228. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Cuba


  • US
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Thompson, S/AL
    • William C. Burdett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
    • Benjamin H. Read, Executive Secretary
    • Thomas M. Judd, EUR/BNA
  • UK
    • Foreign Secretary Butler
    • Lord Harlech, British Ambassador
    • Sir Harold Caccia, Permanent Undersecretary, Foreign Office
    • Denis A. Greenhill, British Minister
    • John Henderson, Private Secretary to the Foreign Secretary
    • John A. Thomson, First Secretary, British Embassy
[Page 462]

Secretary Rusk said he was going to surprise Foreign Secretary Butler by discussing an aspect of the Cuban problem other than trade. He referred to over-flights of Cuba by U.S. U-2 aircraft. The Secretary said the Soviets were pulling out of Cuba and turning the surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) over to the Cubans. We had information that some Soviet passenger ships were en route to Cuba and we believed that these would be used to remove the remaining Soviet troops. We were glad to see the Soviets leaving but were not happy about the Cubans taking over the SAMs. A couple of weeks ago, we had sent the Cubans a low-key message on the subject but they had come roaring back with some Soviet support. Our flights are unobtrusive. They are seen only on radar. We feel that we must keep up some surveillance so that we know what is going on down there. If the Cubans try to prevent the over-flights we would have a nasty situation. Castro had turned down the two proposals which would have dealt with the problem, both of which had been approved by the Soviets. The first would have provided for UN surveillance and the second was for a nuclear-free zone.

Mr. Butler said that what would worry the British would be retaliation. The Secretary said there would be retaliation. We would take out a SAM site if a U-2 were knocked down.

Mr. Butler observed that the U.S. would be acting even more resolutely than the British had at Harib. Duncan Sandys said at the time of the Harib incident that the U.S. would have to support the UK because the U.S. would eventually want British support on Cuba. Mr. Butler added that at his press conference that morning, he had told the U.S. newsmen off the record that the UK would like to support the U.S. on Cuba. He presumed that our retaliation would lead the Cubans to take their case to the Security Council and the U.S. would have to cast its first veto.

The Secretary replied that he did not know if Cuba would go to the Security Council. We might take the matter to the OAS.

Mr. Butler asked what was our jurisdictional justification for over-flights. The Secretary replied that they had been approved by the hemisphere.2 The Cubans were bound not to interfere with the over-flights. Mr. Butler asked what action might come out of the UN. The Secretary said that U Thant might be asked to send some observers to Cuba.

Mr. Butler then asked if the U.S. would consult the UK before retaliating. Secretary Rusk said that we would give the UK advance notification. The Secretary said that the time would be very short.

[Page 463]

The Secretary said that we had repeatedly sent to the Cubans signals on two points which bothered us. The first was a military connection with Moscow and the second was subversion in the hemisphere. We had good evidence that they were going on with their subversive efforts.

Foreign Secretary Butler recalled the Cuban crisis in 1962. When it came, Prime Minister Macmillan had called him and asked him to come to Number 10 Downing Street. Macmillan had said he couldn’t stand to be alone at such a time. Mr. Butler had gone to 10 Downing Street and had been privy to the numerous communications exchanged between Macmillan and President Kennedy. He would say for the new Prime Minister that he would like the President or Secretary Rusk to use the communications which we have in the same manner as they had been used by Macmillan and Kennedy. He said he thought this was as far as he could take it. He added that the U.S. was playing with fire. Finally, Mr. Butler said he would like to make it absolutely clear that the UK was sympathetic and understood the U.S. concern with Cuba.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL UK-US. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Judd and approved in S on May 2. The memorandum is marked Part 3 of 8. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s office.
  2. For text of the OAS resolution on Cuba, approved October 23, 1962, see Department of State Bulletin, November 12, 1962, pp. 722-723.