140. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Francisco da Costa Gomes, President of Portugal
- Foreign Minister Mario Soares
- Ambassador Joao Hall Themido
- President Gerald Ford
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
Kissinger: The Foreign Minister is a great orator.
President Ford: I understand he is a very successful lawyer. I am very happy to have you here. I understand this is the first visit of a Portuguese President to the United States.
Costa Gomes: It is a great pleasure to be here, especially at a time when the atmosphere should be clarified.
[The press is admitted briefly for photographs and then dismissed.]
President Ford: As I said, we are delighted to have you. I am interested in any thoughts and observations you can give us about your country.
Costa Gomes: I am very glad to be here to discuss with you. This is indeed a signal opportunity. I am a special admirer of the United States, having spent two years in Norfolk. I would be glad to be able to clarify the situation in my country since the press often did not report events in my country with accuracy.
President Ford: Please do.
Costa Gomes: There has been a profound and sudden transformation from a dictator to full freedom regained. We have not been able to [Typeset Page 482] avoid all kinds of disruption, but I am pleased to say we have managed to avoid violence.
Many of the limits which should have been in place to handle continuity of rule—the laws, the framework for exchange—many were lacking. Nevertheless, all the various groups in the country have been granted full freedom and have enjoyed that freedom. There were even some attempts by reactionary forces to restore the situation before 24 April, and the first attempt corresponded to the first provisional government.
As you may know, in Portugal there is a fear of the powerful influence of the Communist Party, which is the only party which emerged from the revolution with a structure which makes it a going concern as a party. It is only one member of the government, but the only one organized. It was this fear which was played on by the forces of reaction in their attempts to restore the previous regime. The events of the 28th of September represent a reaction on the part of the right-wing parties to make a demonstration of their power.
In the midst of these events, Spinola exercised enormous influence because he brought to bear the Silent Majority. I have been a personal friend of Spinola for 50 years. I have the greatest esteem for him as a person and a military man. But I never conversed with him about the political situation in the country. On 28 September I made a last attempt to persuade Spinola not to resign by persuading him that the situation in the country was different from that represented in his speech. It is my testimony that the transition from Spinola to my government has taken place without disturbance and that the present government is more stable. Soares will back me on this.
After September 28, the entire press, including the American press, seemed to think the entire government was swinging to the left. I assure you that the present provisional government, the President, the armed forces, stand ready to carry out the programs outlined by the military forces to have a neutral, middle of the road policy, one which will bring a full democracy with freedom for all guaranteed.
Any one who knows the Portuguese people knows they are very anti-Communist in sentiment. This doesn’t mean the Communist Party is not without strength, without organization, and doesn’t exercise a great deal of control in industrialized sections, especially around Lisbon and Oporto. But an overwhelming part of the population is to the north of the river where the Communist influence is nil.
At the present time our major problems are decolonization—which is being vigorously prosecuted on the basis of commitment to the documents of the UN, and economic problems. Guinea-Bissau has become independent. Angola is our most difficult problem. The local parties are divided into three factions which cannot at this time seem to [Typeset Page 483] get together. But we will try to get a provisional government in which all three parties will be represented.
As to the economic problem, as I see it, it is very serious in our country. If it is not solved it could lead to the extreme right or to the extreme left prevailing.
Secretary Kissinger is familiar with the problem we are facing and I think he agrees Portugal needs help from its friends not only for its internal economic problem but for Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique who are going to need a great deal of help in coping with their problems. While this is my personal view, if we can solve the economic problem, the political problem will be solved within the program set by the military, and we will be able to hold elections in March, in which all parties will be represented but in which the Communists will not have the strength many fear.
President Ford: Can all participate?
Costa Gomes: All parties are completely free to participate.
President: How many parties are there?
Costa Gomes: There are many parties, but the principal ones are the Communist, the Socialist, the Social Democrats, and another. The military leaders can participate only if they withdraw from the military. This is a contract of honor.
President Ford: We think it is important that you start these democratic processes. We think that is healthy and important.
Costa Gomes: It is also very important—indeed a point of honor—for these elections to go forward. The media have been stressing that we are moving to the left, but we are making a special effort to get the media to adopt a more balanced view and we are having some success.
Kissinger: We hear that the process is leading to domination of the media by the Communists.
Costa Gomes: We didn’t introduce the Communist elements. They were already in place in the media, but we have moved against them, especially some of the more radical elements even to the left of the Communists.
President Ford: We think it is important for NATO to be strengthened, and we are very worried about Communist influence in any member country. We just couldn’t tolerate Communism in NATO itself.
Costa Gomes: This fear you express is unjustified. I am very familiar with NATO—I have been with NATO since 1951.
Kissinger: All liaison with NATO has gone through the President’s office.
Costa Gomes: So I am certain that there is no doubt about our devotion to NATO.[Typeset Page 484]
President Ford: I am glad to hear it. It is an important point with us.
Costa Gomes: Our contribution to NATO has not been effective over the past years because of our colonies, but when we complete de-colonization, we will be able to do more if NATO will help us with equipment.
President Ford: We support decolonization and, speaking for the United States, we want to help, but the Congress and I will have to have assurance that Portugal is a part of the same team as it has been since 1951 and is not going off in a different direction toward a different alliance. Then we will be willing to help, at least to do our share.
Costa Gomes: I am at a loss to know what to say except to invite you to Portugal when you go to Europe so you can see the trends in our country as they really are, to quiet your press, which I consider unjustified.
President Ford: We had these reports which have concerned us so, and we are glad to have your report, and we are very much encouraged by your report.
Kissinger: I will be able to pursue this further at lunch.
Costa Gomes: I wish to express my gratitude for the opportunity to explain the situation in my country and express the friendship and esteem of the people of Portugal to the American people.
President Ford: The American people feel the same way toward the people of Portugal. When I go to Europe I will talk to Secretary Kissinger and we will see about a visit to Portugal.
Summary: Ford, Kissinger, and Costa Gomes discussed the situation in Portugal.
Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, Box 6. Secret; Nodis. All brackets are in the original. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. Costa Gomes made a private visit to Washington on October 18. During their October 18 lunch, Kissinger warned Costa Gomes about the danger of Communist ascendancy in Portugal and suggested “that if non-Communist government results from elections, we will make efforts, within Congressional limitations, to support it.” Kissinger and Costa Gomes agreed that U.S. and Portuguese experts would discuss Portugal’s economic and technical needs. (Telegram 233020 to Lisbon, October 23; ibid., Presiden-tial Country Files for Europe and Canada, Box 11, Portugal—State Dept Tels From SECSTATE—NODIS (1))↩