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Kennedy Sought Dialogue with Cuba

INITIATIVE WITH CASTRO ABORTED BY ASSASSINATION,
DECLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS SHOW

Oval Office Tape Reveals Strategy to hold clandestine Meeting in Havana; Documents record role of ABC News correspondent Lisa Howard as secret intermediary in Rapprochement effort

Posted - November 24, 2003


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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 approach…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, Cigar 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 press.
  • 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.

 

Key Figures in the Dialogue

William Attwood

Gordon Chase

Lisa Howard

Carlos Lechuga

 

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