38. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of Meeting


  • Secretary Haig
  • Secretary Weinberger
  • William P. Clark, Deputy Sec. of State
  • Frank Carlucci, Deputy Sec. of Defense
  • Dr. Fred Ikle, Under Secretary-Designate, Department of Defense
  • Robert C. McFarlane, Counselor
  • Richard Burt, Director, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs
  • Brig. General Carl Smith, Office of Secretary of Defense
  • Jay Rixse, Special Assistant, Office of the Secretary of Defense
[Page 127]

The breakfast began with discussion of a Cabinet Council meeting concerning East/West trade. Secretary Haig said that he would not attend the meeting, because no detailed agenda had been circulated.

[Omitted here is discussion concerning a Sinai peacekeeping force.]

Secretary Haig then asked Weinberger if he had seen recent intelligence reports about the shipment of Soviet guns and tanks to Nicaragua.2 Weinberger said that he wished the United States had the capability to blow up some of it. Secretary Haig agreed and, changing the subject, said that he was unhappy about the way Japanese auto import issues were being handled. He said that the two cabinet officials involved in the issue were doing too much talking with the press. Weinberger said that the problem, in part, stemmed from the new system of Cabinet Councils, which were being run by Ed Meese in the White House. Secretary Haig noted that nobody had elected Ed Meese and that he was not going to send anyone from the State Department to this morning’s Council meeting.

Secretary Haig then said that there was an “NSC” meeting every day in the form of the President’s security briefing. He said this was more than a briefing and that Allen, Meese, and Baker were using it to make policy. Secretary Haig said that he was going to have a “showdown” with the White House on lines of responsibility and over leaks which had come from the White House. Weinberger agreed that leaks were a problem and noted that in nearly every Evans/Novak article the third paragraph said what a “great guy” Dick Allen was.

Weinberger then asked what, if anything, the Administration should be telling the Russians. Secretary Haig said that it would be a mistake to talk with Dobrynin until the Administration had an action plan. Weinberger agreed, saying that Dobrynin was extremely clever and that he did not want to talk with him until the Administration had a policy.

Secretary Haig went further and said that the Administration needed a game plan for Cuba. Carlucci agreed that more work was necessary on Cuba. Haig asked whether the Administration was ready to do some “meaningful” things. Carlucci said there was little the Administration could do, because it possessed no economic leverage [less than 1 line not declassified], only military power. Haig agreed and added that a military response was probably necessary. Weinberger said that the Administration should consider a blockade of Cuba. Secretary Haig agreed, and said that the President had to consider this option. Carlucci added that the Administration’s covert action capability [less than 1 line not declassified]. Secretary Haig then sketched out a scenario:

[Page 128]

The Russians are distracted, he said, and the military balance in some respects was still favorable. He said that, if Reagan continued to conduct business as usual, the Administration would be “nibbled” to death. The President, he added, is going to be the “President or he isn’t.” Carlucci then asked whether Secretary Haig was suggesting a blockade of Cuba? Secretary Haig answered by saying that he wanted to consider a full range of actions, including air strikes. He said that in conversations with Dobrynin, he had concluded that the Russians were not prepared to defend Cuba against strong American action. Carlucci said that this sounded like an Soviet invitation to get tough with Cuba. Secretary Haig agreed and said the United States had to play “two balancing games”—dealing with Cuba and helping the Egyptians against Libya. Secretary Haig then said that Richard Pipe’s interview in the press had made the Administration’s task more difficult.3 It had created problems with General Zia in Pakistan and had also embarrassed FRG Foreign Minister Genscher.

Secretary Haig then said that he was going to raise this with the President, adding that either the President agreed to a disciplined sytem of decision-making or that he would retire to Connecticut.4 Carlucci then asked how Secretary Haig was going to approach Cuba, was he going to ask Bud McFarlane to produce a new paper?5 Secretary Haig said he would see the President and then get a small group working [Page 129] on the issue. Weinberger expressed doubts over whether the President would want to meet with Secretary Haig on the Cuban question.

[Omitted here is discussion concerning U.S.-Israeli relations.]

The meeting ended with no decision on the timing for next week’s session.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Files, Secretary Haig Memcons and Whitehead Briefing: Lot 87D327, Sec/Memcons—March 1981. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. The meeting took place at the Department of State. A portion of the memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. III, Soviet Union, January 1981–January 1983, Document 31.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. Reference is to a Reuters interview in which an unnamed official, later revealed to be Pipes, claimed that war with the Soviet Union would prove inevitable if the Soviet leaders refused to discard communism. Pipes also criticized Genscher as prone to conceding various issues in the face of Soviet pressure. Both the White House and the Department of State issued statements disavowing Pipes’s comments, and Haig also sent a personal message to Genscher on March 19 noting his outrage and asserting that Pipes did not speak for the administration. (“U.S. Repudiates a Hard-Line Aide,” March 19, 1981, p. A8; and John Vinocur, “Bonn Officials Pleased With U.S. Disavowal of Pipes,” March 20, 1981, p. A3; both New York Times)
  4. Haig met with the President in the Oval Office that afternoon from 5:13 until 5:40 p.m. (Reagan Library, President’s Daily Diary) A March 20 memorandum for the record provides a readout of the meeting: “In his effort to explain to the President the serious problems developing in foreign affairs management in this Administration, the Secretary had to raise the tone of his discussion. He said that the President seemed unaware of many of the difficulties but that he thought at the end of the meeting the President grasped how serious this was to the Secretary. The President agreed to see Secretary Haig every other day at a time to be arranged through Mr. Deaver. One specific point—the President expressed dismay at delays, reportedly at State, in getting ambassadors cleared.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Alexander Haig Papers, Department of State, Day File, Box CL 31, March 20, 1981) In his personal diary entry for March 19, Reagan indicated that Haig “told me he felt he was being undercut by other agencies etc. I worry that he has something of a complex about this. Anyway I’ve arranged that he & I meet privately 3 × a week.” (Brinkley, ed., The Reagan Diaries, vol. I, January 1981–October 1985, p. 27)
  5. Not further identified.