Dictabelt 41.2

John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower
White House Telephone

Published in Philip Zelikow and Ernest May, eds., The Presidential Recordings: John F. Kennedy: The Great Crises, volume 3 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001), pp.522-23.

President Kennedy: Hello?

Operator: Yes, please.

President Kennedy: Oh, is the General on there?

Operator: Yes. I’ll put it on here, sir. Ready.

President Kennedy: Hello?

Dwight Eisenhower: General Eisenhower, Mr. President.

President Kennedy: General, how are you?

Eisenhower: Pretty good, thanks.

President Kennedy: Oh, fine.

General, I just wanted to bring you up to date on this matter because I know ofyour concern about it. We got, Friday night [October 26], got a message from Khrushchev which said that he would withdraw these missiles and technicians and so on, providing we did not plan to invade Cuba. We then got a message, that public one the next morning, in which he said he would do that ifwe withdrew our missiles from Turkey. We then, as you know, issued a statement that we couldn’t get into that deal. So we then got this message this morning. So we now have to wait and see how it unfolds and there’s a good deal ofcomplexities to it. Ifthe withdrawal ofthese missiles, technicians, and the cessation ofsubversive activity by them—

Eisenhower: Yeah.

President Kennedy: —well, we just have to set up satisfactory procedures to determine whether these actions will be carried out. So I would think that, if we can do that, we’ll find our interests advanced, even though it may be only one more chapter in a rather long story as far as Cuba is concerned.

Eisenhower: Of course. But, Mr. President, did he put any conditions in whatsoever, in there?

President Kennedy: No, except that we’re not going to invade Cuba.

Eisenhower: Yes.

President Kennedy: That’s the only one that we’ve got now. But we don’t plan to invade Cuba under these conditions anyway.

Eisenhower: No.

President Kennedy: So if we can get them out, we’re better off by far.

Eisenhower: That’s correct. I quite agree. I just wondered whether he was trying to, knowing we would keep our word, whether he would try to engage us in any kind of statement or commitment that would finally, one day, could be very embarrassing. Listen. Suppose they got in . . . suppose they start to bombard Guantánamo?

President Kennedy: Right.

Eisenhower: That’s what I’m getting at. I quite agree this is a very, I think, conciliatory move he’s made.

President Kennedy: Right.

Eisenhower: Provided that he doesn’t say that [unclear].

President Kennedy: Oh, well, I agree. Oh, yes, that’s right. I think what we’ve got to do is keep . . . That’s why I don’t think the Cuban story can be over yet. I think we will retain sufficient freedom to protect our interests if he—

Eisenhower: That’s all I was saying.

President Kennedy: —if he, if they engage in subversion. If they attempt to do any aggressive acts and so on, then all bets are off. In addition, my guess is that, by the end of next month, we’re going to be toe to toe on Berlin, anyway. So that I think this is important for the time being because it requires quite a step down, really, for Khrushchev. On the other hand, I think that, as we all know, they’re . . . They just probe, and their word’s unreliable. So we just have to stay busy on it.

Eisenhower: As I’ve averred before, Mr. President, there’s one thing about . . . They, these people, do not equate, and it may have been a mistake to equate, Berlin with Cuba or anything else.

President Kennedy: Right. Right.

Eisenhower: They take any spot in the world. They don’t care where it is.

President Kennedy: That’s right.

Eisenhower: And it’s just [that] the question is: Are you in such a place you either can’t or won’t resist?

President Kennedy: That’s right. Yeah.

Eisenhower: When we got into Tibet. What is it with Tibet? Goddamned mountainous country over there, we couldn’t even reach it.1

President Kennedy: Right.

Eisenhower: And so, well, what we could do then was to [unclear] itself, that’s all.

President Kennedy: Right. Right.

Eisenhower: Now. So they get you, and they probe when it . . . when you can’t do anything. Then if they get another place where they think that you just won’t [resist] for some reason or other—

President Kennedy: Yeah.

Eisenhower: —why then they go ahead.

President Kennedy: That’s right.

Eisenhower: So I think you’re doing exactly right on this one. Go ahead. But just let them know that you won’t be the aggressor in there. But, on the other hand, you’ve always got the right to—

President Kennedy: That’s right.

Eisenhower: —to determine whether the other guy has been the aggressor.

President Kennedy: Well, we’ll stay right at it and I’ll keep in touch with you, General.

Eisenhower: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

President Kennedy: OK. Thank you.

  • 1. China invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950. The Tibetans fought a bloody guerrilla war for years against Chinese rule. While Eisenhower was president, in 1956, the CIA began helping the Tibetans by supplying arms from bases in India and Nepal and, in 1959, also began training groups of Tibetans at a base in the United States.