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October 27, 1962

Cable, Ambassador Dobrynin to the Soviet Foreign Ministry, Meeting with Robert Kennedy

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 Late tonight R. Kennedy invited me to come see him. We talked alone.


The Cuban crisis, R. Kennedy began, continues to quickly worsen.  We have just received a report that an unarmed American plane was shot down while carrying out a reconnaissance flight over Cuba.  The military is demanding that the President arm such planes and respond to fire with fire.  The USA government will have to do this.


I interrupted R. Kennedy and asked him, what right American planes had to fly over Cuba at all, crudely violating its sovereignty and accepted international norms?  How would the USA have reacted if foreign planes appeared over its territory?


“We have a resolution of the Organization of American states that gives us the right to such overflights,” R. Kennedy quickly replied.


I told him that the Soviet Union, like all peace-loving countries, resolutely rejects such a “right” or, to be more exact, this kind of true lawlessness, when people who don’t like the social-political situation in a country try to impose their will on it—a small state where the people themselves established and maintained [their system].  “The OAS resolution is a direct violation of the UN Charter,” I added, “and you, as the Attorney General of the USA, the highest American legal entity, should certainly know that.”


R. Kennedy said that he realized that we had different approaches to these problems and it was not likely that we could convince each other.  But now the matter is not in these differences, since time is of the essence.  “I want,” R. Kennedy stressed, “to lay out the current alarming situation the way the president sees it.  He wants N.S. Khrushchev to know this.  This is the thrust of the situation now.”


“Because of the plane that was shot down, there is now strong pressure on the president to give an order to respond with fire if fired upon when American reconnaissance planes are flying over Cuba.  The USA can’t stop these flights, because this is the only way we can quickly get information about the state of construction of the missile bases in Cuba, which we believe pose a very serious threat to our national security.  But if we start to fire in response—a chain reaction will quickly start that will be very hard to stop.  The same thing in regard to the essence of the issue of the missile bases in Cuba.  The USA government is determined to get rid of those bases—up to, in the extreme case, of bombing them, since, I repeat, they pose a great threat to the security of the USA.  But in response to the bombing of these bases, in the course of which Soviet specialists might suffer, the Soviet government will undoubtedly respond with the same against us, somewhere in Europe.  A real war will begin, in which millions of Americans and Russians will die.  We want to avoid that any way we can, I’m sure that the government of the USSR has the same wish.  However, taking time to find a way out [of the situation] is very risky (here R. Kennedy mentioned as if in passing that there are many unreasonable heads among the generals, and not only among the generals, who are ‘itching for a fight’).  The situation might get out of control, with irreversible consequences.”


“In this regard,” R. Kennedy said, “the president considers that a suitable basis for regulating the entire Cuban conflict might be the letter N.S. Khrushchev sent on October 26 and the letter in response from the President, which was sent off today to N.S. Khrushchev through the US Embassy in Moscow.  The most important thing for us,” R. Kennedy stressed, “is to get as soon as possible the agreement of the Soviet government to halt further work on the construction of the missile bases in Cuba and take measures under international control that would make it impossible to use these weapons.  In exchange the government of the USA is ready, in addition to repealing all measures on the “quarantine,” to give the assurances that there will not be any invasion of Cuba and that other countries of the Western Hemisphere are ready to give the same assurances—the US government is certain of this.”


“And what about Turkey?” I asked R. Kennedy.


“If that is the only obstacle to achieving the regulation I mentioned earlier, then the president doesn’t see any unsurmountable difficulties in resolving this issue,” replied R. Kennedy.  “The greatest difficulty for the president is the public discussion of the issue of Turkey.  Formally the deployment of missile bases in Turkey was done by a special decision of the NATO Council.  To announce now a unilateral decision by the president of the USA to withdraw missile bases from Turkey—this would damage the entire structure of NATO and the US position as the leader of NATO, where, as the Soviet government knows very well, there are many arguments.  In short, if such a decision were announced now it would seriously tear apart NATO.”


“However, President Kennedy is ready to come to agree on that question with N.S. Khrushchev, too.  I think that in order to withdraw these bases from Turkey,” R. Kennedy said, “we need 4-5 months.  This is the minimal amount of time necessary for the US government to do this, taking into account the procedures that exist within the NATO framework.  On the whole Turkey issue,” R. Kennedy added, “if Premier N.S. Khrushchev agrees with what I’ve said, we can continue to exchange opinions between him and the president, using him, R. Kennedy and the Soviet ambassador. “However, the president can’t say anything public in this regard about Turkey,” R. Kennedy said again.  R. Kennedy then warned that his comments about Turkey are extremely confidential; besides him and his brother, only 2-3 people know about it in Washington.


“That’s all that he asked me to pass on to N.S. Khrushchev,” R. Kennedy said in conclusion.  “The president also asked N.S. Khrushchev to give him an answer (through the Soviet ambassador and R. Kennedy) if possible within the next day (Sunday) on these thoughts in order to have a business-like, clear answer in principle.  [He asked him] not to get into a wordy discussion, which might drag things out.  The current serious situation, unfortunately, is such that there is very little time to resolve this whole issue.  Unfortunately, events are developing too quickly.  The request for a reply tomorrow,” stressed R. Kennedy, “is just that—a request, and not an ultimatum.  The president hopes that the head of the Soviet government will understand him correctly.”


I noted that it went without saying that the Soviet government would not accept any ultimatums and it was good that the American government realized that.  I also reminded him of N.S. Khrushchev’s appeal in his last letter to the president to demonstrate state wisdom in resolving this question.  Then I told R. Kennedy that the president’s thoughts would be brought to the attention of the head of the Soviet government.  I also said that I would contact him as soon as there was a reply.  In this regard, R. Kennedy gave me a number of a direct telephone line to the White House.


In the course of the conversation, R. Kennedy noted that he knew about the conversation that television commentator Scali had yesterday with an Embassy adviser on possible ways to regulate the Cuban conflict [one-and-a-half lines whited out]


I should say that during our meeting R. Kennedy was very upset; in any case, I’ve never seen him like this before.  True, about twice he tried to return to the topic of “deception,” (that he talked about so persistently during our previous meeting), but he did so in passing and without any edge to it.  He didn’t even try to get into fights on various subjects, as he usually does, and only persistently returned to one topic: time is of the essence and we shouldn’t miss the chance.

After meeting with me he immediately went to see the president, with whom, as R. Kennedy said, he spends almost all his time now.




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Russian Foreign Ministry archives, translation from copy provided by NHK, in Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein, "We All Lost the Cold War" (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), appendix, pp. 523-526, with minor revisions.


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