From: Philip Zelikow, University of Virginia, on the Trade of the Cuban Missiles for the Turkish Missiles


Eric Alterman asked two questions in a message posted on September 12,
both arising from a review essay Ernest May and I wrote for the current
issue of Diplomatic History (Fall 1998).  They are important questions.

First, he was surprised at our assertion that news of the private offer
for unilateral withdrawal (conveyed in a ht meeting between Robert Kennedy
and Anatoly Dobrynin on Saturday night, October 27) arrived in Moscow
AFTER Khrushchev had already decided to capitulate.  He asks:  "Could one
or more of the authors please explain the evidentiary basis for this
assertion?"

We can, having originally presented this assertion in the Conclusion of
our book, "The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban
Missile Crisis," on page 689.  (A) We relied on the account of the
sequence of events offered in Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali's
book, "'One Hell of a Gamble': Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy 1958-1964."
That book is clear on this point, see pages 284-85 (in the Norton
paperback).  They in turn used, and cite, the original notes taken during
the October 28 meeting of the Soviet Presidium (by Malin).  (B) The
Fursenko/Naftali account is consistent with the recollections of Oleg
Troyanovsky, both in a written memoir and repeated, in identical terms, in
an interview with me.  Later a top, highly respected, Soviet diplomat,
Troyanovsky was then a staffer in the Kremlin.  The Foreign Ministry
received Dobrynin's cable about the meeting with RFK, decoded it, and
telephoned the Kremlin in order to give an urgent description of the
cable's contents.  Troyanovsky is the person who, by his account, took
this call.  He then describes debriefing the Presidium on the contents of
the message in a meeting that had already been going on, and in which the
mood was already somber.  Since Fursenko and Naftali state that Khrushchev
had opened this meeting with the declaration to his colleagues that, "In
order to save the world, we must retreat,"  Troyanovsky's account is
consistent with our assertion that Khrushchev had already both made, and
announced, his decision.

Second, Mr. Alterman is also surprised at our assertion that Schlesinger's
RFK book had accurately described the meeting between RFK and Dobrynin on
the night of October 27.  He is correctly referring to the following
passage in our essay:  "... the private offer on the Jupiters was
substantially revealed as early as 1967, in Robert Kennedy's 'Thirteen
Days.' It was entirely revealed in 1978, in Arthur Schlesinger's 'Robert
Kennedy and His Times.' Scholars seemed to overlook what Schlesinger wrote
in this bestselling book, though they woke up when Theodore Sorensen made
the point at an oral history conference in 1989.  But we now have, and
have had for years, the contemporaneous accounts of the meeting by both
participants -- Anatoly Dobrynin's written that night (October 27) and
Robert Kennedy's written three days later.  The two accounts are
substantively identical and mirror what Schlesinger described -- in detail
and accurately contrasting his story with the more muted "Thirteen Days"
version -- nearly twenty years ago."

Anyone interested can compare these three sources and decide the matter
for themselves.  I have photocopies of the RFK and Dobrynin reports (both
of which have now been published in the CWIHP Bulletin, though the editors
chose to publish the RFK document later and did not refer to it in their
original published commentaries on the Dobrynin document).  I also have
copies of the pages from Schlesinger's book (pp. 521-23, last paragraphs
on p. 530).  Schlesinger had unique access to additional handwritten notes
made at the time by RFK that appear to be a shorthand version of what RFK
wrote up in his October 30 memcon.  I will happily mail copies to anyone
who wants them and will send me their postal address.

For those who follow this subject, two additional historiographical points
merit attention.

1. The October 30 RFK document is interesting.  Ernest and I commented on
it briefly in "The Kennedy Tapes" at footnote 5 on page 607, footnote 7 on
page 608, and endnote 2 on pages 707-08.  The document is also important
for its account of a separate meeting with Dobrynin on October 30.  On
that meeting, Dobrynin's October 30 report (which was part of a larger
series of documents that I helped get translated, in partnership with the
CWIHP and the National Security Archive) does indeed differ substantively
with RFK's account of the meeting.  That matter is also addressed in the
above-cited notes.  I will not repeat those comments here.  The
differences bear mainly on RFK's personal political concerns, not on the
substance of the October 27 exchange.

But an interesting corollary question is:  Just what did Theodore Sorensen
mean when he said in 1989 that he had edited the manuscript of 'Thirteen
Days' on this point.  If you compare RFK's memcon to his account in
'Thirteen Days' you will find them so similar that it is plausible to
assume that RFK used his memcon, or a copy of it, in writing his account.
There is a sentence crossed out in the document.  I do not know who
crossed it out, or when, only that the marking appears on the original.
It does seem to indicate the sentence that RFK, or Sorensen, chose to
omit.  But I presume Sorensen did not use or mark the original document
(unless his role in drafting the book was larger than he has admitted).  I
have asked Sorensen about this, but he said he cannot remember the
details.

