Memorandum from Gordon Chase of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy.
On the day of John Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, William Attwood records the developments that had taken place during the final days of the Kennedy presidency regarding the attempts to hold private discussions with Cuban officials. What might be called the Attwood initiative raises the question whether relations between Washington and Havana would have improved had JFK not been assassinated.
November 25, 1963
SUBJECT: Cuba – Bill Attwood
1. Attached is an unsolicited chronology from Bill Attwood which describes the activities of the Cuba-Attwood tie-line from November 11 to the present. Apparently, the memo was dispatched on November 22, but because of the recent events [1. Namely, the assassination of JFK in Dallas on November 22] did not reach us until today.
Memorandum From William Attwood to Gordon Chase of the National Security Council Staff
New York, November 22, 1963.
Following is an addition to my memorandum to you dated November 8, 1963 [2. See Document 20 of “The Kennedys and Cuba” (p. 342)
On November 11, Vallejo called Miss Howard again to reiterate their appreciation of the need for security and to say that Castro would go along with any arrangements we might want to make. He specifically suggested that a Cuban plane could come to Key West and pick up the emissary; alternatively they would agree to have him come in a U.S. plane which could land at one of several ‘secret’ airfields near Havana. He emphasized that only Castro and himself would be present at the talks and that no one else – he specifically mentioned Guevara – would be involved. Vallejo also reiterated Castro’s desire for this talk and hoped to hear our answer soon.
On November 12, Bundy called me and I reported Vellejo’s message. He said this did not affect the White House decision that a preliminary talk with Vallejo at the United Nations should be held in order to find out what Castro wanted to talk about – particularly if he was seriously interested in discussing the points cited in Stevenson’s October 7 speech. [“If Castro wanted peaceful relations with his neighbors, Stevenson had asserted, he needed to cut ties with Moscow, end his subversive activities in Latin America, and provide basic Constitutional rights for his people.].
Bundy suggested I transmit our decision to Vellejo, stressing the fact that, since we are responding to their invitation and are not soliciting a meeting, we would like to know more about what is on Castro’s mind before committing ourselves to further talks in Cuba.
On November 13, I went to Miss Howard’s apartment and called Vallejo at home. There was no answer. She then sent a telegram asking that he call her at his convenience.
On November 14, Vallejo called her. She gave him my message – that we would want to talk to him here at the United Nations before accepting an invitation to go to Cuba. She said that, if he wished to confirm our discussion this further with the U.S. official, he could call him (Vallejo) at home on the evening of November 18. Vallejo said he would be there to receive the call. Meanwhile, he did not exclude the possibility of his coming to the United Nations and said he would discuss it with Castro.
On November 18, Miss Howard reached Vallejo at home and passed the phone to me. I told him Miss Howard had kept me informed of her talks with him and that I assumed he knew of our interest in hearing what Castro had in mind. Vallejo said he did, and reiterated the invitation to Cuba, stressing the fact that security could be guaranteed. I replied that we felt a preliminary meeting was essential to make sure there was something useful to talk about, and asked if he was able to come to New York. Vallejo said he could not come “at this time.” However, if that’s how we felt, he said that ‘we’ would send instructions to Lechuga to propose and discuss with me ‘an agenda’ for a later meeting with Castro. I said I would await Lechuga’s call. Vallejo’s manner was extremely cordial and he called me ‘Sir’ through the conversation.
On November 19, I called Chase, and reported the conversation.
[From “The Kennedys and Cuba” (Mark J. White, ed., Ivan Dee Pub., Chicago, 1999, p. 344]