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


Washington, November 21, 1962, 8 p.m.

Ball: I had about an hour's talk with Jack McCloy and Adlai Stevenson in New York, and then Mac has also had a talk with McCloy. Stevenson is prepared to go along on a draft that we worked out over the phone.(1) Jack has still got some reservations, and he wants to think it over overnight and then talk again in the morning. He wants to get out of it any reservation with regard to our right to overfly or protect ourselves, and I think that we really can't do it.

President: What does he feel about the overflights?

Ball: He has a feeling that actually we shouldn't insist on any kind of reservation of that kind; that we tell them orally we are going to have to do it, but that we don't put anything in any document because he thinks this doesn't give them enough, and that if we want to close this thing up we have to give them something.

President: He doesn't think we can rest on what I said yesterday?

Ball: No, he doesn't. He thinks we've got to go substantially beyond that. It is really a question of where we start in this thing and where we come out. My own feeling is that we probably ought to start with something not much different from what we arrived at tonight, and Stevenson himself agreed to that. I think Jack will in the morning, but he wanted to think it over a little further. Now I have some language which I worked out with Stevenson and which McCloy, although he doesn't buy it completely, just to give you the trend of it (they were both on the telephone), it would run like this: (attached) The main crux of the argument is this business whether to include some such phrase as "and the US is in position to be satisfied on these points" which is really a reservation of our right to overfly which it seems to me is essential if we are not going to get ourselves in a position where we may lose a U-2 and not be still feeling committed in the eyes of the world to a non-invasion guaranty, which I don't think we can be.

President: Well, could you put "if the US" part at the beginning?

Ball: As it was worked out with them it would be "Provided no nuclear weapons or other weapon systems capable of offensive use".

President: Well, could you you say "Provided the US is assured that".

Ball: You see, if you say "is assured" then the interpretation is that this means that the Russians have given them this assurance. What I propose to say was "Provided no nuclear weapons".

President: Yes, the only question in my mind is whether your statement really is too limiting to us. What about now if there is a simple war in Cuba?

Ball: Well, we take that out by saying "this does not alter any of the rights or obligations of the US set forth in the UN Charter and the Rio Treaty." The Rio Pact would give us the right to move in.

President: Would it?

Ball: I think by interpretation that we would be justified in doing it.

President: Well, we would [do] it any way if we have to.

Ball: Yes. That's the position I think we would have to take.

President: And we would probably get two-thirds of the OAS anyway.

Ball: Oh, I think so, yes. So that that is our real protection on that. But the problem with McCloy is that he just doesn't want any reference to the fact that we're protecting the right to overfly as a condition to the non-invasion assurance, and I really think we have to have it. So that he is going to think it over overnight and the idea is that we talk the first thing in the morning. If it is necessary I will then go up. Stevenson is rather opposed to my coming up. He thinks there are too many people in NY anyway. But we would like to get something in the Russian hands say toward noon tomorrow.

President: What do they say is the hurry up there?

Ball: It's just that I think the Russians want to clean this thing up. It is a nagging business as far as Khrushchev is concerned in that he would like to get it behind him. I do think there is some value in not letting it drag out too long because I think the American people are never happy with a long, drawn-out negotiation, and that gives the newspapers a chance to build up all the suspicions and doubts, etc.

President: Yes. The only thing is, I say, we don't want to get . . . the wording of that is going to be important to us in the next two years. McCloy, you know, doesn't quite have that problem, which we have.

Ball: No, this wording is about what we came out with. It is only altered slightly from what we came out with this afternoon.

President: There's nothing . . . you seemed to have more "whereases" in the meeting this afternoon.

Ball: No, I tell you, the only difference is that instead of saying "if and so long as" we say "provided"--that's not really anything. And when we say "and the US is in position to be satisfied" what we have said before was "and the US and the other states of the hemisphere are in position to be fully satisfied"--but that's not a significant change.

President: Let me ask you this, George. Is there any way we can make this appear to be more routine than it is?

Ball: Well, the reason we have written it this way, of course, is to bury it and to make it appear as subsidiary as possible.

President: Yes. What about putting some "of courses" in there some place?

Ball: Well, we can do that.

President: Read the whole thing again.

Ball: (Reads)

President: I think that is all right.

Ball: I think it protects us adequately, and I think this is certainly where we ought to put it up to them and simply say to the Russians "Now, look, if have another way of giving this assurance through some kind of UN presence it is up to you to come forward with it."

President: Let's take two or three hypothetical cases. Suppose they pour a lot of conventional stuff in there. I suppose we can always blockade though, can't we.

Ball: Sure.

President: Suppose they shoot down some of our planes and use the SAM-sites . . . .

Ball: Well, if they shoot down our planes, then you see under the language we have here, then we would say the whole deal is off, because they have frustrated us from being in position to be satisfied.

President: Right. OK. Now if they reserve the right that they could in Guatemala?

Ball: Then we would go into the OAS under the Rio Pact.

President: I see--and what does that say?

Ball: It gives freedom of action because it is based on the assumption that a presence outside the western hemisphere is incompatible with the American system, you see. By reserving our rights under the Rio Pact, it really permits us to do pretty much what we please.

President: All we would really need is two-thirds.

Ball: That is right.

President: Well, anyway, if we caught them red-handed, we could do it anyway.

Ball: I would think so.

President: Now, when is McCloy going to see Kuznetsov?

Ball: The idea was that he and I would talk first thing in the morning. Then I would check back with Mac. If he will go along with this draft, then he will deliver this draft to the Russians by noon.

President: I think we can't go much further than this.

Ball: Well, I think what we can say is that this is the best we can possibly do for you. Now, the fact is that there is a reservation of our right to be satisfied. If you can produce it in any other way, we will be glad to look at it. If it is a UN presence or something, well let's discuss it. But we've got to have this.

President: I think you ought to say that constitutionally the President cannot make a comment that cuts across the Rio Pact.

Ball: That's right. I agree. I'll tell them that.

President: I think you can use that if they try to throw that at him. I think you might get up a background sheet some time so that if we get assaulted we can show all the examples of where we can move.

Ball: All right, we'll do that in the morning.

President: Let me know if they finally buy it. No, if they change it let me know; if not, that's all right.

Ball: If I can get McCloy and Stevenson to agree with this in the morning I won't bother you.

President: Fine. That's all right.



Provided no nuclear weapons or(3) weapon systems capable of offensive use are present in or reintroduced into Cuba, and the United States is in position to be satisfied on these points; and provided Cuba does not invade or support an invasion of any other country, the United States declares that it will not invade Cuba or support an invasion of Cuba. This declaration(4) does not alter any of the rights or obligations(5) set forth in the UN Charter and the Rio Pact.

1 See the attachment which was then sent to USUN in Document 205. Back

2 No classification marking. A note in Ball's handwriting indicated that this was agreed to by Stevenson, read to the President at 8 p.m., and McCloy would provide an answer on the morning of November 22. Back

3 Ball wrote and added the word "other" at this point. Back

4 Ball added the following phrase at this point: "is made on the representation of the Soviet Union here in the Security Council and". Back

5 Ball added at this point, "of the United States." Back

Source: Department of State, Ball Files: Lot 74 D 272, Telephone Conversations--Cuba. No classification marking.

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