156. Memorandum from Read to McGeorge Bundy, October 11

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  • United States-Honduran Dispute Over The Swan Islands

On November 30, 1962, Presidents Kennedy and Villeda Morales agreed:

“to seek on an urgent basis a solution of the Swan Islands question within the framework of the Inter-American System.”

On March 20, 1963, in San José, President Villeda Morales said he would send a Commission to Washington in late September to discuss the problem. We recently suggested a delay. However, the Commission will arrive, though in October rather than September.

The Hondurans want recognition of the validity of their claim to sovereignty over the Swan Islands solely to satisfy national honor. They plan no physical use of the islands or surrounding waters. The United States maintains weather facilities and an aerial navigation beacon on Great Swan. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have taken the position that the islands are strategically located in an area of continuing military interest, and future United States use of them could best be assured under United States sovereignty. CIA also operates a radio station on Great Swan and has a continuing interest in the islands.

Apart from reference to the International Court of Justice, which we have offered to undertake but which Honduras has not accepted, all the alternative courses which could bring about a permanent solution require Congressional approval. Such approval would be hard to obtain [Typeset Page 377] at present, and probably would complicate our efforts for Congressional action on more important foreign policy measures.

Ambassador Burrows has explained this problem to President Villeda and to Honduran Foreign Minister Perdomo who will head the Honduran Commission. They have agreed that for the present two half days of preliminary talks will be satisfactory.

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We hope to be able to keep the dispute at the level of occasional diplomatic exchanges until circumstances favor proceeding into a permanent solution. If the Hondurans insist on a more positive response before we can prudently seek the necessary Congressional support for such a solution, we can consider offering a status quo agreement. The present lack of Honduran activity on the islands makes this difficult. However, we could provide safe landing, fresh water and drying racks on Little Swan (we only use Great Swan). This would enable the Hondurans to use the islands as a base for fishing outside the territorial waters of the islands.

The Department requests the President’s approval to accept the Honduran presentation for further study, even though this does not completely satisfy the agreement of last November.

[illegible signature]
Benjamin H. Read
Executive Secretary
  1. U.S.-Honduran dispute over the Swan Islands. Secret. 2 pp. Kennedy Library, National Security Files, William H. Brubeck Series, Honduras, 1961–1964.