HAVANA – Ailing Fidel Castro said Wednesday that Cuba's president was right to adopt a "dignified silence" over a Moscow newspaper report that Russia may send nuclear bombers to the island, and said Cuba doesn't owe any explanation to Washington about the story.
In a brief, cryptic essay posted on a government Web site Wednesday night, the 81-year-old former president neither confirmed nor denied the Monday report in Izvestia newspaper.
Moscow is angry about U.S. plans for missile-defense sites in eastern Europe and Izvestia cited a "highly placed" military aviation source as saying, "While they are deploying the anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, our long-range strategic aircraft already will be landing in Cuba." Izvestia said this apparently refers to long-range nuclear-capable bombers.
Izvestia points out that there would have to be a political decision on landing bombers in Cuba, and quoted the unnamed source as saying there have been such discussions.
In Washington, U.S. State Department Acting Deputy spokesman Gonzalo R. Gallegos said that American officials had received no official confirmation from the Russian government about the newspaper report, and was unaware of any U.S. efforts to directly contact Moscow about it.
"We continue to continue to work with the Russians on this issue," Gallegos said Tuesday, referring to talks aimed at explaining the U.S. government's missile defense plan. "We have consistently made it clear to them that our proposed deployment of a limited missile defense system in Europe poses no threat to them or to their nuclear deterrent."
While Fidel Castro said the president, his brother Raul Castro, was wise not to respond to the newspaper report, he did not make clear why he was commenting.
Fidel Castro also said Cuba is not obligated to offer the United States an explanation about the newspaper report, "nor ask for excuses or forgiveness."
Despite Cuba's one-time alliance with the former Soviet Union, it seems unlikely that Raul Castro would allow Russian bombers on the island and risk the ire of the U.S. government.
Raul Castro has been president only since February, securing a seamless transition from his brother, who ruled for nearly a half-century. He has repeatedly said he is willing to discuss the two countries' differences in talks held on equal terms with America's next president.
Soviet nuclear missiles stationed in Cuba during the height of the Cold War pushed the world to the brink of nuclear conflict on Oct. 22, 1962, after President John F. Kennedy announced their presence to the world. After a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev removed them.