Further Clarification
Interviews with Kennedy and Castro

Jean Daniel
The New Republic
, 21 December 1963, pp. 6–7

Jean Daniel’s report in last week’s New Republic, in which he quoted at length what had been told by John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro has provoked numerous inquiries—most of them centering on the circumstances of the missile implacement in Cuba. According to Castro’s account, President Kennedy had told Khrushchev’s son-in-law that “the new situation in Cuba was intolerable,” reminding him that the US had not intervened in Hungary. From such statements, Castro and the Soviets concluded that an American invasion was imminent; missiles were installed shortly thereafter. Mr. Daniel here replies to questions put to him:

Q: How do you record your interviews?

Daniel: It depends. Important persons behave very differently, depending on whether or not one takes extensive notes during the course of an interview. This is what makes the real difference between an interview and a conversation. In the case of President Kennedy, whom I met alone, it had been understood that not until I returned from Havana, after having seen Castro, and not until I had seen the President of the United States for the second time, would we agree together on what would be appropriate for publication. The President’s tragic death, of course, made that impossible. In this instance, I rushed to the typewriter to write up my notes in detail as soon as I left the White House. But if I am asked to document the accuracy of my reporting, allow me to say that I have reported on conversations with about 10 chiefs of state who are still alive today. I have had not a single denial from any of them. In April, 1985, one month before the May 13 coup d’état in Algiers which resulted in bringing General de Gaulle to power, I had an interview with M. Robert Lacoste, then French minister for Algeria, at the latter’s request. This interview, which lasted two hours, was picked up by the European press, because Lacoste’s words were considered a signal to authors of the coup. The only public reaction of M. Robert Lacoste was to accuse me (through his spokesman at that time) of wearing a watch equipped with a tape recorder.

Q: Could you clarify on whose initiative the missiles were installed in Cuba, as Castro views it?

Daniel: On this point Fidel Castro was perfectly clear. What he told me varied in no essential respect from what he already said over television, in a memorable speech, as well as what he had said to a French journalist, Claude Julien, of Le Monde. Castro confirmed that the initial idea originated with the Russians, and with them alone: “The only thing we asked the Russians to do was to make it clear to the United States that any attack on us was an attack on the Soviet Union. We had extensive discussion before arriving at the proposal of installing guided missiles, a proposal which surprised us at first and gave us great pause. We finally went along with the Soviet proposal because, on the one hand, the Russians convinced us that the United States would not let itself be intimidated by conventional weapons, and secondly because it was impossible for us not to share the risks which the Soviet Union was taking to save us.”

Q. How definite was Castro in his account of the conversation between Adzhubei and Kennedy?

Daniel: Castro gave an absolutely categorical answer. The Cuban Prime Minister said that whereas the United States thought it could negotiate with the Russians behind Castro’s back, the Cuban government was, in point of fact, informed on the most minute details of all the conversations between the Soviets and the Americans. Thus, for example, Castro had received a copy of the official report on Adzhubei’s interview with the President. In this report (again, according to Castro), Adzhubei said clearly that Kennedy had mentioned US non-intervention in Hungary at the time of the Budapest uprisings, and had specifically said that the Russians were not respecting the rules of the game, since they were intervening in Cuba. Was Kennedy sounding the Russians out or was he making a threat? I, of course, do not know and can only report that Fidel Castro believed that it was a specific threat. Adzhubei, according to Fidel, thought that perhaps Kennedy was just sounding him out. But a month later Khrushchev reached the same conclusion as Fidel. I have not myself seen the Adzhubei memo. I note, however, that Pierre Salinger last week confirmed that Mr. Kennedy had mentioned Hungary when he saw Adzhubei, but “not in the context” Castro placed the President’s remarks.

Back to Pre-WCR Reactions of the Left
Back to Pre-WCR Reactions
Back to WC Period