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


  • Cuba Policy—PRC Meeting

Attached at Tab A is the discussion paper on Cuba for the PRC meeting tomorrow, at Tab B is a Table which groups the issues on the U.S.-Cuban agenda according to likelihood and ease of resolution, and at Tab C, a draft Presidential Directive.2 State, Defense, Treasury, and Commerce are all basically supportive of an Administration position to improve relations with Cuba. Commerce is especially enthusiastic over the prospect of new trade with Cuba.

The alternative negotiating strategies are not defined very sharply for the simple reason that State essentially wants its current efforts ratified by the PRC so that it can go forward and probe the Cuban positions on a more official basis. I think, however, that it would be a [Page 15] mistake to merely ratify the drift of current policy without giving it more direction and coherence than it has had, or the attached paper recommends.

1. Discussion of Current Policy

Few areas have been subject to so much foreign policymaking in this first month as U.S. policy toward Cuba. On January 31, Secretary Vance said he would not set any preconditions on discussions with Cuba.3 The President on February 16, said that several Cuban actions, including improvement in the status of human rights and withdrawal of its military forces from Angola, were necessary before “normalization” could occur.4 On March 4, the Secretary of State said, and on the next day the President concurred, that full normalization would require the conditions mentioned by the President, but direct discussions could begin without preconditions.5

Besides these statements of interest, there have been several decisions. In response to a note from the Cuban Government dated January 24,6 the Department of State on February 17 sent a note to the Cuban Foreign Minister stating that the United States Government was “prepared to discuss . . . at an early date, issues arising from the entry into force of the fishery conservation zone on March 1, 1977.” (On March 4, the Secretary announced this at a press conference.)7 All that remains is to set the time and place for discussions. On March 1, the Secretary of State decided to allow the travel restrictions, which technically bar travel to Cuba to expire on March 18.8 The Secretary also approved travel to Cuba by a group of South Dakota basketball players, and Philip Habib informed Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn that he could organize an exchange of baseball teams.9

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On March 5, in answer to a question by a Yankee baseball fan, eager to see his team play the Cubans in Havana, President Carter suggestively called it “a possibility.”10

The apparent purpose of the hints, statements, and decisions made by Secretary Vance and the President was to try to create the atmosphere and the conditions which would make a movement toward normalization of relations possible. In my opinion, the ad hoc and almost random character of the statements were useful in getting things moving, but unless future decisions are better coordinated and made a part of a deliberate policy, we may lose control of the process. Indeed, we may have already.

Fundamentally, the question which Secretary Vance has set for himself is how to get the process moving. But that is the easy question. The more difficult and important one—and the one which is overlooked by the attached paper—is not how to start the process, but rather how to manage it and keep it from getting stuck. How can we take control of the direction and the pace of the process so that it can advance our interests?

2. Objectives

What is it that we hope to get out of negotiations? Our long-term interests in normalizing relations are listed on page 1 of the attached study:

—To lessen Cuban dependence on the USSR;

—To provide incentives to Cuba to cease its foreign interventions;

—To demonstrate to the Third World our willingness to tolerate regimes of different ideological or political philosophies;

—To improve the human rights situation in Cuba; and

—To obtain compensation for expropriated property.

In turn, Cuba wants the U.S.:

—To lift the embargo;

—To curb terrorist activities by Cuban exiles;

—To return Guantanamo; and

—To recognize its sovereign rights and implicitly accept its revolution by establishing diplomatic relations.

Both countries have a mutual interest in gaining agreements on fisheries and on hijacking, and both countries want the process to lead to the establishment of diplomatic and trade relations.

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3. Negotiating Strategies

The question is how do we get from here to there, particularly when the U.S. has a vocal and violence-prone Cuban community intensely committed to a policy of extreme hostility to Castro.

The paper suggests two options:

(1) A step-by-step strategy which would rely on gradual and reciprocal gestures.

(2) Or a comprehensive approach whereby the U.S. would quickly lift the embargo and establish diplomatic relations in exchange for release of American political prisoners, some withdrawal from Africa, and a claims settlement.

