Lyndon B. Johnson photo

The President's News Conference

March 02, 1967

THE PRESIDENT. [1.] For your information, prior to visiting with HEW, I am going to drop by Howard University. Today is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the legislation that brought Howard University into existence.1

1 See Items 81 and 82.

I have been requested to appear there at a brief ceremony that they are holding. I shall go out a little earlier.

For any of you who may want to go, there will be transportation for you. If you don't want to go, there will be a pool that can report to you on it.


[2.] I have a brief announcement to make. I have received a reply from Chairman Kosygin to my letter of January 27.2 This reply confirmed the willingness of the Soviet Government to discuss means of limiting the arms race in offensive and defensive nuclear missiles.

2 The text of the letters was not made public.

This exchange of views is expected to lead to further discussions of this subject in Moscow and with our allies. It is my hope that a means can be found to achieve constructive results.

I will be glad to take any questions in the time allotted to me.


Q. Mr. President, this applies, did I understand correctly, to offensive weapons as well as the establishment of an antimissile system?

THE PRESIDENT. Offensive and defensive.

Q. Mr. President, on what level will these discussions be?

THE PRESIDENT. They will be in Moscow with Ambassador Thompson. Then we will see how they progress.

Q. Mr. President, will these Moscow discussions be concurrent with the ones going on in the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Conference going on in Geneva?

THE PRESIDENT. Not necessarily. They are not timed in connection with any other conferences.

As you know, I sent Chairman Kosygin a letter and asked him to consider the desirability of an exchange of views in this regard. He has responded. We would assume that the discussions would be initiated with Ambassador Thompson. I wouldn't go further than that at this time.

Q. Mr. President, do you see an interconnection between Senate passage of the consular treaty, the space treaty, East-West trade, and a nonproliferation treaty? Do you see these as kind of one movement?

THE PRESIDENT. I think they are all very desirable moves in the national interest of the United States.

When I became President, one of the first steps I took in the first few weeks I was President was to communicate with Chairman Khrushchev and suggest that we explore together certain agreements that would be beneficial to both nations in promoting peace in the world.

Exchanges between our two countries resulted in: the signing of the civil air agreement; the signing of the consular agreement, which I devoutly hope will be ratified by the Senate, and about which I have had innumerable conversations with the leaders of this Congress of both parties; the progress that has been made in the nonproliferation agreement--although we have not come to a complete meeting of the minds with all of the individuals involved, we have made progress; the space agreement, which we hope the Senate will act favorably upon; the East-West trade, which is being considered.

We have recommended all of those. We hope that the Congress will confirm our judgment that they are in the best interests of the United States. They were not made as a package move. They were made as individual recommendations.

But I do think that what your question implies is: Does that reflect a policy on the part of this Government of attempting to find areas of agreement with the Soviet Union?

The answer is, yes. We are exploring, with every means at our command, every possible way of relieving tensions in the world and promoting peace in the world.


[3.] Q. Mr. President, do you have any reaction to the House action denying Mr. Powell a seat?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I would have no comment on that matter, other than what you have been given before, that it is a matter for the Members of the House that is reserved to them by the Constitution.

The President doesn't engage in internal affairs of the House or the Senate.


[4.] Q. Mr. President, sir, the Prime Minister of North Vietnam is quoted in a dispatch from Hanoi this morning as saying there is no present possibility of talks and the NLF representative in Hanoi is quoted in the same dispatch as saying now there is one way open to us--to struggle until final victory.

In the light of these comments, could you comment on our objectives at this point?

THE PRESIDENT. We are in Vietnam because of the violation of two solemn international agreements.

In 1954 Hanoi agreed that North Vietnam should not be used for the resumption of hostilities or to further an aggressive policy.

In 1962 Hanoi agreed to withdraw all of its military forces from Laos, to refrain from reintroducing such forces, and not to use the territory of Laos to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

If I had the time, I would go in some detail into the recommendations that General Maxwell Taylor made to President Kennedy in his report of November 3, 1961, after Hanoi had violated the Geneva Declaration of 1954, but before the Geneva Declaration of 1962 was finally completed.

Referring to that report General Taylor said, among other things, that his recommendation that he made at that time was not "the final word." Then he went on to add that it might be necessary to attack the sources of supply at their source if they continued to insist on aggression.

We have made it abundantly clear that we were willing to have a complete cease-fire at any time they were willing to cease attack and cease aggression.

They have made it abundantly clear that they are not willing to do that, notwithstanding the "reports" that you refer to from time to time.

