|The American Presidency Project|
|• John F. Kennedy|
|The President's News Conference|
|December 12, 1962|
THE PRESIDENT, Good afternoon.
[1.] On behalf of the American people, I wish to express my gratitude to the French Government for its decision to lend the Mona Lisa of Leonardo da Vinci for exhibition in the United States. This incomparable masterpiece, the work of one of the greatest figures of the greatest Western age of creativity, will come to this country as a reminder of the friendship that exists between France and the United States. It will come also as a reminder of the universal nature of art. At the National Gallery in Washington, beginning January 8, the Mona Lisa will be exhibited with the special care so great a work of art merits.
Mrs. Kennedy and I particularly want to thank President de Gaulle for his generous gesture in making possible this historic loan, and Mr. Andre Malraux, the distinguished French Minister of Cultural Affairs, for his good offices in the matter.
[2.] And now to turn to the more physical side: For the past 21/2 years the American Athletic Union and other amateur athletic groups organized as federations, have engaged in a dispute which now threatens proper representation for the United States in international competition. This includes the Pan American games at Sao Paulo and the 1964 Olympic games in Tokyo. A number of efforts have been made to resolve the differences between the AAU and the federations. This administration has made and is making its good offices possible in every way. Ultimately the Attorney General was called in to attempt to further settle these differences.
After this final effort last month, it appeared that these organizations had agreed to put aside their differences long enough to permit the United States and its athletes to compete in international competition, and particularly in the Olympics of 1964.
[3.] Q. Mr. President, in his speech today Khrushchev said, among other things, that he was holding the United States to its pledge against invading Cuba or was ready to take measures of his own. What is your reaction to the speech and what is the situation now regarding a no-invasion pledge? Would we ever make one such a formal declaration without first obtaining on-site inspections?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I haven't had a chance to analyze the speech with the care with which such a speech obviously should be studied. Number two, Governor Stevenson and Mr. McCloy are now up in New York, and have been for some weeks, discussing this matter of our future position toward Cuba and the Soviet Union's position toward Cuba, the question of weapons, inspection, aerial observance, invasion.
At present, I would say that our situation was best described in the statement that I made at our last press conference. I am hopeful that the negotiations that are now going on in New York will come to some conclusion in the not too distant future. But pending that, I would say that we are going to stay with what I said 2 weeks ago. In the meanwhile we will maintain--take every step that's necessary to make sure that these missiles are not reintroduced into Cuba or that offensive weapons are not reintroduced. And we are taking those means daily.
[ 4. ] Q. Mr. President, in connection with Governor Stevenson and Cuba and some of the recent reports on the position taken by the Governor in the National Security Council, against this background, can you tell us, sir, whether prior to your announced decision on October 22, that Governor Stevenson took at any time a position that was contrary or counter to the final decision as you announced it?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, as I said before, I would not attempt to describe, verify, or in any way discuss the position that any member of the National Security Council has taken. The National Security Council is an advisory body to the President; in the final analysis, the President of the United States must make the decision. And it is his decision. It's not the decision of the National Security Council or any collective decision. That was my view and my statement on Cuba a year ago, and it's my view on Cuba and the policies we followed recently this year.
I don't really think that there's much advantage to various press speculations on various positions which the members of the National Security Council took on the days from Tuesday to the next Sunday. Quite frankly, those positions frequently changed as members of the Council examined the alternatives and the possible repercussions of various courses of action. And it is my view that when the final consensus was reached and when I finally made a judgment--and that judgment was not really completed in its ultimate sense until the Sunday morning-that every member of the Executive Committee of the National Security Council supported the policy we finally adopted.
I would say, after having read various statements of the past 10 days, that any historian-and I think this matter should be left to historians--who walks through this mine field of charges and countercharges, should proceed with some care.
Q. Do you agree with Ambassador Stevenson, that the authors of this article acted irresponsibly?
THE PRESIDENT. I've never attempted to characterize members of the press. I think that they have to meet their responsibilities. I've had some criticisms with various points which have been made, and I wouldn't attempt to characterize writers of this article or any other.
Q. Do you plan any inquiry to learn who it was that breached the security of the National Security Council?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, well, I've satisfied myself that these matters have never, as you know, never can be or very seldom are ever really determined with precision. It's my judgment that this statement or interpretation of Governor Stevenson's position did not come from a member of the National Security Council. I satisfied myself on that. I never heard anyone characterize Governor Stevenson's position in that way and I am satisfied, myself, that no one did.
Now, there are other people that might have. But that's a matter for the reporters and it's a matter that, as I say, I think can be much better left to history when the whole record will be spread out in great detail.
