Richard Nixon photo

The President's News Conference

April 29, 1971

THE PRESIDENT. Would you be seated, please.



[1.] I think Miss Thomas [Helen Thomas, United Press International] has the first question tonight.

Q. Mr. President, have the antiwar demonstrations or the growing Congressional demand for a withdrawal deadline from Vietnam or Madame Binh's1 latest statements in Paris influenced in any way your Indochina policy?

1Nguyen Thi Binh, head of the National Liberation Front delegation to the Paris peace talks on Vietnam.

THE PRESIDENT. Miss Thomas, I stated the Indochina policy at considerable length on April 7, as you will recall, and I have considered all of the demonstrations. I have considered also the arguments that have been made by others after that statement, and I believe that the position that I took then is the correct one.

I would not want to leave the impression that those who came to demonstrate were not listened to. It is rather hard not to hear them, as a matter of fact. I would say, however, that demonstrators have come to Washington previously about the war. They came now. I was glad to note that in this case most of the demonstrators were peaceful. They indicated they wanted the war to end now, that they wanted peace. That, of course, is what I want. It is what everybody in this room wants. It is what everybody in this Nation wants.

I realize, as a matter of fact, that in this room there are many reporters who disagree with my policy to bring the war to an end in the way that I believe it should be ended, and who probably agree with the views of the demonstrators. I respect you and them and others who disagree with my policies. But as I looked at those demonstrators on television--and I saw so many who were teenagers--this is the thought that passed through my mind: My responsibility is to bring peace, but not just peace in our time, but peace in their time. I want peace not just for us, but peace for our children, their children.

I am convinced that if we were to do what they were advocating, a precipitate withdrawal before the South Vietnamese had a chance to prevent a Communist takeover, that that would lead to a very dangerous situation in the Pacific and would increase the dangers of war in the future.

On the other hand, I believe that if we continue on the path that I have set forth, one in which we are withdrawing our forces, in which we will be down to 184,000 by December 1--and I will make another announcement on October [November] 15--I believe that on that path we will end the war, we will bring a peace in Vietnam which will contribute to peace not just in our time but in their time.

I think they will judge me very harshly for the position that I take now. But I think what is important is how they judge the consequences of the decisions that I make now, which I think are in their best interests and in the best interests of our children.


[2.] Mr. Cormier [Frank Cormier, Associated Press].

Q. Mr. President, the commission on the United Nations that you appointed, headed by your 1960 vice presidential running mate,2 has come out rather strongly for a two-China policy. The last time we saw you, you weren't prepared to talk about that. I wonder if tonight you could say how you feel about those proposals?

2 The President's Commission for the Observance of the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the United Nations, chaired by Henry Cabot Lodge.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Cormier, that recommendation by that very distinguished committee, of course, is being given consideration in the high councils of this Government, and I am, of course, considering it along with recommendations which move in the other direction.

I think, however, that your question requires that I put, perhaps, in perspective much of this discussion about our new China policy. I think that some of the speculation that has occurred in recent weeks since the visit of the table tennis team to Peking has not been useful.

I want to set forth exactly what it is and what it is not.

First, as I stated at, I think, one of my first press conferences in this room, the long-range goal of this Administration is a normalization of our relationships with Mainland China, the People's Republic of China, and the ending of its isolation from the other nations of the world. That is a long-range goal.

Second, we have made some progress toward that goal. We have moved in the field of travel; we have moved in the field of trade. There will be more progress made. For example, at the present time I am circulating among the departments the items which may be released as possible trade items in the future, and I will be making an announcement on that in a very few weeks.

But now when we move from the field of travel and trade to the field of recognition of the Government, to its admission to the United Nations, I am not going to discuss those matters, because it is premature to speculate about that.

We are considering all those problems. When I have an announcement to make, when a decision is made--and I have not made it yet--I will make it.

But up until that time we will consider all of the proposals that are being made. We will proceed on the path that we have been proceeding on. And that is the way to make progress. Progress is not helped in this very sensitive area by speculation that goes beyond what the progress might achieve.

I would just summarize it this way: What we have done has broken the ice; now we have to test the water to see how deep it is.

I would finally suggest that--I know this question may come up if I don't answer it now--I hope, and, as a matter of fact, I expect to visit Mainland China sometime in some capacity--I don't know what capacity. But that indicates what I hope for the long term. And I hope to contribute to a policy in which we can have a new relationship with Mainland China.


[3.] Mr. Healy [Paul F. Healy, New York Daily News].

Q. Mr. President, following up on that, your Vice President recently held an off-the-record, midnight session with selected newsmen in which he reportedly differed with your policy on China.

Now, you have said in the past that there are always those who are trying to drive a wedge between the President and the Vice President. So do you think in this. case he qualifies as a wedge driver?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it is very hard for the Vice President to be off the record. And as far as this particular conference was concerned, the Vice President, in his usual very candid way, expressed some. views with regard to our policy that he had expressed previously in meetings that we had in which he participates, the National Security Council and other forums.

