224. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet Combat Forces in Cuba


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

Ambassador Dobrynin came in at his request to deliver to Secretary Vance the Soviet answer to the U.S. oral message of September 14,2 which contained a request for further clarification on a number of points.

Characterizing the response as “rather negative,” Dobrynin transmitted the oral message in Russian, and did a sight translation for the Secretary. (U.S. translation of the Soviet note is attached.)3

The main points of the Soviet note were as follows:

1. The Soviet government felt that it had already provided clarifications on the matter, out of good will, even though it felt the issue was artificially raised.

2. The Soviet Union found the US “questionnaire” unacceptable in both tone and content, and saw it as an effort by U.S. intelligence to seek information regarding Soviet relations with other sovereign states.

3. The Soviet Union sees the issue as a pretext by forces seeking to undermine U.S.-Soviet relations. It hopes the U.S. Administration will take steps to close out this artificially-raised question. It repeats that the Soviet military personnel involved have been in place for 17 years, and have not changed their numbers or function. There is no violation of the 1962 understanding, which the Soviet Union intends to continue to observe. There can be no question of withdrawing these personnel.

4. If the US Administration is actually interested in improving relations by implementing agreements reached through joint efforts, especially by ratifying SALT II, its actions will be met by cooperation from the Soviet Union.

[Page 655]

The Secretary replied, saying that he regretted very much the negative character and tone of the response. He said he had hoped we would work together to find a satisfactory solution to this problem. He found the Soviet statement and the fact that doors seem to be closing on this kind of cooperative effort to resolve the problem in a mutually-satisfactory way deeply troubling.

The Secretary repeated his previously-expressed concern over the negative effect a failure to resolve the issue would have on overall US-Soviet relations; the consequences for the ratification of SALT were all too obvious.

The Secretary concluded by saying he would study the text of the Soviet note, discuss it with the President, and would be in touch with Dobrynin. Dobrynin said he would be in New York with Gromyko, but would come back to Washington whenever the Secretary wished.


Attachment to the Memorandum of Conversation4

There followed an off-the-record informal conversation, along following lines:

MDS asked whether Dobrynin had any intimation from his side-communications with Moscow if there would be some responsiveness to the possibility of concrete actions by the Soviet Union that would serve to alleviate U.S. concerns.

Dobrynin replied that he did not know. He said he had not received any suggestions from the U.S. of the kind of actions we had in mind, and had not therefore transmitted any suggestions along these lines to Moscow.

The Secretary then advanced some tentative illustrative suggestions, saying he was thinking aloud, and was not intending this for transmission to Moscow at this stage. He asked what Dobrynin’s personal reaction might be to suggestions that would include such matters as, for example, the elimination of the brigade headquarters, so it could be made amply clear that it would not function in a combat capacity, and the removal or transfer from Soviet control of some of the major combat equipment, such as the tanks, the armored personnel carriers, or the artillery. These were just illustrative of the kind of actions which [Page 656] the Soviet Union might take which would not involve a back-down on its part, and would not strain Soviet-Cuban relations, but which we could note as relieving our concerns.

Dobrynin said he did not know what the Soviet reaction would be, but that he would be glad to find out when the Secretary was ready to have the matter transmitted officially.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 10, VanceDobrynin Meeting, 9/17/79. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. Drafted by Shulman.
  2. See Document 223 and footnote 5 thereto.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Secret; Sensitive. For Secretary Vance only. Drafted by Shulman.
  5. Vance transmitted these suggestions officially in his September 20 meeting with Dobrynin, according to a summary of the meeting prepared by Vance. (Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 10, VanceDobrynin, 9/20/79)