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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963
Volume XI, Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath, Document 196


196. Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President KennedySourceSource: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence (Cuba), Vol. II, 11/20/62-12/14/62. No classification marking. For Robert Kennedy's account of how this message was delivered by Dobrynin, see Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, p. 550.

I have studied attentively your considerations which were forwarded through our Ambassador in Washington in the evening of November 15.11. Document 181. I wish first of all to express satisfaction with regard to your statement that the United States is also interested in the achievement of a rapid progress in untying the Cuban knot. This is our great desire too. It is good that you have confirmed once again that the U.S. commitment to give assurance of non-invasion of Cuba, which was agreed upon in the exchange of messages on October 27 and 28 remains firm and clear. I fully share also the thought expressed by you about the necessity to act with caution, to take into consideration the position of others. Now when we speak of eliminating the remnants of the crisis this is as important as at any of its past stages.

I always believed and believe now that both of us are guided by the realization of the immense responsibility for the peaceful settlement of the crisis over Cuba being completed. The basis for such settlement already exists: the sides have achieved an agreement and have taken upon themselves certain obligations. It is precisely where we proceed from.

What have we agreed upon? In brief our agreement has come to the following.

The Soviet Union removes from Cuba rocket weapons which you called offensive and gives a possibility to ascertain this. The United States of America promptly removes the quarantine and gives assurances that there will be no invasion of Cuba, not only by the US but also by other countries of the Western Hemisphere. This is the essence of our agreement.

Later on you raised the question of removal of IL-28 planes from Cuba. I think you could not feel the precariousness of that request. Now, of course, there may appear those who would wish to rummage in the wordings and to interpret them in different ways. But you and we do know well what kind of weapons they were that set the forest on fire, they were missiles. It was not accidental, indeed, that in our and your message of October 27 and 28 there was not a single mention of bomber planes and specifically of IL-28's. At the same time those messages have direct reference to rocket weapons.

By the way, you yourself refer not to direct obligations of the sides but to the understanding implied by the American side in the expression “offensive weapons” mentioned in the messages and in this connection you recall your TV address of October 22 and your proclamation of October 23.22. For texts, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States:John F. Kennedy, 1962, pp. 806-811. But you will agree, Mr. President, that messages that fix the subject of agreement and unilateral statements of the US Government are two different things indeed.

I informed you that the IL-28 planes are twelve years old and by their combat characteristics they at present cannot be classified as offensive types of weapons. In spite of all this, we regarded our request with understanding. We took into consideration that you made certain statements and therefore the question of removal of IL-28 planes assumed for you as President a certain significance and probably created certain difficulties. We grant it. Since you might really have your difficulties in this question we moved in your direction having informed you of our consent to remove these planes from Cuba. What is the situation now if to summarize it in short and to speak of the main?

We have dismantled and removed from Cuba all the medium range ballistic missiles to the last with nuclear warheads for them. All the nuclear weapons have been taken away from Cuba. The Soviet personnel who were servicing the rocket installations have also been withdrawn. We have stated it to your representatives at the negotiations in New York too.

The US Government was afforded the possibility to ascertain the fact that all 42 missiles that were in Cuba have really been removed.

Moreover, we expressed our readiness to remove also the IL-28 planes from Cuba. I inform you that we intend to remove them within a month term and may be even sooner since the term for the removal of these planes is not a matter of principle for us. We are prepared to remove simultaneously with the IL-28 planes all the Soviet personnel connected with the servicing of these planes.

What can be said in connection with the commitments of the American side? Proper consideration through the UN of the commitment not to invade Cuba—and it is the main commitment of your side—so far is being delayed. The quarantine has not been lifted as yet. Permit me to express the hope that with receipt of this communication of mine you will issue instructions to the effect that the quarantine be lifted immediately with the withdrawal of your naval and other military units from the Caribbean area.

Furthermore, your planes still continue to fly over the Cuban territory. It does not normalize the situation but aggravates it. And all this is taking place at the time when we have removed the missiles from Cuba, have given you the possibility to ascertain it through appropriate observation and when we declare our intention to remove the IL-28 planes from Cuba.

I will not conceal that lately I have to hear more and more often that we are too trustful with regard to the statements of the US readiness to carry out its part of the agreement on Cuba and that the American side will under various pretexts evade the fulfillment of the obligations which it assumed. I do not want to believe this and I proceed from something different: the President has given his word and he will keep it as well as keep our word. But in such an acute and delicate question which we face there cannot but exist the limits beyond which the trust begins losing its value if it is not being strengthened with practical steps towards each other. All this should be mutually taken into consideration to sooner crown with success our efforts in settling the conflict.

I understand, of course, that some time is needed to formalize through the U.N. the agreement on the settlement of the conflict in the Caribbean area, including commitments of non-invasion of Cuba. But this time should be measured by days, not by weeks and, of course, not by months.

