4. Memorandum of Conversation1

    • Melvin Laird, Secretary of Defense
    • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Amb. U. Alexis Johnson, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
    • Thomas Karamessines, CIA
    • Col. Robert E. Pursley, USAF, Military Assistant to Secretary Laird
    • Adm. Freeman, Deputy Director, JCS
    • Col. Richard T. Kennedy, NSC Staff
    • Restricted SRG/WSAG on Cienfuegos

[Dr. Kissinger invited the Principals to meet after the NSC meeting.]2

Kissinger: If they [the Soviets] are silent, the President feels we should play it in as low-key a way as possible. There should be no stance that we forced them to back down. He wants to avoid any stories that there was nothing there. If stories leak out again, he would leak out the whole sequence. We would let out at the lowest possible level in the Pentagon the facts that they left. We are not going to announce anything from the White House. The information on the exchanges with Dobrynin are absolutely to be kept in this group.

Johnson: I have hearings this morning with Fascell,3 and with Church tomorrow.

The barges and tanker are still there.

I suggest a statement today noting the TASS statement.4

Laird: I would rather brief on Soviet ship movements in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. We would note the TASS statement but no comment.

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Kissinger: I will check this with the President.

Laird: We should go ahead with it.

Kissinger: I don’t want to let out the Soviet background but we don’t want the TASS statement to prompt new charges that it was a false scare. We could start the Defense briefing with a note about the tender having left. I don’t think Defense should comment on the TASS statement.

Johnson: State could say that we have seen the TASS statement. The question will arise as to whether we consider the episode finished.

Kissinger: You could say we noted the statement and consider this a positive statement and we are continuing to watch the situation.

[All agree.]

Laird: Defense will put its briefing in the context of the previous briefing by Friedheim.5

[At 10:35, Dr. Kissinger left to see the President.]

Johnson: I believe that it is a major gain that the Soviets now accept that missile submarines are covered by the 1962 agreement.6 This had not been nailed down before.

[At 10:50, Dr. Kissinger returned to advise that the President approved the line and asked to see Mr. Laird, Mr. Karamessines and Mr. Johnson.]7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 1969 and 1970 [1 of 6]. Secret; Sensitive. All brackets are in the original. The meeting was held in the Situation Room at the White House. The time of the meeting is handwritten on the first page of the memorandum. See, however, footnote 2 below.
  2. There was no meeting of the National Security Council on October 13. Before this meeting, Kissinger did meet with Nixon in the Oval Office from 9:32 to 10:10 am. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76, Record of Schedule; and National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) No other record of Kissinger’s meeting with Nixon has been found.
  3. Representative Dante B. Fascell (D–Florida), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Inter-American Affairs.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 3.
  5. Jerry W. Friedheim, a Department of Defense spokesman.
  6. Reference is to the public (but unwritten) “understanding” between Kennedy and Khrushchev to resolve the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962: the Soviet Union promised not to install nuclear weapons in Cuba, and the United States promised not to invade the island. The United States also secretly agreed to remove its medium-range ballistic missiles (Jupiters) from Turkey. For background on the “understanding,” see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Document 194.
  7. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met Kissinger, Laird, Johnson, and Karames-sines from 10:59 to 11:05 am. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) No record of this meeting has been found. Later that afternoon, Daniel Z. Henkin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, announced that the Soviet submarine tender had left Cienfuegos on October 10 and that, based on this evidence, the Soviet Union was probably not building a submarine base at Cienfuegos. (Benjamin Welles, “U.S. Now Dubious on Cuba Sub Base,” New York Times, October 10, 1970, p. 1) During the daily news conference on October 13, Department of State spokesman Robert McCloskey announced: “We have noted the Tass statement and consider it to be positive, but we will, of course, continue to watch the situation.” (National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Office of News, Transcripts of Daily News Conferences of the Department of State, Vol. 55)