The Cuban Missile Crisis
Memorandum of Conversation


Washington, January 9, 1963, 5 p.m.





The President

Llewellyn E. Thompson, Ambassador at Large

John C. Guthrie, Director, SOV


Vasiliy Vasilyevich Kuznetsov, First Deputy Foreign Minister

Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador

Lev Isaakovich Mendelevich, Assistant to Kuznetsov

Viktor Pavlovich Karpov, First Secretary of Embassy (Interpreter)

Kuznetsov thanked the President for receiving him, saying that he considered this an honor, particularly in view of how busy the President is. He said that he had come to New York on Khrushchev's instructions to assist the UN Secretary General in the handling of the Cuban crisis. The Soviet Government considered that this part of the negotiation has been completed and that it would therefore be useful to meet the President and pay his respects. Everyone in the USSR understands that Khrushchev's instructions played a crucial role in the troubled days of crisis in the Caribbean and that as a result the danger of a thermonuclear war had been averted. The President had also displayed understanding. And so he had been instructed by his Government to make certain observations on the situation and related matters.

The President said that he appreciated Kuznetsov's coming to Washington and noted that Mr. McCloy had told him he had been very courteous throughout the New York negotiations and had made every effort to work out a satisfactory solution. He noted that Kuznetsov's stay in this country, while not as long as Mikoyan's in Cuba, had been lengthy and that he appreciated his efforts in New York.

Kuznetsov said that Messrs. McCloy and Stevenson and others had been very experienced. The atmosphere of the talks had been business-like and they had clearly expressed the United States viewpoint. He agreed with the President that the results had not been everything that had been hoped for. He said that under instructions he wished to comment on the results of the situation in the Caribbean. The Soviet Government and people are constantly working to improve relations with the U.S. In Moscow great significance is attached to the fact that throughout the Caribbean crisis the United States and the U.S.S.R. acted on the basis of trust and mutual understanding. Whether this basis can be maintained, including that personally between the President and Chairman Khrushchev, and whether the clear and definite commitments made during the negotiations and exchange of letters can be maintained would determine whether other international problems could be settled in the future. The Soviet Government will firmly adhere to the commitments it undertook toward Cuba and proceeds on the assumption that the United States Government will do the same. The fulfillment by both sides of these agreements will be a touchstone of the ability of the two powers to trust each other's word and to avert a military conflict. Speaking frankly, he had to say that during the course of the talks in New York on the settlement of the Caribbean crisis, especially during the last stages, the U.S. side handled the matter not in a way it seems it should have if it were also seeking to create trust between the two states. The Soviet Government would like to believe that the United States Government will in the future act in a manner which would not bring the world to the abyss of a thermonuclear war. The crisis in the Caribbean demonstrated with great clarity that both countries should act in accordance with the United Nations Charter concerning relations between all nations, large and small. Without this, there could be no guarantee that the United States and the U.S.S.R., which possess powerful armaments, will not confront each other again. Furthermore, the demonstrative welcome by the President of the Cuban refugees could not but be noted in Moscow; demonstrations like this revive the shadows of the past and leave their mark on the present. The overcoming of the crisis on the basis reached, puts other problems in the forefront: Chairman Khrushchev spoke of this in messages to the President and in public speeches. Two main problems to be solved are the question of the German peace treaty and the question of general and complete disarmament. Without eliminating the remnants of World War II it will be impossible to achieve normal relations and without the trust such relations engender general and complete disarmament would be impossible. The Soviet Government will make every effort to move the 18 Nation Disarmament Committee ahead and is prepared to do everything that would contribute to the success of these negotiations.

The President said that he thought Kuznetsov knew from his talks with McCloy and Stevenson of the particular sensitivity in the United States to anything involving Cuba. This is a delicate nerve in the United States stretching back to the beginning of our country. On the other hand, the President said, he was anxious to maintain good relations with the Soviet Union. He had noted before that these two most powerful countries have no national interests which bring them into collision. The President had spent a good deal of time defending this viewpoint prior to the Cuban crisis. Now that the matter had quieted down he saw no reason why the United States and the U.S.S.R. should be involved again in the same way. He asked Kuznetsov to explain to his principals American sensitivity over Cuba. The fact that there are 15 to 17,000 Soviet troops still in Cuba causes difficulties for the United States Government and for those in the United States who seek to maintain good relations with the U.S.S.R. The President said the Soviet Government could understand how the United States felt about this if they could imagine a similar situation in Finland. He was hopeful that Soviet policies toward Cuba, including the personnel and armaments there, would lead to a further relaxation of the situation. As to the question of the Bay of Pigs prisoners, the President said he had put them on the beach and he felt responsible for them. He had not said in his address to them that the United States would invade Cuba, though he had expressed the hope for a change in the situation there. All the U.S. forces which had been mobilized during the crisis were back in their camps. If the Soviet Union can comprehend the sensitivity and difficult nature of the problems the United States faces in the Caribbean, this can lead to a solution of other problems.

