Press Conference of President Kennedy's


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Press Conference February 14, 1962

THE PRESIDENT. I have one statement. [1. ] There have been a number of questions directed to the White House and other governmental agencies about our release of Col. Rudolf Abel, and the freeing of Francis Gary Powers and Frederic Pryor from detention in the Soviet Union and East Germany, respectively.

Let me say first that I'm deeply pleased that the pilot, Mr. Powers, and the student, Mr. Pryor, have been released and reunited with their families. I shall be doubly pleased if their release turns out to be a sign of possible significant progress in the lessening of world tensions. As for the whereabouts of Mr. Powers, I can state at this time only that he's in this country, that he has seen his father and mother, and that his wife is with him. He is undergoing important interviews by appropriate officials of this Government. Mr. Powers is cooperating voluntarily with the Government in these discussions. At the conclusion of these discussions, the information derived from these interviews will be made available to appropriate committees of the Congress, and Mr. Powers will be free to testify before the Congress, should the Congress so wish. Mr. Powers will be made available to the press at the earliest feasible moment.

Q. Mr. President, when Mr. Powers completes this interrogation and he's free to testify, what will his status be? Will the Government still have any claim on his services or will he be a free agent to go as he pleases?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, he's a free agent, as I've said at the present time, to go as he pleases. He is cooperating voluntarily with the Government, and at the conclusion of the present discussions, he will be free to carry on whatever work he should choose.

Q. Mr. President, is it possible to say now how Powers was brought down in Russia, whether he was shot down or whether it was mechanical trouble?

THE PRESIDENT. It would seem to me that this question and others relating to it really should wait until the interrogations have been completed, and until the Government has finished talking about all these matters with Mr. Powers. Then, as I say, he will be available, and will give whatever information would be in the national interest to give.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, can you comment on Prime Minister Macmillan's statement yesterday that there will be no testing on Christmas Island before the opening of the Geneva conference, and have developments in the last week affected our plans?

THE PRESIDENT. No, that statement of the Prime Minister of course is correct, and nothing in the events of the last week--if you're referring to the exchange of communications with Chairman Khrushchev which we had and the letter back, and now our letter back to him--that has not changed our plans. As I've stated, by the end of the month we will have concluded our analysis of our relative positions and we will be in a position to make a decision. But in any case, whichever way the decision would go, there would be no testing, as the Prime Minister said, on Christmas Island before that date.

Q. Mr. President, to refer to your letter to Premier Khrushchev this morning, without meaning to exclude other examples, could you give us one example of the kind of progress in the disarmament talks that might lead you to participate personally in a summit conference?

THE PRESIDENT. If the discussions at Geneva indicated that genuine progress could be made which would provide for a responsible disarmament agreement, an effective disarmament agreement, with effective inspection which, of course, must be a part of any disarmament agreement, if it's going to be--truly meet the international needs, then of course, if we are moving ahead in that kind of area, and my presence at a meeting in Geneva would advance that cause, of course I would go. But our point is, in the letter, that what we want to do is try to make that progress in the negotiations. Then if we are making it and a meeting of heads of state would complete it or would materially advance it, then it would seem to me that every head of state would want to go.

Q. Mr. President, have you received any Indication from the neutralist countries, particularly India, whether or not they would send foreign ministers or heads of state to the March 18th meeting? THE PRESIDENT. No. I don't know what the decision will be of the heads of the other governments to which Mr. Khrushchev addressed his letter.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, our Labor Department estimates that approximately 1.8 million persons holding jobs are replaced every year by machines. How urgent do you view this problem--automation? THE PRESIDENT. Well, it is a fact that we have to find, over a 10-year period, 25,000 new jobs every week to take care of those who are displaced by machines and those who are coming into the labor market, so that this places a major burden upon our economy and on our society, and it's one to which we will have to give a good deal of attention in the next decade. I regard it as a very serious problem. If our economy is moving forward, we can absorb this 1,800,000, even though in particular industries we may get special structural unemployment. We've seen that in steel, we've seen it in coal, we may see it in other industries. But if our economy is progressing as we hope it will, then we can absorb a good many of these men and women. But I regard it as the major domestic challenge, really, of the sixties, to maintain full employment at a time when automation, of course, is replacing men.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, do you agree with the view attributed to Ambassador Beam that any arms agreement the West reaches with Russia must ultimately include Red China to have real value? THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I would think there would have to be an agreement that would cover the world, if it is going to be valuable.

