Reagan finds warmer winds in Portugal. Portuguese, unlike Spanish, voice no opposition to US use of base

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

What a different welcome. In Madrid, the crowds shouted, ``Reagan, go home.'' In Lisbon, there were few protesters. A taxi driver beamed, ``American? I love Americans, I love Reagan.''

President Reagan loves the Portuguese, too. Calling Portugal ``a steadfast and valued ally,'' he ended his tense, troubled 10-day European trip on a warm note. Portugal was one of the founders of NATO in 1949.

``There are no contentious issues between Portugal and the United States,'' Prime Minister Mario Soares told the Monitor in an exclusive interview. ``Since 1974, the United States always has engaged to help Portuguese democracy. We defend the same values -- liberty -- and that's why we get along.''

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For the US, the defense of liberty means access to the strategic Lajes Air Force Base in the Azores, where 3,500 Americans are stationed.

The base proved crucial during the 1973 Mideast crisis when US planes refueled there on the way to resupply Israel. Unlike the Spanish, who want to reduce the number of US military personnel on their soil, the Portuguese prime minister said he sees ``no problem'' with the US presence.

``The US respects its engagements,'' he explained. ``So do we.''

Of course, Mr. Soares presented the President with a wish list that would expand these engagements. ``We would like more technical and military aid, a greater opening of the US market, especially for our textiles, and more American investment,'' he said. Since 1975, US grants have totaled about $1 billion, and Portuguese officials expect an increase from about $200 million this year to $218 million next year.

But Soares added that he doesn't expect any dramatic announcements of much more money than that to prop up the ailing Portuguese economy following the President's trip. Soares will be satisfied with good feelings, with the simple advertisement to the American public that, as he put it, ``Ours is real friendship.''

Why this friendship, especially when the neighboring Spanish remain ambivalent about both NATO and their own ties to the US?

Comparatively few Spaniards have settled in the US, whereas about 1 million Portuguese live there -- a figure equal to one-tenth of Portugal's entire population. ``That creates tremendous emotional ties which the Spanish lack,'' explained one US diplomat here.

Political scientist Jaime Nogueria Pinto offered another reason: Portugal's traditional search for protection from a strong ally. In 1385, King Joao won an epic battle at Aljubarrota against the Spanish -- with the aid of a contingent of English archers. That victory assured Portugal's independence and initiated a mutual defense treaty between Lisbon and London that still holds, at least nominally, although for all practical purposes the US has assumed the British role.

``We've always allied ourselves with the great maritime power,'' said Dr. Pinto, who teaches at Lisbon's Institute of Political Science. ``And who's the great maritime power now, after all?''

Soares presented perhaps the most compelling reason. Only 10 years ago, following the Army coup that ended Portugal's long dictatorship, the country lurched toward a communist takeover. Most industry was nationalized. Large landownings turned into state cooperatives. Then a military confrontation occurred, leading to the victory of more moderate forces -- led by Soares himself.

``When I led the opposition to the communists, the United States helped,'' he said. Having lived through the danger of communism, the prime minister said, Portugal has no doubts about which side in the superpower conflict to choose.

``Spain may pose questions about the need for American help,'' Soares said. ``We don't.''

That is a bit of an exaggeration. A substantial minority of Portuguese do pose questions: The Communist Party here continues to win about 20 percent of the vote on an anti-American, anti-NATO stand. The party managed to mount two protests during the President's visit, although neither was as noisy or broad-based as the Spanish ones earlier in the week. The Communists walked out during Reagan's speech to parliament.

A shadowy terrorist group, the FP-25, has also surfaced recently, attacking NATO targets, but without causing great damage.

Such an ability frightens men such as Pinto. He fears that Portugal's terrible economic difficulties, accentuated by the tough austerity program Soares has been forced to carry out, may let the Communists and left-wing elements in the Army back into power.

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