Cuban Missle Crisis
Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between President Kennedy and the Under Secretary of State (Ball)


Washington, October 24, 1962, 11:15 p.m.

Pres.--To be sure that the Russians.(1) Of course we didn't present them with a way out. I don't know whether U Thant has presented them with a way out, whether they are interested in a way out. I suppose there may be a slim chance they may be, we ought to give out a message in a way that gives them enough of an out to stop their shipments without looking like they completely crawled down.

Ball--We could try something along that line.

Pres.--In other words just say that we suggest the Russians suspend their shipping, until we have a chance to meet with them. Just say otherwise, they have got, we can't withdraw shipping, we can't stop. It may be that is the way he wants it. There is not much time.

Ball--This is what the letter said, that you said last night,(2) because what you said last night was that you hoped that he would not challenge, direct his captains not to challenge the blockade, and that we were talking about these letters in the Security Council. It would be the same idea.

Pres.--I don't know if there is any way for a binding concentration. The time is so short. When we talk about a barrier, we talk about 500 miles, we can always take it at 300 miles if you have to. We can take it late in the afternoon, the question would be if there is any message we would send to U Thant to give them a way out.

Ball--What we might do, we might get up a draft of something tonight. Let me just read you what we sent him last night, what you sent him last night. Ball reads the letter. He had this in front of him when he, this looks as if he wrote it himself, saying in effect, talking about it in the Security Council . . . . This is a letter coming back and saying that he can't do it.

Pres.--The only thing it seems to me would be to U Thant. I don't think there is anything we can say to him that will cause him to change. We are saying not to send them and he is going to send them. Whether U Thant gives him a way out or not, I don't know.

Ball--I just have been talking to Stevenson and the trouble with the U Thant proposal is that there is no inspection or verification in it at all. Stevenson said that he thinks that if we were to accept the principle of some preliminary conversation, in the course of the conversation we could insist upon some kind of verification about when you have to point into the UN; I would not have too much confidence in him or boarding parties in the UN getting on ships and that would give us protection while we were trying to work something out. That is going to take 2 or 3 days to do.

Pres.--He is going to hold up his ships during that 2 or 3 days.

Ball--What we could say is that if you will hold up your ships during the 2 or 3 days, we would have some preliminary talks in the UN to see to if there is some solution.

Pres.--I think rather than direct a message to him, we should get ourselves back to U Thant and say that he can request the Soviet Union to hold up their shipping for the next, for the immediate area, that we would be glad to get into conversations about how the situation could be adjusted.

Ball--If we were to say to the Sov. Union, it appears that a confrontation is about to take place,

Pres.--And to hold their ships, while we meet with him tomorrow afternoon. Probably that is about all we can do. Otherwise we just have to go with this thing. In that case, we could pick up this tanker tomorrow afternoon, instead of tomorrow morning.

Ball--Yep. I will talk to Bob, Dean and Adlai and get back to you.

1 At 10:45 the President had called Ball and stated that he had just had Khrushchev's letter (Document 61) read to him. A memorandum of this telephone conversation, which also deals with stopping a tanker, is ibid. See the Supplement. Back

2 Document 52. Back

Source: Department of State, Ball Papers: Lot 74 D 272, Telcons--Cuba. No classification marking.

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