496. Memorandum From Robert Pastor of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Mini-SCC on the Question of Nicaraguan Aid to Insurgency in El Salvador (S)

The attached is a summary of the mini-SCC. At Tab A is the CIA’s original response to your tasker; David and I thought it was completely [Page 1311] inadequate, and I recommend that you do not forward it to the President.2 Instead, David worked up the outline of a stiffer demarche to the Nicaraguans, which clearly places the burden of proof on them. In addition, we developed several other steps, as a part of a strategy for dealing with the problem of the Presidential determination and its consequences. Undoubtedly, the strategy will extend beyond January 20th, but I think it makes much more sense to transmit this strategy to Reagan than to inform him to make a Presidential determination. (S)

I am working on a press statement, and will show it to you Saturday morning3 for your clearance. I believe it should be issued from the White House as a clear statement of what the President has been trying to do in El Salvador. (S)


That you sign the memo attached at Tab I. Do not forward Tab A.4

Tab I

Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter5


  • Mini-SCC on the Question of Nicaraguan Aid to Insurgency in El Salvador—January 16, 1981 (S)

David Aaron and Bob Pastor chaired a mini-SCC on Friday to discuss the steps the US should take regarding Nicaragua’s support for the insurgency in El Salvador. Since aid to Nicaragua is currently suspended, the group felt that it is not legally required for you to issue a determination ending aid, and there are many good reasons—the [Page 1312] possible threat to U.S. personnel, further evidence—why we should not move precipitately. (State, however, will confirm the validity of this interpretation with its lawyers.) (S)

The mini-SCC decided to recommend a 6-part strategy aimed at the following objectives: to encourage the Nicaraguans to terminate assistance for the Salvadorean insurgency; to minimize the possible threat to U.S. citizens in Nicaragua; to minimize the possibility that hard-line Marxists would consolidate power in Nicaragua, forcing the middle-class to flee; and to scrupulously implement the law on aid to Nicaragua. (S)

To further these objectives, the mini-SCC recommends that we take the following steps:

(1) Ambassador Pezzullo will be instructed to make a stiffer, more specific demarche, indicating that we know that Radio Liberacion is broadcasting within the vicinity of Managua, that Nicaragua is being used by Cuba as a transshipment point for the infiltration of men and equipment by air, land, and sea to Nicaragua, and that Radio Sandino is carrying out a systematic and hostile campaign against the Government of El Salvador. The demarche will ask the Nicaraguans to take steps to stop these activities, and would indicate that they have the burden to prove that they have taken these steps. We will indicate that we have the capability of verifying their actions, without being specific, and if the Nicaraguans do not take such steps, the U.S. will be forced to terminate aid and demand repayment. (S)

(2) The Defense Department will ensure that an AWACS will be dispatched to the area as early as possible; they are trying to do it by Saturday night. (S)

(3) Ambassador Pezzullo will be asked to submit a plan to the State Department on steps that he would take to reduce the number of Embassy personnel and inform U.S. citizens in Nicaragua of our concern about possible Nicaraguan support for the insurgency and about its likely impact on US-Nicaraguan relations. (S)

(4) Ambassador Pezzullo will be instructed to inform leaders of the private sector, the Church, and non-radical military leaders in a way which will encourage these leaders to put pressure on the Nicaraguan leaders to stop these activities. (S)

(5) The Intelligence Community was tasked to establish a coordinating mechanism in San Salvador and in Washington under the chairmanship of a designated official from the State Department to collect and coordinate all intelligence information on external support of the Salvadorean guerrillas, compile these reports into a good presentation, and either act on the intelligence or provide the reports to the Salvadorean Government for public dissemination. (S)

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(6) As we develop this information, we should begin consulting with friendly governments with the purpose of developing a common approach and perhaps to begin preparing a case of the OAS. (S)

State and NSC are preparing a press statement which will be released on Monday, describing the reasons for your decision to send lethal military aid to El Salvador. (S)


That you approve the six steps described above.6

Tab A

Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency7

Demarche to the Government of Nicaragua Concerning Aid to the Salvadoran Revolutionaries

Following is a series of demands which could be made on the government of Nicaragua regarding aid to the Salvadoran revolutionaries.

I. [1 line not declassified] Compliance would reflect some Government of Nicaragua cooperation, but would not have a major impact on the armaments flow.

A. Halt broadcasts by the revolutionary radio station Radio Liberacion. This station is clearly located within Nicaragua, within an 18 nautical-mile radius of Managua.

B. Tone down domestic radio broadcasts and statements by officials in support of the Salvadoran insurgency.

C. Halt actions by mass organizations—such as the selling of war bonds—in support of the Salvadoran revolution.

II. The second set of demands involves acceptance by the Nicaraguans of international teams to investigate possible Sandinista aid to the revolutionaries. The presence of teams would be a strong deterrent to Sandinista support activities, although we would expect the government to reject such proposals as an infringement on its sovereignty.

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A. Allow international inspection of flights through Managua’s Sandino International Airport.

B. Accept OAS investigation of the landing of revolutionaries in El Salvador at Playa Coco for possible international involvement. This could include inspection of the northern Nicaragua coastal region.

C. Allow the temporary posting of international observers in the Nicaraguan coastal region facing El Salvador.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 125, SCM 164 El Salvador Mini-SCC, 1/16/81. Secret. Sent for action.
  2. In a January 16 memorandum to Turner, Brzezinski requested “by midday today, on a most urgent basis, a list of specific demands which the USG could make of the Nicaraguan Government in order to make certain that there is no Nicaraguan assistance to the rebels in El Salvador.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Unfiled File, Box 130, El Salvador: 1/81)
  3. January 17.
  4. Brzezinski did not indicate his preference with respect to this recommendation. Aaron wrote at the bottom of the page: “ZB—Looks good. DA.” Brzezinski wrote on January 19: “If State agrees, go ahead; if not, stick to approach approved by the P. at the breakfast. ZB.”
  5. Secret. Sent for action. Brezinski did not initial the memorandum. No minutes for the mini-SCC were found.
  6. There is no indication of Carter’s preference with respect to this recommendation; see, however, footnote 4, above.
  7. Secret; Noforn; Nocontract; Orcon.