18. Policy Paper Prepared in the Department of State1

How To Proceed Next With Cuba

We have completed the steps authorized by Presidential Directive/NSC–6, which called for a review once those steps had been taken.2 PRC review of the options available on Cuba in the months ahead is also timely now in light of the opening of Interests Sections in Havana and Washington scheduled for September 1.3

The choices before us center on how to maintain momentum toward increased U.S. influence over Cuba. The gap between what Cuba now wants from us and what Congress and public opinion seem prepared to support creates a major obstacle to further steady progress.

Whatever option is chosen, we should take more effective action against Cuban exile terrorism.

I. The Opening of Direct Contacts

The first formal, official U.S.-Cuban contact since 1961 took place in New York March 24–29.4 The talks produced substantial agreement on fisheries and a preliminary maritime boundary. The Cubans tested [Page 44] our willingness to deal with them on a basis of reciprocity by inviting the U.S. delegation to Havana April 24–27 to complete the agreements.5

The Havana negotiations produced written agreements on fisheries and on a preliminary maritime boundary. The Cubans also said they accept the principles of equality and reciprocity for improving relations, repeated their call for a complete lifting of the U.S. embargo6 as the first step toward full negotiations, and indicated that they would consider certain other steps in return.

At the conclusion of the Havana round, the Cubans asked for details on how Interest Sections would operate. We furnished specific proposals on May 11, and the Cuban Government formally agreed to them on May 30. On July 1 both sides announced that Interests Sections would open September 1. In July survey teams from both sides visited Havana and Washington to begin physical preparations.

Atmosphere of Negotiations

The Cubans have been businesslike, discreet, and have demonstrated good faith in all negotiations. They have shown little ideological rigidity, adopting instead the posture of a small power negotiating against a behemoth.

The Cubans have made some small gestures designed to show their responsiveness to our concerns, such as freeing 10 out of 30 American prisoners, permitting 6 American citizens to leave, allowing a handful of visits by divided Cuban families, and exchanging information on terrorism (Annex B). They have also been exceptionally cooperative in preparations for our Interests Section in Havana, giving us priority over African and other diplomatic missions there.

II. Basic Objectives and Other Considerations

U.S. Objectives are to get Cuba to demonstrate:

—restraint in Puerto Rico, Latin America, and Africa;

—a constructive international position, including support for arms control and nuclear non-proliferation;

—a gradual decrease in Cuban ties, particularly military, with the Soviet Union; and

—meeting specific U.S. interests, such as human rights (political prisoners and family visits) and compensation for nationalized American properties.

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Cuba’s objectives with regard to the United States are:

—to vindicate Cuba’s domestic revolutionary process by demonstrating that Cuba can now get along with the United States, and

—to gain access to U.S. markets and technology to stimulate its economy.

As the President has made clear in describing our policy as one of seeking to improve relations on a measured, reciprocal basis, whatever steps are undertaken, their pace and manner must be so calculated as to achieve results and to be acceptable to the U.S. Congress and public as well (See Annex C).

In addition, there are a number of steps we hope to influence the Cubans to take, but whose attainment must realistically depend on improved relations rather than on negotiations as such. They are:

—military withdrawal from Angola (See Annex D);

—release of all Cuban political prisoners;

—removal or even significant reduction of the Soviet military presence in Cuba; and,

—rejoining the OAS.

In similar vein, the U.S. cannot realistically be expected to:

—lift the embargo unconditionally before the Cubans have agreed in principle to negotiate a compensation settlement;

—negotiate Cuban claims for alleged damages to Cuba resulting from the embargo and covert operations;

—permit the re-entry of Cuban sugar to the U.S. market except under phased and controlled circumstances;

—resume diplomatic relations at the Ambassadorial level before Cuba has agreed to discuss all foreign military bases in Cuba.