Q. You don't know, then, who leaked it?
THE PRESIDENT. NO, I don't know who, and I think it's unfortunate if anybody discusses any matter that comes before the National Security Council because I think it lessens its effectiveness. But I have satisfied myself that the remark did not come from a member of the National Security Council.
[5.] Q. Sir, if it becomes necessary to cancel the Skybolt missile program because of missile operational inability, what role can Britain play in our mutual atomic defenses?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it will play a significant role as a nuclear power, and the problem with the Skybolt is that it is the most sophisticated weapon imaginable. To fire a missile from a plane moving at high speed to hit a target 1,000 miles away requires the most advanced engineering, and of course it has been, really, in a sense the kind of engineering that's been beyond us.
We've put a half a billion dollars into it already. To complete the system might cost another--and to buy the missiles that we would want might require $2.5 billion. The five tests have not been successful, so that there really is the question of how much it is worth to the British and ourselves to put in that kind of money when we have competing claims for our available funds.
On the other hand, the British have a very important equity in the matter. It was to discuss that equity that Mr. McNamara went to Great Britain. I'm sure that it will be a matter which will be discussed with the Prime Minister in Nassau, and the United States, which is reviewing its budget, will take no final decision until these conferences have been completed.
[6.] Q. Mr. President, has the opposition expressed by Chairman Wilbur Mills of the Ways and Means Committee changed the administration's position on tax cuts that it has proposed for next year?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that Mr. Mills' interview should be read in entirety. And if you read the entire article, it does not suggest that the administration, under some circumstances, and Mr. Mills may be so far apart. In fact, I'm going to see Congressman Mills today.
I'll be talking about the matter somewhat further on Friday night at the New York Economic Club, and will make detailed proposals.
We intend to go ahead with our program. And then, of course, it will be up to the Ways and Means Committee and the Congress to make a judgment as to whether they will accept it. What I think should be of concern to us all is not the question of the immediate business prospects for the next 3 or 4 months, but, really, the general trend of our industrial growth, our employment lag, over the last 5 or 6 years.
And really we should consider not only our own economic situation but that of Western Europe. I think that Mr. Jacobsson, of the International Monetary Fund, made a speech in 1959 or 1960 saying that the great period of the inflationary thrust might be coming to an end and what should concern the Western capital countries was really deflation.
And I'm hopeful that as we have a chance to explore this matter with the Congress that they will give it very close attention. Quite obviously Mr. Mills will have a very decisive voice in the final decision, but we hope to adjust our viewpoints so that we can get some action on this program next year.
[7.] Q. Mr. President, your speaking of historians induces me to ask you this: most former Presidents have put their official papers in libraries in their home States where they are not readily available to scholars and historians who come here to work with the Library of Congress and other agencies here. Have you decided where to put yours and would you consider putting it in Washington?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I am going to put it in Cambridge, Mass. [Laughter]
Let me say I know that we have a library now in Independence, Hyde Park, Mr. Hoover's library at Stanford, Mr. Eisenhower's library at Abilene. There are advantages and disadvantages. In some ways it helps stimulate scholarship in those areas; in addition, through scientific means of reproduction, microfilms, and all of the rest, it's possible to make documents available generally here in Washington, and through the Archives, the Library of Congress, and at the libraries. The number of scholars who deal with these subjects in detail, it seems to me, will find it possible in a central place to get the kind of documents that they need. So that while there is a problem, as you suggest, I think that we can, and this will certainly be increased as time goes on, we will find it possible to so reproduce the key documents that they will be commonly available, I would hope, in Washington. There are a great many other advantages to a library--if you've gone to Franklin Roosevelt's library and to Harry Truman's library. It offers a good deal of stimulus to the study of American history, besides being a place where you can keep for a long time documents. There are many other things of interest which I think are rather advantageous to have spread around the country, particularly as it stimulates the study of the Presidency.
[8.] Q. Speaking of scholars, Mr. President, you and Dr. Wiesner have been putting heavy stress on the need for more scientists in this country.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, that's right. They are just releasing their report on the shortage of engineers.
Q. I wonder what your reaction is to a program in some of the New York City schools, where scientists from private industry, I believe at General Sarnoff's suggestion, are going into classrooms and giving lectures and demonstrations with the object of encouraging scientific careers?
THE PRESIDENT. I think it would be useful, because I think motivation is one of the problems. In addition, lack of funds is the problem to which the committee just addressed itself. We're going to have a big shortage of engineers, mathematicians, scientists, a good many of these men who would have the potential cannot afford the doctorate studies. It will require an investment by the Federal Government. But the kind of program which provides motivation you've talked about will be very useful.
