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Cable, Ambassador Dobrynin to the Soviet Foreign Ministry, Meeting with Robert Kennedy, October 27, 1962

Encrypted telegram reporting negotiations between Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Fedorovich Dobrynin and U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, after the Cuban military shot down an American U-2 spy plane over Cuba with a Soviet surface-to-air missile.

Dobrynin, Anatoly Fedorovich
1962 October 27

Cable, Ambassador Dobrynin to the Soviet Foreign Ministry, Meeting with
Robert Kennedy, October 27, 1962, History and Public Policy Program Digital
Archive, Russian Foreign Ministry archives, translation from copy provided by
NHK, in Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein, We All Lost the Cold War
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), appendix, 523 – 26, with
minor revisions,

On October 27, 1962, the Cuban military shot down an American U-2 spy plane over Cuba with a Soviet surface-to-air missile. Later, US Attorney General Robert Kennedy met with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin. Dobrynin immediately sent a report on their negotiations in an encrypted secret telegram to the Soviet Foreign Ministry. This source is that telegram. Remember as you read it that some of the words are Dobrynin’s, and some are quotes from Robert Kennedy. What did Robert Kennedy propose? What extra condition did Dobrynin ask for? Why do you think the Kennedys (since Robert was his brother John’s closest ally) wanted to keep that secret?

This is a difficult source for the students, especially English learners and those who read below grade level, as it describes complex negotiations between Robert Kennedy and Ambassador Dobrynin, as reported by the latter. Consider using the literacy strategy designed for this source. The negotiations took place the same day, October 27, that the American U-2 plane was shot down and the pilot killed. The Kennedy administration was clearly looking for a way out of the crisis, as were the Soviets. The secret deal R. Kennedy and Dobrynin were able to reach made de-escalation of the conflict possible. The deal consisted of two concessions from the United States: first, the lifting of the naval blockade of Cuba and an assurance of non-invasion, and second, the removal of the Jupiter missiles based in Italy and Turkey that were threatening targets in the Soviet Union information that was to be kept secret in order to avoid political damage domestically and internationally. In exchange, the Soviets agreed to remove all missiles from Cuba. 

Late tonight R. Kennedy invited me to come see him. We talked alone.
The Cuban crisis, R. Kennedy began, continues to quickly worsen. We have just received a report that an unarmed American plane was shot down while carrying out a reconnaissance flight over Cuba. The military is demanding that the President arm such planes and respond to fire with fire. The USA government will have to do this. …
"Because of the plane that was shot down, there is now strong pressure on the president to give an order to respond with fire if fired upon when American reconnaissance planes are flying over Cuba. The USA can't stop these flights, because this is the only way we can quickly get information about the state of construction of the missile bases in Cuba, which we believe pose a very serious threat to our national security. But if we start to fire in response — a chain reaction will quickly start that will be very hard to stop. The same thing in regard to the essence of the issue of the missile bases in Cuba. The USA government is determined to get rid of those bases — up to, in the extreme case, of bombing them, since, I repeat, they pose a great threat to the security of the USA. But in response to the bombing of these bases, in the course of which Soviet specialists might suffer, the Soviet government will undoubtedly respond with the same against us, somewhere in Europe. A real war will begin, in which millions of Americans and Russians will die. We want to avoid that any way we can, I'm sure that the government of the USSR has the same wish. …
. . . The most important thing for us,” R. Kennedy stressed, "is to get as soon as possible the agreement of the Soviet government to halt further work on the construction of the missile bases in Cuba and take measures under international control that would make it impossible to use these weapons. In exchange the government of the USA is ready, in addition to repealing all measures on the ‘quarantine,’ to give the assurances that there will not be any invasion of Cuba and that other countries of the Western Hemisphere are ready to give the same assurances — the US government is certain of this."
"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. … 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.