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Five U.S. Allies Grouse as Time Draws Near to Renew Defense Contracts

December 27, 1987|HENRY GOTTLIEB | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — They're not chanting "Yankee Go Home," but the governments of five American allies--from Portugal to the Philippines--are grousing about their military ties with the United States.

In Spain and Greece, people are asking, "Why don't we eject the Americans from our bases?" Their leaders are responding, "Don't bet we won't."

The Turks and the Portuguese, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's poorest cousins, are complaining that their rich Uncle Sam has begun acting like Uncle Scrooge.

In the Philippines, leftists want the country rid of U.S. forces. Even pro-American senators in the Philippines want higher rent payments at Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base. President Corazon Aquino says she is keeping her options open--hardly a resounding endorsement for the U.S. presence.

'Astrological Conjunction'

Why is all this happening now?

"Coincidence," said Rep. Benjamin Gilman of New York, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe. The coincidence, he notes, is that base agreements with all five countries happen to expire between early 1988 and 1991.

"Astrological conjunction," a whimsical State Department official said. That's a time when planets or constellations move into the same celestial longitude. They don't decide to do it; it's in their nature.

"They're all trying to get the best deal they can," said Richard Grant, a NATO expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank that specializes in security issues. In return for their military commitments to the United States, these countries want more aid, and they are not shy about asking for it.

Election Issues

On top of that is the emergence of democratic institutions in these countries, permitting public debate about matters often decided quietly by authoritarian governments. Now, base rights and foreign force levels are major issues in election campaigns.

In Spain, for example, the United States first established bases decades ago when Gen. Francisco Franco ran the country. "It was easier to negotiate with Franco than it is now with parliament," Grant said.

Of all five countries, Spain presents the most immediate base-rights problem for the United States. A 1988 expiration date is looming for an agreement that gives the U.S. Air Force and Navy rights at four installations. Renewal negotiations have hit big snags.

Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, who took office on an anti-U.S. bases platform, wants the United States to withdraw some of its 10,000 troops and remove the 72-aircraft wing of F-16 warplanes from Torrejon Air Base, near Madrid.

Cancellation Notice

Spain is submitting a formal notice of cancellation in advance of the agreement's expiration.

The United States agreed in 1985 to reduce troop levels, but now the two sides are bargaining hard over how many troops and aircraft will leave. The headache for the United States is where to put any forces that would leave Spain.

"They can't be absorbed in other European countries. And if they are withdrawn to the United States, they would be out of action if the balloon goes up," said the State Department official, who agreed to talk only on condition that he not be identified.

Even more worrisome are the political ramifications of a fellow NATO country telling the United States that its forces are no longer wanted, the official said.

Spain's Aid Reduced

A reduction in U.S. aid to Spain to $105 million in the 1988 fiscal year, from $415 million in 1986, has not helped the American negotiators' cause.

The situation in neighboring Portugal is much better. The relationship has been smooth for years, and there are no threats by the government to cancel a military cooperation agreement that runs until 1991.

The United States is therefore assured of continued use of Lajes Air Base in the Azores Islands, one of the way stations in a ring of global refueling points for the Air Force's biggest bombers and transports.

As in other agreements with base-rights countries, the United States promises its best efforts to supply the highest possible amount of financial aid each year to Portugal. That is important to a country whose $2,000-a-year per-capita income is one of the lowest in Western Europe.

$147 Million in Aid

In the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the United States sent $147 million to Portugal, more than half in aid to the armed forces. That made Portugal third among NATO countries receiving aid from the United States.

Portugal is upset, however, that Congress rejected a Reagan Administration request for a supplemental appropriation that would have included $30 million in military assistance.

The Lisbon government also has complained that the Senate took 11 months to approve President Reagan's nomination of Richard Viets as ambassador to Portugal, leaving Libson without a U.S. envoy for most of 1987. Usually, leaving an ambassadorship vacant is a way that nations express displeasure.

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