441. Memorandum From Livingston T. Merchant to Secretary of State Rusk and the Under Secretary of State (Ball)0

On December 3 I lunched alone with the Canadian Minister in the Embassy here, Mr. Basil Robinson, on his invitation. He is an old friend and had frequently been of great value to me in Ottawa in his capacity of Confidential Assistant to Prime Minister Diefenbaker. After discursive conversation, he mentioned that Ambassador Ritchie had seen the Prime Minister in Ottawa a week earlier and said the Prime Minister is seriously concerned over the future implications of the absence of genuine consultation and the limited advance notice of the President’s decision on Cuba announced October 22. He added that this was understandable from the viewpoint of domestic politics for the leader of any country. He then questioned me in detail concerning the PM’s attitude and reaction when I saw him in Ottawa the afternoon of October 22.1 I replied that, even allowing for the fact that he was harried from the debate on the floor of the House which he had just left, I had felt that he was at the outset somewhat brusque in manner and openly skeptical in attitude concerning the missile menace until the full intelligence briefing had been given him. I said I had not been permitted by him to make the orderly presentation I had planned and that the early minutes of our talk were a bit difficult. However, by the close of the session his whole attitude swung around to sympathetic understanding and I had thought a willingness to give public support to the President. I added, that the PM’s first statement that same evening in the House and Mr. Green’s later TV interview had surprised and disappointed me.

Mr. Robinson said these first reactions had pained and dismayed everyone in the Embassy. He then said the PM’s later stance had been helpful and I agreed. Mr. Robinson then repeated that the PM had been placed in a difficult position by public recognition that there had in fact been no advance consultation—even my arrival in Ottawa a few fours earlier would have helped. I pointed out this would have meant I could not have carried the full text of the President’s speech2 and I also reminded him that the phrase to which the PM strongly objected had not [Page 1191]been in the speech as actually delivered. Mr. Robinson said the PM had taken comfort in this. He then repeated one could feel sorry for the PM.

I replied that I personally didn’t feel a tenth as sorry for the PM as I had for Harold Macmillan who had had comparably short advance notice. I said I didn’t think Canada had earned, by its actions and by certain non-actions, the right to the extreme intimacy of relations which had existed in years past. I also pointed out the dilemma of achieving surprise by secrecy and at the same time consulting well in advance all our friends and allies.

Mr. Robinson said he could understand this. Certain things were beginning to move encouragingly in the nuclear area and elsewhere. Then he said “if only we could do something about that piece of paper.” I reacted in no way to this cryptic reference being unsure of his knowledge of a particular incident going back to May 1961.

Beyond friendliness, I am certain there was a purpose behind this lunch. I believe it was to pass on through an additional channel word of the PM’s worry and sense of grievance over the Cuban matter. There may also have been intended a veiled suggestion that we take some action now regarding a “piece of paper”. Whether or not he is already privy to the facts, Mr. Robinson might be a useful channel to make clear the necessity of something being done about it if matters are to improve.

Our conversation then passed on to other aspects of the Canadian scene and we parted on our usual informal, friendly terms.

Livingston T. Merchant3
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.42/12–1062. Confidential; Limited Distribution.
  2. A memorandum of Merchant’s conversation with Diefenbaker at 5 p.m. on October 22, in which he briefed the Prime Minister on the developing Cuban missile crisis, is ibid., 611.3722/10–2262. For Diefenbaker’s account of the briefing and his subsequent statement in the House of Commons, see One Canada: The Tumultuous Years, 1962–1967, Chapter IV.
  3. For text of the President’s speech on October 22, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F.Kennedy, 1962, pp. 806–809.
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.