Cuban Missile Crisis: October 25, 1962 - part 2

Speaker: John F Kennedy
Delivered On: 10/25/1962
Place: Washington, D.C.
Subject: Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962. United States -- Foreign relations -- Soviet Union.
Audio/Video Available:

Description: See resource for October 18, 1962 for brief description of the Cuban Missile crisis and previous clips in this series for timeline events up to this date.
Summary of conversation:

Tape 38.1, October 25, 10:00: Continued discussion from Tape 37.4 of possible American responses to the ships moving toward the quarantine line and further negotiations at the UN:

McNamara concludes: "I don't think we have weakened the forceful position that will lead to removal of the missile sites by letting the Bucharest through." (0:52)

JFK asserts that the quarantine has already been successful since the USSR has already turned back fourteen ships presumably carrying offensive weapons. (3:22)

But, JFK adds, "we've got to face up to the fact that we're going to have to grab a Russian ship. The question is whether it is better for that to happen today or tomorrow.' (3:38)

Bundy then observes that "Nothing in your speech requires you to stop any ship, even if it is found to contain offensive cargo we deem unacceptable. The way in which we define this is our business." (8:03)

Discussion of the negotiations at the UN. JFK says that we could lift the quarantine if the UN provides guarantees that no new offensive weapons would be introduced. That would make us seem less negative than if we say we won't lift it under any circumstances. (19:16)

Bundy and McNamara point out that the real issue is the removal of the existing missiles not the introduction of new ones. They argue that the quarantine should not be lifted without removal. (22:00)

Rusk explains that the plan being discussed at UN would put UN guarantees against new missiles into place as a substitute for the quarantine for only 2-3 weeks while negotiations continue for a permanent solution involving complete removal. (22:35)

McNamara then adds: "I don't see any way to get those weapons out of Cuba, never have thought we would get them out of Cuba, without the application of substantial force. The force we can apply is economic force and military force." (23:34)

JFK, describing the UN proposal, concludes: "This puts us in a reasonable stance." (25:06)

Former ambassador to Moscow, Llewellyn Thompson, then notes that his reading of Khrushchev's 10/24 letter suggests "Soviet preparation for resistance by force--that is--forcing us to take forceful action." (30:19)

McNamara wonders what we will do in the next 24 hours if there is no Soviet ship carrying offensive weapons which can be intercepted and construction of the missile sites also continues. He recommends spending the rest of the day planning escalation of the quarantine. (35:42)

JFK observes that the purpose of the quarantine is not to stop the delivery of the weapons since they are already there and that we will "have a showdown with the Russians of one kind or another." (37:32)

But, Kennedy adds,"We don't want to precipitate an incident" (39:27) "This is not the appropriate time to blow up a ship." (40:05)

Tape 38.2-38.2A, October 25, 10:00: Continuation of discussion of the implementation of the quarantine from Tape 38.1:

McNamara discusses a "passenger ship" carrying 1,500 industrial workers, including 550 Czech technicians and 25 East German students. He recommends allowing it to pass through the quarantine. (41:15)

JFK agrees but notes that we will have to "pick up some ship tomorrow" and prove "sooner or later that the blockade is reaL" (44:56) McNamara recommends stopping the tanker Grozny instead. (45:25)

Robert Kennedy then reopens the air strike discussion by arguing that a confrontation on the high seas might be more dangerous over the next few days and that we should instead "strike the missile sites in Cuba as a first step." (47:34) Treasury Secretary Douglas Dillon agrees with the "logic" of having a confrontation in Cuba rather than on the high seas. (48:10)

RFK argues that we have already proven that the blockade is serious and that we are being tough: "It's a hell of a thing, if you stop and think about it, that 15 ships have turned back. I don't really think we have any apologies to make." (52:36)

Walt Rostow, chair of the State Department Policy Planning Council, recommends adding POL (petroleum, oil and lubricants) to the embargo list and not having any confrontation for now. (54:26)

JFK agrees that we will have to add POL to the list or initiate the air strike because the work is continuing on the missile sites and we have to bring counter-pressures in order to avoid the appearance that "we're not doing anything." (56:34)
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