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


  • Nicaragua

Yesterday, I met with Bob Riefe of the DDO/CIA to talk about Cuban influence with the three Sandinista factions who are fighting in Nicaragua. The CIA has information that several of those who participated in the raid on the National Palace had been given alias passports from Cuba, but the conclusion of my conversation is that the extent of contact with the Cubans does not appear too great. There are three factions of the Sandinistas, of which the Tercerarios are the major and most cohesive group. There are anywhere from 200 to 500 members. The CIA believes that they are more sophisticated than the Tupamaros were in Uruguay in the early 1970’s; they have plenty of money; and they have increased their capability and their discipline markedly over the last year. This faction has representatives in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles who are helping to obtain money. Riefe suggested that we task other [1 line not declassified] for more information on the international contacts of the Sandinistas.

Today, I attended a two-hour meeting on U.S. policy to Nicaragua, which was chaired by Vaky and included Tony Lake and other officials from State as well as from the CIA. The paper which served as a basis of discussion was prepared by Richard Feinberg of Policy Planning. Feinberg, by coincidence, is currently in Nicaragua but has been asked to return immediately to brief us on his discussions there.

Feinberg’s paper is quite good, and I attach it for your information.2 He analyzes the current political situation (increasingly polarized), U.S. interests in human rights, economic, and in Central American autonomy. Then he lays out several options:

—the restrained interlocutor: which is the present policy of encouraging respect for human rights and a “national dialogue”.

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—an active mediator role: acting as a go-between in negotiations leading to a transfer of power from Somoza to someone else.

—arbitrator: U.S. would draw up a detailed set of proposals and try to convince all parties to agree to them and hold genuine elections.

—multilateral approach: U.S. would involve as many nations as possible in whatever strategy we pursue.

—detached goal-setter: U.S. would focus on the period between now and elections in 1981 and encourage the development of institutions and a process which would permit genuinely free elections in 1981.

The group analyzed the present situation and discussed these options. Vaky drew four conclusions from the meeting: (1) that if the Nicaraguans are left to their own devices, the political situation will deteriorate; (2) the situation will increasingly polarize and no peaceful moderate solution will emerge; (3) that an external catalyst is necessary for a peaceful solution to be found; and (4) that only the United States has sufficient clout to force Somoza to transfer power. Tony Lake and I have real problems with those conclusions, particularly the last. I agree that the situation is deteriorating and becoming polarized; I am less certain that the Nicaraguans, if left to themselves, will not find a middle solution. I am also less certain that we are the critical element in the equation.

I am more certain that U.S. intervention in Nicaragua to encourage the departure of Somoza may gain us some points among certain countries and groups in the hemisphere and in the United States in the short term, but in the long term, I believe it will compromise the President’s moral stature, and arouse conservative forces in the United States who already believe we are deserting our close friends. I find myself moving closer to the “detached goal-setter option”, because I believe it is publicly defensible and moral, and that it may achieve the same results as a more interventionist policy.

I have suggested to Pete that we try to prepare a short paper for a PRC or an SCC discussion. He has asked for a delay until after we have had an opportunity to speak to Feinberg, and I am inclined to agree with that. But I do think that the issue deserves PRC or SCC attention, perhaps next week or after the Camp David Summit.3 You may want to raise it directly with Secretary Vance. I would very much appreciate your preliminary views on this matter.4


That you approve the holding of a PRC meeting chaired by the Secretary of State on U.S. policy to Nicaragua after the Camp David Summit.5

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Or, alternatively, that it be an SCC meeting.6

I also attach at Tab B7 a short memorandum prepared by the CIA on the limited prospects for a moderate solution in Nicaragua.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor Files, Country Files, Box 33, Nicaragua: 8/78. Secret. Sent for action.
  2. Not attached. A draft of Feinberg’s paper, dated August 15 and entitled “Review of U.S. Policy Toward Nicaragua,” is in the Department of State, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, Nicaragua/El Salvador Working Files, Lot 81D64, Nicaragua—Misc. Memoranda, August–September.
  3. The Camp David Summit took place September 5–17.
  4. Brzezinski underlined this sentence.
  5. Inderfurth drew an arrow to this option and wrote: “My suggestion (although if events require it, an SCC may be necessary). RI.” Brzezinski approved this option.
  6. Brzezinski underlined “SCC” and added in the margin: “if it becomes a crisis.”
  7. Not attached. The undated CIA report is in the Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor Files, Country Files, Box 33, Nicaragua: 8/78.