Saturday, October 25, 2014



Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) On October 25, 1962, fifty-two years ago today, United States ambassador to the United Nations Adlai E. Stevenson questioned Soviet ambassador Valerian Zorin* on his denial that the USSR had installed nuclear missiles in Cuba.

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 said...

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

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

Zorin, seemingly taken aback by Stevenson's tactic, replied in Russian...

"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 countered...

"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 replied...

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

Ambassador Stevenson, obviously frustrated by Zorin's lack of candor, said...

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

The United States then presented the photographic evidence to prove to the world the Soviet Union had indeed installed nuclear weapons 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 television 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. VZ, 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.