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Back Channel to Cuba


New Revelations

National Security Archive News Alert

Edited by Peter Kornbluh

Posted - August 13, 2015

For more information, contact:
Peter Kornbluh: 202/374-7281 or peter.kornbluh@gmail.com



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Washington D.C., August 13, 2015 – On the eve of Secretary of State John Kerry’s historic trip to Havana tomorrow to raise the American flag over the newly reopened U.S. Embassy, the National Security Archive today distributed a ground-breaking article revealing key details of the behind-the-scenes political operations and secret negotiations that have led to the normalization of diplomatic relations.

The article appears in the September issue of Mother Jones magazine and was written by Archive analyst Peter Kornbluh and American University Professor William M. LeoGrande. The article is adapted from the revised edition of their book, Back Channel To Cuba: the Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana, to be published by the University of North Carolina Press in October 2015.

Among the new revelations:

  • Prior to the ultra-sensitive talks conducted by the Obama White House to restore normal diplomatic relations, two of Hillary Clinton’s top aides conducted a two-year secret dialogue with Cuban Foreign Ministry officials focused on exchanging imprisoned U.S. citizen Alan Gross for the “Cuban Five” spies who were serving lengthy jail sentences in the United States.
  • The secret talks between White House officials and Cuban negotiators close to Raul Castro came to an impasse in June 2014 over the administration’s demand that, in addition to Gross, Cuba release a CIA asset who had passed intelligence to the U.S. in the 1990s that led to the arrest of the Cuban Five spy network.
  • The White House arranged a secret Rose Garden meeting between President Obama and the cardinal of Cuba, Jaime Ortega, who delivered a personal letter offering to assist on talks with Cuba from Pope Francis into the hands of the president.
  • When President Obama met with Pope Francis in March 2014 at the Vatican, the focus of their meeting was on Cuba policy and the role the pope could play as an interlocutor during the secret negotiations.
  • Prior to the Vatican meeting, Senator Patrick Leahy and key members of the policy/advocacy community enlisted several cardinals — including Cardinal O’Malley of Boston, and Washington’s Cardinal Theodore McCarrick — to brief Pope Francis on the need to help Obama change U.S. policy toward Cuba.
  • Senator Leahy’s office was also instrumental in putting together a legal briefing paper for President Obama identifying options for a prisoner exchange that would gain freedom for Alan Gross, and open the door to normalizing relations with Cuba.

“The United States and Cuba have opened a new era of relations,” according to Kornbluh. “The story of the Obama administration’s secret diplomacy and behind-the-scenes political efforts is crucial to appreciating how Washington and Havana have overcome years of hostility and aggression to normalize diplomatic ties.”

The story, “Cuba Confidential,” has been posted on the Mother Jones website: