John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks and Question and Answer Period at the Press Luncheon in Paris

June 02, 1961

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I do not think it altogether inappropriate to introduce myself to this audience. I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it.

I am also happy to have an opportunity to express publicly my appreciation to President and Mrs. de Gaulle for the hospitality and kindness which they have shown to us since our visit to Paris. I must say also, as I said to the General, that my most vivid impression of my visit here was not even the extraordinary spectacle which we all witnessed last night, which reminded us of the long reach into history which this country possesses, but rather was the sense of vigor and vitality and force possessed by the French people themselves. I do not say that riding in a car through rainy streets is the best method of making a determination of national character, but I have ridden through many streets and I must say it is a most effective method of determining the quality of the people. And I think any American who shared the experiences which we have had during the past 2 days in the sunshine on occasion, in the rain more often, would come away from this country with a feeling of confidence and hope.

I come on the same mission which occupied many of my predecessors, stretching all the way back to President Wilson at the conclusion of the First World War, and that is how it is possible to bind more intimately for the common interest France and the United States, Europe and the United States. This is not altogether a new effort. I recall in my first days in the Congress of the United States in 1947, '48, and '49, when the great steps which were proposed on a bipartisan basis by the American people to assist in the restoration of Europe were among the most foresighted and farsighted actions in which my country has been engaged, the Truman doctrine, the British loan, the aid for Greece and Turkey, the Marshall plan and later NATO. The United States, I believe, can be proud of these programs, and of the great results that they helped to produce. Without them it is possible that the whole history of Western Europe since 1945 would now be entirely different. Even today the basic concepts suggested in these programs form the essential part of the foreign policy of the United States. But these concepts alone are not adequate for our European policies in the 1960's. All of the power relationships in the world have changed in the last 15 years, and therefore our policies must take these changes into account. First is the change in Europe, itself. In the 1940's Europe-much of it was destroyed, its productive capacity liquidated, divided by a bitter war, inflation rampant, and only those who were optimists of the most extreme sort could have ever predicted the astonishing renaissance of Western Europe today. Its people have energy and confidence. Its economic growth rate is higher than that of the new world, either Canada or the United States. Its dollar shortages have been converted into balances which have even disturbed the monetary stability of the United States.

There were those who said that Europe after the war would be a prisoner again of its ancient rivalries. Today this continent offers the world the most outstanding examples of strength through unity. After 15 years of extraordinary creative effort and administrative invention, the development of the OEEC, the European Payments Union, the Coal and Steel Community, Euratom, the Common Market, and the OECD, and all of these have only laid the foundation for an even closer economic and political unity.

At the same time, the wise and sympathetic policies followed by France and Great Britain towards those countries which were formerly dependencies have strengthened the free world, the globe around us, and have also increased the prestige, influence, and stature of the countries themselves.

The second great change is the change in weaponry. The United States no longer has a nuclear monopoly. The Soviet Union's possession of atomic and hydrogen weapons has increased its willingness to test and probe and push the West. In addition, the intercontinental ballistic missile has made my own country vulnerable to. attack and it has also reinforced our view that your defense and ours is indivisible, that in terms of potential destruction, Washington today is closer to Moscow than this city was to any other city in any other country before the outbreak of World War II. We must in short be constantly strengthening all of our forces of all kinds, at all levels, deterring war, and keeping the peace by making certain that those who would oppose us know that we are determined to resist aggression, whatever its force, and whatever kind of force is needed to resist it.

The new change in weaponry presents new challenges, with possession by both the United States and the Soviet Union of an atomic and hydrogen capacity, with the great masses of armies that are available to the Sino-Soviet bloc, to the dose lines of communication which they have at their service in Western Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia, in Southeast Asia. It indicates the kind of difficult problems that we face in planning for a secure future. But while we keep our arms so strong that no antagonist can believe that he can secure an easy or shortcut road to world domination, man's inventive power for keeping the peace has not kept pace. We still have strong hopes that it will be possible for us to reach an agreement at Geneva on a cessation of nuclear tests. If we cannot reach an agreement on this subject, which is relatively easy to patrol because of the flow of radiation, how is it going to be possible for us to set up the kind of inspection system for the control of other weapons which could lead to disarmament, and, therefore, to a world peace?

