JFK meeting with Andrei Gromyko in the Oval Office on October 10, 1963. Photo by Abbie Rowe
For whatever reason, JFK didn’t tape his famous meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko on October 18, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But nearly a year later, he did tape another Oval Office meeting with Gromyko.
It was less than six weeks before Kennedy was assassinated, and the two ranged over major current issues in Soviet-American relations. The Soviet troops in Cuba was a major point of discussion. More generally, Kennedy emphasized an improvement in relations over the past year, and pointed particularly to his American University speech in June as a blueprint for his approach.
At over two hours, it was a long meeting. And the two did not meet alone. On the U.S. side: Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Ambassador-at-Large (and resident Kremlinologist) Llewellyn Thompson, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs William Tyler, and interpreter Alexander Akalovsky. On the Soviet side: Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Semenov, Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin, and translator Mr. Sukhodrev.
The official American memcon (memoranda of conversation) is also long and consists of eleven parts. Here’s the section that corresponds to the segment of tape transcribed below.
The President said he appreciated Mr. Gromyko’s remarks. The US attempted to carry out the policy enunciated in the American University speech. As he had stated in his press conference yesterday, there were areas of disagreement between our two countries, but he felt it was up to Mr. Khrushchev and him to do everything possible to prevent us from colliding. There were such questions as, for example, Laos where we hoped the USSR would exert its influence to prevent the situation from collapsing. Another matter of concern to us was of course Cuba. It was helpful that Soviet troops had been leaving, because this lessened the international importance of that problem. As had been stated before, the United States had no intention of invading Cuba. As to Germany, the President saw no reason why the situation there should be incendiary. He stressed incidents should be avoided in the corridors because they created unnecessary nuisance and irritation. Reverting to the American University speech, the President said it had been addressed more to the U.S. audience than to the Soviet, but we had tried to carry out that policy.1
As you can see, the memcon catches the highlights, but there are important points of nuance that it misses. JFK’s mention of Cuba in the 1964 campaign is particularly notable.