117. Paper Prepared by the National Security Council Staff1


The purpose of this meeting is to develop the posture we want to take publicly and privately on the latest Soviet submarine and tender visit to Cienfuegos.

(On February 4 a press announcement out of Moscow reported that a group of Soviet naval ships would be visiting Cuba.2 On February 9 and 10 a group of Soviet vessels entered the Caribbean. The group consisted of a Kresta-I-class light guided-missile cruiser, the merchant tanker Liepaya, an UGRA subtender and an N-class nuclear-powered attack submarine. The cruiser and tanker entered Havana harbor on February 10. The tender and submarine entered Cienfuegos harbor on Sunday, February 14, and remain there. The cruiser left Havana on Monday February 15 and was last located Wednesday 70 nautical miles off the Louisiana coast. The tanker probably remains in Havana. An Okean-class intelligence collector, which entered the Caribbean Monday, was east of Jamaica on Wednesday.

U–2 photography taken Sunday February 14 shows the subtender moored to the four buoys north of Alcatraz Island in Cienfuegos harbor. The N-class submarine and an ocean rescue tug (which has been in the harbor since the last Soviet naval visit) were moored on either side of the tender. The soccer field on Cayo Alcatraz has been prepared for use and the submarine net at the entrance to the naval basin was closed. The two nuclear submarine support barges remain at the Cuban naval base in Cienfuegos.)

You will want to quickly update the situation and then proceed to consider the issues involved in our public and private position. Your Talking Points proceed in this way:

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1. The Situation.

Ask Mr. Helms to update the situation.

  • —Has there been any further improvement to “Soviet naval support” facilities at Cienfuegos? Where are the Soviet ships now?
  • —Do we have any indication of Soviet intentions? How long will the tender and sub remain? What is purpose of visit? Is the sub being serviced? (There can be little doubt on this point with the sub tied up to the tender.)

Ask Admiral Moorer to describe briefly the surveillance steps we are taking.

2. Our Position.

  • —How should we interpret this current Soviet visit to Cienfuegos?
  • —After our reaction in September and the Soviet withdrawal of the tender, is this visit by the tender and the sub an act of provocation? (It seems to evidence some bad faith at least. The Soviets, however they may be interpreting our earlier statements, seem to be testing the limits of our tolerance again.)
  • —The President has reiterated his January 4 statement that we would consider servicing of a Soviet nuclear sub in or from Cuba as a violation of our understanding on Soviet offensive weapons or base in Cuba. (He left an opening in the present case by saying it is not clear whether this visit is for servicing or a port call.) (Tab A)3
  • —We need to decide (1) the position we will take publicly and in private and (2) what specific steps, if any, we should take.

3. The Issue.

  • —Do we consider the visit and servicing of the N-Class sub a violation of the understanding? (It is nuclear powered but does not carry offensive missiles.)
  • —There seem to be three principal choices:
    We can contest it—saying that our understanding precludes the servicing of a nuclear powered submarine.
    We can take the position that since this type of submarine does not carry offensive missiles, its visit or servicing is not precluded by our understanding. (We would clarify “nuclear” to mean nuclear armed, not nuclear powered.)
    We can take the position that the visit and servicing of a nuclear-powered submarine (without missiles) is not precluded unless that submarine goes back to sea and operates in adjacent waters rather than returning to the Soviet Union.
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We could contest the presence of the tender and the N-class submarine as a clear violation of the “understanding”. This means interpreting the understanding to exclude any “nuclear” submarines, either offensive or attack. The grounds for contesting it would be (a) that the Soviets have agreed not to use Cuba as a “military base” (in the Tass statement), and therefore, the presence of submarines in Cienfuegos harbor and the servicing cannot be allowed.

The principal questions are:

  • —Is there a basis for taking this position in the record of exchanges with the USSR?
  • —What steps would be demanded of the Soviets?
  • —What steps would we have to take to enforce this position, now, and in the future around Cuba or elsewhere?

If we choose not to contest the current deployment, what are likely follow up measures by the Soviets?

  • —More “port calls” by N-Class?
  • —Port calls by Y Class?
  • —Operations conducted by N-Class in adjacent waters?


We could take the position that “nuclear” applies only to offensive weaponry, that is “nuclear armed” ballistic submarines rather than “nuclear powered” and the presence of the N-Class is thus permissible. This could mean allowing the “servicing in and from Cuba” of attack submarines on the grounds that there is no “understanding” regarding attack submarines as such.


What are the probable consequences and new contingencies implied in this position?

  • —Would we consider it acceptable for the attack submarine to operate in the Caribbean?
  • —Could it return to Cienfuegos, or would we expect it to return to the USSR?
  • —Does this position leave open the possibility that a Y-Class submarine could make a “port call”?

In short would this position store up problems for another challenge later?


We could take a position that what matters is not the presence of attack submarines but whether they conduct military operations after servicing in [Page 343] or from Cuba. Under this approach we would rely on the “understanding” that Cuba cannot be a Soviet military base, regardless of whether the submarines involved were offensive or defensive. We would thereby accept “port calls” provided military operations were excluded.


What steps would we expect of the Soviets under this approach:

  • —That the N-Class return directly to the USSR; could we verify this or would the sub disappear in the Atlantic?
  • —Does this represent a unilateral broadening of the 1962 understanding or the exchanges of last fall?
  • —What about non-nuclear powered attack submarines?
  • —Would limiting operations of attack submarines, rather than limiting presence in any way weaken the case against “port calls” by Y-class submarines; or could we still claim the presence of “offensive” weapons systems was precluded?

4. Next Steps.

There are some important tactical considerations depending on which Option is chosen:

Do we want to clarify our position unilaterally, and then approach the Soviets?
Or do we want to try to work out a new clarification with the Soviets, before taking any further public positions.

  • Option I (contesting outright) is obviously the most dangerous. We could not embark on it without some more detailed planning:
    What are the minimum demands we would put to the Soviets?
    What means of pressure can we exert to make our demands credible?
    What are likely Soviet reactions?
  • —If we choose this approach we need a diplomatic scenario for use with the Soviets, a military and CIA scenario of possible pressure tactics, as well as political moves elsewhere, and a contingency statement for public use.
  • Options II and III are primarily clarifications of our interpretation of the understanding. They would require private discussions with the Soviets, but could begin with a unilateral US public statement.
  • If we choose Option II (permitting presence of N-Class on grounds that “nuclear” means only nuclear armed) this can be done by early public statements. Follow up would be to explain to Soviets that this does not mean that Y-Class can make port calls in Cuba.
  • If we choose Option III (to try to impose restrictions on operations of all attack submarines from Cuba), this requires that:
  • —We warn the Soviets that:
    All missile-carrying submarines are excluded from visits, port calls, or any kind of presence in Cuba.
    All other submarines cannot use Cuba as a base for operations though we do not exclude them from making “port calls” in Cuba—i.e., visits and departure from the area without operations. Thus, “servicing” per se of attack subs would not be excluded, “servicing for military operations” would be.
  • —These two points would be the substance of a public statement.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–080, Meeting Files, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Southeast Asia 2–18–71. Top Secret; Sensitive. The paper was prepared for Kissinger’s use during the WSAG meeting on February 18. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger chaired the WSAG meeting on February 18 from 3:05 to 4:22 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) Minutes of the discussion on Laos are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–115, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 1971 [4 of 5]. Although the issue was evidently discussed, no minutes on Cuba have been found.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 115.
  3. Tab A is the excerpt on Cuba from the President’s press conference on February 17. See footnote 3, Document 116.