Thursday, 25 October 1962
President Kennedy responded to acting Secretary-General U Thant on the afternoon of the 25th with a neutral response to his proposal to suspend the blockade for two weeks to better allow the international community to broker an agreement on the crisis. While the President did not explicitly refuse the offer, it was clear in the tone that he had no interest in subrogating the interests of the United States in this matter to the United Nations.75 A delay worked against President Kennedy as it limited his military options and thus devalued the military course of action.
In his response to U Thant’s proposal, Chairman Khrushchev, perhaps looking for an opportunity to diffuse the crisis and secure more time to develop opportunities, replied in a much different tone to U Thant. Khrushchev welcomed the proposal and agreed with it in “the interests of peace.”76
U Thant responded to both Kennedy and Khrushchev by acknowledging each leader’s “encouraging reply” and indicated that talks will begin with their ambassadors on the 26th.77
Lying juxtaposed to the apparent forward motion of diplomacy is the letter that Kennedy sent to Khrushchev early that morning, delivered to the Soviet Embassy in Washington at 1:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m. in Moscow). In that letter, Kennedy “regret[s] very much that you still do not appear to understand what it is that has moved us in this matter.” Kennedy highlighted the salient events to date indicating the deceit of previous Soviet statements regarding offensive weapons in Cuba. The tone of the letter is calm and firm and heavily imbued with regret. Kennedy closed by saying, “I repeat my regret that these events should cause a deterioration in our relations. I hope that your Government will take the necessary action to permit a restoration of the earlier situation.”78
Kennedy’s letter made no mention of the 24 October proposal from Khrushchev and further solidified the US stance that the only acceptable solution must include the removal of the weapons from Cuba. According to Freshinko and Naftali, it is at this point Khrushchev ordered the remaining transports to turn around and not press the quarantine and he offered the crux of the future proposal to the Presidium: “Give us a pledge not to invade Cuba, and we will remove the missiles.” The Soviet decision was made. The Soviets would “wait and see” a little longer to see if the situation developed in such a manner that offered any gain for the Soviets. It was at this point when Khrushchev advised his ministers to join him at the Bolshoi Theater in an effort to display calm and confidence in at the height of the crisis.79
Diplomatically, the Soviets agreed to work toward a solution. They, however, chose not to relay their acceptance of Kennedy’s demands as they wanted to see if any fruit could be brought to bear by waiting a little longer, but the decision had been made to settle.
The diplomatic wheels were turning of their own inertia. The United Nations Security Council became the scene of an emotional and dramatic debate between Ambassadors Stevenson and Zorin where both played their roles impeccably. Neither moved from their approved scripts and both accused the other of using the UNSC for displays of self-interested propaganda contrary to the spirit of the United Nations Charter.80
US media coverage of the United Nations' debate over the presence of Soviet Missile sites in Cuba
The US Ambassador to NATO, Thomas Finletter, responded to a cable sent from Secretary Rusk the day prior advising that it is “possible that negotiated solution… may involve dismantling and removal Jupiters (sic).”
81 In his response he cautioned Secretary Rusk that Turkey greatly values the Jupiters and that the “[f]act that Jupiters are obsolescent (sic) and vulnerable does not apparently affect present Turkish thinking.” He suggested that it would be better to consider removing a non-NATO base to better correlate the fact that Cuba is not a NATO country and he stresses that the trade of Jupiters for Polaris would not interest the Turks.82
The following day, the United States Ambassador to Italy, Frederick Reinhardt was more optimistic. He indicated that “Removal [of] Jupiters from Italy would probably be manageable.” He further indicated that the Italians would prefer the seaborne weapons and the “next generation missiles.”83
Meanwhile, evidence that the Soviets may be considering a peaceful solution became apparent. At the 11:50 a.m. Department of Defense press briefing the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Arthur Sylvester, reported that “at least a dozen Soviet vessels have turned back” and confirmed that a Soviet tanker Bucharest was allowed through the quarantine line.84 The blockade appeared to be working and the Soviets appeared to be adhering to it.
The Washington correspondent to the New York Herald Tribune, Warren Rogers met with KGB agent Aleksandr Feklisov early that morning. Rogers planned to participate in the press embedding that Assistant Secretary of Defense Sylvester would talk about later that day. The night prior, Rogers and co-worker Robert Donovan were overheard at the National Press Club by longtime bartender Johnny Prokov as they discussed the trip. Prokov passed word to Feklisov who contacted Rogers early on the morning of the 25th.
This blatant security violation suggests that Rogers may have been intended to relay information. He was well connected at the Pentagon and his contact with TASS “correspondents” at the National Press Club was well known. It is possible that he was asked to relay information about the pending “invasion.”
During their conversation, Feklisov asked Rogers, “Do you think Kennedy means what he says?” Rogers responded, “You’re damn right, he does… He will do what he says he will do.”85
The morning meeting was almost immediately followed up with a lunch invitation from Georgi Kornienko, Dobrynin’s chief political advisor. During the lunch to confirm the validity of Feklisov’s source, Rogers reaffirmed his opinion that military action was inevitable and that Kennedy meant what he said.
86 The notes were forwarded to Moscow, delivered to the head of the KGB, Vladimir Semichastny, at 8:30 a.m. Friday morning (1:30 a.m. in Washington). When Khrushchev read these reports later that morning, he was convinced that the United States would start war. Khrushchev’s desire to “look around” to judge the Americans’ determination seemed impossible.87 Diplomatically, the time had expired.