Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Eight

Tuesday, October 23, 1962, brought the first direct communication between President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev as well as a response from Prime Minister Fidel Castro.

Chairman Khruschev's message, by means of a State Department telegram, came at approximately 11 a.m. Tuesday morning:
Letter from Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy

October 23, 1962

Mr. President,

I have just received your letter, and have also acquainted myself with the text of your speech of October 22 regarding Cuba.

I must say frankly, that the measures indicated in your statement constitute a serious threat to peace and to the security of nations. The United States has openly taken the path of grossly violating the United Nations Charter, the path of violating international norms of freedom of navigation on the high seas, the path of aggressive actions both against Cuba and against the Soviet Union.

The statement by the Government of the United States of America can only be regarded as undisguised interference in the internal affairs of the Republic of Cuba, the Soviet Union and other states. The United Nations Charter and international norms give no right to any state to institute in international waters the inspection of vessels bound for the shores of the Republic of Cuba.

And naturally, neither can we recognize the right of the United States to establish control over armaments which are necessary for the Republic of Cuba to strengthen its defense capability.

We reaffirm that the armaments which are in Cuba, regardless of the classification to which they may belong, are intended solely for defensive purposes in order to secure the Republic of Cuba against the attack of an aggressor.

I hope that the United States Government will display wisdom and renounce the actions pursued by you, which may lead to catastrophic consequences for world peace.

The viewpoint of the Soviet Government with regard to your statement of October 22 is set forth in a Statement of the Soviet Government, which is being transmitted to you through your Ambassador at Moscow.

(s) N. Kruschev
While Khrushchev did admit that there were missiles on the island of Cuba, he continued to push the line that the missiles were merely for Cuba's protection from an eventual invasion by the United States.

Kennedy's advisors would meet to discuss the telegram from Khrushchev. The audio of those meetings are available in parts here, here, here and here

Ex-Comm immediately went to work forming the following response to Khrushchev:
Response to Chairman Khrushchev from President Kennedy

October 23,1962

Dear Mr. Chairman:

I have received your letter of October twenty-third. I think you will recognize that the steps which started the current chain of events was the action of your Government in secretly furnishing offensive weapons to Cuba. We will be discussing this matter in the Security Council. In the meantime, I am concerned that we both show prudence and do nothing to allow events to make the situation more difficult to control than it already is.

I hope that you will issue immediately the necessary instructions to your ships to observe the terms of the quarantine, the basis of which was established by the vote of the Organization of American States this afternoon, and which will go into effect at 1400 hours Greenwich time October twenty-four.


Secretary Rusk had, in one of his brighter shining moments of the crisis, secured the overwhelming vote of the Organization of American States in favor of the quarantine measures. And Ambassador Stevenson called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Stevenson was successful in bringing the Security Council together

Ambassador Adlai Stevenson's statement carried the demands from President Kennedy's speech to the nation directly to the Security Council:
"The time has come for this Council to decide whether to make a serious attempt to bring peace to the world-or to let the United Nations stand idly by while the vast plan of piecemeal aggression unfolds, conducted in the hope that no single issue will seem consequential enough to mobilize the resistance of the free peoples. For my own Government, this question is not in doubt. We remain committed to the principles of the United Nations, and we intend to defend them. . . ."
Representative Zorin, the Soviet representative to the United Nations, responded to Stevenson's statement by saying it represented the " totally untenable nature of the position taken by the United States Government." The Security Council would reconvene on Thursday the 25th, a date forever associated with Adlai Stevenson's finest moment.

The correspondence between Kennedy and Khrushchev and statements of Stevenson and Zorin would not be the only rhetoric of the day. Prime Minister Castro's response to the previous evening's address by President Kennedy was less measured than that of Chairman Khrushchev. Referring to the United States as both imperialists and warmongers, Castro's interview was defensive of both their current position with the missiles in their country and their relationship, or lack thereof, with the United States since their revolution. Castro stated imperically: "Anyone who tries to come and inspect Cuba must know that he will have to come equipped for war." Castro's comment, though inflammatory, would be of less importance throughout the crisis than those of the Soviet government.

With the support of our allies and the Organization of American States, the United States now looked ahead to the hour the quarantine would go into effect.
Stevenson's statement comes from United Nations, Security Council, Official records, XVIIth year, 1022nd Meeting, October 23, 1962 s/PV.1022, pp 1-39. It is available online through Fordham University.

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