288. Memorandum From Stephen Low of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Timing of Contact with Cubans

The following are some thoughts over timing of a possible bilateral contact with the Cubans. Specifically, whether such contact should be made before the Quito meeting or after.

Can contacts be kept quiet? There would be four parties involved: the U.S., the Cubans, the third party under whose auspices the contacts are made, and at some point those Latin Americans whom we inform because of promises we have given that they would not be faced with surprises (Brazil, perhaps Argentina). Even if efforts are successful to keep leaks from occurring from our side, or from the party under whose auspices the contacts are made, it is difficult to believe that the Brazilians, Argentinians or others would maintain silence. More important, however, are the Cubans themselves, who would have good reasons to see that any pre-Quito contact was publicized in order to show our lack of reliability to the other Latins, to demonstrate our contempt for the OAS sanctions, and to stimulate a bandwagon atmosphere among other Latins to restore normal relations with Cuba. It seems difficult to believe, therefore, that any contacts with Cubans before Quito could be kept from becoming public.

What could be gained? Initiation of contacts with the Cubans could keep us from being the last to do so and maintain some initiative and leadership in our own hands. It is doubtful, however, that we could get anything from the Cubans before Quito from such a contact. They are not likely to offer us anything in return for dropping the OAS sanctions. They think the sanctions will be lifted even without our coopera[Page 775]tion. Furthermore, they know that determined opposition would drive a further wedge between us and the other Latins. Any success we might have in thwarting OAS action to lift sanctions would result in a weakening of the OAS as a result of unilateral actions to normalize relations which would follow. The Cubans might see an effort by us to establish contacts prior to Quito as an indication of weakness and of acting under pressure to beat the OAS deadline.

What are the costs? The cost of taking such initiative would be considerable. Any contact before Quito would be contrary to the sanctions voted in 1964 which we have urged the Latins to observe. The Latins (particularly the three sponsors of the resolution) would be annoyed that they had been prevailed on to postpone the Quito meeting to November in order to avoid unilateral action, only to have us go ahead unilaterally ourselves. Public knowledge of any contacts would certainly stimulate a bandwagon atmosphere within the hemisphere. It would decrease our bargaining position in Quito and result in further demeaning of OAS procedure. These reasons of course would be on top of any domestic considerations.

A Strategy Framework

Contacts should be considered in a framework of a broad strategy towards Cuba. The elements of such a strategy might be the following:

1) Cooperate within the OAS with the conservatives and resolution sponsors to maintain maximum leverage at Quito in order to produce the most satisfactory possible resolution there.

2) Following Quito restate our determination to retain bilateral sanctions until the Cubans show a willingness to attempt to resolve outstanding issues between us, including matters of security, investment, political prisoners, Guantanamo, etc. In recognition of the OAS action indicate our willingness to support legislative action to remove those sanctions applying to third countries.

3) Impress on the other Latins (particularly Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico) the significance of our cooperation within the OAS for the orderly lifting of the sanctions resolution as a gesture on our part towards them and towards hemispheric relations, and urge them to press Castro for concessions on his part.

In the context of such a strategy the most appropriate time for bilateral contacts would be following Step (3) after representations from the other Latins had been made. This would not only put us in the strongest position vis-à-vis Castro but also with the other Latins.

  1. Summary: Low outlined a strategic framework for possible future contact with the Cuban Government.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Latin America, 1974–1977, Country Files, Box 3, Cuba 1, 8/9/74–2/28/75. Secret; Outside the System. In telegram 3375 from USUN, September 24, Kissinger noted apprehension among Latin American representatives at the UN that the United States might be contemplating direct contacts with Cuba, and he instructed the Ambassadors at all American Republic posts to seek an early opportunity to reassure host country officials that the United States would not act unilaterally on Cuban relations. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D740269–0342) See Documents 24, 25, and 26 for information on the November 1974 Quito meeting of OAS Foreign Ministers, referred to in this memorandum.