The Spanish government granted provisional self-rule to Catalonia tonight, partially restoring rights abrogated by the late dictator Francisco France.

The decision, anticipated for weeks, is the first step by Premier Adolo Suarez to deal with one of Span's most difficult and controversial issues - autonomy not only for the four rich northern Catalan provinces, but for the restive Basque region.

The government approved three royal decrees restoring the Generalitat, as the Catalans call their regional government, after a log cabinet meeting today. It can be abolished by decree at anytime, however, if the Generalitat makes decision affecting the national security.

The restriction was seen as a concession to military officers who have expressed opposition to autonomy for any of Spain's regions as a threat to Spain's unity.

The decision to give Catalonia a degree of self-rule followed intricate negotiations involving Suarez. Josep Tarradellas, 79, the exiled president of the Generalitat, and Catalan parliamentarians elected in June.

Last Sept. 11, when Catalans celebrated their national day, a crowd of more than a million persons turned out in Bareglona. Catalonia's spiritual and political capital, to demand immediate autonomy.

In sharp contrast, tonight's news was received quietly in Catalonia. The newspaper Vanguardia reported that no crowds had taken to the streets and that political parties that had struggled for self-rule for 38 years had not called any celebration rallies.

The government's move was clearly intended to pacify Catalonia with a measure of self-rule. A final autonomy statute must still be passed by Parliament after it adopts a new constitution that will recognize self-rule for the regions of Spain that want it.

Analysts interpreted the premier's move as an attempt to win votes, in Catalan cities in the municipal elections, to be held either late this year or early in 1978. The left - including the Communists - swamned the premier's center Democratic Union Party in June's legislative elections.

Catalan members of the Centrist [WORD ILLEGIBLE] have been in the forefront of negotiations with Tarradellas, who was a member of the Generalitat during the civil war. Tarradellas is expected to return to Spain to preside over the new government before the weekend.

The new government will cover the provinces Barcelona, Gerona. Tarragona and Lerida, with a population of nearly 8 million. It is Spain's richest region, and borders on France and the Mediterranean.

For generations, Catalonia - and Barcelona in particular - has been in the forefront of Spanish industry, political development and culture.

Franco kept Cataians on a tight leash. He banned the teaching of Catalan language and folklore. The president of the General itat, Lloys Companys, was executed by a Franco firing squad for "high treason" during the 1936-39 civil war.

The royal decrees recognize Catalonia's "peculiar" character and give the king the power to name the president of new government. Manuel Clavero, minister for relations with the regions, went on national television tonight to explain the government's decision.

He said the procedure implemented in Catalonia can be extended to other Spanish regions. Negotiations for self-rule for the Basque region are expected to start in the near future.