I think the difficulty with the first option is that after the easy reciprocal gestures are made, the negotiations might well bog down. The second option offers more promise provided that we do not rush into lifting the embargo or establishing diplomatic relations until our interests are clearly met.

My own preference is for an option which combines elements of both. Like the second, it will involve a package of reciprocal actions, but like the first, the actions will be taken by gradual, appropriate, and reciprocal steps. With the possible exceptions of the fisheries and hijacking agreements, which have fixed deadlines, no step would be taken until the entire package was negotiated.

It is necessary, however, to distinguish between three kinds of issues and actions (see Tab B).

(1) Those gestures which both sides can do relatively easily, provided the process is reciprocal;

(2) Those issues and questions which are slightly more difficult, but are negotiable; and

(3) Those issues and actions, like compensation and total withdrawal from Angola, which are not likely to be resolved to our satisfaction in the next few years, if ever.

Our goal should be to establish diplomatic relations and lift the total embargo after completing the negotiations on the second group of issues (while, of course, trying to get the third group decided at the same time). Negotiations on the third group can be continued after relations are established.

We should, however, be careful not to give away easy and friendly gestures—whether that be lifting travel restrictions, exchanging sports teams, or issuing a Presidential statement condemning terrorism—until we can be assured that there will be appropriate and reciprocal gestures by Cuba. It is possible that we may already have expended all the easy gestures (travel restrictions, sports), but since no public announcement [Page 18] has been made on these issues, we might want to postpone their announcement until we have had some exploratory talks with the Cubans.

We should also be very sensitive to the psychological problems and perspective which the Cubans will bring to the negotiating table. Castro is typical of all Cubans in his feeling that Cuba only became truly independent after the 1959 Revolution, and as Ben Bradlee suggested in his article in the Sunday Post, the one thing that will preclude any progress in normalizing relations is to have the U.S. Government lecture him publicly on an issue (e.g., human rights), which Castro believes is in the realm of Cuba’s newly-won decision domain.11 Castro is much more likely to make gestures on human rights issues, if we do not say anything, but instead make appropriate gestures ourselves.

Thus, I believe our negotiations should address three groups of issues in two stages. In the first stage, we should negotiate the timing and kind of reciprocal gestures; but to the extent possible, we should not begin those steps until the package of reciprocal actions on the second group of issues is agreed to. The second stage of negotiations would begin with the formal establishment of diplomatic relations and would address the third and most difficult group of issues.

The PRC, however, does not need to rigidly agree to a negotiating strategy at this time, but the strategy I have outlined here will at least permit us to approach the exploratory talks with a better sense of what we want to get out of them, and how to conserve valuable political capital until we can use it in the best way to achieve our objectives.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron File, Box 7, Cuba, 2–5/77. Secret. Sent for information. A copy was sent to Aaron.
  2. Tabs are attached but not printed.
  3. See the Department of State Bulletin, February 21, 1977, p. 143.
  4. See Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book 1, pp. 172–173.
  5. See the Department of State Bulletin, March 28, 1977, p. 282, and Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 293–294.
  6. See Document 1.
  7. See the Department of State Bulletin, March 28, 1977, p. 282. The note was delivered through the Swiss Embassy in Havana. (Secto 2049 from Vance in Amman, February 19; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840072–2682)
  8. See the Department of State Bulletin, April 11, 1977, p. 346.
  9. On February 23, Habib wrote a memorandum for the files, which indicated that he had been contacted by Kuhn, who reported that Fabio Ruiz, Director of the Cuban Sports Directorate, was interested in having the New York Yankees travel to Cuba. (Department of State, Records of Philip C. Habib, 1976–1978, Lot 81D5, Box 3, PCH—Correspondence—Official, January, 1977–June, 1977) On March 21, Todman wrote to Vance and reported that the Cubans had called off the match. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P770049–1372)
  10. See Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 293–294.
  11. See Benjamin C. Bradlee, “Don’t Talk to Castro About Human Rights,” The Washington Post, March 6, p. 33.