[9.] Q. Mr. President, 3 weeks ago, six distinguished Negro leaders convened a conference on foreign policy in the Negro community at Arden House. They passed a number of resolutions and they also passed resolutions to confer with you. Have you received the resolutions, and if so, do you have any comment? And number two, do you intend to meet with the six Negro leaders?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I'm supposed to meet with them. I am not familiar with all of the resolutions. I remember one of them with regard to the question of Ambassadors in the foreign service, and a good many other places. And I am meeting with them.
[10.] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us what's being done to curb Western and other shipping to Cuba, the measures that are being taken, if any, curbing shipping by Western nations, and other unaligned countries shipping material into Cuba. There's a great deal of shipping en route there now, according to the information we get.
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. As you know, the shipping of any kinds of goods of the kind that would be used as offensive weapons, of course, action would be taken by the United States. Regular shipping, the United States has attempted to use its influence with members of NATO and others to discourage shipping. Some countries have responded and the United States is preparing other regulations which will affect shipping which should be available within the next 2 weeks.
[11.] Q. Mr. President, after your trip to Los Alamos Laboratory, New Mexico, is it your intention to ask for more money to speed up Project Rover, or for nuclear propulsion in space?
THE PRESIDENT. We're going to let these tests go on, of the reactor. These tests should be completed by July. If they are successful, then we will put more money into the program, which would involve the Nerva and Rift, both the engine and the regular machine. We will wait until July, however, to see if these tests are successful.
It should be understood that the nuclear rocket, even under the most favorable circumstances, would not play a role in any first lunar landing. This will not come into play until 1970 or '71. It would be useful for further trips to the moon or trips to Mars. But we have a good many areas competing for our available space dollars, and we have to try to channel it into those programs which will bring us a result, first, on our moon landing, and then to consider Mars.
[12.] Q. Mr. President, I wonder if you could bring us up to date on what is being done to get the prisoners out of Cuba, and whether you think it's in the national interest to give food and medicine to Cuba to get these men back?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, this is being done by the private committee of the--
Q. But is that in the national interest? Do you favor that, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. It is being handled by a private committee composed of the families of the prisoners, and a committee of which Gen. Lucius Clay and others are members, and I'm very sympathetic to their efforts.
 Q. You stated, sir, that you were going ahead and present your tax program to the Congress. Two questions about that program, in view of Mr. Mills' statements and the talk there has been about tax reduction: do you still plan, in your program, to ask for a reduction that would be retroactive to January 1, 1963; and will this program be in two parts, a program of quick tax reduction and a program of long-term reform?
[14.] Q. Mr. President, it was just a year ago that you ordered stepped-up aid to Viet-Nam. There seems to be a good deal of discouragement about the progress. Can you give us your assessment?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are putting in a major effort in Viet-Nam. As you know, we have about 10 or 11 times as many men there as we had a year ago. We've had a number of casualties. We put in an awful lot of equipment. We are going ahead with the strategic hamlet proposal. In some phases, the military program has been quite successful. There is great difficulty, however, in fighting a guerrilla war. You need 10 to 1, or 11 to 1, especially in terrain as difficult as South Viet-Nam.
So we don't see the end of the tunnel, but I must say I don't think it is darker than it was a year ago, and in some ways lighter.
[15.] Q. Mr. President, could you define for us the term "offensive weapons" in the context of the Cuban situation, and are you satisfied that such weapons no longer are in Cuba?
THE PRESIDENT. I would refer you back to the exchange of letters between Mr. Khrushchev and myself for our definition of offensive weapons.
On the second part of your question, it is our best judgment that the missiles have been removed from Cuba, and the planes. Now, these things are never 100 percent, and it is for that reason that we are insisting on verification, or if we can't get the kind of international inspection we will continue to use our own method of verification, which we believe gives us assurance against a reintroduction of these weapons into Cuba. And I think that the methods we are using to determine the status of military activity in Cuba are very effective, and are being used frequently.
[16.] I think we have the President of Chile. We are very glad to welcome him here on his first visit to the United States.
And he told me that he had a press conference yesterday and that the press in America were far gentler than they were in Chile. [Applause]
We don't want to give him the wrong impression, so I'll call on Mr. Chalmers Roberts. [Laughter]
[U.] Mr. Roberts: Mr. President, the administration proposed in Geneva today some sort of direct communication between the White House and the Kremlin, either a telephone or teletype. Could you tell us what was in your mind in proposing this and how it is related to the Cuban affair, and the fact of the delay?
