Did JFK make a secret quid pro quo deal with Russia, as depicted in movie Thirteen Days, to withdraw US Jupiter missiles in Turkey in exchange for Russia's withdrawing its missiles in Cuba?


What was actually promised at Anatoly F. Dobrynin's Meeting With Robert F. Kennedy on 27 October 1962?


1) The Kennedys maintained that neither John nor Robert Kennedy promised to withdraw the Jupiters as a quid pro quo, or concession, in exchange for the removal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba. Instead, they asserted we went eyeball to eyeball with the Russians and they blinked. In the first public admission the issue of a quid pro quo was discussed. Robert F. Kennedy's Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, depicts RFK as rejecting any firm agreement to withdraw the Jupiters. So if such a quid pro quo deal happened, the Kennedys would have intentionally provided a false history of the event.

2) The deployment of missile bases in Turkey was done by a special decision of the NATO Council. A unilateral decision by the president of the USA to withdraw them would be in violation of the NATO treaty. Since the Supreme Court held that treaties are the law of the land, a violation of a NATO treaty could be construed as a violation of the law.

What Happened?

My view. Best Information is that Thirteen Days was accurate: JFK made a quid pro quo (See Below).

Dobrynin's Cable to the Soviet Foreign Ministry, 27 October 1962:
TOP SECRET Making Copies Prohibited Copy No. 1

Late tonight R. Kennedy invited me to come see him. We talked alone. The Cuban crisis, R. Kennedy began, continues to quickly worsen....

"And what about Turkey?" I asked R. Kennedy. "If that is the only obstacle to achieving the regulation I mentioned earlier, then the president doesn't see any unsurmountable difficulties in resolving this issue," replied R. Kennedy. "The greatest difficulty for the president is the public discussion of the issue of Turkey. Formally the deployment of missile bases in Turkey was done by a special decision of the NATO Council. To announce now a unilateral decision by the president of the USA to withdraw missile bases from Turkey--this would damage the entire structure of NATO and the US position as the leader of NATO, where, as the Soviet government knows very well, there are many arguments. In short, if such a decision were announced now it would seriously tear apart NATO." "However, President Kennedy is ready to come to agree on that question with N.S. Khrushchev, too. I think that in order to withdraw these bases from Turkey," R. Kennedy said, "we need 4-5 months. This is the minimal amount of time necessary for the US government to do this, taking into account the procedures that exist within the NATO framework. On the whole Turkey issue," R. Kennedy added, "if Premier N.S. Khrushchev agrees with what I've said, we can continue to exchange opinions between him and the president, using him, R. Kennedy and the Soviet ambassador. "However, the president can't say anything public in this regard about Turkey," R. Kennedy said again. R. Kennedy then warned that his comments about Turkey are extremely confidential; besides him and his brother, only 2-3 people know about it in Washington. "That's all that he asked me to pass on to N.S. Khrushchev," R. Kennedy said in conclusion. "The president also asked N.S. Khrushchev to give him an answer (through the Soviet ambassador and R. Kennedy) if possible within the next day 27/X-62.


[Source: Russian Foreign Ministry archives, translation from copy provided by NHK, in Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein, We All Lost the Cold War.

Sorensen's "Confession:"

...the president [Kennedy] recognized that, for Chairman Khrushchev to withdraw the missiles from Cuba, it would be undoubtedly helpful to him if he could say at the same time to his colleagues on the Presidium, "And we have been assured that the missiles will be coming out of Turkey." And so, after the ExComm meeting [on the evening of 27 October 1962], as I'm sure almost all of you know, a small group met in President Kennedy's office, and he instructed Robert Kennedy--at the suggestion of Secretary of State [Dean] Rusk--to deliver the letter to Ambassador Dobrynin for referral to Chairman Khrushchev, but to add orally what was not in the letter: that the missiles would come out of Turkey. Ambassador Dobrynin felt that Robert Kennedy's book did not adequately express that the "deal" on the Turkish missiles was part of the resolution of the crisis. And here I have a confession to make to my colleagues on the American side, as well as to others who are present. I was the editor of Robert Kennedy's book. It was, in fact, a diary of those thirteen days. And his diary was very explicit that this was part of the deal; but at that time it was still a secret even on the American side, except for the six of us who had been present at that meeting. So I took it upon myself to edit that out of his diaries, and that is why the Ambassador is somewhat justified in saying that the diaries are not as explicit as his conversation.