If that last presumption is correct, Sorensen did very little to edit
RFK's material in "Thirteen Days," other than possibly rewriting one
sentence, perhaps authoring the phrase:  "He had ordered their removal
some time ago ..."  That phrase, which has caused its own share of
mischief over the years, is of course quite false.  I believe it stems
from confusion, either in RFK's mind or Sorensen's mind or both, about the
origins of Kennedy's anger with the State Department about the way the
Jupiter problem came up in the crisis.  They knew JFK's anger was there
but did not understand its cause, arising as it did from the way State was
trying to plug the Jupiter issue into their ongoing MLF policy idea.  JFK
understood the intricacies of that issue; I'm not sure either RFK or
Sorensen did.

2. When News of the RFK-Dobrynin exchange arrived during the Presidium
meeting it did not, according to Troyanovsky, relieve Khrushchev's or the
Presidium's anxiety.  Just the opposite.  This is understandable since the
report is dominated by the threat of imminent attack against Cuba.  There
is some new evidence in the Kennedy tapes that this was not a hollow
threat.  It is reasonable to suppose that Robert Kennedy would not have
uttered such a threat if he thought his brother would make him a liar.
But that is just a hypothesis.  Some confirmation for it is found in
President Kennedy's own private remark, on October 29, that "we had
decided Saturday night [October 27] to begin this air strike on Tuesday
[October 30].  And it may have been one of the reasons why the Russians
finally did this [giving in]."  "The Kennedy Tapes," p. 656.   (Like Mark
White, though for slightly different reasons, we do not put much in the
story of the so-called 'Cordier maneuver.' Ibid., p. 606 note 3).

Khrushchev did take careful note of the RFK private offer, as well as the
threat.  So the most Ernest and I felt we could say is that the news
probably redoubled his resolve to give in, a resolve that was communicated
rather frantically to the Americans during the next couple of hours.

Analysts can call RFK's offer a "trade" or anything else, so long as they
understand that RFK's offer was materially quite different from what
Khrushchev had proposed.  Khrushchev asked publicly for a reciprocal trade
-- Cuban missiles for Turkish missiles.  There were several options for
responding.  One would be to agree to the trade.  There would then be a
negotiation -- with the Turks, with NATO, and with the Soviets -- over the
weapons covered by the deal and the timetable for reciprocal removals.
Washington's stress on prior negotiations with the Turks and NATO would be
met by Moscow's stress on negotiating terms with their Cuban ally.  ExComm
members thought such a negotiation would be ruinous (extending on to
aircraft -- IL-28s and F-100s, for example) and time-consuming.  Some
plainly feared that the Soviets, by having proposed the matter in the way
they did, were not interested in negotiating in good faith, and would use
this tack as a way to stall action, solidify their fait accompli, and end
up keeping the missiles in Cuba.  Just this possibility may well have been
in Khrushchev's mind.

Another option, first suggested as an alternative in Hare's cable from
Ankara, would be to get Turkey OFF the table, by promising a unilateral
withdrawal in due course and then refusing to negotiate about it or any
other formal reciprocation.  This is what RFK means when he says "no quid
pro quo."  This option's purpose is to prevent any negotiation about
Turkey, or a negotiation linking Turkey and Cuba.  It says in effect:
There is no need to talk about Turkey; we're going to take those missiles
out in several months and you should just trust us on that.  [There is a
Laos precedent known to both RFK and Dobrynin.] There will be no
negotiated trade or appearance of a trade.  Meanwhile the issue on the
table right now is the missiles in Cuba.  On that we need a public
statement from you, tomorrow, or we are likely to attack.

Understanding the tactical significance of this option, one can see how
clever Rusk's finesse was (Rusk was the person who actually proposed the
idea to JFK and about seven other advisers; we know Rusk had read Hare's
suggestion earlier that day), and why this finesse so neatly solved the
dilemmas the ExComm had been wrestling with for several hours.  It hinged
vitally, as Hare had said in his cable, on the Soviets keeping the offer
secret so there would be no appearance of a deal, thus giving the US time
to handle the matter in due course with a NATO-agreed substitute.  Within
JFK's circle, no one had any use for the Jupiters and Dillon, McCone, and
McNamara had gone out of their way to scorn them.  Bundy had weakly
defended them (reflecting the views of Bob Komer on his staff).  Ball and
others at State seemed to care only about the relation of the issue to
their MLF agenda.  One obvious consequence of handling the Jupiters in
this way was that the US was able to force the Soviets to include their
IL-28 bombers in the Cuban settlement, while never even discussing the US
and Turkish F-100 fighter-bombers, or their stockpile of US nuclear bombs,
that were and remained stationed in Turkey.

So, while it is therefore right to say that the story of JFK's
decisionmaking is much more nuanced than the simpler story of firmness and
resolve that was initially peddled to reporters, Ernest and I were
concerned that the pendulum not swing too far the other way.  We believe
that, throughout the crisis, Khrushchev only made concessions when he
feared an imminent US attack on Cuba (in one case influenced by highly
inaccurate intelligence reports).  Whenever Khrushchev seemed to think an
attack might not be coming, his stance toughened and he asked for more.
Khrushchev himself explained matters in just this way to the Presidium.

Philip Zelikow
University of Virginia

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