367. Memorandum by William Attwood0

This memorandum proposes a course of action which, if successful, could remove the Cuban issue from the 1964 campaign.

[Page 869]

It does not propose offering Castro a “deal”—which could be more dangerous politically than doing nothing. It does propose a discreet inquiry into the possibility of neutralizing Cuba on our terms.

It is based on the assumption that, short of a change of regime, our principal political objectives in Cuba are:

The evacuation of all Soviet bloc military personnel.
An end to subversive activities by Cuba in Latin America.
Adoption by Cuba of a policy of non-alignment.

This memorandum is also based on the assumption that our present policy of isolating Cuba economically and politically will not overthrow the Castro regime in time to keep Cuba out of the 1964 campaign. So long as he receives Soviet aid and keeps his power base among the peasantry, his position seems secure.

It follows that the effect of our present policy is mainly negative:

It aggravates Castro’s anti-Americanism and his desire to cause us trouble and embarrassment.
In the eyes of a world largely made up of small countries, it freezes us in the unattractive posture of a big country trying to bully a small country.

Since we do not intend to overthrow the Castro regime by military force, is there anything else we can do which might advance U.S. interests without risking charges of appeasement?

According to neutral diplomats and others I have talked to at the U.N. and in Guinea, there is reason to believe that Castro is unhappy about his present dependence on the Soviet bloc; that he does not enjoy being in effect a satellite; that the trade embargo is hurting him—though not enough to endanger his position; and that he would like to establish some official contact with the U.S. and go to some length to obtain normalization of relations with us—even though this would not be welcomed by most of his hard-core Communist entourage, such as Che Guevara. All of this may or may not be true. But it would seem that we have something to gain and nothing to lose by finding out whether in fact Castro does want to talk and what concessions he would be prepared to make.

The most propitious time and place to find out would be at the U.N. during the present General Assembly. Without appearing to take the initiative for a meeting, we could easily feel out the Cubans as follows:

As a former journalist who spent considerable time with Castro in 1959, I could arrange a casual meeting with the Cuban Delegate, Dr. Lechuga. This could be done socially through mutual acquaintances.
I would refer to my last talk with Castro, at which he stressed his desire to be friends with the U.S., and suggest that, as a journalist, I [Page 870] would be curious to know how he felt today. If Castro is ready to talk, this should provide sufficient reason for Lechuga to come back to me with an invitation.

It would be understood that I would be going as an individual but would of course report to the President before and after the visit.

My reasons for suggesting that I undertake this mission are threefold:

Although Castro did not like my final article in 1959, we got along well and I believe he remembers me as someone he could talk to frankly.
I have had considerable experience in the past seventeen years talking with Communist and neutralist leaders on both sides of the iron curtain.
I have enough rank to satisfy Castro that this would be a serious conversation. At the same time, I am not so well-known that my departure, arrival or return would be noticed.

Two other points are worth emphasizing:

Such a meeting would be purely exploratory. I would make no offers, promises or deals. I would simply sound him out as to whether he would be willing to take the three steps listed in paragraph three, and on what terms. I would report to the President and the decision to pursue negotiations or not could then be taken.
The risk that the press would get wind of this project is minimal. For their part, the Cubans would not want it known they had solicited a meeting. On our side, it is of course important that the fewest possible people know of it. But in any case we are on firm ground so long as the invitation comes from the Cubans, since we are always ready to listen to an offer that could advance U.S. interests.

For the moment, all I would like is the authority to make contact with Lechuga. We’ll see what happens then.

William Attwood1
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Cuba, Contact with Cuban Leaders, 5/63-4/65. No classification marking. Attwood was Ambassador to Guinea March 29, 1961-May 27, 1963. In August 1963, he joined the U.S. Mission to the United Nations as an adviser. McGeorge Bundy wrote the following note on this memorandum: “G[ordon] C[hase]. Speak to me on this. McG B.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.