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.”

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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