Q. Mr. President, you have indicated you would like some priority to the nuclear test ban at the meetings that open on March 14. Would the United States be willing to stand by the draft treaty of last April, that was laid before the Soviet Union then?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've stated that we will--that it may be necessary to bring that treaty up to date. But basically we have indicated that we would sign an agreement which would have as its basis certainly the April proposal. There might be some new additions that could be made to it, but that is the basic thesis on which we've been acting since last April.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, in the past year you have had an experience with a whole variety of diplomacy and forms of diplomacy. Could you tell us what your thoughts are now on the practice of summitry?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, my view is the same as it has been, and that is that a summit is not a place to carry on negotiations which involve details, and that a summit should be a place where perhaps agreements which have been achieved at a lower level could be finally, officially approved by the heads of government, or if there was a major crisis which threatened to involve us all in a war, there might be a need for a summit. But my general view would be that we should climb to the summit after careful preparation at the lower levels.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, Nelson Rockefeller on Sunday said that in his view the results of Punta del Este amounted to a diplomatic failure for the United States. Is there anything you would have to say on that? THE PRESIDENT. No, I disagree. I think that all of the countries of the hemisphere together made a finding that Cuba and the Communist system were not--should not be considered part of the inter-American system. And in my opinion that was a most important declaration, because it put the inter-American system squarely and unanimously against Communist infiltration. So that I do have a different view of the results, even though there's a division, of course, among countries as there is bound to be, as to the best methods of containing the expansion of communism. But on the general opposition to its expansion in this hemisphere, I think there was unanimity, and I regard that as most important.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, some Congressmen are again critical of the fact that they don't know how much they're voting for CIA or, due to the fact that the requests are hidden in other budgets, even when they're voting on CIA. Does this have any validity, do you think?

THE PRESIDENT. The budget for the CIA is handled by the members of the Appropriations Committee of the House and Senate. It's bipartisan, and includes members who are the most senior and the most experienced in the area. They are fully informed. Quite obviously, there are some limitations on what we're able to reveal in the national interest, but in my judgment the budgetary procedures which have been followed in the past have combined congressional responsibility and also protection of our vital interests.

[8.] Q. This being Valentine's Day, sir, do you think it might be a good idea if you would call Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina down to the White House for a heart-to-heart talk--[laughter]--about the whole disagreement over the censorship of the military speeches and what he calls your defeatist foreign policy?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that that meeting should be probably prepared at a lower level--[laughter]--and then we could have a--

[19.] Q. Mr. President, the Republican National Committee publication has said that you have been less than candid with the American people as to how deeply we are involved in Viet-Nam. Could you throw any more light on that?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, as you know, the United States for more than a decade has been assisting the government, the people of Viet-Nam, to maintain their independence. Way back in December 23, 1950, we signed a military assistance agreement with France and with Indochina which at that time included Viet-Nam, Laos, and Cambodia. We also signed in December of 1951 an agreement directly with Viet-Nam. Now, in 1954, the Geneva agreements were signed and while we did not sign those agreements nevertheless Under Secretary Bedell Smith stated that he would view any renewal of the aggression in Viet-Nam in violation of the aforesaid agreements with grave concern, and as seriously threatening international peace and security. And at the time that the SEATO Pact was signed in 1954, September 8, though Viet-Nam was not a signatory it was a protocol state, and therefore this pact, which was approved by the Senate with only, I think, two against it, under article 4 stated that the United States recognized that aggression by means of armed attack against Viet-Nam would threaten our own peace and security. So since that time the United States has been assisting the Government of Viet-Nam to maintain its independence. It has had a military training mission there and it's also given extensive economic assistance. As you know, during the last 2 years that war has increased. The Vice President visited there last spring. The war became more intense every month; in fact, every week. The attack on the government by the Communist forces with assistance from the north became of greater and greater concern to the Government of Viet-Nam and the Government of the United States. We sent--I sent General Taylor there to make a review of the situation. The President of Viet-Nam asked us for additional assistance. We issued, as you remember, a white paper which detailed the support which the Viet Minh in the north were giving to this Communist insurgent movement and we have increased our assistance there. And we are supplying logistic assistance, transportation assistance, training, and we have a number of Americans who are taking part in that effort. We have discussed this matter--we discussed it with the leadership of the Republicans and Democrats when we met in early January and informed them of what we were doing in Viet-Nam. Mr. Rusk has discussed it with the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Mr. McNamara has discussed it with the Armed Services Committee. The leadership on both sides, Republicans and the Democrats have been--we have explained to them our concern about what is happening there, and they have been responsive, I think, and evidenced their concern. So that there's a long history of our effort to prevent Viet-Nam from falling under control of the Communists. That is what we are now attempting to do, and as the war has increased in scope, our assistance has increased as a result of the requests of the government. So that I think we should--as it's a matter of great importance, a matter of great sensitivity--my view has always been that the headquarters of both of our parties should really attempt to leave these matters to be discussed by responsible leaders on both sides, and in my opinion, we have had a very strong bipartisan consensus up till now, and I'm hopeful that it will continue in regard to the actions that we're taking.

