravo asked that I communicate it to the US Govt. The Spanish Govt, he added, would be happy to do whatever it could to further any action the US desired to take and he offered his personal good offices to this end. I replied that I appreciated the FoMin’s statement and would forward it to my government.

6. Bravo then said he wanted to bring up a matter outside of protocol with the Generalissimo’s permission. I replied I would be very happy to hear him express his views on any subject. The FoMin then expressed concern that there was an apparent intention to reduce the pay of Spanish workers at Rota naval base, which he considered to be a very serious matter. He was going to send me a formal note on the subject, he stated, but he wanted to tell me personally beforehand since he wanted our relations to be as frank and friendly as possible. [2½ lines not declassified] it would be embarrassing to make this concession at the same time that a depressed area like Rota was hit by the intended re[Page 945]duction in wages. If this happened in Barcelona or other areas, it would not be of as much concern but the economic situation in the Rota area was so depressed that he was sure there would be political repercussions and the press would seize on this matter to criticize the govt. (Franco’s expression indicated approval of what Bravo was saying.) I replied that I would examine this question.

7. Bravo then told the General that I had just arrived in Spain the day before and was going to leave this afternoon to join him in the Canary Islands at the celebration of the Dia de la Hispanidad, which was taking place there this year. The General seemed pleased to hear this.

8. Impressions: Throughout my 20-minute audience, Franco regarded me with a pleased, rather benign, expression, as he would an old friend. His eyes were animated and his mind was evidently clear. He moved in his usual slow mechanical way and the trembling of his hand was not much more apparent than during my previous visit to him about a year and a half ago. The most striking impression, however, was the difficulty he had in speaking. When he spoke, his words were slurred and his voice seemed to come from down in his throat and was hardly audible. A number of times, he seemed to want to say something and his lips moved but no sound came out. On these occasions, Bravo interjected and spoke as if for Franco while Franco appeared to understand and approve what Bravo said. Lopez Bravo carried on most of the conversation. Evidently, Franco understood without difficulty but is losing control of his speech.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 706, Country Files—Europe, Spain, Vol. IV. Secret; Exdis.
  2. The President appointed Admiral Horacio Rivero (ret.) as Ambassador to Spain on September 11. Rivero had served as Commander of Allied Forces, Southern Europe, until May 1972. According to a February 2 memorandum from U. Alexis Johnson to William Macomber, Zumwalt had been promoting Rivero’s candidacy for an ambassadorship following his May retirement. Johnson suggested that Rivero be “kept in mind” for an ambassadorial posting where a career officer would not be suitable. (Ibid., RG 59, Records of U. Alexis Johnson, Lot 96D695, Personnel M–Z)
  3. Telegram 4665 from Madrid, October 10, reported further on discussions with Franco. (Ibid., Central Files 1970–73, POL SP–US) In telegram 4658 from Madrid, October 10, the Ambassador detailed his talks with Lopez Bravo immediately before the meeting with Franco. (Ibid.) Rivero reported on discussions regarding Soviet activities in the Mediterranean in telegram 4665 from Madrid, October 11. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 706, Country Files—Europe, Spain, Vol. IV)