III. Possible Next Steps

Cuban leaders have been adamant throughout these contacts that no major breakthrough can occur until the embargo is lifted, permitting resumption of two-way trade. Although, as noted in Annex A, lifting the embargo would not remove all impediments to trade, it would remove most impediments, making it the most important single step we could take.

This insistence on an end to the embargo as a precondition to any further movement may be simply a bargaining position, a public posture, or both. Our exploratory talks suggest there are several actions the Cubans might be willing to take—some limited, some larger—in response to steps on our side.

Limited Cuban Steps

A limited package on their side would be:

—release of all or most U.S. political prisoners;

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—permit all U.S. citizens to leave Cuba together with most of their Cuban relatives who are not too distantly related;

—establish a monthly quota of about 10 Cuban families to visit the U.S. from Cuba and 10 families to visit Cuba from the U.S.

Limited U.S. Steps

Limited Steps we might take, depending upon how fast we wish to move and what kind of response we get from the Cubans, include:

—facilitation of cultural, sports and technical/scientific exchanges;

—termination of vestiges of remaining third country sanctions in trade with Cuba—such as prohibition on importing steel products containing Cuban nickel;

—reestablishment of direct scheduled transportation between the U.S. and Cuba;

—lifting of the embargo on the shipment of foods and medicines to Cuba while permitting shipment of specified amounts of Cuban products (but excluding sugar) to the U.S. to pay for Cuban imports from the U.S. in dollar amounts and commodities to be negotiated by the two governments.

Larger Cuban Steps

—become a party to the Treaty of Tlatelolco and the NPT;

—give private assurances that they will not intervene in the internal affairs of Puerto Rico or their Latin American neighbors;

—agree in principle to negotiate a just settlement of claims (though they cannot pay a large cash settlement);

—mute their agitation in the UN for Puerto Rican independence;

—provide private assurances, backed up by performance, that they will not intervene with combat troops in Africa or increase the size of their garrison in Angola;

—gradually free a significant number of Cuban political prisoners.

Larger U.S. Steps

Total lifting of the embargo. (This would require providing for the phased re-entry of Cuban sugar into the U.S. market in agreement with other countries which replaced Cuba as sugar suppliers in 1961. We cannot be more specific as to how this might be worked out until our own sugar policy takes a definite direction, as it should in the wake of an international sugar agreement and Congressional action.)

IV. Options

Given our objectives and the potential deadlock described above with respect to measured and reciprocal steps, three broad policy options seem available:

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Option One: Continue the step-by-step approach

This option is essentially unstructured. It presumes that the steps we have already taken (e.g. ending travel restrictions, halting overflights and signing the fisheries agreement) are all we should do without a further gesture from the Cubans, but does not preclude individual steps taken by either side without prior agreement.

We would open our Interests Section as planned and instruct it to continue to press for the release of U.S. political prisoners, the repatriation of U.S. citizens along with their Cuban families, and for expanded visitation rights for divided Cuban families.

To further improve the climate, we would also increase technical cooperation with Cuba on law-enforcement matters, and encourage sports, cultural and scientific/technical exchanges. Should they make some gestures such as release of U.S. prisoners and repatriation of U.S. citizens, we would assess their meaningfulness and respond with appropriate intermediate actions of our own.


—would correspond to position apparently favored by a majority in Congress and among our public;

—would enable positive developments, such as a high-profile baseball match, to gradually improve the public atmosphere;

—would give Cuba more time to make necessary adjustments in its internal and external policies.


—could lead to a loss of momentum;

—would postpone directly addressing the compensation issue without which no substantial improvement in U.S.-Cuban relations can occur.

—the Cubans may no longer be interested in steps short of lifting the embargo in full.

Option Two: Take the initiative in exploring limited package deals.

Both variants of this option would be aimed at breaking the potential deadlock represented by Cuban insistence on ending the embargo. We would go to the Cubans and offer to think through with them a sequence of actions leading to either (A) partial or (B) full lifting of the embargo in return for an agreed series of Cuban quid pro quo.

