Winding up his whirlwind trip to Europe of September/October 1970, President Nixon spoke with reporters in Ireland and recounted the many diplomatic achievements:
“The purpose of this trip, just as has been the purpose of my other trips abroad,” the President noted, “is to strengthen the structure of peace throughout the world, and particularly to strengthen the structure of peace in the Mediterranean area which, because of recent events, has been an area of very great concern for all those interested in peace.”
These “recent events” the President mentioned primarily refer to the kidnappings of hostages by Palestinian militants aboard airliners in Jordan, which resulted in military action, collectively known as Black September. President Nixon placed the U.S. Navy’s 6th fleet on high alert, and ordered it repositioned near Israel in case of an escalation in violence. “The 6th Fleet presently can meet its mission and […] we shall be prepared to increase its strength in the event that its position of overall strength is threatened by the actions of other powers who take another position in the area than we do.” Indeed, while Cold War tensions ran high, the President attended a fireworks display on the USS Saratoga.
This consumed much attention during his voyage, but the trip was still very productive. In a mere nine days, he and Mrs. Nixon visited Italy, Yugoslavia, England, Ireland, and Spain. The meetings with heads of state and visits with European citizens were very productive.
In Rome, the Nixons met with Pope Paul VI; according to the President, “I had the best, most extensive conversation with Pope Paul that I have had. It covered the whole range of world affairs, particularly the Far East, the situation in the Mideast, problems, of course, in the underdeveloped world, and specifically in the humanitarian area, his great concern about our prisoners of war.”
In regard to Yugoslavia, RN said that the visit was important because Yugoslavia had been moving “more into a nonaligned role than any of the other Communist states. They have a completely different view about the kind of political and economic system that they want.” RN had a cordial meeting with Tito in Belgrade, where the two discussed U.S. policy in Vietnam and the Middle East.
The First Couple were warmly received in Britain by Queen Elizabeth II and the new Prime Minister Edward Heath. Meanwhile, RN noted that Spain was moving rapidly to the “front ranks” in Europe. “I think this is a healthy development.”
“Now a word, finally, about the country we are in” – Ireland. “This was not scheduled as an official stop. I have enjoyed the day, as I indicated a moment ago, that we’ve had off, to get to know the Irish countryside better. […] I can assure you that the Irish have the best [hand] grips of anybody in the world!” Indeed, the President and First Lady explored Ireland for evidence of their ancestors.
With new friendships made, Mr. and Mrs. RN returned to the United States, to the frenzy and furor of the midterm election campaigns, not so different from those of today.
Photo (original caption): 02 Mar 1969, Vatican City — President Richard Nixon and Pope Paul exchange gifts during their meeting here 3/2. They talked of world affairs during the Vatican visit, which was the last stop the President made in Europe before returning to Washington, March 2nd.