No one was sure how Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) would respond to U.S. demands. Geopolitical competition between the United States and the Soviet Union was intense, but this occasion was the first actual military standoff between the superpowers. Castro and Guevara, both relatively young and defiant, mobilized Cuba for an invasion. They did not want Khrushchev to back down. For thirteen days, the world waited anxiously to see how the crisis would be resolved. In the meantime, Soviet ships headed to Cuba. The possibility of nuclear attacks had all three nations locked in an intense period of tension and fear over this threat and how each nation would respond to it.
Both Kennedy and Khrushchev appreciated the gravity of the situation. Neither wanted to provoke a nuclear war. On October 24, the tension was at what could almost be a tipping point into some sort of war. Soviet ships encountered the blockade and one oil tanker was let through. Soviet submarines were readied to sink U.S. battleships. Kennedy’s crisis group once again debated a military strike or invasion of Cuba. The next day, Khrushchev appeared to be willing to make a deal, and the two governments started negotiating. However, missile bases were still on Cuba and beginning to be operational. President Kennedy was under increasing pressure to launch an air strike or invasion, especially due to the fact that a U.S. plane was shot down over Cuba that very afternoon. To his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925–1968), President Kennedy admitted that he would probably be impeached if he did not act decisively. On October 28, an agreement was struck. Khrushchev grudgingly agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for Kennedy’s promise that the United States would never invade Cuba. The United States also agreed to withdraw its own nuclear missiles from Turkey, where they were within striking distance of Soviet territory. The specific details of the agreement were kept secret at the time.
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