It is very dear to us that if they are going to bomb Pleiku as they did and kill our men in the middle of the night, if they are going to bomb Danang as they did just a few days ago, if they are going to lob their mortar shells into the backs of our soldiers as they did last night, you must, if you are at all fair to those men who are defending you there, permit them to respond.

They will respond, they are responding, and they will continue to respond, I believe, successfully.

I think that the American people should know that this is a question between their President, their country, their troops, and Mr. Ho Chi Minh and the troops that he is sending in from the North. Everyone can take whatever side of the matter that he wants to.

As far as this Government is concerned, we have, from the very beginning, tried to keep our hand out and our guard up. We have tried to extend the hand of peace and say that we are willing to cease fire, for unconditional discussions, for 4 points, or 14 points, or any points, but if they were unwilling to do that and they insisted on carrying on their offensive, our men had to be in a position to respond?

8 On the previous day Secretaries Rusk and McNamara held a press briefing during which they summarized their reports to the President on the diplomatic and military situation in Vietnam. The text of their remarks is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 3, P. 351).


[5.] Q. Mr. President, may I go back to your statement on the Soviet willingness to limit the arms race? Is it your understanding from Chairman Kosygin's letter that they will now cease the construction of antiballistic missile systems while we discuss the problem?

THE PRESIDENT. My understanding of his letter is reflected in seven simple sentences. There will be a transcript available to you. I wouldn't go beyond that.

I don't think there is any implication that is not made dear.

Q. Mr. President, if you have told us this, I missed it: Can you give us some idea as to when the conversations are going to start?

THE PRESIDENT. We don't have a date on that. It will be at a mutually satisfactory time. We will be very glad for them to start at the earliest possible date.

Q. Mr. President, can you give us the date on the Kosygin letter?

THE PRESIDENT. My letter was January 27, and I don't have the date of his at the moment.


[6.] Q. Mr. President, you appointed the members of the Warren Commission, sir. I believe at a news conference recently you said you saw no reason from stories that had been written to doubt the conclusions of the Commission.

The District Attorney in New Orleans 4 is attracting worldwide attention with statements now. First of all, he challenges the Warren Commission's conclusions and he does not want to cooperate, it appears, with the Federal Government in a case that involves a matter of very severe national importance. How do you feel about this?

THE PRESIDENT. I do not have any information from New Orleans, other than what I have seen in the newspapers. I would not have any comment to make with the limited information I have seen in the newspapers at this time. I know of no reason to change anything that I have said before.

4 James Garrison.


[7.] Q. Mr. President, Chairman Kosygin's letter refers to offensive and defensive nuclear missiles. Did your letter go so far or was your proposal limited to defensive?

THE PRESIDENT. My letter was prompted by the desire to raise the question of defensive weapons. We had previously raised the question of offensive weapons.

The Chairman's reply to us is agreeable to us. We are very glad to have the opportunity to discuss both, as we had indicated previously, although not in the same channels.

Q. Mr. President, was your January 27 letter prompted primarily by the Soviet antimissile system being deployed around Moscow, the one you mentioned recently?

THE PRESIDENT. The January 27 letter was prompted by two primary reasons. First, the desire to have a discussion involving the limitation of arms, whenever 'possible, that might lead to an agreement. We are constantly pursuing any courses that might lead to an agreement that would be in the interest of the people of the world.

Second, before reaching a final decision on the course this Government would follow in connection with a defensive system,

I think we would like to explore an agreement.

In any event, we would like to have some discussions and be sure we couldn't get an agreement before we made a very basic decision that was far-reaching, comprehensive, and one on which we could not turn back.

Q. Mr. President, during the discussion, what will be the status of the research and development on the antiballistic missile? Will it continue or be suspended?

THE PRESIDENT. I assume both countries will continue with whatever efforts they think are desirable. I would see no reason for us to suspend work that we have underway.

Q. Mr. President, I didn't understand what you said earlier, referring to six sentences about the transcript. Could we have the texts of the exchange of the two leaders?

THE PRESIDENT. I think at this time I will limit you to my statement on the subject. That will be in the transcript. I will read it again, if you have the time and if I have the time. If not, it will be in the transcript.

Q. Sir, can you tell us exactly when you received the letter?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't have that.

Q. Not when it was dated, when you received it.

THE PRESIDENT. I don't have the date of the letter or the time it was received.

Q. Mr. President, is there any possibility of you and Mr. Kosygin meeting in the near future?

THE PRESIDENT. I see nothing in this that would indicate that now.

Merriman Smith (UPI): Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Johnson's ninety-seventh news conference was held in the Fish Room at the White House at 11:25 a.m. on Thursday, March 2, 1967• As printed above, this item follows the text of the Official White House Transcript.

Lyndon B. Johnson, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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