264. Memorandum of Conversation of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Soviet Brigade Exercise in Cuba (S)


  • State
  • Secretary Cyrus Vance
  • Warren Christopher, Deputy Secretary of State
  • OSD
  • Secretary Harold Brown
  • JCS
  • General David Jones
  • ACDA
  • Ralph Earle
  • DCI
  • Bruce Clarke, Director, NFAC
  • White House
  • Lloyd Cutler, Counsel to the President
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski
  • David Aaron
  • NSC
  • Marshall Brement, Staff Member

Zbigniew Brzezinski: The next question on the agenda is the exercise which the Soviet Cuban brigade is now carrying out. Our problem is how do we handle this.

Secretary Brown: It is not fundamentally different from what they did before.

ZB: However, we expected them not to do it.

HB: But the public did not expect to see any difference.

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ZB: Is this consistent with the conversations which we had with the Soviets on the subject?

HB: We did not like what the Soviets were doing before and we do not like this.

Lloyd Cutler: We have to keep in mind that the Church2 reservation is now on the record and that it complicates the President’s decision.

ZB: CIA should bring us up to date on what we have.

Bruce Clarke: [1 paragraph (11 lines) not declassified]

ZB: How often have such exercises taken place in the past?

BC: About semi-annually.

ZB: Is this normal training or are the Soviets perhaps sending us a signal?

Secretary Vance: I think that may well be what they are doing.

LC: In the various consultations we had with the Soviets about this we certainly gave Anatoly3 the word not to hold such exercises.

BC: We flew an SR–71 mission two weeks ago [1 line not declassified] We also have an SR–71 on standby. [1½ lines not declassified] You should all be aware that in connection with the Jack Anderson article of Tuesday,4 a man from our staff met with Senator Percy, Bader, and Rick Inderfurth and gave essentially the same commentary that Hodding Carter made the day before. We left the group with an impression and this will have to be corrected.

David Aaron: The first operational question is how we handle this as an intelligence matter. Then we have to deal with Congressional and public aspects.

ZB: How long do we have before we must be ready to make a public statement?

CV: Not more than 24 hours. Some time tomorrow we have to decide what to say publicly about this.

ZB: David should hold a meeting with State and with others to draft Q’s and A’s and to make recommendations on how we deal with the subject.

DA: One thing the President raised previously on SR–71 flights is the question of why we should not cross the island, instead of flying up and down alongside it, thereby minimizing its exposure. DOD should consider this suggestion and come up with a reply. Any public state [Page 763] ment should be drafted with Lloyd Cutler’s observation about the Church reservation very much in mind.

LC: What will we say to the Soviets about this?

ZB: We have to review what has happened in light of previous assurances.

CV: Nothing has changed.

ZB: You dealt with this matter at a press conference.

CV: What I said at the press conference was that the facts were not discouraging.

LC: Our biggest problem will be whether this is a combat unit engaging in a combat exercise.

ZB: The reporters are certainly going to bore in on that question.

CV: From the State Department, Hodding Carter and Reggie should participate in the group.

DA: We will meet early tomorrow on this.5

  1. Source: Carter Library, NSC Institutional Files, Box 110, SCC 282a, 2/28/80, Soviet Brigade in Cuba. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho). See “Senator Church Charges Moscow Has a Brigade of Troops in Cuba,” The New York Times, August 31, 1979, p. A2.
  3. Soviet Ambassador to the United States Dobrynin.
  4. Reference is to Jack Anderson’s February 26 article in The Washington Post, entitled “Kremlin Stirs a New Crisis in Cuba.”
  5. For the Department of Stte’s statement, see Richard Halloran, “Soviet Brigade in Cuba Resumes Maneuvers, State Dept. Discloses,” The New York Times, March 1, 1980, p. 9.