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


  • State Proposals on Cuban Sanctions

Attached is a copy of a telegram which went to Buenos Aires on Wednesday instructing the Ambassador to discuss with Vignes four alternative ideas for handling the Cuban sanctions problem at the OAS General Assembly May 8 and thereafter. They are:

1) A straight vote on lifting sanctions as in Quito, which would probably fail since there is no change in position—i.e., the U.S. would again abstain.

2) The two-step formula (a decision by two-thirds of the members that a simple majority could govern, then a later majority vote to lift the sanctions). There is increasing opposition to this from Brazilians and others who feel it is too devious and legally questionable.

3) A “freedom of action” formula which either permits members to handle the matter as they please or declares that it is a bilateral question to be handled by each State according to its national interests and includes a reaffirmation on non-intervention.

4) A special OAS conference outside of Washington to complete the Rio Treaty amendment (declaring a simple majority adequate for lifting sanctions) which at the same time could lift the sanctions under a generally acceptable formula—either “freedom of action” or directly lifting.

The telegram instructs the Ambassador to inform Vignes that we prefer the last of these alternatives.

Vignes will undoubtedly ask us whether we are willing to support a “freedom of action” formula at the OAS. He will interpret our prefer[Page 796]ence for the last of the alternatives as agreement to support some formula at a later meeting outside Washington.

I am concerned by two things:

—the procedure by which ARA gets the Secretary’s approval on matters like this and wings it out without consulting us;

—the proposal itself, which comes close to offering to manage the lifting of sanctions for the Latins ourselves.

  1. Summary: Low expressed concern about a Department of State proposal on policy toward Cuba that appeared to indicate a willingness to take the lead in lifting regional sanctions.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Latin American Affairs Staff Files, 1974–1977, Box 2, Country Files, Cuba—Economic, Social—Sanctions 1. Secret. Sent for information. Scowcroft wrote, “I agree,” on the memorandum. Telegram 93365 from the Department to Buenos Aires, April 23, is attached but not published. In an April 23 memorandum to Scowcroft, Low noted that he was “bothered” by the position outlined in the cable because he was “not convinced it had been thought through” and because he wondered if Ford was “prepared to agree to a U.S. vote in favor of lifting the sanctions.” He noted, too, that he understood Kissinger intended to make an announcement on the licensing of U.S. firms abroad to trade with Cuba apparently without receiving formal Presidential approval. (Ibid., Presidential Country Files for Latin America, 1974–1977, Box 3, Cuba 2)