U.S., Cuba discuss missile crisis
Cold War foes reflect on 1962 nuclear drama
BY ANITA SNOW
HAVANA - As President Bush considers attacking Iraq, former U.S.
officials who considered attacking Cuba 40 years ago this month sat down
Fidel Castro to reflect on the missile crisis that nearly sparked a nuclear war.
The opening session of a three-day conference on that Cold War
drama underscored Cuban fears of a U.S. military attack, feelings that
escalating tensions before the October 1962 crisis.
Participants in the closed sessions quoted former U.S. Defense
Secretary Robert McNamara as saying that if he had been a Cuban official
then, he would
have feared the same.
The Cuban president read aloud from a March 1962 letter from
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's son-in-law, A. Adzhubei, to Soviet Communist
officials saying that U.S. President John F. Kennedy told him in Washington in January he had no plans to attack Cuba.
But around the same time, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were
preparing ''cover and deception plans'' that called for creating a pretext
for the United
States to invade Cuba, according to another previously secret document made public at the conference.
One objective of the plan was to ''lure or provoke Castro, or
an uncontrollable subordinate, into an overt hostile reaction against the
according to the Feb. 19, 1962, memorandum signed by Brig. Gen. William H. Craig. That hostile reaction ``would in turn create the justification for the
U.S. to not only retaliate but destroy Castro with speed, force and determination.''
SAVING THE WORLD
Before the morning session, McNamara credited Castro, Kennedy
and Khrushchev with saving the world from destruction. ''It was the best
foreign policy crisis of the last 50 years,'' McNamara said.
The crisis began in October 1962 when Kennedy learned that Cuba
had Soviet nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States. The
defused two weeks later when the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles.
Former Kennedy aides Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Richard Goodwin
and Ted Sorensen are also attending the conference, as well as former CIA
Brugioni, who interpreted American spy photos of Soviet missiles in Cuba.
Also participating were directors of the nonprofit National Security
Archive, an international relations research group from George Washington
that collected many of the documents being consulted. Many of those historic papers are being released publicly during the gathering, including
documents from the Cuban government, the CIA, the Pentagon, the White House and the Soviet Foreign Ministry.
A portion of the documents, made available to The Associated
Press, demonstrate that the crisis did not end on Oct. 29 with the Soviet
agreement to remove the offensive weapons, as is widely believed.
Weeks after the Soviet Union agreed to pull the missiles from
Cuba, Khrushchev worried that an ''irrational'' Castro would renew tensions
with the United
States, perhaps even provoking war.
At issue were U.S. surveillance flights over Cuba to monitor
dismantling of the missiles Moscow had installed on the island. Khrushchev
had agreed in late
October to pull out the missiles. But Khrushchev was concerned that Castro would order his forces to shoot down the low-flying U.S. surveillance flights,
which the Cuban leader saw as an intolerable intrusion on Cuban sovereignty.
''The crisis of October has been considered by many as the most
dramatic of the so-called Cold War and perhaps of all international relations
contemporary history,'' said José Ramon Fernandez, a Cuban military commander during the crisis and now a vice president in Castro's government.