Q. Mr. President, do you feel that you have told the American people as much as can be told, because of the sensitivity of the subject? Is that right?

THE PRESIDENT. I think I've just indicated what our role is. We have increased our assistance to the government--its logistics; we have not sent combat troops there, although the training missions that we have there have been instructed if they are fired upon to--they would of course, fire back, to protect themselves. But we have not sent combat troops in the generally understood sense of the word. We have increased our training mission, and we've increased our logistics support, and we are attempting to prevent a Communist takeover of Viet-Nam, which is in accordance with a policy which our Government has followed for the last-certainly since 1954, and even before then as I've indicated, and we are attempting to make all the information available that we can consistent with our security needs in the area. So that I feel that we are being as frank as we can be. I think what I have said to you is a description of our activity there.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, a couple of weeks ago you told us of your hope of sending Mr. Eugene Black of the World Bank to India and Pakistan to see what could be done about the Kashmir dispute. Apparently Prime Minister Nehru doesn't like that approach, or feels it should be done another way. Do you have any present 'plan to try to move this issue off dead center through some other approach?

THE PRESIDENT. No, the United States did make an effort in this regard. We are giving assistance to both countries. We would like to see the assistance used most effectively, and anything that increases the tension between them or causes our aid to be turned into military channels as a result of tensions with each other makes our aid less effective, and therefore we suggested Mr. Black might be able to fill a useful role. The decision was made by the Indian Government that that would not be appropriate at this time, and therefore--there is an election going on in India--I'm hopeful at the conclusion of the election that the two parties can make some progress in settling it among themselves, which is evidently what they prefer at this time.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, on the question-there have been persistent reports that the Attorney General is still going to visit the Soviet Union, before he returns from his trip abroad. Is there any such possibility? THE PRESIDENT. No, no.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, on the basis of your talks with King Saud, can you tell us what the prospects are on the renewal of our base rights at Dhahran?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we've never requested the renewal of our base rights. It's not a matter which is at issue between the two governments.

Q. You would expect it to lapse, then?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, we do, and we've made preparations for that, and that's what is the desire of both countries. So it has not been a subject, really, of discussion between us.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, a few moments ago I believe you said that on the joint British-American draft agreement on disarmament, that it should be brought up to date. I wonder if you could expand on that a little. Are you speaking of an inspection of preparations, specifically, for testing?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that my statement last week indicated our concern about that matter but--and I think that the positions that we would take at the conference will be presented at that time. I don't mean to--I don't think anything particularly significant should be read into my response. We have stated that we will be ready to sign an agreement, which provides for effective inspection and that is our position, and our position is based upon our proposal of last April. I'm not aware that there would be any significant change in that. If there is, it will be presented by the time the disarmament conference begins.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, going back to the question of unemployment, some 13,000 workers in one plant on Long Island are facing layoffs as a result of the Defense Department's decision to phase out one type of aircraft. Do you see any need for new steps to offset the economic impact of changing defense requirements such as cases as this?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that the figures of the possible layoffs are not--are overstated in your question, because to the best of my information they would be substantially, very substantially, less than the figure that you gave, and that would be our--it is a matter of considerable concern, however, that anyone will be laid off at that particular factory, and we are concerned about it. In fact, I think that your publisher wrote me about the matter last week. We even heard from the Congressman and we are concerned about seeing if we can maintain employment at the highest possible level at that plant. The difficulty, of course, comes because the particular plane that they are manufacturing is not being continued and that presents us with a difficult decision at a number of areas. But we are very conscious of the problem that's faced at that plant and we are going to try to see if we can maintain employment as high as it's possible for us to do so, even though some cut, but of a much less figure than you mentioned, will perhaps inevitably come.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, would you approve a bill which would increase the size of the House by three members to solve a Massachusetts political problem?

