297. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Cuba Policy: Tactics Before and After San Jose


  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Eagleburger, Deputy Under Secretary, M
  • Mr. Rogers, Assistant Secretary, ARA
  • Mr. Lord, Assistant Secretary, S/P
  • Mr. Gleysteen, ARA/CCA—notetaker

The Secretary: What?

Mr. Rogers: Decisions are needed on two levels. First, whether we probe the Cubans again before San Jose. If we don’t know what’s on the Cubans’ minds:

—we’ll get nickeled and dimed by the Canadians;

—Congress will get ahead of us on Cuba policy.

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The Secretary: So what! Cuba is not a popular issue.

Mr. Rogers: Also for resolution is whether we decide to seek a prior agreement on compensation, or whether we are to agree on terms to negotiate compensation and establish diplomatic relations, leaving settlement on compensation until later.

The Secretary: No. Absolutely not. This is out of the question. It is not my style of work.

Mr. Rogers: This was the way it was done with China. A relationship was established before compensation was agreed upon. There could be a machinery for a dialogue with Cuba which was less than a full relationship.

The Secretary: I would like to explore with the companies whether they can not delay another six weeks.

Mr. Rogers: We’ll explore if the Babcock and Wilcox license can be held up; we have told the companies to hold their applications.

The Secretary: Is this straight?

Mr. Rogers: Yes it is.

The Secretary: Yes, it is straight if we haven’t already told the Canadians that we’ll lift the sanctions after San Jose.

Mr. Rogers: I can’t speak for EUR but will check with Art Hartman. I’m sure not.

The Secretary: I thought you people put EUR up to that memorandum.

Mr. Rogers: We had nothing to do with sending it up; I just concurred.

To get back to the probe with the Cubans; we have few cards to play now; after San Jose, we’ll have even fewer.

Mr. Lord: Yes. The Cubans know what will happen in San Jose.

Mr. Eagleburger: The Cubans have never replied to the message to a diplomat in New York.

The Secretary: The Chinese played with exchanging messages for a year.

Mr. Eagleburger: There have been four messages to the Cubans and no reply.

The Secretary: I don’t see what we can gain tactically by a probe.

Mr. Rogers: The cards in our hands are declining in number.

The Secretary: What can we give them anyway; lifting of third-country sanctions?

The Secretary: What other basis?

Mr. Rogers: Something less than having an Ambassador in Havana.

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The Secretary: It was 1½ years of contact with China before we reached agreement to exchange missions:

—Cuba is not important.

—I will not cater to the propensity of the Democrats to make unilateral concessions;

—Cuba can do nothing for us except to embarrass us in Latin America—and we thought we had successfully taken care of this.

—I would prefer not to lift the third-country sanctions until San Jose.

—What about the Hartman memo? I was told by MacEachen there would be six more weeks before something builds up again. But now I am told to do something immediately.

Mr. Rogers: You have told the Canadians it is better to wait until August before pressing us again.

The Secretary: My answer was negative because MacEachen does not expect any pressure as suggested in the memos.

Mr. Rogers: MacEachen apparently misunderstood, thinking third-country sanctions might be lifted in June instead of August. Ambassador Porter phoned today and got this confirmed.

The Secretary: The Canadians want to show that they can make the Secretary back up. Have we encouraged them to do this? Is there any reason why another foreign firm should get the contract?

Mr. Rogers: Sure. There are other manufacturers of boilers in Germany and Japan. The main issue is the price. Canada could lose the contract.

Mr. Rogers: We could indicate we have some discretion in determining this.

The Secretary: What would you say if the Cubans said, “screw you!” Suppose they don’t answer? I don’t see how we can make any threats about not supporting the lifting of sanctions at San Jose.

Mr. Rogers: Well, there are the third-country sanctions—proposals for a basketball team to Cuba, etc.

The Secretary: I thought it was baseball?

Mr. Rogers: McGovern was dickering for a college-level basketball team to Cuba this summer and a baseball team in the autumn. Incidentally I have to reply to Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn on the latter proposal. Also outstanding is a request for our shipping food and medicines by a religious group. This comes to $10 million worth to Cuba.

The Secretary: I suppose you already granted it.

Mr. Rogers: No, not yet. The point is that our position is being continually chiselled away by Congress.

