Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Day Thirteen

Sunday morning, October 28th, Americans awoke on the thirteenth day of the crisis to news that Chairman Khrushchev had announced the Soviet Union would remove their missiles from Cuba.

To ensure the United States receive his response to the letter President Kennedy wrote him the day before and the ultimatum given to Ambassador Dobrynin by Robert Kennedy, Khrushchev not only sent his message via telegram to the State Department, he broadcast his message on Soviet radio (he knew the United States would be monitoring this). 

"In order to eliminate as rapidly as possible the conflict which endangers the cause of peace, to give an assurance to all people who crave peace, and to reassure the American people, who, I am certain, also want peace, as do the people of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Government, in addition to earlier instructions on the discontinuation of further work on weapons construction sites, has given a new order to dismantle the arms which you 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.
"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 United Nations Representatives to verify the dismantling of these means.
"Thus in view of the assurance you have given and our instructions on dismantling, there is every condition for eliminating the present conflict."
In addition to informing the United States of his decision to dismantle the weapons in Cuba, Khrushchev opened the door for future negotiations with the United States about nuclear weapons. He wrote:
"We should like to continue the exchange of views on the prohibition of atomic and thermonuclear weapons, general disarmament, and other problems relating to the relaxation of international tension."

By opening this door, Khrushchev led the Soviet Union into a negotiations the following year with the United States culminating in the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

In addition to reaching out to President Kennedy, Chairman Khrushchev informed Prime Minister Castro that the missiles would be removed from his country and asked him to not provoke the American pilots that would continue reconnaissance flights until the missiles were removed. Few Americans would disagree that these tense days in October of 1962 represented the best diplomatic moments of both Khrushchev and Kennedy's political careers.

After assembling the members of Ex-Comm (audio of that meeting available here), President Kennedy responded to Chairman Khrushchev's radio message as the telegram had not yet arrived. Accepting the terms of the withdrawal of the missiles and thanking Khrushchev for his devotion to peace, Kennedy, too, mentioned the potential for future disarmament:
"Mr. Chairman, both of our countries have great unfinished tasks and I know that your people as well as those of the United States can ask for nothing better than to pursue them free from the fear of war. Modern science and technology have given us the possibility of making labor fruitful beyond anything that could have been dreamed of a few decades ago.
"I agree with you that we must devote urgent attention to the problem of disarmament, as it relates to the whole world and also to critical areas. Perhaps now, as we step back from danger, we can together make real progress in this vital field. I think we should give priority to questions relating to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, on earth and in outer space, and to the great effort for a nuclear test ban. But we should also work hard to see if wider measures of disarmament can be agreed and put into operation at an early date. The United States Government will be prepared to discuss these questions urgently, and in a constructive spirit, at Geneva or elsewhere."
While the day's biggest victory came in Khrushchev's promise to remove the missiles in Cuba, the importance of the discussion about disarmament cannot be overlooked or underestimated.

Secretary General U Thant
The proposal agreed upon by the United States and Soviet Union was welcomed by United Nations Secretary General U Thant. The UN would be responsible for supervising the removal of the missiles in Cuba. A large responsibility that fell to U Thant was negotiating with Castro who felt the Soviets were being weak in their removal of the missiles. Castro invited U Thant to Cuba and U Thant felt the opportunity would allow him to discuss with Castro how the process and supervision of the missile removal would occur.

Castro, as he had throughout the crisis, remained a wild card. In response to news that Khrushchev had acquiesed, Castro sent letters to both Khrushchev and U Thant outlining his many objections to the agreement. Castro wrote to Khrushchev that the Cubans "are opposed, by principle, to inspections on our territory." This appeared, along with the issue of American's violating the Cuban airspace, a major concern of Castro.

Secretary Rusk delivered the message of Khrushchev and the agreement between the two super powers to the Organization of American States. It was essential that the Latin American countries understand that the quarantine would remain in place until the United Nations could confirm that the missiles had been dismantled and removed from Cuba.

Though victory had been secured, President Kennedy warned the members of Ex-Comm to refrain from celebration. After meeting with Ex-Comm Sunday morning and early afternoon, Kennedy did not take time away from the oval office. He sat down and wrote a letter to Mrs. Anderson, the wife of the U-2 pilot shot down over Cuba.
Khrushchev's entire letter is available from the State Department's Office of the Historian. The Office of the Historian at State offers a treasure trove of resources related to the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy foreign policy.

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