Of all the commitments based on the agreement achieved between us in the course of the exchange of messages you declare of your readiness to remove the quarantine immediately as soon as we agree on the term for the removal of IL-28's, without waiting for their removal.

Moving in your direction and taking the decision on the removal of IL-28 planes from Cuba we presume that we have grounds to count on similar understanding on your part also in the questions of the flights of American planes over Cuba and in promptest formalizing through the UN of the US commitments.

As for the discontinuance of flights of American planes over Cuba you yourself can see better how this should be done. In my opinion, actual discontinuance of such flights over Cuba would already be a major step forward and would bring about a great easing in the situation, the more so that our missiles have been removed and your side has ascertained this.

They say that so far as it is a matter of formalizing the commitments through the UN it is difficult for the American side to accept the form of a protocol we are suggesting in which the commitments of the sides are to be fixed. We do not attach decisive significance to a form. Other forms are not excluded either. For instance, a declaration (or declarations) which would be confirmed by the UN. It is the content of the document which is important and also that the commitments of the sides be formalize through the UN without delay.

I heard that Americans have a rule: in any business each side should approach with the same standard the fulfillment of both its own obligations and the obligations of its counterpart and not use “double standard”—one for itself and another for the others. This is a good rule and if it is observed this promises a prompt settlement of the Cuban conflict. Let us follow this good American rule.

Now about the conditions which you set forth with regard to carrying out the verification and measures of further observation.

Yes, we really agreed to the effect that UN representatives could ascertain the removal from Cuba of rocket weapons which you called offensive. But we stipulated however that this question can be solved only with the consent of the Government of Cuba. We could not take an obligation for the Government of Cuba and your reference, Mr. President, that we allegedly took such an obligation, of course, does not reflect the real situation. I believe that you see for yourself the weakness of such a reference.

But what is the main thing in connection with the question of verification with regard to the missiles removed by us that is evaded in your communication? The main thing is that under agreement with you we gave you the possibility to carry out verification of the removal of our rockets in the open sea. We did that and that was an act of goodwill on our part. You will agree that we took this step in the circumstances when no promise had been made by us with regard to this matter in our messages. We did something more in comparison with what had been said by us in the message with regard to verification.

It is clear that the said verification of the removal of the missiles conducted in accordance with the arrangement between us substitutes the verification of which you spoke in your message and I would say, in a more effective form at that, because the American side was observing the missiles we were shipping out, so to say, at the final stage of their removal. While even verification of the dismantling would mean observing only the first stage of their removal from Cuba.

As a result the American side, as it itself so declared, had every opportunity to count the missiles put on our ships, to photograph them and to ascertain their removal.

Thus a way out was found and not a bad one, and the question of the verification must, of course, belong to the past. Now no one can doubt that we have carried out our commitment with regard to the dismantling and shipping of the missiles from Cuba which were a subject in our correspondence. The fact of the removal of those missiles has been officially confirmed also by the US Department of Defense.33. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1962, p. 458.

As for the rumors alleging that the missiles may have been left in Cuba somewhere in the caves, one can say that we do not live in the cave-man age to attach great significance to the rumors of this sort. If someone is spreading rumors of this kind he is doing that deliberately to create difficulties in the negotiations.

As far as the question of the American side ascertaining our removing the IL-28 planes from Cuba is concerned, we do not see any problem here. In this respect you and we have the paved way and let us take that way. We have no objections against applying also to this case the procedure agreed upon between us for observation of the removal of the missiles though, speaking frankly, one could do without it. But if you want your naval vessels and helicopters to spend several hundred tons of fuel sailing and somersaulting around our ships carrying the IL-28 planes, let us then consider that such possibility exists.

I will tell you frankly that it was part of our plans, and we believe that we will do it at a proper time, to ship out of Cuba those groups of our military personnel which although were not directly involved in servicing the rocket weapons now removed, still had something to do with guarding those installations. We will do this upon the arrival of our ships. But I must say that the strength of those groups in Cuba is not significant.

You raise the question as to what to do next, how to ensure that those types of weapons on the removal of which we have agreed are not brought back to Cuba. I believe that with respect to non-introduction of such weapons in the future you and I do not have any differences. We are prepared to give firm assurances with regard to this matter.

However, you speak not only about this. You now want some permanent supervision to be established, in Cuba or over Cuba. But where was it taken from that we gave our consent to permanent supervision? The question has never been put that way in the exchange of messages. And generally, how one can take as a normal thing an establishment, and without any reciprocity at that, of some permanent supervision over a sovereign state?

If we are to show serious concern that no unexpected steps are taken on either side to the detriment of each other, then as I already said, the proposal of the U.N. Acting Secretary General U Thant on the so-called “presence of the U.N.”, i.e. on establishing U.N. posts in the countries of the Caribbean area would meet this task. This proposal of U Thant was also supported as is known by the Government of the Republic of Cuba. We believe it to be a reasonable basis on which it is possible to come to an agreement. And it would be good if that idea was accepted by you and put into life.