Variant A—Under Variant A we would offer to restore scheduled transportation links with Cuba and to lift the embargo on the shipment of foods and medicines to Cuba while permitting shipments of specified amounts of certain Cuban products to the U.S. (see U.S. Steps listed [Page 48] under Section III). In return, we would expect the Cubans a) to release U.S. political prisoners, b) to repatriate U.S. citizens with their Cuban families, and c) to allow increasing visits of divided Cuban families.7

Variant B—Under variant B, we would go directly to a full lifting of the embargo. We would indicate to the Cubans that we would be prepared to lift it, provided they: a) publicly agree in principle to negotiate a just settlement of the claims issue; b) release U.S. political prisoners; c) repatriate U.S. citizens along with their Cuban families; and d) agree to show restraint in Latin America and Africa (we would point out to them that we would consider any new and dramatic activity on their part in the wake of the lifting of the embargo to be in bad faith).

Either variant would permit us to achieve some objectives—and the Cubans some of theirs. Several significant issues would remain for subsequent treatment. Cuba would still wish to discuss U.S. Government facilitation of trade with Cuba, the future of Guantanamo and possibly other issues. We, on the other hand, would still wish to address the issues of Cuba’s nuclear policy and its military relationship with the Soviet Union.


—would break the ice further and facilitate substantive discussion of differences;

—bring about more rapid rapprochement with Cuba; demonstrate our willingness to accept ideological diversity in the Caribbean and contribute to reduction in U.S.-Soviet tensions;

—might facilitate earlier solution of human rights questions involving American citizens.


—would appear to be running after the Cubans, thus giving them the false impression that we have more to gain than they from the process;

—would not give us an opportunity to test the seriousness of Cuban purpose or to see how already agreed upon arrangements (e.g. the interests sections) work out before moving on to even larger undertakings;

—might appear to go against the expressed sense of Congress;

—Cuba may find it difficult to screen substantial numbers of exiles and immigrants for increased visits.

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Option Three: A Comprehensive Settlement

This option envisages attempting to settle all outstanding problems at once. On our side, we would lift the embargo, discuss facilitation of two-way trade and the future status of Guantanamo. In return, we would want a Cuban undertaking a) to reach a just compensation settlement; b) show restraint in Latin America and Africa; c) release U.S. prisoners; d) repatriate U.S. citizens along with their Cuban families; e) stop agitation in the UN regarding Puerto Rico; f) free a significant number of Cuban political prisoners; g) become a party of the Treaty of Tlatelolco and the NPT; and, finally, h) begin to reduce Soviet military presence in Cuba.

These steps would culminate in the resumption of diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level.


—would strengthen the fabric of detente and at the same time challenge Moscow and Havana to put their relationship to this test;

—would be well-received by the international community.


—is out-of-phase with U.S. public and Congressional opinion, which prefers a quid-pro-quo approach;

—runs contrary to our estimates as to what Castro is prepared to undertake—moves too fast and does not permit gradual adjustment of Cuban internal situation to early normalization;

—could interfere with Senate acceptance of the Panama Canal Treaty.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Anthony Lake Working Papers, Lot 82D298, TL Sensitive 7/1–9/20/77. Secret; Nodis. An attached August 1 note from Stedman and Lake to Christopher asks approval to send the paper to Brzezinski ahead of the August 3 PRC meeting. Also attached is a draft memorandum to Brzezinski, which indicates that the paper was discussed at a July 29 Interagency Group meeting by representatives from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Central Intelligence Agency, and the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, and Commerce. Christopher did not check any of the action items, but the paper was discussed at the PRC meeting. See Document 19.
  2. See Document 9.
  3. See footnote 6, Document 15.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 9.
  5. See Document 15.
  6. Throughout this paper lifting the embargo refers only to non-strategic goods and technology (and relevant Treasury controls). See Annex A. [Footnote is in the original. Annexes A–D are attached but not printed.]
  7. In the margin, an unknown hand wrote, “claims.