Washington D.C. - On the 40th anniversary of the assassination
of John F. Kennedy, and the eve of the broadcast of a new documentary
film on Kennedy and Castro, the National Security Archive today
posted an audio tape of the President
and his national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, discussing
the possibility of a secret meeting in Havana with Castro. The
tape, dated only seventeen days before Kennedy was shot in Dallas,
records a briefing from Bundy on Castro's invitation to a U.S.
official at the United Nations, William Attwood, to come to
Havana for secret talks on improving relations with Washington.
The tape captures President Kennedy's approval if official U.S.
involvement could be plausibly denied.
The possibility of a meeting in Havana evolved from a shift in
the President's thinking on the possibility of what declassified
White House records called "an accommodation with Castro"
in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Proposals from Bundy's
office in the spring of 1963 called for pursuing "the sweet
enticing Castro over to us," as a potentially
more successful policy than CIA covert efforts to overthrow his
regime. Top Secret White House memos record Kennedy's position
that "we should start thinking along more flexible lines"
and that "the president, himself, is very interested in [the
prospect for negotiations]." Castro, too, appeared interested.
In a May 1963 ABC News special on Cuba, Castro told correspondent
Lisa Howard that he considered a rapprochement with Washington
"possible if the United States government wishes it. In that
case," he said, "we would be agreed to seek and find
a basis" for improved relations.
The untold story of the Kennedy-Castro effort to seek an accommodation
is the subject of a new documentary film, KENNEDY
AND CASTRO: THE SECRET HISTORY, broadcast on the Discovery/Times
cable channel on November 25 at 8pm. The documentary film, which
focuses on Ms. Howard's role as a secret intermediary in the effort
toward dialogue, was based on an article -- "JFK
and Castro: The Secret Quest for Accommodation" --
written by Archive Senior Analyst Peter Kornbluh in the magazine,
Aficionado. Kornbluh served as consulting producer
and provided key declassified documents that are highlighted in
the film. "The documents show that JFK clearly wanted to
change the framework of hostile U.S. relations with Cuba,"
according to Kornbluh. "His assassination, at the very moment
this initiative was coming to fruition, leaves a major 'what if'
in the ensuing history of the U.S. conflict with Cuba."
Among the key documents relevant to this history:
- Oval Office audio tape,
November 5, 1963. The tape records a conversation between
the President and McGeorge Bundy regarding Castro's invitation
to William Attwood, a deputy to UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson,
to come to Cuba for secret talks. The President responds that
Attwood should be taken off the U.S. payroll prior to such a
meeting so that the White House can plausibly deny that any
official talks have taken place if the meeting leaks to the
- U.S. UN Mission memorandum,
Secret, Chronology of events leading up Castro invitation to
receive a U.S. official for talks in Cuba, November 8, 22, 1963.
This chronology was written by William Attwood and records the
evolution of the initiative set in motion by Lisa Howard for
a dialogue with Cuba. The document describes the party at Howard's
Manhattan apartment on September 23, 1963, where Attwood met
with Cuban UN Ambassador Carlos Lechuga to discuss the potential
for formal talks to improve relations. In an addendum, Attwood
adds information on communications, using the Howard home as
a base, leading up to the day the President was shot in Dallas.
- White House memorandum,
Secret, November 12, 1963. McGeorge Bundy reports to
William Attwood on Kennedy's opinion of the viability of a secret
meeting with Havana. The president prefers that the meeting
take place in New York at the UN where it will be less likely
to be leaked to the press.
United Nations memorandum, Top Secret,
from Adlai Stevenson to President Johnson, June 16, 1964.
Stevenson sends the "verbal message" given to Lisa
Howard to Johnson with a cover memo briefing him on the dialogue
started under Kennedy and suggesting consideration of resumption
of talks "on a low enough level to avoid any possible
- White House memorandum, Top Secret,
"Adlai Stevenson and Lisa Howard," July 7, 1964.
Gordon Chase reports to Bundy on his concerns that Howard's
role as an intermediary has now escalated through her contact
with Stevenson at the United Nations and the fact that a message
has been sent back through her to Castro from the White House.
Chase recommends trying "to remove Lisa from direct participation
in the business of passing messages," and using Cuban Ambassador
to the UN, Carlos Lechuga, instead.
Figures in the Dialogue