I consider this to be a most essential, realistic step, and those of you who in this audience may have reported on the proceedings in Geneva in the 1920'S and '30's, when many months and years and energy of a great many different countries were engaged in the subject under far better conditions of good will then prevailing, the subject of how to secure an adequate disarmament system which provided security, can judge how difficult it will be for us to do so in the future if we cannot make successfully this step.

Third and most important is the change in the location and the nature of the threat. The cause of freedom is under pressure all over the world. But because of the extraordinary rebirth of Western European strength, the struggle has been switched to other areas where the security of your countries and mine are now being directly threatened. The whole southern half of the globe where the attack potentially comes not from massive land armies but from subversion, insurrection, and despair. Europe has conquered her own internal problems. Those that remain are on the way to solution. The time has now come for us to associate more closely together than ever in the past in a massive and concerted attack on poverty, injustice, and oppression, which overshadow so much of the globe. When the threat of military aggression was the primary one, our posture was defensive. But where the contest is one of human liberty and economic growth--and I tie them both together as we must always do so because the slogans with which we have associated ourselves have significance and force when they are bound together with a recognition that economic growth and productivity and material well-being are the handmaidens of liberty--we have the resources in this most extraordinary section of the world, the oldest, and in many ways now among the youngest, allied with the United States and Canada, associated with the countries of Latin America and Africa and Asia, we have an opportunity in our time to fulfill our responsibilities.

In 1779, before France came into the War of Independence, someone said to Benjamin Franklin, "It is a great spectacle that you are putting on in America," and Benjamin Franklin said, "Yes, but the trouble is, the spectators do not pay."

We are not spectators today. We are all contributing, we are all involved, here in this country, here in this community, here in Western Europe, here in my own country, here all around the globe, where it is our responsibility to make a maximum contribution.

[A question and answer period followed.]

[1] Q. In case of the failure of talks at Evian, would the United States be led to intervene more directly in settling the Algerian question, for example, in case of massive support by the Soviet Union and China?

THE PRESIDENT. It is, of course, our hope that the talks now proceeding at Evian will be successful, and I can think of no useful purpose at the present time in planning for the eventuality which was suggested by the question. We should look forward to the present, we should look forward to the effort which is being made to work out a peaceful solution. If that effort should fail, then of course all of us who are concerned would be expected to participate in appropriate consultations. But for the present and certainly as we look to the future, we look with hope towards those talks.

[2.] Q. Question from the Los Angeles Times: Will the President indicate how, and how soon he hopes to induce the negligent European member states of the North Atlantic Alliance to fulfill their accepted force goals for NATO's European shield forces?

THE PRESIDENT. Without accepting the presumptions upon which the Los Angeles Times places the question, I am hopeful that all members of the NATO Alliance will fulfill the goals to which they are committed. I think it important that in making these goals we make them realistic, that we do not make plans that we have no intentions of keeping. So quite obviously I think it would be in the interests of all that we meet our commitments, and I can assure you that the United States of America will make every effort on its part to carry out its obligations. I will say also that I am interested in the effort which Western Europe and the United States and Canada are making through the OEEC, through DAG, to play a more substantial role in economic assistance to the southern part of the globe. This is a great challenge for Western Europe. So that we hope that all of us will be willing to bear the burdens that free people must in dangerous days.

[3.] Q. [In French] Did you discuss with General de Gaulle the French atomic tests and the attitude of France with regard to the Geneva conference on suspension of nuclear tests? At what stage of the atomic development of France will the McMahon law no longer prevent the President of the United States from giving her American secrets? Who in the United States is the judge as to whether this stage has been reached or not?

THE PRESIDENT. In answer to the first part of the question, the answer was we have discussed these matters. In answer to the second, the determination or the interpretation of the McMahon Act is a matter of concern to the Executive and also a matter of great concern to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy of the Congress. And I'm sure that if a question were raised in regard to the interpretations that the United States Government would attempt to make an appropriate determination.