THE PRESIDENT. I would wait. It seems to me it's a decision which the House will have to make, and after the House has acted, the Senate has acted, and I see what the bill is, I'd make a judgment about whether it'd be approved or not.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, in the past it has been thought that the Russians might persuade the Red Chinese to agree to any nuclear test ban agreement that they might reach with the West. Now, it seems that the Russians' ability to persuade the Chinese to do very much is limited. How, then, do you see bringing the Red Chinese into any inspection and control system?

THE PRESIDENT. Well it's obviously very difficult, but there is really no use in having an inspection system agreed upon between, say, the Soviet Union and the United States and some other countries and then have another country--large--carrying on intensive armaments preparation. Quite obviously, that would not protect our security. So this problem of bringing them in is a problem that must be considered before we would be able to have confidence in any disarmament agreement. I quite recognize the hazards and the difficulties of attempting to bring them in. But if we are making progress--and we have a good deal of hurdles to overcome before we come to this particular question--it is a question which waits for us before the end of the road is reached. And it would be a very difficult one, but one that we certainly should have in mind as we start on this conference.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, last week the Capitol Hill paper, Roll Call, published an interview with the leaders of the Soviet parliament, in which they urged establishment of ties and exchange of delegations between the United States Congress and the Supreme Soviet of the U. S.S. R. What is your personal opinion about the desirability of such contacts?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that--I am very interested in any exchanges. I think the matter of whether the Congress should go is really a decision which the Congress themselves should reach. As far as my general interest, of course, I think that exchanges are very useful; but on the matter of the Congress itself, I think that it's a matter which the Congress can make a judgment on as to whether the national interest would be served by their going.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, in view of the avowed solidarity of Communist Cuba with the Soviet Union, what is the present status of the Monroe Doctrine?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, in the first place, the--Mr. Salinger passed up a note saying that the OAS--the Organization of American States--has just excluded Cuba from its deliberations, which I think indicates the unanimity of the hemisphere in regard to this. We are attempting to carry out our policy through the Organization of American States, through the hemisphere. Quite obviously we have our own national interests to protect and our national security to protect, which we will do. And therefore, we attempt to accommodate the policies in a whole variety of ways, in order to serve the national interest.

[19.] Q. Sir, my question concerns the postponement of Colonel Glenn's flight today. This is the eighth time, I believe, that his flight has been postponed, and among other things there's been a considerable ordeal on Colonel Glenn himself.

THE PRESIDENT. That is correct. Q. Do you think, sir, that it would have been better, that it would be better even now, to, say, move up the date much deeper in the spring to a point where we would be more certain of the weather, instead of running the risk of repeated delays?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it is unfortunate. I know it strains Colonel Glenn. It has delayed our program. It puts burdens on all of those who must make these decisions as to whether the mission should go or not. I think it's been very unfortunate. But I have taken the position that the judgment of those on the spot should be final in regard to this mission, and I'll continue to take that judgment. I think that they would be reluctant to have it canceled for another 3 or 4 months because it would slow our whole space program down at a time when we're making a concentrated effort in space. But I am quite aware of the strain it's caused everyone, and it's been a source of regret to everyone, but I think we ought to stick with the present group who are making the judgment, and they are hopeful still of having this flight take place in the next few days. And I'm going to follow their judgment in the matter, even though we've had bad luck.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, what is your reaction to the proposal for a permanent summit White House at Newport, R.I.? Have you reached a decision on that?

THE PRESIDENT. No. Mr. Udall--the proposal was made by, I think, Senator Pell and Senator Pastore, and it went to Mr. Udall, and I have not discussed the matter with him, and--though he is looking at the matter and is going to reply to them, I'm sure I will discuss it with him before a final decision is made.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, there has been a notable lack of activity in the Senate on postal rate increases. There is some indication this is tied to efforts to tie together rate increases with postal wage increases. Do you have any comment on this?

