194. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • “Understandings” with Soviet Union at the Time of the Cuban Missile Crisis

You asked me for the precise language relating to our “understandings” with the Soviet Union at the time of the missile crisis. Attached at Tab A are excerpts from the letters and messages exchanged between President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev in October, 1962 and December, 1962. Copies of the full texts of those letters and messages are attached at Tab B.2

The Khrushchev–Kennedy exchanges indicate clearly that there was an implicit understanding that we would agree to give assurances against an invasion of Cuba if the Soviet Union would remove its offensive missiles from Cuba under UN observation and would undertake, with suitable safeguards, to halt the re-introduction of such [Page 591] weapons systems into Cuba. However, the agreement was never explicitly completed because the Soviets did not agree to an acceptable verification system (because of Castro’s opposition) and we never made a formal non-invasion pledge. The negotiations between McCloy and Kuznetzov, which were designed to work out a satisfactory means of formalizing the Kennedy–Khrushchev “understanding” eventually just fizzled out.

The “understanding” we have with the Soviets, therefore, is an implicit one, which was never formally buttoned down. In fact, the Soviets removed their missiles and there is no evidence that they have re-introduced them; and we, of course, have not invaded Cuba.

Tab A

Excerpts From Letters and Messages Between President Kennedy and Soviet Chairman Khrushchev

Letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy—October 26, 1962 3

“If assurances were given by the President and the government of the United States that the USA itself would not participate in an attack on Cuba and would restrain others from actions of this sort, if you would recall your fleet, this would immediately change everything. I am not speaking for Fidel Castro, but I think that he and the government of Cuba, evidently, would declare demobilization and would appeal to the people to get down to peaceful labor. Then, too, the question of armaments would disappear, since, if there is no threat, then armaments are a burden for every people. Then, too, the question of the destruction, not only of the armaments which you call offensive, but of all other armaments as well, would look different.”

… “I propose: We for our part will declare that our ships, bound for Cuba, will not carry any kind of armaments. You would declare that the United States will not invade Cuba with its forces and will not support any sort of forces which might intend to carry out an invasion of Cuba. Then the necessity for the presence of our military specialists in Cuba would disappear.” (Nodis)

[Page 592]

Text of Khrushchev Message to Kennedy Broadcast October 27, 1962 4

“I therefore make this proposal: We agree to remove from Cuba those means which you regard as offensive means. We agree to carry this out and declare this pledge in the United Nations. Your representatives will make a declaration to the effect that the United States on its part, considering the uneasiness and anxiety of the Soviet state, will remove its analogous means from Turkey.

“Let us reach agreement as to the span of time needed for you and us to achieve this. After this, persons enjoying the confidence of the U.S. Security Council might check on-the-spot fulfillment of the pledges assumed. Of course, the authorization of the Governments of Cuba and Turkey are necessary for entry into those countries of these plenipotentiaries and for inspection of fulfillment of the pledge assumed by either side.”

… “we will make a statement within the framework of the Security Council to the effect that the Soviet Government makes a solemn promise to respect the inviolability of the frontiers and sovereignty of Turkey, not to interfere in its internal affairs, not to invade Turkey, not to make its territory available as a bridgehead for such an invasion, and will also restrain those who contemplate perpetrating aggression against Turkey both from the territory of the Soviet Union and from the territory of other neighbor states of Turkey.

“The U.S. Government will make a similar statement within the framework of the Security Council in respect to Cuba. It will declare that the United States will respect the inviolability of the frontiers of Cuba and its sovereignty, undertakes not to interfere in its internal affairs, not to invade, and not to make its territory available as a bridgehead for such an invasion of Cuba, and will also restrain those who might contemplate perpetrating aggression against Cuba, both from the territory of the United States and from the territory of other neighboring states of Cuba.

“Of course, for this we would have to agree to some kind of time limit. Let us agree to some period of time, but not to delay—two or three weeks; not more than a month.

“The means situated in Cuba which you have stated are perturbing you are in the hands of Soviet officers, therefore, any accidental use of them to the detriment of the United States is excluded… . if there is no invasion of Cuba or attack on the Soviet Union or any other of our allies, then of course these means are not and will not be a threat to anyone, for they are not there for the purpose of attack.”

[Page 593]

Letter from Kennedy to Khrushchev—October 27, 1962 5

… “The first thing that needs to be done, however, is for work to cease on offensive missile bases in Cuba and for all weapons systems in Cuba capable of offensive use to be rendered inoperable, under effective United Nations arrangements.

“Assuming this is done promptly, I have given my representatives in New York instructions that will permit them to work out this week end—in cooperation with the Acting Secretary General and your representative—an arrangement for a permanent solution to the Cuban problem along the lines suggested in your letter of October 26th. As I read your letter, the key elements of your proposals—which seem generally acceptable as I understand them—are as follows:

  • “1. You would agree to remove these weapons systems from Cuba under appropriate United Nations observation and supervision; and undertake, with suitable safeguards, to halt the further introduction of such weapons systems into Cuba.
  • “2. We, on our part, would agree—upon the establishment of adequate arrangements through the United Nations to ensure the carrying out and continuation of these commitments—(a) to remove promptly the quarantine measures now in effect and (b) to give assurances against an invasion of Cuba and I am confident that other nations of the Western Hemisphere would be prepared to do likewise.

