Friday, October 25, 2013



Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) 51 years ago today, October 25, 1962, was the 10th day of what would be the 13 day Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the world has come to nuclear war.

At the United Nations, US Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson questioned Soviet ambassador Valerian Zorin* on his denial that the USSR had put nuclear missile sites in Cuba.

Adlai E. Stevenson
June 23, 1961
Library of Congress Photo

Mr. Stevenson, seated 4 chairs from Zorin, began his remarks by asking...

"Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing, medium and intermediate range missiles and sites in Cuba?"

Zorin was waiting to hear the translation of Stevenson's question in his earpiece, when Stevenson added...

"Yes or no---don't wait for the translation--yes or no?"

Zorin, taken aback by Stevenson's tactic, replied:

"I am not in an American courtroom, sir, and I do not wish to answer a question put to me in the manner in which a prosecutor does."

Stevenson responded...

"You are in the courtroom of world opinion right now, and you can answer yes or no. You have denied that they exist, and I want to know if I have understood you correctly."

Zorin countered...

"Continue with your statement. You will receive your answer in due course. Do not worry."

To which Stevenson replied:

"I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over, if that's your decision."

Stevenson then produced the U2 photographs of Soviet missile sites in Cuba.

UN Security Council
October 25, 1962
PD-USGOV photo

President John F. Kennedy, concerned about Stevenson's ability to stand-up to Zorin, was watching on TV as he sat in his rocking chair in the Oval Office.

When it was over, JFK turned to his aides and said...

"Terrific. I never knew Adlai had it in him."

In an oral history, Joseph Sisco** says that JFK placed a phone call to Adlai as the meeting was about to begin.  Joe relates that he personally had to go to Zorin, the president of the Security Council, to get the meeting delayed.

He added...

"The president was really calling the shots in the Security Council right from the White House as he watched on the television and talked on an open line."

As to Stevenson's performance, Mr. Sisco says that while Adlai had a  prepared speech, his phrase 'until hell freezes over' was "totally ad libbed...there was nothing like that in the text."

*Valerian Zorin (1902-1986) joined the Communist party in 1922 and graduated from the Communist Institute of Education in 1935.  He was ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1947-1955. 

Zorin, who won 3 'Orders of Lenin', was Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and UN ambassador from 1956-1965.  He was ambassador to France from 1965-1971.  

**Joseph J. Sisco (1919-2004) was raised in Chicago and graduated from Knox College in Galesburg, IL in 1941.  He was in the army in WWII and earned a Masters and Doctoral degree at the University of Chicago in 1947 and 1950.

In 1950, Sisco became a CIA officer and in 1951 joined the State Dept.  He was Henry Kissinger's chief deputy during the period of shuttle diplomacy in the 1970s.


"'Let Us Begin Anew':  An Oral History of the Kennedy Presidency, by Gerald S. and Deborah H. Strober, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 1993.

"One Minute To Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro On The Brink of Nuclear War" by Michael Dobbs, Alfred Knopf, New York, 2008.