On Oct. 20, 1962, a surprise U.S. air strike to take out the strategic missiles an option that some advisors thought would ultimately lead to a full-scale invasion was still under discussion, according to the RFK papers. But President Kennedy had reservations about the potential loss of thousands of lives including those at U.S. missile sites in Turkey and Italy if the Soviets chose to retaliate, and an Oct. 22 memo about the drawbacks of a surprise air strike also noted it might be perceived as a Pearl Harbor in reverse and spark retaliatory strikes by local Soviet commanders of the Cuban missiles.
So even though the United States public breathed a sigh of relief that the Missile Crisis was over on Oct. 28, Khrushchev ordered Anastas Mikoyan the No. 2 in the Soviet hierarchy, its top foreign troubleshooter and a Castro friend since 1960 to Havana in the first days of November for a critical assignment that would last three weeks and included multiple objectives:
• Assure Castro that JFK had promised he would not invade Cuba;
• Smooth his anger over Moscows failure to consult him on the negotiations with JFK;
• Push him to accept inspections to confirm the removal of the strategic weapons;
• Urge him not to shoot at U.S. spy planes overflying the island;
• Settle the issue of the tactical warheads;
Whats more, the Soviet-Cuba oral agreement in the summer of 1962 for the deployment of all the nuclear weapons to the Caribbean island had included a promise that Cuban troops would control the tactical warheads after receiving training.
Castro was indeed fuming. Moscows withdrawal of its missiles would leave him without any real deterrence against a U.S. attack, just 18 months after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and amid at least one confirmed CIA plot to assassinate him.
The Soviet ambassador in Havana reported that he had never seen the Cuban leader so distraught and irate. And when Mikoyan pushed too hard on one issue, Castro shot back, What do you think we are. A zero on the left? A dirty rag?
Initially, Mikoyan and the Soviet military favored allowing Castro to keep the tactical nukes for self-defense, according to the younger Mikoyan.
But on Oct. 27, Castro sent Khrushchev a cable all but urging a preemptive nuclear strike on U.S. targets. And on Nov. 19 he ordered his U.N. ambassador, Carlo Lechuga, to announce that the tactical warheads were in Cuba. That order was quickly recalled.
Mikoyan understood then that the Cuban tail was quite capable of wagging the Soviet dog, Savranskaya wrote in a postscript to the book. What became clear to Mikoyan is that the Soviets could not really control their Cuban ally.
The issue of the tactical warheads came to a boil on the night of Nov. 22, when Mikoyan met for more than three hours with Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara and three other senior Cuban government officials at the Presidential Palace in Havana.
Is it true that all the tactical nuclear weapons are already removed? Castro is quoted as asking Mikoyan in notes of the meeting taken by the Soviet delegation. Mikoyan replies that Moscow has not given any promise regarding the removal of the tactical weapons. The Americans do not have any information that they are in Cuba.