The third part of the question is--to what degree--the responsibility falls most immediately on the President. It is a matter, of course, which--it's a statute of the Congress, it is a matter of great concern to many members of the Congress who have given this matter long attention. There are varying views on how it would be interpreted. And I would say that the United States Government would make a judgment if a judgment were required after consulting with our partners in the Congress.

May I say that on some of these matters my answers will be less than full and less than satisfactory to you. When this press conference was first planned, I expected to be' at the end of my voyage. It comes at a time before General de Gaulle and I have concluded our talks, before a communique has been issued, and beginning tomorrow I face new responsibilities. Therefore, I hope that those who I leave less than satisfied will at least be sympathetic.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, a question by Serge Fleigers of the Hearst Newspapers: What in your opinion, Mr. President, is the principal aim of a meeting with Mr. Khrushchev at this time and do you feel that you are meeting him with enough cards in your hands?

THE PRESIDENT. To answer the second part of the question first, I consider the power of the United States, plus those countries that are associated with it in the common defense, to give every form of encouragement to any Western leader who discusses matters which concern us with those who occupy positions of responsibility in other parts of the globe. I think Mr. Khrushchev has the same view. And to the first part of the question, I would say, as I have said before, that the purpose of this meeting is to permit me to make a more precise judgment on those matters which involve the interests of the United States, and the Soviet Union, and those countries which are associated with us and those countries which are members of the Sino-Soviet bloc. We are involved in two conferences at Geneva. We hope that more progress can be made at both of them. And if there is anything that may be said in the meetings Saturday and Sunday which may improve that prospect, then, of course, that makes the trip worthwhile. There are other matters also on which we have not come to an agreement with Mr. Khrushchev, and I think it important that we understand fully his viewpoint and all of its implications, and that in return he has the same understanding of our viewpoint.

I said recently that in my lifetime I had been present, alive, during three world wars, and it is impossible to study the origins of each of these struggles without realizing the serious miscalculations which were made by the leaders on both sides. The most recent example was in our own experience in Korea, where the North Koreans did not seem certain that we would respond immediately upon the occasion of their invasion into South Korea, and where there was serious doubt on the part of the United States that the Chinese Communists would intervene as we moved to the north. In the experience of Europe, you have had similar circumstances. Therefore, when responsibility is pressed heavily on anyone to make a judgment, it seems to me useful to have as close an understanding of the view of each side as possible. I think that it is most valuable to talk to those with whom we are allied. I also think it is important that we talk to those who are separated from us, because in the final analysis, heavy decisions rest, constitutionally, upon the President of the United States. He must under some conditions make the final judgment himself, and if my judgment may be more lucid, may be based more on reality as a result of this exchange, then I think the trip will be useful.

[5.] Q. [In French] Would you interpret for us your understanding with General de Gaulle on Berlin? What is the real meaning and scope of this understanding?

THE PRESIDENT. The matter of Berlin, of course, will be a matter, I am sure, of discussion tomorrow and Sunday and, therefore, I do not think that this is a particularly appropriate time to go into details on the position which we occupy in Berlin as it is a matter, of course, which will be discussed by Mr. Khrushchev and myself. Let me therefore sum it up by saying that I think that neither General de Gaulle nor I would feel it appropriate to have our rights, statutory rights, in West Berlin changed by force or the threat of force.

[6.] Q. Crosby Noyes, Washington Evening Star: Mr. President, in view of the attitude shown by the Soviet and Chinese delegations at the Geneva conference on Laos, do you now feel that the neutrality and independence of that country can be established and insured by an international agreement?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that the prospects are not easy of securing an independent and neutral Laos as we understand it, but we intend to continue to discuss this matter, and we will stay at the conference for as long as we feel that there is some hope of success. The Soviet Union has stated on occasions that it wishes a neutral and independent Laos. If we can come to an agreement on the exact, precise definition of these words, then our progress should be swift. I will say that the first and most essential step at the present time is to provide an effective mechanism for controlling the cease-fire. If we can secure a cease-fire, then we can move on to those other matters which must be settled by the conference. It is a difficult area. It presents us with many difficult decisions. But I cannot believe that anyone would imperil the peace by failing to recognize the importance of reaching an agreement in this country, by breaking up a conference and refusing to agree to a cease-fire and a government and a people which can maintain their neutrality against outside intervention from whatever source.

