`Stevenson moment' relived


Speech: Pundits point out similarities between the Cuban missile crisis meeting and Powell's scheduled address, but many believe the U.S. doesn't have the evidence this time.

January 31, 2003

Pundits are calling it a Stevenson moment: On Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will address the United Nations Security Council, hoping to persuade its members that war against Iraq is justified.

The Stevenson moment occurred Oct. 25, 1962, when Adlai E. Stevenson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, addressed the Security Council during the Cuban missile crisis, when the world faced the very real prospect of nuclear war.

Three days earlier, a somber President John F. Kennedy had addressed the nation, saying spy planes had discovered Soviet missiles in Cuba that could reach the United States.

At the U.N. General Assembly, Stevenson confronted Valerian Zorin, the Soviet ambassador, who refused to say whether the missiles existed. Then came the Stevenson moment: The U.S. ambassador produced spy photos of the missiles in Cuba for the U.N. delegates gathered before him.

Three days later, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, said he was willing to remove the missiles, and the U.S. secretly promised that it would not invade Cuba. By the end of the year, the missiles had been withdrawn.

Powell is not expected to offer the kind of evidence Stevenson did. There is a parallel, however, in that the prospect that war lies ahead and that the United States wants the world on its side.

Following are excerpts from Stevenson's speech:

I want to say to you, Mr. Zorin, that I do not have your talent for obfuscation, for distortion, for confusing language and for doubletalk. And I must confess to you that I am glad that I do not!

But if I understood what you said, you said that my position had changed, that today I was defensive because we did not have the evidence to prove our assertions that your government had installed long-range missiles in Cuba.

Well, let me say something to you, Mr. Ambassador - we do have the evidence. We have it, and it is clear, and it is incontrovertible. And let me say something else - those weapons must be taken out of Cuba.

Next, let me say to you that, if I understood you, ... you said that our position had changed since I spoke here the other day because of the pressures of world opinion and the majority of the United Nations.

Well, let me say to you, sir, you are wrong again. We have had no pressure from anyone whatsoever. We came in here today to indicate our willingness to discuss [U.N. Secretary-General] U Thant's proposals, and that is the only change that has taken place.

But let me also say to you, sir, that there has been a change. You - the Soviet Union has sent these weapons to Cuba. You - the Soviet Union has upset the balance of power in the world. You-the Soviet Union has created this new danger, not the United States.

And you ask with a fine show of indignation why the president did not tell [Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei] Gromyko on last Thursday about our evidence, at the very time that Mr. Gromyko was blandly denying to the president that the U.S.S.R. was placing such weapons on sites in the new world.

Well, I will tell you why: Because we were assembling the evidence, and perhaps it would be instructive to the world to see how a Soviet official - how far he would go in perfidy. Perhaps we wanted to know if this country faced another example of nuclear deceit like that one a year ago, when in stealth the Soviet Union broke the nuclear test moratorium.

And while we are asking questions, let me ask you why your government - your foreign minister - deliberately, cynically deceived us about the nuclear build-up in Cuba. ...

All right, sir, let me ask you one simple question: Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R. has placed and is placing medium- and intermediate-range missiles at sites in Cuba? Yes or no - don't wait for the translation - yes or no?

[Zorin did not answer.]

You can answer yes or no. You have denied they exist. I want to know if I understood you correctly. I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over, if that's your decision. And I am also prepared to present the evidence in this room. ...

I am going to make a portion of the evidence available right now. If you will indulge me for a moment, we will set up an easel here in the back of the room where I hope it will be visible to everyone.

The first of these exhibits shows an area north of the village of Candelaria, near San Cristobal, southwest of Havana. ...

The first photograph shows the area in late August 1962; it was then, if you can see from where you are sitting, only a peaceful countryside. The second photograph shows the same area one day last week. A few tents and vehicles had come into the area, new spur roads had appeared, and the main road had been improved.

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