223. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet Troops in Cuba


  • US
  • The Secretary
  • Marshall Shulman
  • USSR
  • Ambassador Dobrynin

Ambassador Dobrynin said Foreign Minister Gromyko had asked him to convey the following information to the Secretary.

In answer to questions put orally to him at the meeting of 9/13 [12],2 Dobrynin transmitted an oral note in Russian (our translation—Tab A—is attached),3 which makes the following main points:

a) The equipment belongs to the training center and is used there.

b) The Cuban personnel being trained are officers. This does not exclude the possibility of some Cuban enlisted personnel being present, as specialists or support troops.

c) The Soviet Union hopes that the clarifications which have been supplied clear up any doubts that what the US has called “combat unit” is in fact a training center. The Soviet Union fears that a further exchange of technical questions will only serve to prolong the affair artificially.

d) The only understanding governing the situation is the one that was reached in 1962. What was discussed in 19704 only constitutes a mutually-agreed reconfirmation of the 1962 understanding. The Soviet Union will continue to be guided by the 1962 understanding.

The Secretary stressed to Dobrynin that time is of the essence. Public opinion is jelling and we need to resolve the matter quickly. We would hope to have a full response from the Soviet Union by Sunday.

Dobrynin agreed to report our views and to request a response by Sunday, but he thought it would be difficult to get a reaction that soon.

[Page 652]

The Secretary explained that one of the reasons the combat unit is so sensitive for us is that people associate combat units with the missiles that were present in 1962, because combat units were associated with those offensive weapons.

Dobrynin said what the Soviets have in Cuba does not possess offensive capability. He asked rhetorically whether the US wanted the Soviet Union to declare that the troops now in Cuba are not the same as those present in 1962. He asserted that there are no troops there to guard missiles.

At this point, the Secretary handed Dobrynin an oral note about the Soviet brigade in Cuba. (Oral note is attached—Tab B.)5

Dobrynin’s reaction after carefully studying the note was to express somewhat emotionally the conclusion that “we have a crisis on our hands.” If the Soviet Union presented such questions to the US about its installations around the world, the US would tell the Soviets to go to hell. These questions do not lead to a way out—they lead to a deadlock. The Secretary responded that the US was open in dealing with its troops abroad and we have no hesitation in answering questions similar to those posed to Dobrynin.

Dobrynin continued that the current publicity and the Congressional hysteria are not of Soviet makings. Today it is one issue; tomorrow they will raise other questions, based on the broadening of the 1962 understandings the US is now seeking. He said the USSR did not want to create a new precedent.

He particularly reacted to the sentence at the outset of the questions which repeated the point that “the presence of a Soviet combat unit in Cuba cannot be accepted,” pointing to this as an indication that the questions are not intended to lead to a solution of the present problem.

Dobrynin was doubtful that Moscow would supply answers to the questions submitted. He said he may be wrong, but he thought these questions would appear to Moscow to be a broadening of the problem.

Dobrynin then stressed the main point he had made in the paper he handed over: the Soviet Union sees this as an effort to broaden the 1962 understanding. The US has made no claim that the 1962 understanding has been violated, but is creating new grounds for its objections. The US appears to be trying to create a new “1979 understanding,” which will be the basis for a series of additional challenges in the future.

Dobrynin said the Soviet Union considers that it has answered the question raised by the U.S. It has stated categorically that this is not a [Page 653] “combat unit” as alleged by the US, and that it is a training center. It has already gone beyond the terms of the 1962 agreement in answering questions previously put, in an effort to help resolve the problem.

There followed a somewhat stormy exchange between Dobrynin and the Secretary, in which Dobrynin argued that the US was trying to push the Soviet Union into accepting an expansion of the terms of the 1962 understanding, on the basis of which several Senators would then make a succession of demands on other supposed violations. The Secretary replied that the object of our efforts to obtain information about the troops was to enlist Soviet cooperation in establishing the facts.

Dobrynin said he thought the Soviet Union had already been helpful in clarifying the facts. “I may be wrong, but I don’t think they will be willing in Moscow to go further. They believe you know the facts.”

The Secretary indicated that the information provided so far was clearly insufficient, and he reiterated the adverse effects of delay in resolving the issue.

Again assuring the Secretary that he would report our questions, Dobrynin said he planned to meet Foreign Minister Gromyko when he arrives in New York on Monday6 (FYI: due at 3:15 pm). It was possible that he might receive instructions from Gromyko at that time, in which case he would request an appointment with the Secretary on Tuesday morning. If any response should be received from Moscow by Monday morning, Dobrynin would not go to New York to meet Gromyko but would bring the response to the Secretary.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 16, Soviet Brigade (Meetings With Soviets), 9/79. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Shulman.
  2. See Document 222.
  3. Not found attached.
  4. For the 1970 discussions, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XII, Soviet Union, January 1969–October 1970, Documents 224, 226, and 228.
  5. Not found attached.
  6. September 17.