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26 Years Later, U.S., Cuban Officials to Talk for First Time

January 26, 1989

MOSCOW (AP) _ Twenty-six years after the confrontation that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, Americans and Cubans who led their countries through the Cuban missile crisis will meet here for the first time to discuss it.

″A lot of things were done, a lot of things were said that created a great deal of bitterness,″ said James Blight of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, which is organizing the conference.

″This is a rather risky experience. We don’t know quite what is going to happen,″ he told reporters Thursday.

Americans and Soviets have discussed the October 1962 crisis over the deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba at conferences sponsored by the Kennedy school in 1987.

But the conference that begins Thursday night with a private reception is the first time that the U.S. and Cuban participants will meet face-to-face.

Scheduled to be among the participants were former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and Sergio DelValle, a long-time confidant of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. DelValle is a member of the Cuban Communist Party’s Central Committee and was the military chief of staff in 1962.

Among the other U.S. participants were McGeorge Bundy, Theodore Sorensen, Pierre Salinger and Sen. Edward Kennedy.

From the Soviet side, former President Andrei A. Gromyko and the former ambassador to Washington, Anatoly F. Dobrynin, were expected to attend. Gromyko, 79, was the Soviet foreign minister in 1962.

Each side has its own name for the crisis and its own version of events, and ″for the first time we will try to merge those three crises into one oral history,″ said Bruce Allyn of the Kennedy school.

Organizers said only in isolated cases have any top officials of the administration of John F. Kennedy ever met any of the Cuban officials who were in top leadership spots of their country during the 1962 crisis.

Much of the conference will be closed to the press, but organizers said the opening session Friday and a round-table discussion Saturday would be open. A news conference of the leaders of the three delegations is planned for Sunday.

Organizers only found out Thursday that the Cuban delegation would include three senior officials, DelValle, Politburo member Jorge Risquet and another Central Committee member, Emilio Aragones Navarro.

They said the series of conferences in the past year and a half indicate that officials who led their governments through the crisis have a personal interest in establishing an accurate picture of what happened.

Because of the age of many of the participants, this is likely to be the last major conference on the Cuban missile crisis, said Philip J. Brenner, an expert on Cuba attending the conference from the American University in Washington.

Blight, co-author of a book on the crisis, ″On the Brink,″ said American scholars are hoping to get answers from senior Soviet officials on several questions.

Included are why the Soviet Union apparently believed it was in imminent peril of an all-out nuclear attack by the United States and its allies, and why Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev had the missiles sent secretly to Cuba, rather than making their deployment a public response to deployment of U.S. missiles in Turkey and elsewhere.

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