[7.] Q. [In French] Question of Mme. Genevieve Tabouis together with question annexed by a colleague: How does President Kennedy view the role of France in Europe? Do you think that closer consultations may take place between Washington, London, and Paris, on the political and military problems of the world?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I do, and the reason I came to Paris was to participate in that kind of consultation. Consultation does not always, regardless of how long it may go on, does not always provide unanimity at the end of the consultation. But there is a more precise understanding of those areas where there is agreement and there is a more precise understanding of the reasons for positions which may be taken on which there is not agreement. So I regard conversations such as I have had for the last 2 days, and they have been more than 8 hours with President de Gaulle, I regard them as most valuable. And I believe that more than talking about consulting it is important to consult. And we have done that and will continue to do it, I hope with increasing intimacy, in the months ahead.

[8.] Q. Question of Thomas Cadett, of the BBC, and Christopher Johnson of the Financial Times: Mr. President, did you discuss Britain's entry into the Common Market with President de Gaulle, and what did he say? And does the United States advise the French Government to facilitate the entry of Britain into the Common Market as a full member?

THE PRESIDENT. I cannot believe that Mr. Cadett or Mr. Johnson have been in Paris less time than I have, but nevertheless f am sure that even if they had been here only in the last few hours they would know that on those matters on which--regarding General de Gaulle's views, that the most authoritative place to secure them is General de Gaulle.

[9.] Q. [In French] What can the United States and her allies do to be again regarded in the world as a whole as the true defenders of liberty, of justice, when in the eyes of underdeveloped countries they all appear today as the defenders of the unique privileges which the whites enjoy because of their high standard of living? Can you tell us, for Africa and Latin America, what means the United States is thinking of to help the peoples of these continents in their revolution for peace, for equality--for an "independent order" as you yourself have said.

THE PRESIDENT. I think the question suggests a basic problem which is not easy to solve. We are a prosperous people. Some of us in the Atlantic Community have held colonial possessions and we, therefore, have not always experienced, in my own hemisphere, in Africa, or Asia, the happiest relations with the people who are involved. But I will say on the other hand, that the record of the last 15 years is an extraordinary one, as country after country has gained its independence, by free means in many cases--in fact, in the majority of cases--who were once held as colonial possessions. This is an extraordinary record for the Western World and one not matched by the Eastern World, which continues to hold areas under its control, not by free means. I think that it is not enough, as I said in my speech, that we give our slogans, though the slogans cloak very basic principles, but I feel we must make a greater concerted effort than we have made in the past on a long-term basis, to demonstrate to these people that through free choice they may be able to solve their material problems. I do not want to see the United States, and I am sure that those of you who are Europeans do not want to see Europe, associated with reactionary groups within these countries who seek only to maintain their own position. We want to assist and be associated with those groups who look to the future, who are identified with the aspirations of their people. Otherwise, our days in some of these areas are on the yellow leaf. I will say that one of the matters which I discussed with General de Gaulle was the great hope which we had in the Western Hemisphere that Europe would play an increasingly larger role. Its traditional ties, its cultural affinities, its ties of language--of Latin America--are extremely intimate with Europe, and I believe that there is a great opportunity for Europe, not only to serve the general cause, not only in Africa and Asia, but also in the hemisphere of the Americas. And it was a source of great satisfaction to me that General de Gaulle, as he demonstrated in his speech of some weeks ago, shares strongly that view of the obligation of this area.

[10.] Q. Question by Joseph Batty, of the New York Post: Mr. President, has there been an investigation of the case of the reports circulated about alleged Central Intelligence Agency involvement in the April 22 Algiers revolt of the generals, and would you care to comment on this?

THE PRESIDENT. I feel that the good will of this visit may be rapidly diminishing. Let me say that I have not been informed, and all my information is to the contrary, that there was any involvement by members of the CIA or any other members of the American Government. I think that the foreign minister discussed that matter quite clearly in his report of some weeks ago, and I think that the statements which our Government has made in regard to its association with this country and its government I think obviously answer it. So in answer to your question, I know of no basis for such a charge. I have never received information on it. I assume I would have and, therefore, I regard the matter as not in fact true.