To tell the truth, I am somewhat surprised that in connection with the idea of “presence of the U.N.” in the Caribbean area you are talking for some reason about setting up observation posts at the ports of the Soviet Union. May be you have in mind the proposals which we submitted during the negotiations on the problem of disarmament and on the problem of prevention of surprise attack in 1955 and 1958. But those proposals had nothing to do and cannot have anything to do with the question of Cuba since that question simply did not exist at that time. Incidentally, I have already told you that in our opinion it would be useful to get back to considering the proposals to set up on a mutual basis the observation posts at airfields, major sea-ports, railway junctions and auto routes. We have given our representatives at the negotiation on disarmament in Geneva the necessary instructions. I repeat—we would like to come to an agreement on this question and if you give such instructions to your representatives at the negotiations on disarmament we will only greet that.

Such is our viewpoint on the three questions raised by you: on the removal of the IL-28 planes, on organizing the verification and on non-introduction to Cuba of such weapons which in accordance with the agreement are removed from Cuba.

How should we deal with the matter now so that we and you could soon bring joy to humanity with the news that the crisis over Cuba is completely liquidated?

The Government of the USA in view of the agreement reached on the IL-28 planes should immediately remove the quarantine which corresponds to your own statement as well.

It is necessary to stick to generally recognized international norms and rules fixed in the UN Charter—not to violate the territorial waters and air space of sovereign states and stop the flights of American aircraft over Cuba. I will tell you frankly, Mr. President, that I met with some relief the report that during the last one-two days the flights of American planes over Cuba did not take place. It is good if it promises maintaining of such wise decision in the future as well.

Let both of us agree, Mr. President, also that our representatives in New York be given at once the instructions to immediately proceed with working out an agreed document (or documents) that would formalize through the UN the commitments of the sides.

As we see the matter this will require only a few days if, of course, all the sides want to have speediest liquidation of the aftermath of a tense and dangerous situation evolved in the Caribbean area, the situation that really brought humanity to the brink of thermonuclear war.

One more point. I have read V. Kuznetsov's report on his talk with A. Stevenson from which I learned that the American side is going to give us a draft of its document stating the US commitments of non-invasion of Cuba.44. For Stevenson's account of the meeting, see Document 183. Our draft of the document on settling the conflict has been already forwarded to your representatives.55. Transmitted in telegram 1798 from USUN, November 15. (Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/11-1562) See the Supplement. Naturally, we will study your document with utmost attention. Let us hope that as a result of the negotiations we will manage to formalize the achieved agreement so that it satisfies all the sides.

Your brother Robert Kennedy through our Ambassador Dobrynin in Washington and Mr. McCloy through our representative in New York expressed a desire to get promptly our answer to the considerations expressed by you on the question of the removal of IL-28 planes from Cuba.66. See Documents 173 and 191. Well, I think, this answer of mine gives you not a bad material for your statement at your press-conference.77. For Kennedy's press statement, November 20, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States:John F. Kennedy, 1962, pp. 830-838. However, I hope, Mr. President, that your statement will not be one-sided but will respond to mutual understanding of the situation with regard to immediate steps to remove the quarantine and to discontinue the flights of American planes over Cuba as well as with regard to the immediate formalizing through the UN of the commitments of the sides on the final liquidation of the crisis evolved in the Caribbean area.

In conclusion I wish to stress that much time has already passed since an agreement was reached between us and it is not in the interests of our countries, not in the interests of peace to delay the fulfillment of the agreement that has been reached and the final settlement of the Cuban crisis. Such is our conviction.

As far as we know F. Castro wants also to make a statement today concerning the settlement of the Cuban question. N.S. Khrushchev believes that it would be good if the President in his statements at the news conference did not introduce elements of aggravation and did not make any statements hurting the national feelings of the Cubans. Now it is especially important that the positive which has begun to show in the settling of the conflict be by all means supported and encouraged. It seems to us that the present state of affairs demands that each side display caution and restraint to avoid creating needless obstacles to the final elimination of the crisis which developed around Cuba.

If Mr. President could take this into account while conducting his news conference it would have a positive significance and would correspond to our mutual efforts to come more promptly to a solution acceptable to all sides.88. Apparently the last two paragraphs are an addendum by Dobrynin.

* Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence (Cuba), Vol. II, 11/20/62-12/14/62. No classification marking. For Robert Kennedy's account of how this message was delivered by Dobrynin, see Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, p. 550.

1 Document 181.

2 For texts, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States:John F. Kennedy, 1962, pp. 806-811.

3 For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1962, p. 458.

4 For Stevenson's account of the meeting, see Document 183.

5 Transmitted in telegram 1798 from USUN, November 15. (Department of State, Central Files, 737.00/11-1562) See the Supplement.

6 See Documents 173 and 191.

7 For Kennedy's press statement, November 20, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States:John F. Kennedy, 1962, pp. 830-838.

8 Apparently the last two paragraphs are an addendum by Dobrynin.