18. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Peterson Backchannels on Cuban Shipping Restrictions and Soviet Maritime Agreement

Secretary Peterson (and Sonnenfeldt) have sent you several messages requesting guidance on issues arising out of NSAM 2202 restrictions on use of Soviet ships for US trade that have previously been engaged in Cuban trade.

—He has today proceeded on his instructions in NSDM 179,3 that require him to make a determined effort to conclude the maritime agreement without violating or relaxing NSAM 220.

—This instruction allows him the fallback position of making a one-time exception for CCC grain sales, with provision that this be carefully explained to OAS members.

—He, Peterson, notes that he has an implicit second fallback which arises from a loophole of the NSAM—that is, that exception for Soviet ships could be made provided there is an assurance that those particular ships will not be used in Cuban trade in the future.

In a private meeting with Patolichev 4 he raised the broad question of our Cuban shipping restrictions, and, while the Soviets generally [Page 44] said this was our problem, they did ask enough questions to suggest that they might be willing to find some middle ground.

Specifically, they caught on to Peterson’s distinction between ships that had traded with Cuba and ships calling on Cuba in the future. He thus has laid some groundwork for the alternative to the one time exception: i.e., a Soviet assurance that ships in US trade will not henceforth be involved in Cuban trade (Tab B).

He raises several broader issues which he believes must be addressed at the highest level now (Tab C).5

1. If a one-time exception is made for CCC grain, how do we deal with other contingencies, namely, that Soviet ships calling at Cuba ports can also come to US ports to load regular cash cargoes. In practice Soviet ships have never done so. Once the exception is made for the CCC grain shipments, then we may have to expect the Soviets to make port calls for cash transactions and these are permissible under NSAM 220.

—He asks your advice as to whether this is a political issue or a legal one.

—If it is only legal, then Peterson can simply tell them that the Cuba restriction only applies to government financed cargo, and they are free to use ships for other cargoes as they choose.

—If it is a political problem, then such ships may be the first to appear and begin eroding our Cuban policy of restrictions.

2. Peterson suggests the following scenario:

—To make a determined effort to exclude Cuba tainted ships.

—Second, to persuade the Soviets to exclude these Cuban tainted ships for a period of six months while we review the situation.

—Third, get the Soviets to exclude for six months, and ask them to consider setting up a special Soviet-American shipping company with assurance that ships they use will not henceforth be used in Cuban trade; this means expanding Cuban restrictions to all types of cargo.

—Fourth, suggest that the Soviets forthwith set up a special shipping company with the same assurance; this means Cuban tainted vessels might call at US ports within a few weeks of agreement.

Sonnenfeldt has sent in his version of options, cleared with Peterson (Tab D).6 He seems to be favoring establishing a Soviet shipping company immediately, with Soviet assurances against future use.

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In sum, there are these questions to answer:

1. Should Peterson continue to explore the possibility of obtaining Soviet assurance against using their Cuban-tainted ships henceforth for US-Soviet trade; if so, and he makes any progress, this would probably obviate fallback to the one-time exception for CCC grain.

2. If this does not pan out and he moves to the one-time exception, how should he deal with other types of Soviet shipping—those involving cash sales and commercially (non-governmental) financed sales? Should he encourage the Soviets to begin making calls for such cargo by ships coming from Cuba, as is legally possible now, or discourage them from drawing the conclusion that we would welcome this?


Obtaining a Soviet assurance against future use of ships on Cuba trade would be a highly desirable solution and there is no reason for Peterson not to pursue it, especially since he has already implanted the seed with Patolichev.

If this peters out, as is probable, or becomes too complicated with qualifications and bargains, then he can go to the one-time exception as authorized. However, he should hold the line on other Soviet shipping, even though NSAM 220 does not prohibit it. This still should be decided in September if at all possible, after some study and bureaucratic massaging.

If you agree with this, a message to Peterson is at Tab A.7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 953, VIP Visits, Pete Peterson’s Moscow Visit (Commerce), 17 Jul–3 Aug 72 [1 of 2]. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Sent for action.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 9.
  3. Document 11.
  4. Sonnenfeldt reported on Peterson’s meeting with Patolichev in attached backchannel message 2746 to Kissinger, July 25 (Tab B). Peterson also reported on the meeting in telegram 7226 from Moscow, July 25. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 953, VIP Visits, Pete Peterson’s Moscow Visit (Commerce), 17 Jul–Aug 72 [2 of 2])
  5. Attached but not printed is backchannel message 2739 from Sonnenfeldt to Kissinger, July 24, which contained a message from Peterson to Kissinger. Paragraph 6 of Petersen’s message set forth his proposed negotiating scenario, which Haig summarizes here.
  6. Attached but not printed is backchannel message 2740 from Sonnenfeldt to Haig, July 24.
  7. Kissinger did not check any of the options. The attached July 25 routing memorandum from Jon Howe of the NSC Staff to Haig noted that Kissinger had approved the backchannel message and “it was dispatched this evening at 9:00 p.m.” The approved backchannel message from Kissinger to Peterson, July 25, at Tab A, reads: “You are correct in concluding that Cuban aspect of maritime talks is primarily a political one. For now, you should proceed along lines you suggest in your 2739, paragraph 6. You may explore for possible Soviet assurances against future use of Cuba-tainted ships. If such exploration seems to be fruitless, then you can proceed to fall back on one-time exception as authorized by President (TOPET 11). As for related question of non-CCC grain cargoes, you should not encourage Soviets to believe that one-time exception means we would look with favor on their using U.S. ports from or to Cuba, even though this is permissible under NSAM 220. This should be part of broader policy determination in September.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 953, VIP Visits, Pete Peterson’s Moscow Visit (Commerce), 17 Jul–3 Aug 72 [1 of 2 ])