[11.] Q. [In French] Mr. President what impressed you most, first about France, and then concerning General de Gaulle?

THE PRESIDENT. In France, as I said, I think the vitality of a very old race, which the French people are. In General de Gaulle, I am having a conversation with the only active figure who played a major role in the Second World War who is now involved in major policy matters affecting the security of the Western World. President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, Marshal Stalin have all disappeared from the positions of responsibility. General de Gaulle remains. And he is faithful to the same concepts of the strength of France and the unity of Europe as he has been for many years. It has been my hope in these conversations that he has a renewed appreciation of how seriously we consider our ties with France and Western Europe. I hope from our conversations that he understands how our new government in the United States is firmly committed to the security of this area and means to implement its commitments.

[12.] Q. Question by L. E. Micey, of the United Press International: Mr. President, how can Communist China normalize her relations with the West and be admitted to United Nations membership?

THE PRESIDENT. I would say that the normalization of relations which--of course, peaceful relations--which is in the common interest of us all, between China and the West--I would hope that they would be brought about. But we desire peace and we desire to live in amity with the Chinese people. But I will say that since long before I assumed office and in the first days of our new administration, before really any actions were taken, the attacks upon our Government and the United States were constant, immediate, and in many cases malevolent. The debate which took place last fall between Communist parties indicated that the Chinese planned to take an extremely belligerent attitude and role towards us and those with whom we are associated. We hope that policy changes. We want good will. But it takes two to make peace, and I am hopeful that the Chinese will be persuaded that a peaceful existence with its neighbors represents the best hope for us all. We would welcome it. But I do not see evidence of it today.

[13.] Q. [In French] If you were in the place of Mr. Khrushchev

THE PRESIDENT. If I were--I suppose if I were in Mr. Khrushchev's place, it would be because I was Mr. Khrushchev and had lived his life, and therefore, I would look to the West and I would see a good deal of reports of disagreement. I would see where all Western leaders may not agree on every issue. I would see where distinguished American correspondents who speak with great influence take a different view on what actions the United States should take. I would see Mr. Kennedy under critical attack by many of his fellow countrymen, as well as those who live across the ocean. I would look at my own country, where everything on the surface is serene, where nobody criticizes or opposes, and everyone is united behind me. And, therefore, I would draw a conclusion that the tide of history was moving with me.

If I were Mr. Khrushchev, however, and had spent some time in the West, I would take a somewhat different view of the tide of history. I would read those distinguished spokesmen who had prophesied the imminent collapse of Europe in 1947 and '48. I would read those others who had felt it would be impossible for us to associate more closely together and I would also recognize that dissent and controversy brings a kind of vitality and also protects individual liberty. And I would consider that possibly we could improve Russian society. I will say that I don't agree very basically with one of the assumptions which a good many Communists put forward, and that is from the events of the last 15 years they have made the judgment that the tide is determined and in their favor. You cannot look at the relations between the countries behind the Iron Curtain. For example, the rather strange relationship between Albania and China, or between Yugoslavia and Albania and Russia, or between all the other countries of the bloc, to feel that if time were permitted to pass and the Communists were permitted to be successful, that there would not inevitably be the same rivalries which we now see already in evidence. The difficulty, of course, is that Caesar and Pompey and Antony and Octavius and the others did not fall out until they were successful. We cannot afford the luxury of permitting them the kind of success which will prove them wrong finally in the kind of world which they were witness. We have to maintain our position. And therefore, I hope Mr. Khrushchev is not misled by those signs of democracy which we understand but they do not, but instead recognizes that the United States of America, divided as it may be on many important questions, including governmental spending, is united in its determination to fulfill its commitments and to play the role that history and its own free choice have brought upon it in these years.

So I may say, as I said at the beginning, I go to Vienna with a good deal of confidence, and I go to Vienna with more confidence as a result of my last 2 days.

Note: The President's twelfth news conference was held at 1:15 p.m. at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks and Question and Answer Period at the Press Luncheon in Paris Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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