THE PRESIDENT. I think we ought to move ahead on the postal rate increase bill. I am hopeful that the Senate will. The House met its responsibilities; I'm hopeful the Senate will. Then we can take up the question of pay increases. The administration has some recommendations in that area, but I think it would be a mistake to so intimately link them.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, could you evaluate the situation in Laos in light of continuing Communist attacks at Nam Tha?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it's--as I've said, the cease-fire is becoming increasingly frayed. It's my understanding that Souvanna Phouma has an audience with the King, and I'm hopeful that progress, which has been very slow in the last 30 days can be made in attempting to agree on a government. Obviously every day that goes by increases the dangers. The Communist forces move forward. The government forces reinforce their people at the town. The town is very close to the Chinese border, so it's a very dangerous situation, because if the cease-fire should break down, we would have--be faced with the most serious decision. So I'm hopeful the cease-fire will continue to prevail, and that the various groups within the country will come to an agreement which will permit a neutral and independent Laos which has been the objective of our policy.

[23.] Q. Sir, you have already stated that it is our national policy to carry out the deletions that the censors were carrying out in the Defense Department, and State, and you said you did not want to divulge the names of these censors because they were carrying out your policy.

THE PRESIDENT. No, that isn't what I said. I said--the names have been revealed in the military and in the State Department of those who have been involved in reviewing speeches.

Q. But you said you did not want to divulge the name of the specific censor who did the specific censoring. THE PRESIDENT. Yes, that is correct.

Q. My question, sir, now is: Would you tell us why it has to be national policy to delete from the speeches of admirals and generals such phrases as "emerge victorious." "victorious, .... beat the Communists," and phrases like that?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, those particular phrases I am not familiar with and, therefore, I don't know whether or not they were deleted. But I would say that if the--the purpose of the review is the same purpose that I stated a month ago, and that is to make sure that governmental policy is--that the government speaks with one voice. Now, to give an example of the kind of thing that makes these reviews necessary, there was a speech which was brought to the White House, I think on January 23, which was to be given by Admiral Burke. We had a new administration. Admiral Burke, himself, sent the speech over because he wanted to be sure that anything he said which would be interpreted as being the policy of the new administration was in accordance with the new administration. Admiral Burke was not aware that we were then carrying on negotiations for the release of the RB-47 pilots. So that it indicates how desirable it is. As I said, it also applies to me. I sent, as I said before, the State of the Union Address to both Defense and to the State Department so that they could see if there were any parts in it, which they would want to comment on. The Admiral Burke example, I think, indicates clearly how desirable it is to have speeches gone over by those who represent the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense. Now there's no doubt that on some occasions those reviews may have been unwise. After all, $200 speeches came in, in one year, and I would not attempt at all to defend every change that's been made. But I do state that they were acting in good faith in every occasion, even though their judgment may not be as good as other people's may be.

[24.] Q. Mr. President, in the light of the apparent easing of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, particularly with respect to Berlin, can you say with any precision now when the military reservists might be released?

THE PRESIDENT. No. The crisis continues and the reservists--the need for reservists continues until there is an easing of the crisis or until we've been able to replace them with other men. As you know, we are building two new permanent divisions which will be ready in August--one division--and September, the other division. And, of course, that will then present us with an entirely different situation in regard to their need. But until we have an easing of the crisis in Berlin or these two new divisions, the need for the reservists, of course, will continue.

[25.] Q. Mr. President, a number of your right-wing critics say that your foreign policy is based on a no-win policy in the cold war. Would you address yourself to this charge?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, every American whoever they may be, wants the United States to be secure and at peace and they want the cause of freedom around the world to prevail. Quite obviously that is our national objective. And what we are anxious to do, of course, is protect our national security, protect the freedom of the countries, permit what Thomas Jefferson called the disease of liberty to be caught in areas which are now held by Communists, and some areas where people are imprisoned. We want to do that, of course, without having a nuclear war. Now, if someone thinks we should have a nuclear war in order to win, I can inform them that there will not be winners in the next nuclear war, if there is one, and this country and other countries will suffer very heavy blows. So that we have to proceed with responsibility and with care in an age where the human race can obliterate itself. The objective of this administration, and I think the objective of the country, is to protect our security, keep the peace, protect our vital interests, make it possible for what we believe to be a system of government which is in accordance with the basic aspirations of people everywhere to ultimately prevail. And that is our objective and that's the one that we shall continue. Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

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