[Sorensen comments, in Bruce J. Allyn, James G. Blight, and David A. Welch, eds., Back to the Brink: Proceedings of the Moscow Conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis, January 27-28, 1989pp. 92-93]

Accounts of Former U.S. Officials: McGeorge Bundy:

... Later [on Saturday], accepting a proposal from Dean Rusk, [John F.] Kennedy instructed his brother to tell Ambassador Dobrynin that while there could be no bargain over the missiles that had been supplied to Turkey, the president himself was determined to have them removed and would attend to the matter once the present crisis was resolved--as long as no one in Moscow called that action part of a bargain. [p. 406] ...The other part of the oral message [to Dobrynin] was proposed by Dean Rusk; that we should tell Khrushchev that while there could be no deal over the Turkish missiles, the president was determined to get them out and would do so once the Cuban crisis was resolved. The proposal was quickly supported by the rest of us [in addition to Bundy and Rusk, those present included President Kennedy, McNamara, RFK, George Ball, Roswell Gilpatrick, Llewellyn Thompson, and Theodore Sorensen]. Concerned as we all were by the cost of a public bargain struck under pressure at the apparent expense of the Turks, and aware as we were from the day's discussion that for some, even in our own closest councils, even this unilateral private assurance might appear to betray an ally, we agreed without hesitation that no one not in the room was to be informed of this additional message. Robert Kennedy was instructed to make it plain to Dobrynin that the same secrecy must be observed on the other side, and that any Soviet reference to our assurance would simply make it null and void. [pp. 432-44] ...There was no leak. As far as I know, none of the nine of us told anyone else what had happened. We denied in every forum that there was any deal, and in the narrowest sense what we said was usually true, as far as it went. When the orders were passed that the Jupiters must come out, we gave the plausible and accurate--if incomplete--explanation that the missile crisis had convinced the president once and for all that he did not want those missiles there....

[p. 434] [from McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House, 1988]

It appears RFK may have also misinformed Secretary of State Rusk:

Robert F. Kennedy, Memorandum for Dean Rusk on Meeting with Anatoly F. Dobrynin on 27 October 1962 TOP SECRET Office of the Attorney General Washington, D.C. October 30, 1962 MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE FROM THE ATTORNEY GENERAL At the request of Secretary Rusk, I telephoned Ambassador Dobrynin at approximately 7:15 p.m. on Saturday, October 27th. I asked him if he would come to the Justice Department at a quarter of eight. We met in my office. I told him first that we understood that the work was continuing on the Soviet missile bases in Cuba. Further, I explained to him that in the last two hours we had found that our planes flying over Cuba had been fired upon and that one of our U-2's had been shot down and the pilot killed. I said these men were flying unarmed planes. I told him that this was an extremely serious turn in events. We would have to make certain decisions within the next 12 or possibly 24 hours. There was a very little time left. If the Cubans were shooting at our planes, then we were going to shoot back. This could not help but bring on further incidents and that he had better understand the full implications of this matter. He raised the point that the argument the Cubans were making was that we were violating Cuban air space. I replied that if we had not been violating Cuban air space then we would still be believing what he and Khrushchev had said--that there were no long-range missiles in Cuba. In any case I said that this matter was far more serious than the air space over Cuba and involved peoples all over the world. I said that he had better understand the situation and he had better communicate that understanding to Mr. Khrushchev. Mr. Khrushchev and he had misled us. The Soviet Union had secretly established missile bases in Cuba while at the same time proclaiming, privately and publicly, that this would never be done. I said those missile bases had to go and they had to go right away. We had to have a commitment by at least tomorrow that those bases would be removed. This was not an ultimatum, I said, but just a statement of fact. He should understand that if they did not remove those bases then we would remove them. His country might take retaliatory actions but he should understand that before this was over, while there might be dead Americans there would also be dead Russians. He then asked me what offer we were making. I said a letter had just been transmitted to the Soviet Embassy which stated in substance that the missile bases should be dismantled and all offensive weapons should be removed from Cuba. In return, if Cuba and Castro and the Communists ended their subversive activities in other Central and Latin-American countries, we would agree to keep peace in the Caribbean and not permit an invasion from American soil. He then asked me about Khrushchev's other proposal dealing with the removal of the missiles from Turkey. I replied that there could be no quid pro quo -- no deal of this kind could be made. This was a matter that had to be considered by NATO and that it was up to NATO to make the decision. I said it was completely impossible for NATO to take such a step under the present threatening position of the Soviet Union. If some time elapsed -- and per your instructions, I mentioned four or five months -- I said I was sure that these matters could be resolved satisfactorily. [crossed out by hand--ed.] Per your instructions I repeated that there could be no deal of any kind and that any steps toward easing tensions in other parts of the world largely depended on the Soviet Union and Mr. Khrushchev taking action in Cuba and taking it immediately. I repeated to him that this matter could not wait and that he had better contact Mr. Khrushchev and have a commitment from him by the next day to withdraw the missile bases under United Nations supervision for otherwise, I said, there would be drastic consequences. RFK: amn.

[Source: John F. Kennedy Library, Boston, MA; provided to CWIHP by Prof. Peter Roman, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA.]

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