85. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Mission to Cuba

As per their discussion with you, Tarnoff and Pastor will travel to Havana on Wednesday and Thursday for talks with Castro in response to his personal request.2 The central purposes of the journey are to listen; to ask questions designed to better understand his views on a range of different issues, including Afghanistan and Iran; to convey our great concern about Cuban subversion in Central America and the Caribbean, troops in Africa, support of extremist groups in Puerto Rico;3 and to suggest that we are prepared to consider a new relationship if he is prepared to move toward meeting our concerns. In addition, they will convey your comments and personal concerns about the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan.4

US Objectives

Although the objectives below will probably be impossible to achieve at this meeting, Tarnoff/Pastor should try to obtain the following:

1. Afghanistan. To explore his views of the invasion and to try to detect whether there is any change in Castro’s perception of Cuba’s relations with the USSR. To point out to Castro that Cuba’s statements in support of the Soviet invasion would make progress toward normalization of relations with the US politically difficult for us.

2. Iran. To ask Castro to press publicly and privately for the unconditional release of the hostages and to use his influence with the Soviets to try to get them to modify their position on sanctions against Iran.5

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3. Central America and the Caribbean. To seek the cessation of: (a) Cuban support (arms, aid, political direction) for groups which are intent on overthrowing or subverting the established governments in the region (particularly El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala); (b) Cuban encouragement of the use of political violence and intimidation to undercut or suppress democratic institutions (particularly in Jamaica and Grenada); (c) Cuban assistance in building up the Grenadan armed forces to a point clearly in excess of the island’s legitimate security needs and to the point where it constitutes a threat to neighboring islands; and (d) Cuban facilitation of contacts between extremist groups from different countries (and government officials from Nicaragua and Grenada). In discussing Central America and the Caribbean, we should convey our deep concern that Cuba’s support for guerrilla groups could put us on a collision course with serious consequences that we would prefer to avoid.

4. Puerto Rico. To cease the support of extremist groups that practice or have committed acts of violence in Puerto Rico; to adopt a more moderate course on Puerto Rico in the UN, respecting the right of the people of Puerto Rico to determine their future.6

5. Cuban Combat Troops Abroad. To seek the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and Ethiopia and to seek a commitment against introducing or expanding their presence elsewhere (e.g., Yemen, Afghanistan). To suggest that Cuba’s continued military presence in Ethiopia may be a factor leading Somalia toward a closer relationship with the US and a factor leading us to be more receptive to Somalia’s defense needs.7 In addition, with respect to Angola to suggest that the Cubans may want to use their influence to urge the MPLA to pursue an accommodation with UNITA.

6. Soviet Brigade in Cuba. To question the continued need for a Soviet combat brigade in Cuba and to explore whether the Cubans could under certain circumstances request its withdrawal.8

Cuban Objectives—US Response

The principal objective of the mission is to listen to Castro and report back. However, if there is any significant movement on the part of the Cubans toward US objectives, or if Castro asks what the US would be prepared to do in response, Tarnoff/Pastor will indicate a general willingness on our part of the US to make some movement on the issue of greatest concern to Cuba (e.g., embargo), without indicating [Page 189] what we would do precisely. (Our preference would be to disaggregate, to take small steps, like trade on films, medicines, etc., before lifting the overall embargo.)

Given the serious internal problems in Cuba, it is conceivable that Castro may ask us to accept another 10–20,000 ex-political prisoners. If he does so, Tarnoff/Pastor would refer the issue to Washington but indicate reservations to Castro given the numbers of Indochinese refugees that the US is now admitting in the wake of the Vietnamese occupation of Kampuchea and repressive internal policies in Vietnam.9


Paper Prepared by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Tarnoff)10



After receiving word of the invitation for me and others to come to Havana, the issue was immediately reviewed at the highest levels of the USG. On Thursday afternoon, Bob and I met with President Carter who decided that we should go to Havana. The President asked me to tell you the following:11

—The President considers the opportunity for us to have this meeting an important one. He received Bob and me to underline his personal interest in this meeting, and to give us our instructions. President Carter also told us that he will listen to our report of this conversation with interest after our return to Washington.

—The President has from the beginning of his term been favorable to an improvement of relations between the US and Cuba. The President wants our nations to live in peace together, and he would like to be able to lift the embargo, allowing trade and tourism and other contacts to develop normally between our countries.

—The President is interested primarily in receiving a report of your views on the important and critical international issues that affect [Page 190] both of our countries. He stressed to me that we should go to Havana with neither threats nor inducements. Mainly to listen.

—The President is very preoccupied with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which he regards as a threat to international peace. The US and most of the international community regard this violation of the sovereignty of a nation member of the Non-Aligned Movement as abhorrent. The US has no problems with the notion of Cuba being truly non-aligned and neutral, but the closeness of Cuban and Soviet positions on virtually all major international issues has been of concern to us. Speaking with our usual frankness, this closeness seems to have been a factor in the erosion of non-aligned support for Cuba’s bid for a UN Security Council seat in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.12

—In an area where Cuba is directly involved, Central America and the Caribbean, we are deeply concerned about Cuban efforts to assist groups working to overthrow established governments by force or undermine democratic institutions.

On the subjects that we have proposed to discuss, Afghanistan and then Iran are our major concerns. However, we would also be most interested in your views on developments in areas that we have talked about before: Africa and Puerto Rico. We would also be prepared to discuss issues such as the Soviet brigade in Cuba and the positions adopted by Cuba at the NAM summit in Havana last summer.


President Carter also wanted President Castro to understand the depth of feeling that exists in the US and the tenacity of sentiment on the Soviet invasion issue. We will have to consider seriously withdrawing from the Olympics, as well as other actions, if in coming weeks the Soviet troops continue to occupy Afghanistan.13

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Subject Chron File, Box 60, Alpha Channel—Cuba, 7/79–9/80. Secret; Sensitive. A handwritten notation by Carter at the top of the page reads, “Zbig, give cc Bob & Mike.”
  2. Pastor and Tarnoff visited Cuba from January 16 to January 17.
  3. Carter underlined this sentence beginning with “convey” to this point and wrote “emphasize” in the margin.
  4. The Soviet Union began military operations against Afghanistan December 25–26, 1978.
  5. In this paragraph, Carter underlined “privately” and wrote in the margin, “privately may help.” He also underlined from “use his influence” to the end and wrote in the margin, “fruitless—no.”
  6. Carter underlined this sentence beginning with “respecting.”
  7. Carter underlined and highlighted this sentence and wrote in the margin, “may be counterproductive.”
  8. Carter bracketed and crossed out the phrase, “under certain circumstances.”
  9. Carter wrote in the margin by this paragraph, “oppose more firmly.”
  10. Secret; Sensitive. The paper is apparently talking points for Tarnoff and Pastor’s meeting with Castro.
  11. Carter wrote in the margin by this paragraph, “this exceeds my level of interest.”
  12. Mexico was elected to the Security Council. See Document 169.
  13. Carter wrote below this sentence, “Would Cuba support move of Olympics?”