Lisbon — The rest of America's European allies may still be hesitating about the Reagan administration's call for sanctions against the Soviet Union over Poland - but not Portugal.
Portugal was the first to follow the United States in imposing economic sanctions against Iran over the hostages in the US Embassy in Tehran. And now, once again, the Portuguese government has proved itself America's most loyal ally on the other side of the Atlantic.
Like Iran, the Soviet Union is one of Portugal's major oil suppliers. But this has not prevented Lisbon from defying a major trading partner and ordering two Soviet diplomats out of the country to punish the Kremlin for its role in the Polish crisis. This may not sound like much, but the expulsions are in fact just the tip of a Portuguese iceberg.
Earlier this month, Lisbon's right-wing government refused a visa to Ivan Kapitonov, secretary of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. Had he come, Mr. Kapitonov would have been the most senior Kremlin official to visit Portugal since diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union were established after the 1974 revolution.
Of Western Europe's communist parties, Portugal's pro-Soviet party has come closest to power. Because of that the Polish crisis has become a major internal issue in a country where the government and the Communist Party appear headed for a showdown.
After the revolution, Portugal very nearly stepped into the Soviet sphere of influence and the Communist Party succeeded in imposing its model in key areas of national life. Landless laborers took over the large estates and started collective farms. Most of the country's industries were nationalized and workers' committees were set up in factories and firms. All this is enshrined in the 1976 Constitution, which the right-wing government hopes to rewrite by the spring.
But Portugal's Communist Party has launched a political offensive to force the government out of office. This is to prevent what it sees as the main achievements of the revolution from being undermined by a the Constitution's revision.
Communist Party leader Alvaro Cunhal is making almost daily appeals for new general elections and the Communist-controlled labor organization, the country's biggest, is calling the first general strike in Portuguese history on Feb. 12 to climax a wave of industrial unrest and antigovernment demonstrations.
Some analysts here believe the struggle is a desperate one not only because the Communist Party is trying to overthrow the government, but also because they feel the government needs to make the Communist Party the scapegoat for all the country's problems. Faced with a deep economic crisis, these analysts say, the government might need to beat the anticommunist and anti-Soviet drum to distract public attention.
According to diplomatic sources, Portuguese Foreign Minister Andre Goncalves Pereira offered to reduce the size of the Soviet presence in Portugal by a third at a special NATO meeting on Poland in Brussels last Jan. 11, which was attended by US Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.
The Soviet community in Portugal at present consists of about 130 people and there were 21 Soviet diplomats in the Lisbon embassy before the latest expulsions. If the government does carry out its threat, many more of Moscow's men will have to go.
The Soviet Embassy in Lisbon issued a strong protest against the latest expulsions and said the measure would have serious consequences for Soviet-Portuguese relations.
What is surprising is that the Soviet Union has so far always reacted very gently to acts of defiance by previous right-wing administrations in Portugal. Four Soviet diplomats were expelled in August 1980 and a station manager of the Soviet airline Aeroflot was ordered out in February 1981. Moscow, however, did not retaliate.
It is perhaps some indication of how much Portugal means to the Soviet Union that the Kremlin in fact offered to double trade with Portugal last year. The Soviet Union at present supplies about 9 percent of Portugal's oil and is a major importer of Portuguese textiles, cork, wine, and footwear. But many here wonder who will foot the bill for oil if the Soviets refuse to buy products that Portugal is finding increasingly difficult to sell elsewhere.