(A bit of preliminary talk)
INT: Could you tell me what the reaction was when you walked into the room and delivered Ambassador Dobrynin's message?
OT: I would say that that added to the general tension and nervousness that was apparent among the members of the Politburo who were there, (Clears throat) because the message... what Robert Kennedy said was pretty tough, and taken together with Castro's message the evening before, and also the shooting down of the U-2, all that led to the general feeling that something should be done quickly. Then there was a small, rather amusing incident, in that General Ivanov, who was secretary of the Military Council, of the Defence Council, came in and said that he had just been told that Kennedy would be speaking again within an hour or two, and everyone thought that this might be a decision to either bomb the missile sites, or perhaps even an invasion. And also, by that time, there was a message from Kennedy, from President Kennedy, who suggested that a political way out could be found if the Soviet Union would commit themselves to withdraw the missiles, and he, for his part, would give a commitment not to attack Cuba. So, as far as Ivanov's message was concerned, that later turned out to be a mistake, that it would be a repeat of what Kennedy said a week before that, but everyone thought that it would be something new. So a new message from Khrushchev to Kennedy was quickly drawn up, and Irichov, secretary of the Central Committee, was told to drive to the broadcasting station and have it broadcast, this answer of Khrushchev's, before the hour that Kennedy was supposed to speak - which he did at... and as he later said, they drove so quickly to the,... because the meeting was taking place outside of Moscow, and he said that they drove so fast that he had the feeling that perhaps he would never reach the broadcasting station, (Laughs) that there might be an accident of some sort. But that came through, and that was the end of it, more or less.
INT: What was your reaction at that point?
OT: Oh, it was a feeling of relief, I think, certainly. ... at the same time, a short message was drawn up for Castro, saying that, mm, an agreement was reached between Khrushchev and Kennedy to that effect. But unfortunately there were no consultations with the Cubans, and that upset the Cubans very much, because they didn't like the two superpowers taking the decision on something which was directly... in which Cuba was directly involved. So a day or two later Mikoyan was told to fly to Cuba and to try to smooth things out with the Cubans, which he did, but it was a rather difficult thing to do, because really Fidel was much upset. And one thing that might have helped was that, while Mikoyan was in Cuba, in Havana, his wife, they had a very close relationship... his wife died, and he got a message from Moscow saying that his wife died, and it's up to him to decide whether to stay and go on with the talks, or to return for the funeral. And after much thought, he decided to stay on. And as far as I know, that smoothed things out as far as the Cubans were concerned, because they appreciated the fact that even because of this tragedy, he decided to stay and continue the talks wFidel.
INT: There's a nice story, that when it was all over you came home and told your wife that you'd lost weight. Can you tell me that story?
OT: Yes. Well, when the whole thing was over I went home and told my wife about the fact that everything is all right now, but that I had lost something like two kilos during the week, or perhaps more - I don't remember exactly - and she said, "Well, isn't there amore easy, safer way to reduce?" (Laughs)
INT: Brilliant. Just a couple of final questions, if I may. Was there any time... as far as you were aware, did the local commanders in Cuba have permission to launch nuclear weapons at their own discretion?
OT: Well, there was a misunderstanding about that, because General Gribkov, at the Havana Conference, said that they did have authority to launch the missiles. I think he spoke about tactical missiles which were in Cuba, if an invasion were to take place. And that I think created quite an impression in the United States. But later other generals who were in Moscow definitely said that that was out of the question; and I think it was out of the question, because I cannot imagine those military people at Cuba having that authority. I think that was out of the question.
INT: During the crisis, apart from Ambassador Dobrynin and Robert Kennedy's meetings, there were a couple of smaller meetings that went on between John Scali and Feklisov. Were these messages getting back to Moscow, and were they listened to?
OT: I don't think much attention was paid to those meetings and whatever was said. no, I think perhaps Feklisov built that up in some of the statements he made later on; whereas in actual fact they didn't play a big role during that whole thing. In fact, when I was in Washington, we went to a Chinese restaurant, and there was a plaque there saying "This was the restaurant where (Laughs)..." whatever his counterpart...
INT: (Overlap) Scali.
OT: ... Scali and Feklisov met, (Laughs) and I wouldn't be surprised if there were such plaques in other restaurants (Laughs) in Washington.
INT: Final question then, sir. How important would you say the missile crisis is in our understanding of nuclear war, and how close did we come to nuclear war?
OT: Well, we certainly came very close to nuclear war. That was, I would say, the high point of the whole Cold War process because something might have happened which would have led the Americans to do something drastic - and they were on the point of doing that, because there was talk of having an air strike in a day or two, I think. But on the other hand, I think the whole thing, tragic and dangerous as it was, played a positive role in a way, and that whereas there was much talk before that, about the dangers of nuclear war, but this was the first time when the leaders of both countries realised how close they were to a nuclear war. And that, first of all, created some degree of trust between Khrushchev and Kennedy, and also led them to realise that something should be done to prevent anything like that happening again. And when Kennedy, a few days later I think, made a speech at the American university, which was well, very,... how shall I put it?... he talked about the Soviet Union, how much they suffered during the last war, and that steps should be taken to prevent anything like that happening - that created a very good impression in Moscow. And as we know, shortly aft the first agreement during the whole Cold War, an agreement to cease testing in the three sites, was achieved between the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain. And then, also, the decision was taken to have a direct phone line between the White House and the Kremlin. And I would say that, had Khrushchev not been deposed the year aft and had Kennedy not been killed the next year, perhaps things would have gone more smoothly, and perhaps some steps would have been taken to smooth things out between the two countries.
INT: Thank you very much indeed, sir.