181. Message From President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev0

I am glad to learn of your assurance of agreement that the IL-28s should be withdrawn.1 All that remains is to reach understanding on the timing.

Let me review the undertakings in my letter of October twenty-seventh and your letter of October twenty-eighth.2 You agreed to remove the weapons systems we described as offensive and with suitable safeguards to halt the further introduction of such weapons into Cuba. On our side, we undertook to agree to remove the quarantine measures in effect and to give assurances against an invasion of Cuba. There were two conditions attached to our undertaking. The first was that the weapons systems would be removed “under appropriate United Nations observation and supervision,” and, second, that there would be established “adequate arrangements through the United Nations to ensure the carrying out and continuation of these commitments.”

I cannot agree with your statement that you have fulfilled your commitments and that we have not fulfilled ours. Let us recall what, in fact, has occurred. You have removed a certain number of missiles from Cuba—not under United Nations supervision—but you did cooperate in arrangements which enabled us to be reasonably sure that forty-two missiles were in fact taken out of Cuba. There has been no United Nations verification that other missiles were not left behind and, in fact, there have been many reports of their being concealed in caves and elsewhere, and we have no way of satisfying those who are concerned about these reports. The IL-28’s are still in Cuba and are of deep concern to the people of our entire Hemisphere. Thus, three major parts of the undertakings on your side—the removal of the IL-28’s, the arrangements for verification, and safeguards against introduction—have not yet been carried out.

We suppose that part of the trouble here may be in Cuba. The Secretary General of the United Nations was not allowed to make arrangements for the experts he took with him to Cuba to verify removal of the offensive weapons; the Cuban Government did not agree to international Red Cross inspection at ports; they have refused the Secretary [Page 461] General’s suggestion that the Latin American Ambassadors in Havana undertake this verification; they have rejected a further suggestion of the Secretary General concerning the use of various non-aligned Chiefs of Mission in Havana for this purpose. It is difficult for me to understand why the Cubans are so resistant to the series of reasonable proposals that have been made to them by U Thant unless, for reasons of their own, they are determined to see the crisis prolonged and worsened. We both have means of influencing the Cuban Government and I do not believe that we can allow that Government to frustrate the clear understandings our two governments have reached in the interests of peace.

In these circumstances we have so far been patient and careful, as we have been, indeed, at every stage. As you know from your own reports, we have always applied the quarantine with care and with regard for the position of others, and in recent days we have relied on the oral assurances of the masters of your ships and other ships. Moreover I myself held back orders for more forceful action right to the limit of possibility during the week of October 27th and 28th. But we cannot make progress from here—or avoid a return of danger to this situation—if your side now should fall into the mistake of claiming that it has met all its commitments, and refusing to help with the real business of carrying out our purpose of untying the Cuban knot.

What, in those circumstances, should be done? We are entitled to insist on removal of the IL-28’s and on safeguards against reintroduction of offensive weapons before we lift the quarantine or give assurances of any sort. But we are interested in making rapid progress, step-by-step, and that is why we have proposed an arrangement more favorable from your standpoint: that as soon as you give the order for the removal of the IL-28’s and their men and equipment, to be completed within thirty days, (and I am glad you say the length of time is not the real problem) we will announce the lifting of the quarantine. That is more than we agreed to on October twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth, but we wish to end this crisis promptly.

Beyond that, we are quite willing to instruct our negotiators in New York to work closely with yours in order to reach agreement on other matters affecting this problem. We believe, again, that these matters should follow the removal of offensive weapons systems, but just as we have been able to discuss other matters while a number of missiles were leaving, we believe the urgently needed talks can and should go forward while the bombers are leaving. We do not insist that everything wait its exact turn—but only that the essential first steps be clearly going forward.

But what is most urgent, after we can agree that offensive weapons are leaving, and after the quarantine is lifted, is to make some real progress on continuing observations and verification. It will be essential to [Page 462] have such arrangements—and this again is clear in the letters of October 27 and 28—before our assurances can be more formally stated. Our undertaking on this point remains firm and clear, and we want nothing better than to be able to give our assurances, just as we said we would, when the necessary conditions exist.

In the absence of any arrangements under the United Nations or otherwise for international verification or safeguards, we have of course been obliged to rely upon our own resources for surveillance of the situation in Cuba, although this course is unsatisfactory. Just today we learned of new threats by Castro against this necessary surveillance. I should make it very clear that if there is any interference with this surveillance, we shall have to take the necessary action in reply, and it is for just this reason that it is so urgent to obtain better safeguards.

We note with interest that in your last message the arrangement of observation and verification is enlarged from Cuba to include certain other areas. This is a substantial change from the terms of our exchange of messages, and as we see it any such wider arrangements would necessarily require careful discussion. For example, if we move outside Cuba to observe what is happening in other countries which have been involved in the recent tensions, there might have to be observation posts at the appropriate ports in the Soviet Union from which weapons could be shipped to Cuba, as well as in appropriate places in the United States. This is a matter which deserves close study and it may offer a chance of real progress in the long run, but for the immediate future it seems to us better to work within the framework of our understanding of October 27 and 28.

We also think that the Brazilian proposal for a verified Denuclearized Zone in Latin America3 could, with the cooperation of Cuba and if acceptable to the other Latin American countries, in the long rUN offer an acceptable means for a broader approach. However, the immediate problem is, I repeat, the carrying out of our understanding with regard to verification that offensive weapons have in fact been removed from Cuba and the establishing of safeguards against their reintroduction pending the coming into effect of longer-term arrangements. Even apart from our understanding, given the history of this matter, I am sure, Mr. Chairman, that you can understand that this is a real necessity if we are to move to the settlement of other matters.

But the first step is to get the bombers started out, and the quarantine lifted—for both are sources of tension. Meanwhile discussion can continue on other aspects of the problem.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, USSR, Khrushchev Correspondence (Cuba), Vol. I-C. 11/3/62-11/16/62. No classification marking. This message was considered an “oral” exchange, but a written copy was given to Dobrynin. Copies of this message were sent to Thompson, McNamara, and McCone. A note on the first page of the source text reads: “(This copy is as it actually went.).”
  2. See Document 176.
  3. See Documents 95 and 102.
  4. Draft U.N. Resolution A/C.1/L.312. A revised version of it, U.N. Document A/C.1/L.312/Rev. 2, was submitted to the First Committee of the United Nations by Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Ecuador, November 15. (Documents on Disarmament, 1962, vol. II, pp. 1056-1057)