THE PRESIDENT. There was a delay, as you know, in the communications back and forth, in the Cuban affair. In some degree I think that on one or two occasions it was necessary to rely on open broadcasts of messages, rather than sending them through the coding procedure which took a number of hours. What was happening was that when we finally concluded our day and sent the message to the Soviets, they were just waking up, and when they finished their day and prepared their messages for us, we were just waking up. So that it was taking time. The coding procedures were slow. In a nuclear age speed is very desirable. So we are hoping that out of this present conversation we can get instantaneous communication or at least relatively instantaneous communication.
Q. Were you speaking, sir, of teletype or telephone? You once told us you didn't think a telephone was very useful.
THE PRESIDENT. I think that that's probably true. I'm not convinced that telephoning would have speeded, or that conversation on the telephone between Mr. Khrushchev and myself would have speeded a solution of the Cuban crisis. Teletype I think might have made it a safer situation. A phone might be the solution but teletype certainly seems to have some advantages, yes.
Q. Mr. Khrushchev's speech today is considered a major policy declaration. It seems to be moderate in tone. I was wondering if you found any encouragement in that tone.
THE PRESIDENT. No, as I say, I've only had a general description and it seemed to be directed really more to the members of the bloc, but I haven't really concluded an analysis of it.
[18.] Q. Mr. President, Brazil has not fully carried out the anti-inflation measures which she pledged herself to carry out last year when she got large new loans and rescheduling of old loans. And now she is in very deep economic trouble. What effect do you think this has upon the other nations in Latin America who are trying to meet the demands of the Alliance for Progress program, and what is the possible effect upon members of Congress in their attitude towards aid and the Alliance?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the situation is most painful to the Brazilians, themselves, with inflation of 50 percent--which is almost unprecedented over any period of time without causing the most severe dislocations-50-percent inflation increase in the cost of living within a year. So that I think that this is a matter which the Brazilians must deal with. There is nothing, really, that the United States can do that can possibly benefit the people of Brazil if you have a situation which is so unstable as the fiscal and monetary situation within Brazil.
So this is of concern to the Government. It must be and it certainly is of concern to us. I understand that the Finance Minister of Brazil will be coming to Washington in January. Our Ambassador to Brazil has just been back for consultations which we discussed this matter with them, and I think that the Brazilian Government is aware of the strong concern that we have for this inflation which eats up our aid and which, of course, contributes to a flight of capital and, therefore, diminishes rather than increases the stability of the state.
[19.] Q. Mr. President, it's been a long time since a President and his family have been subjected to such a heavy barrage of teasing and fun-poking and satire. There have been books on "Backstairs at the White House," and cartoon books with clever sayings, and photo albums with balloons and the rest, and now a smash hit record.
Can you tell us whether you read and listen to these things, and whether they produce annoyment or enjoyment?
THE PRESIDENT. Annoyment? No. Yes, I have read them and listened to them and actually I listened to Mr. Meader's record, but I thought it sounded more like Teddy than it did me--[laughter]--so he's annoyed.
[20.] Q. We understand there will be a communique concerning your discussions with the President of Chile, but meanwhile we are wondering if these discussions, in your judgment, have accelerated or will accelerate the Alliance for Progress in that country and in Latin America generally.
THE PRESIDENT. I think it definitely will accelerate it.
Q. Mr. President, this also has to do with the Alliance for Progress. Aside from the good intentions expressed by various governments in Latin America, how much real advance has been made in the area of economic, social, and political reform, and number two, is there any procedure by which those reforms can be evaluated here or in the OAS?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, there is a procedure under the Alliance for Progress, the so-called wise men, who have been analyzing and approving the various steps that we take under the Alliance for Progress, without attempting to be in any way exclusive. I know that a good many reforms have been made in Venezuela, Colombia. In fact, in Chile we have been discussing, and the President has described some of the agrarian and tax reforms that Chile is now undertaking, which give us greater promise for the future. So that I think, even though as I said in my toast yesterday, the problems of Latin America are staggering, lack of resources and the overdependence on one or two commodities, these governments in many cases are making a very determined effort under staggering difficulties. We had a visit from the President of Honduras the other day. Fifty-six percent of the people of Honduras are illiterate. These are terribly difficult problems. So that I don't think we should be impatient with failure, but we should not desist because we've not solved all the problems overnight.
In the case of Chile, as the President has pointed out, they depend, as many other Latin American countries do, on one or two commodities for their foreign exchange. The prices of these commodities in the case of nearly every country of Latin America have dropped in the last 3 or 4 years. The price of raw material exports of Colombia, as I pointed out in another press conference, has dropped more than our aid has given them. Brazil depended on coffee and coffee has dropped, though we hope the coffee agreement will make some difference.
