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Britain offered trade in 1962 Cuba missile crisis

By MICHAEL COLLINS

LONDON -- Britain offered to give up some of its nuclear weapons in exchange for Soviet withdrawal of missiles from Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis, documents released Friday show.

The offer to scrap American-made Thor missiles in Britain in a trade designed to allow the Soviets to save face was rejected by U.S. President John F. Kennedy and never presented to Moscow, according to files openedunder a British law releasing nearly all government documents after 30 years.

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The papers also show that Britain's Prime Minister Harold Macmillan had serious doubts about Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis, despite his strong public support of the Americans.

Macmillan was in constant contact with Washington during the October 1962 crisis and publicly backed Kennedy's tough stance after spy planes discovered Soviet missile installations in Cuba, but secret messages show the British questioning the U.S.-imposed blockade of the Caribbean island nation.

'Since it seems impossible to stop his (Kennedy's) action I did not make the effort, although in the course of the day I was in mind to do so,' Macmillan said in a personal telegram to Britain's ambassador in Washington David Ormsby-Gore on the day the crisis broke and the U.S. imposed a blockade.

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'I feel sure that a long period of blockade, and possibly a Russian reaction in the Caribbean or elsewhere, will lead us nowhere,' Macmillan's telegram continued.

The British Foreign Office also warned Washington secretly against 'drastic enforcement of the blockade measures against British shipping' and Ormsby-Gore warned Kennedy at the start of the crisis against bombing or invading Cuba to eliminate the Soviet SS-4 ballistic missiles, the declassified papers show.

The newly released papers said that Macmillan proposed to give up the Thor missiles in western Britain in exchange for the Soviet missiles in Cuba on Oct. 27, 1962 -- at the height of the crisis and one day before Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev 'blinked' in the superpower showdown and agreed to withdraw the missiles from Cuba.

'I put the proposal that it might be helpful to save the Russians' face if we undertake during the same period (that Soviet missiles are withdrawn) to allow the immobiization of our Thor missiles, of which there are 60, under U.N. supervision,' Macmillan said in a personal note to Kennedy.

'This has, of course, the disadvantage that it brings in the concept of bargaining bases in Europe against those in Cuba,' the letter said. 'Nevertheless, if it would turn the scale, I would be willing to propose it.'

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A return message from the British Embassy in Washington told Macmillan that U.S. officials were 'not happy about your initiative at this stage.' The next day, Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles without knowing of the British proposal.

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