219. Memorandum From Marshall Brement of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron)1


  • Oral Message re Soviet Brigade in Cuba

Attached is a copy of the “oral message” that Vasev delivered to Christopher at 4 o’clock this afternoon. The operational paragraph talks about a “training center” which has existed in Cuba for 17 years and where Cubans are trained in the use of Soviet equipment provided to Cuba. On the whole, the message could have been much more polemical than it was, which suggests that the Soviets may be looking for a way out of this one. (S)

State will be working up a proposed reply, which will be discussed at the 5 o’clock meeting tomorrow of the Newsom group. This will of course be taken up during your breakfast on Friday. (S)

Since Dobrynin’s father just died, we do not know when he will be returning to Washington. According to Shulman, Vance is leaning toward making our reply himself directly to Vasev and as soon as possible.2 (S)

[Page 644]


Oral Message From the Soviet Leadership3

Moscow has carefully studied the US demarche expressing concern about the “presence of Soviet-organized combat units in Cuba.”

In this, the US side—without awaiting even our reaction to this demarche—set about stirring up a propaganda campaign which cannot but harm US-Soviet relations.

This is not the first instance in recent times of the US side unjustifiably complaining to us with regard to our relations with another sovereign state—Cuba. Nevertheless, displaying good will, we have provided exhaustive explanations which, in our judgment, should have closed this whole question.

The unfounded and unjustified nature of such complaints is clearly evident in the present instance. This is manifest in the actual state of affairs.

The US side seeks to portray as a near sensation, or at least as something new, the presence in Cuba of a certain number of Soviet military personnel, to whom, moreover, are ascribed functions they absolutely do not possess. Meanwhile, in actuality, there has existed in Cuba for 17 years a training center where Soviet military specialists train Cuban officers in the use and maintenance of Soviet military equipment in the inventory of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces. And one could hardly imagine that the US side has been unaware of all this.

Any assertions about the arrival in Cuba of a “Soviet military unit” are without foundation, and cannot be regarded as anything other than a deliberate effort to distort the real situation and to mislead the American and world public. The same purpose is served by assertions to the effect that providing for the legitimate defense interests of Cuba represents some kind of threat to the United States, or that Soviet policy towards Cuba has the character of a “strategic action” aimed against the USA.

There exists between the USSR and the USA the well-known understanding of 1962 concerning Cuba.4 As we have already emphasized [Page 645] on many occasions, the Soviet side is adhering in good faith and intends in the future to adhere to its part of this understanding, on the assumption, naturally, that the USA will strictly fulfill its own part. Raising questions not related to this understanding, to which the US side has resorted more than once, introduces absolutely unnecessary complications into US-Soviet relations.

Moscow would like to expect that the US side will properly evaluate the clarifications set forth and will take the necessary steps to close the question it has artificially created.

  1. Source: Carter Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 82, MPRC009, Soviets in Cuba. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information.
  2. The talking points for a Vance meeting with Dobrynin is Tab 1 of Tarnoff’s September 6 memorandum to Vance. (Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 3, President’s Breakfast—9–12/79) There is no indication if or when this meeting took place.
  3. No classification marking. Printed from the U.S. translation.
  4. The October 1962 correspondence between President Kennedy and General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev outlines the joint understanding regarding Cuba. Documents 84, 91, 95, and 102 in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XI, Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath, outline the then-known negotiations pertaining to the Cuban missile crisis. Document 99, however, sheds light on the secret portion of the negotiations, which was acknowledged decades after the fact. (Ibid.) Dobrynin provides an overview of the Kennedy-Khrushchev negotiations in his memoirs. See Dobrynin, In Confidence, pp. 86–91.