So that I am disturbed, but I think we ought to realize that we are dealing with the most staggering problems.
Q. If I may follow up on that, sir, recently the OAS sent down a task force to Latin America, and they came up with a report that there wasn't sufficient participation by labor and other groups of that sort in the planning areas of the various government and that seemed to be an objective of the Alliance for Progress. Is there any way by which that process could be speeded up?
THE PRESIDENT. I think the strengthening of the labor movement would be really one of the most desirable things we can do. Otherwise, the labor movement is going to be disaffected and go to the radical left. This is a problem Mr. Moscoso was dealing with all the time, and I am glad to be reminded of this particular point.
[21.] Q. Sir, I wonder if, as a matter of policy, you would tell us if you favor important Government stories going to a restricted few reporters who may be specially called in for this, or if, as a matter of policy, you would let the people of your administration know that you think news should flow freely to all reporters at the same time?
THE PRESIDENT. I think--yes, I will let them know, and I think it ought to. I'm not aware that the privileged few--I think that obviously some of the weekly magazines do different kinds of stories than the daily reporters, but I don't think there should be a discrimination because of size or sex or any other reason. [Laughter]
[22.] Q. Mr. President, in some of our major cities, John Birch or right-wing-type groups have been organizing boycotts against stores which carry imports from Iron Curtain, so-called Iron Curtain countries, and in some cases intimidating the stores. The State Department suggests that this is contrary to our policy of encouraging non-strategic trade with those countries. I wonder if you share that view about those boycotts?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I don't really think that--I think that it harasses merchants and I don't think it really carries on much of an effective fight against the spread of communism. If they really want to do something about the spread of communism, they will assist the Alliance for Progress, for one thing, or they will encourage their children to join the Peace Corps, or they will do a good many other things which are very greatly--they will be generous to students who come to the United States to study, and show them something of America. Those are the things that really make a difference. Not going down and because some merchant happens to have Polish hams in his shop, saying he is unpatriotic, doesn't seem to me to be a great contribution in the fight against Communism.
[23.] Q. Mr. President, there was a very specific denial from your office about the authenticity of the second article to appear in relation to what went on or what didn't go on in the Security Council. I am referring to the Life magazine article. There has been a good deal of speculation which has arisen as a result of a failure to say whether or not the first article which created all the furor was authentic.
THE PRESIDENT. I want to say now the White House statement dealt with only two points in the second article. One was whether the White House had in any way authorized or suggested the article in the Saturday Evening Post, and, number two, whether the White House had made members of the National Security Council available. Both of those were untrue. The White House had nothing to do with the determination to write the article or with its preparation. And that was what we addressed ourselves to. I will not get into a discussion of the various positions of the members of the National Security Council. Governor Stevenson has already made a reference to his position.
The fact of the matter is that Governor Stevenson renders very distinguished service, as I have said. I nominated him for the Presidency in 1956. I would not have supported him for the Presidency if I had not believed that he would be an effective and responsible President. He has done an excellent job at the United Nations.
I am surprised that anyone would possibly think that it would be in the interest of the country, or the administration, or the White House, that any lessening of his influence would be provided.
The reporters who happened to be--the Presidency is not a very good place to make new friends. I'm going to keep my old friends. But I am responsible for many things under the Constitution, but not for what they write. That's their responsibility and that is the way we will continue it.
[24.] Q. Mr. President, Congress has appropriated and you have approved a $10 million expenditure for the construction of an aquarium here in Washington. It has been noted that the dependent and needy children in Junior Village, who are urgently in need of additional housing, have not been similarly favored. Would you comment on this unusual order of priority?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that one of the unfortunate things, and I think the Congress should bear responsibility in part for it, is that we have inadequate expenditures for the needs of the people of the District, particularly the younger people, for our schools, our teachers are overburdened, recreational facilities are inadequate, and we're dealing with a very difficult situation right here in the District of Columbia.
Now, some people make a judgment that that's an indication that there is something wrong with the District and the way to deal with it is just to squeeze the District harder. I don't think the Congress has appropriated sufficient funds for the interests of the District, particularly of the younger people in the District, and this is the center of the capital of a leading country of the free world and it will be to our disgrace if we have any situation develop in the City of Washington, this rather beautiful city in some ways, which is not a credit to all of our people. So I think that there may be need for an aquarium, there may be need for a good many buildings, but in my opinion the resource of youth here should be more adequately developed.
|Citation: John F. Kennedy: "The President's News Conference", December 12, 1962. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=9054.|
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