In reply, Kuznetsov said that the Soviet Government will fulfill all of the obligations it undertook with the exchange of letters between Khrushchev and the President. As for the Soviet military personnel in Cuba, it seemed to him that all the agreements in the exchange of letters had been carried out. This problem had been dealt with in the course of the exchange and there was a clear understanding on both sides concerning this matter. The Soviet Government will abide by all its agreements so there is nothing new in this problem.

The President noted that Khrushchev had given a clear commitment to withdraw all military personnel connected with the missile sites in Cuba and all others "in time". He recognized that the latter was not the same kind of commitment since no time was specified. Nevertheless, he wanted to mention this matter which occupied attention in the United States.

Kuznetsov reiterated that he thought that there was no misunderstanding on this point.

Referring to the President's comparison of the Cuban situation with Finland, Kuznetsov noted that there were many U.S. military bases, armed with deadly weapons and occupied by troops, around the U.S.S.R. However, he had no instructions on this point and said that the U.S.S.R. is not raising the question at this time.

The President replied that the U.S. had not introduced a new major base in any country such as Finland. A thermonuclear base there would have created a new situation. He repeated that Cuba was a matter of great sensitivity to the American people and again asked Kuznetsov to communicate this to his Government. Good relations between our two countries, the President said, will be made easier if the Soviet Government understands this.

Kuznetsov reverted to the question of the President's reception of the Cuban brigade in Florida.(1) He said this had created the opinion in Moscow that this brigade will be maintained, that others will be created and that then there would be a fresh invasion of Cuba.

The President replied that this was not going to happen. In a backgrounder which he had given in Florida he had said that the United States had no intention of invading Cuba and noted that our position remained that which he had set forth in his press conference of November 20. He said there would be no third hand invasion of Cuba. Nevertheless, it would be easier for the United States if there were a reduction of the Soviet military presence in Cuba. The President noted that Castro makes many more speeches than the President does and in them calls for revolution in Latin America. However, Castro was of no concern to the United States. The relations between the United States and the U.S.S.R. are more important and the President was anxious to lessen areas of disagreement between the two countries.

Kuznetsov replied that while the results of the New York negotiations were not as great as they might have been, the situation was better now than it had been at the end of October. The immediate threat had been averted. However, normalization of relations required that something else should be done. No one can agree that a situation is normal when a great power threatens a small one, and officially expresses a desire to strangle and overthrow the government of the smaller one. Thus, some problems remain and further normalization of the situation depends on the United States Government. During the New York talks, the Soviet side had mentioned a tripartite protocol in which the head of the Cuban Government would have obliged himself to abide by the United Nations Charter and not to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries. If the United States Government fears Cuban actions, perhaps it should reexamine this protocol.

The President reiterated that the United States was not concerned with Cuba but with the Soviet military presence there. He noted a number of speeches which Castro and Che Guevara had made during the last two months calling for armed struggle in Latin America, saying that small bands of guerrillas would act as a catalyst in the process of taking power from the hands of the Yankee imperialists and insisting that this must be done in a large number of Latin American countries. He read a quotation from an interview by Che Guevara on November 23.

Kuznetsov replied that he was not at all sure the quotes which the President had made from the Cuban speeches were exact. It seemed to him that the Cubans had far more reasons to fear and worry than the United States. Ever since the beginning of the 1959 revolution, Cuba had been under various undermining pressures. The Cuban Government and Castro had made quite clear their willingness to negotiate with the United States concerning all points awaiting solution. The United States could respond to these Cuban proposals in order to normalize relations. He noted that the New York talks had been between the United States and the U.S.S.R. but that the problem had been made more difficult by the fact that they had been talking about another country.(2)

Source: Department of State, Presidential Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 66 D 149. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Guthrie, cleared in draft by Thompson, and approved by the White House on January 14. The meeting was held at the White House and lasted until 6:02 p.m. (Kennedy Library, President's Appointment Book) The Department of State prepared a January 9 briefing memorandum for the President for this discussion. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.1161/1-963) See the Supplement.

(1) See footnote 2, Document 260. Back

(2) Kuznetsov met earlier with Secretary Rusk at noon in Rusk's office. (Department of State, Secretary's Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 63 D 330) See the Supplement. Back

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