“If you will give your representative similar instructions there is no reason why we should not be able to complete these arrangements and announce them to the world within a couple of days.”

Message from Khrushchev to Kennedy—October 28, 1962 6

“In order to eliminate as rapidly as possible the conflict which endangers the cause of peace, … the Soviet Government, in addition to earlier instructions on the discontinuation of further work on weapons constructions sites, has given a new order to dismantle the arms which described as offensive, and to crate and return them to the Soviet Union.”

“I regard with respect and trust the statement you made in your message of October 27, 1962, that there would be no attack, no invasion of Cuba, and not only on the part of the United States, but also on the part of other nations of the Western Hemisphere, as you said in your same message. Then the motives which induced us to render assistance of such a kind to Cuba disappear.

[Page 594]

“It is for this reason that we instructed our officers—these means as I had already informed you earlier are in the hands of the Soviet officers—to take appropriate measures to discontinue construction of the aforementioned facilities, to dismantle them, and to return them to the Soviet Union. As I had informed you in the letter of October 27, we are prepared to reach agreement to enable the United Nations Representatives to verify the dismantling of these means.

“Thus in view of the assurances you have given and our instructions on dismantling, there is every condition for eliminating the present conflict.”

… “If we do take practical steps and proclaim the dismantling and evacuation of the means in question from Cuba, in so doing we, at the same time, want the Cuban people to be certain that we are with them and are not absolving ourselves of responsibility for rendering assistance to the Cuban people.”

Letter from Khrushchev to Kennedy—December 11, 1962 7

“More resolute steps should be taken now to move towards finalizing the elimination of this tension, i.e. you on your part should clearly confirm at the U.N. as you did at your press conference and in your messages to me the pledge of non-invasion of Cuba by the United States and your allies having removed reservations which are being introduced now into the U.S. draft declaration in the Security Council and our representatives in New York should come to terms with regard to an agreed wording in the declarations of both powers of the commitments undertaken by them.”

… “I will tell you frankly that we have removed our means from Cuba relying on your assurance that the United States and its allies will not invade Cuba…. We hope and we would like to believe—I spoke of that publicly too, as you know—that you will adhere to the commitments which you have taken, as strictly as we do with regard to our commitments. We, Mr. President, have already fulfilled our commitments concerning the removal of our missiles and IL–28 planes from Cuba and we did it even ahead of time. It is obvious that fulfillment by you of your commitments cannot be as clearly demonstrated as it was done by us since your commitments are of a long-term nature. But it is important to fulfill them and to do everything so that no doubts are sown from the very start that they will not be fulfilled.”

“Therefore, Mr. President, everything—the stability in this area and not only in this area but in the entire world—depends on how you will now fulfill the commitments taken by you. Furthermore, it will be [Page 595] now a sort of litmus paper, an indicator whether it is possible to trust if similar difficulties arise in other geographical areas.”

“We believe that the guarantees for non-invasion of Cuba given by you will be maintained and not only in the period of your stay in the White House.”

… “But the confidential nature of our personal relations will depend on whether you fulfill—as we did—the commitments taken by you and give instructions to your representatives in New York to formalize these commitments in appropriate documents… . it is necessary to fix the assumed commitments in the documents of both sides and register them with the United Nations.”

Letter from Kennedy to Khrushchev—December 14, 1962 8

“You refer to the importance of my statements on an invasion of Cuba and of our intention to fulfill them, so that no doubts are sown from the very start…The other side of the coin, however, is that we do need to have adequate assurances that all offensive weapons are removed from Cuba and are not reintroduced, and that Cuba itself commits no aggressive acts against any of the nations of the Western Hemisphere. As I understand you, you feel confident that Cuba will not in fact engage in such aggressive acts, and of course I already have your own assurance about the offensive weapons. So I myself should suppose that you could accept our position—but it is probably better to leave final discussion of these matters to our representatives in New York.”

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 783, Country Files, Latin America, Cuba, Understanding with USSR at Time of Cuban Missile Crisis. Confidential with Nodis Attachment. Sent for information. Another copy of this memorandum indicates it was drafted by Nachmanoff on August 4. A handwritten note, stamped August 14 and initialed by Haig, reads, “Nachmanoff. Via Davis—for file where easily available. Excellent job, Arnie!” Below this comment in an unknown handwriting is the note, “Not going to Pres.” (Ibid.)
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. VI, Kennedy–Khrushchev Exchanges, Document 65. All ellipses are in the source text.
  4. For text, see ibid., Document 66.
  5. For text, see ibid., Document 67.
  6. For text, see ibid., Document 68.
  7. For text, see ibid., Document 83.
  8. For text, see ibid., Document 84.