The Secretary: Don’t let them. This should be easy.

Mr. Rogers: A Kennedy bill to abolish all the sanctions could pass.

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The Secretary: That would be a great one to veto.

Mr. Eagleburger: Or you could hold your nose and let it go through.

The Secretary: I find it intriguing that Kennedy would let his name be attached to “soft on communism.” Let us find out:

—Who is in favor of it?

—What do we lose by it?

—Is this statesmanship?

Mr. Rogers: There could be some political credit for playing the humanitarian card in Congress; there is an issue there.

The Secretary: I favored a probe with Cuba last year but there was no answer; what new now can be said?

Mr. Eagleburger: Before San Jose, just tell them you’re going to do it.

The Secretary: What happens if the Cubans announce that we have probed before San Jose.

Mr. Eagleburger: We’d be better off telling them what we are going to do—as we did with the Chinese.

The Secretary: Castro told Manckiewicz that the mere fact that Cuba had survived was a victory for them and a defeat for us. They treat us with contempt. But since all these things are going to happen, we might as well start a dialogue:

—Just before San Jose;

—do it in 4 weeks;

—better not bargain when you are going to vote to leave the countries free on the sanctions, if you are going to do it anyway.

Mr. Rogers: There are 20–25 unacted-upon subsidiary licenses.

The Secretary: Do a message to Castro, but get it up to me before it leaks; as it usually does before I get it.

Mr. Rogers: There are no leaks on Cuba from ARA in the last six months. We have a good record.

The Secretary: Yes, that’s true. It is better to deal straight with Castro. Behave chivalrously; do it like a big guy, not like a shyster. Let him know.

—We are moving in a new direction;

—we’d like to synchronize;

—New York City under the UN mantle would be the place;

—steps will be unilateral;

—reciprocity is necessary;

—we shall stop until we get some reciprocity.

This should handle the McGovern problem. When the Democrats scream about our Cuban policy, we can say we’ve already done points [Page 800] 1, 2 and 3. This will keep the Cubans off guard and we can warn the legislative branch of negotiations with Cuba.

Mr. Rogers: Remember what I told you when McGovern came back from Havana. McGovern quoted Castro as saying he was doing the following favors: allowing Luis Tiant’s parents to visit the U.S. for Senator Brooke and releasing the $2 million of Southern airways hijack money for Senator Sparkman. Then McGovern said he would like some political prisoners released for himself. Castro replied, if I do this, what will I give to Kennedy when he comes here? That’s a true story.

The Secretary: It better be, because when you told it to me the last time I told it to Kennedy. Kennedy responded—that he is sure there will be one more hanging by his thumbs with a sign “For Kennedy” on his chest.

Mr. Rogers: The release of Lunt is all but set.

The Secretary: I am seeing Jackie on Saturday night and it would be nice to say something to her about this if I can; say, 24 hours before Lunt’s release.

—(To Rogers) You should draft a message for the Cubans before San Jose.

—When am I going to Latin America?

Mr. Eagleburger: When your schedule allows it.

The Secretary: I really do have to do this this year.

Mr. Rogers: Last week in August might be a time.

The Secretary: That’s my thinking; if not then, then in October. Can’t go in September because of the UNGA.

—There are also the European Security Conference and the trip to China. The latter will be an excruciating bore if Chou En-lai is not on hand.

—Have that message to the Cubans before San Jose—in three weeks.

  1. Summary: Kissinger and Department of State officials discussed the possibility of establishing contact with the Cuban Government prior to the upcoming San José meeting of OAS Foreign Ministers.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P860114–0120. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Gleysteen. Approved by James Covey in S/S on October 29. In a May 17 memorandum to Kissinger, Rogers outlined Cuba policy options and recommended a secret advance probe to gauge Castro’s interest in dialogue with the United States in advance of the San José meeting of the OAS, scheduled for July; Kissinger disapproved the recommendation on May 22. (Ibid., P830114–0976) The Hartman memorandum to Kissinger on pending Canadian subsidiary applications for licenses to trade with Cuba, June 5, is ibid., P810048–0859. Lawrence Lunt was a U.S. citizen jailed in Cuba for espionage from 1965 until 1979. Allan MacEachen was the Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs.