Would Have Made ’62 Swap With Khrushchev, Rusk Says : Kennedy Plan for Missile Deal Told
Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk has revealed that President John F. Kennedy was prepared in October, 1962, to arrange the withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey to get the Soviet Union to pull its missiles out of Cuba and thus resolve the explosive Cuban missile crisis.
Rusk confirmed a New York Times report Friday that Kennedy composed a message to be passed to U.N. Secretary General U Thant asking that the United Nations sponsor a plan for mutual withdrawals.
But the point became moot when the Soviet Union pulled its missiles out without further pressure.
The disclosure of the secret fallback plan sheds new light on the behind-the-scenes strategy by the Kennedy Administration in the final days of the tense superpower confrontation, which began with the discovery of Soviet missile installations under construction on the island.
It suggests that Kennedy was less willing than many historians had previously believed to go to war with the Soviets to obtain a virtually unconditional removal of the missiles.
“If it was in fact Kennedy’s strategy, it certainly suggests that Kennedy was more fearful of war than some of his admirers have argued--and more flexible than some of his critics have contended,” said Barton J. Bernstein, a Stanford University history professor who has written about the crisis.
Rusk disclosed Kennedy’s plan in a letter to a historians’ meeting last March in Hawk’s Cay, Fla., according to former Undersecretary of State George W. Ball, who attended the session. Ball said he considered himself “Rusk’s alter ego” but still wasn’t told of the secret plan--presumably because “this was worked out with the President.”
Ball said that when the letter was read, all of those at the meeting, including some former Kennedy top advisers, “were astonished. None of them knew of it.”
Disagree With Professor
Rusk and Ball, in telephone interviews, both disagreed with the view of Harvard Prof. James G. Blight, sponsor of the March meeting, that a U.S. agreement to remove the U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey would have been a significant concession, potentially undercutting the nation’s standing with the NATO alliance.
Not at all, they said--the missiles were obsolete and due to be removed anyway. Kennedy had already passed word to Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev that they would be dismantled, but he wanted to avoid the appearance of an explicit, public trade for the Soviet missiles.
But, Rusk said: “You’re talking about nuclear war. Compared to that, that kind of consideration would have been unimportant.”
Rusk also asserted that the Jupiter concession was only one of several options Kennedy was considering, and that he would not necessarily have used it immediately if the Soviets had not relented. Also under consideration, he said, was further tightening the naval blockade on Cuba to increase pressure on the Soviets and buy time.
Anniversary of Crisis
Rusk said he decided to reveal the secret plan this year--the 25th anniversary of the missile crisis--because it seemed like the “appropriate time to complete the record” for history. He said only he, Kennedy and the official tentatively designated to approach Thant, former U.N. official Andrew W. Cordier, knew of the fallback scheme. Cordier died in 1975.
The plan was devised during the secret strategy sessions held after Kennedy announced the discovery by aerial reconnaissance flights of the Soviet missile installations in a televised address to the nation on Oct. 22.
On Oct. 27, Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy presented to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin a three-part plan calling for a Soviet withdrawal from Cuba, a U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba and a U.S. commitment to remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey only in accordance with its previous removal schedule.
Rusk said Kennedy was concerned what would happen if the Soviets balked, in light of their demand that the Jupiters be included explicitly in the deal.
In his letter, he said Kennedy directed him to call Cordier and “dictate to him a statement which would be made by U Thant . . . proposing the removal of both the Jupiters and the missiles in Cuba.”
“It was clear to me that President Kennedy would not let the Jupiters in Turkey become an obstacle to the removal of the missile sites in Cuba because the Jupiters were coming out in any event,” Rusk’s letter said.
Rusk said Cordier was instructed “to put (the) statement in the hands of U Thant only after a further signal from us.”
He added: “That step was never taken.” On Oct. 28, the Soviets began to dismantle their missile installations.
Blight, the Harvard administrator who organized the historical conference, said that if the Jupiter missile withdrawal was made an explicit part of the agreement, the NATO nations’ faith in the U.S. commitment to their security would have been shaken. It could have appeared Kennedy was willing to “sell out the Turks to deal with a crisis in the Caribbean,” he said.
However, another participant in the conference, Ray Garthoff, a former State Department specialist, said the governments of Turkey and other NATO nations did not greatly value the aging Jupiter missiles, which were dismantled in April, 1963, and replaced with coverage from Polaris nuclear submarines.