WASHINGTON — The Pentagon had contingency plans to "take over" the Azores archipelago in 1975 in the event of a possible communist takeover of Portugal, newly released US government documents showed Friday.

James Schlesinger, the defense secretary at the time, told secretary of state Henry Kissinger that the US military had made preparations if necessary to ensure US access to the Azores, home to the strategic Lajes airfield, according to a document declassified this month and posted by the National Security Archive, an independent research institute.

Suggesting the need to protect US interests in the Azores after the 1974 military coup in Portugal, Kissinger worried that there was a "50 percent chance of losing it" to communist control.

"We should have a program," said Kissinger, according to the memorandum summarizing his breakfast meeting on January 22, 1975.

Schlesinger replied: "We have a contingency plan to take over the Azores."

And he added the plan "would be stimulating Azores independence."

Schlesinger provides no further details of the plan in the official account of the meeting, which covered a range of topics including providing tacit assistance to France for its nuclear weapons program.

A US agreement with Portugal for use of the Lajes airfield had expired before the coup, and US officials were intent on maintaining access to the base, which was used to supply Israel's forces during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

Kissinger and US officials worried that the new coalition government would align itself with the country's communist party, withdraw from NATO and fall under Soviet influence, according to previously released documents.

The scenario that Kissinger feared never came to pass, and the country's socialists won elections in April 1976.

The elderly Kissinger appeared with President Barack Obama on Thursday as the White House enlisted former foreign policy heavyweights to rally support for a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

A censored version of the 1975 memorandum was released earlier, but the US government did not declassify the entire account of the conversation between Kissinger and Schlesinger until this month, according to the National Security Archive.

The archive at George Washington University, which collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, describes its mission as "challenging government secrecy" and informing public debate.

The US government's Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel made the decision to release the entire document after an appeal from the National Security Archive.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.