However, now that the decision has. been made with regard to what our policy is, the Vice President supports that decision. He has so stated since he was quoted on his off-the-record conference, and I think you will find the Vice President in all areas where he may disagree--as he should disagree when he has strong convictions-with policies, once a decision is. made will publicly support those policies.

I expect him to and he always has.


[4.] Q. Mr. President, sir, I wonder,. since you have always said that you inherited this war, I wonder what you would think about naming a court of' inquiry to look in to see just exactly who got us into this war.

THE PRESIDENT. When I say I inherited this war, I want to point out that I am actually quoting what others say. I am not going to cast the blame for the war in Vietnam on either of my predecessors.

The first 16,000 combat men, we know, went there in 1963.3 The murder of Diem, the opening of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, as a result of the settlement of Laos that occurred in 1962. President Johnson was President when more men went in later. But both President Johnson and President Kennedy, I am sure, were making decisions that they thought were necessary for the security of the United States.

3 In 1963 there were some 16,000 American advisers and helicopter support units in. Vietnam.

All that I am saying now is this: We are in this war, and the way the United States ends this war is going to determine to a great extent whether we are going to avoid this kind of involvement in the future.

If we end it in a way that encourages those who engage in aggression to try it again, we will have more wars like this. But, if we end it in a way that I have laid out, one that will end it in a way that the South Vietnamese will have a chance to defend themselves and to choose the kind of government they want in a free election, then we will have a chance to have peace in their time that I referred to a moment ago.


[5.] Q. Mr. President, the United States position has been that North Vietnam has not genuinely offered the release of American prisoners, but rather only to discuss the release of American prisoners.

My question is: Does your rejection of setting a deadline for the withdrawal of American troops include the possibility that North Vietnam might in the future offer the actual release of American prisoners rather than simply the discussion of that question?

THE PRESIDENT. You very well have put the problem that we always are confronted with. You may recall very well that when President Johnson ordered the bombing halt it was with the assumption that the North Vietnamese would negotiate seriously on ending the war.

They didn't do it. So a promise to discuss means nothing from the North Vietnamese. What we need is far more than that. We need action on their part and a commitment on their part with regard to the prisoners.

Consequently, as far as any action on our part of ending American involvement completely--and that means a total withdrawal concerned, that will have to be delayed until we get not just the promise to discuss the release of our prisoners but a commitment to release our prisoners, because a discussion promise means nothing where the North Vietnamese are concerned.

Q. Your rejection is not a categorical rejection of setting a deadline for the withdrawal of American troops?

THE PRESIDENT. We have set forth, both in my speech of October 7 and then on April 7, a complete American proposal for negotiation. I am not going in a press conference to depart from those proposals.

Those proposals include a cease-fire; they include an exchange of prisoners; they included, as you know, a mutual withdrawal of forces and an Indochina peace conference.

Today in Paris, as you may note, we, along with the South Vietnamese, offered to repatriate--as a matter of fact, we are going unilaterally to repatriate, without regard to what the North Vietnamese do, 540 [570] North Vietnamese sick and wounded.

And, in addition to that, we offered to send to a neutral country 1,600 [1,200] North Vietnamese prisoners who have been prisoners for 4 years or longer. We trust that the North Vietnamese will respond.

We also offered, as you know, to have inspection of our camps, not just by the International Red Cross but by a third country or any other international organization.

Ambassador Bruce puts the prisoner question by my direct orders at the highest priority. He is directed to discuss it separately, to discuss it with other issues, or discuss it as part of an overall settlement. We are ready to settle it whenever they are ready to talk about it. And I will say finally, that under no circumstances will our withdrawal programs abandon our POW's. We will be there as long as they have any prisoners in North Vietnam.


[6.] Mr. Jarriel [Tom Jarriel, ABC News].

Q. Mr. President, you have said that you intervened in the Calley case in the national interest. I wonder if you could define for us in greater detail how you feel the court-martial verdict endangered the national interest and how you feel it was served by your intervention in the case?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Jarriel, to comment upon the Calley case, on its merits, at a time when it is up for appeal would not be a proper thing for me to do, because, as you also know, I have indicated that I would review the case at an appropriate time in my capacity as the final reviewing officer.

In my view, my intervention in the Calley case was proper for two reasons: One, because I felt that Captain [Lieutenant] Calley should not be sent to Leavenworth Prison while waiting for the months and maybe a year or so that appeal would take. I thought that he should be confined to quarters. I think that was proper to do in view of the fact that under civil cases where we have criminal cases, we grant the right of bail to people that are charged with crimes.

Second, I felt that it was proper for me to indicate that I would review the case, because there was great concern expressed throughout the country as to whether or not this was a case involving, as it did, so many complex factors, in which Captain [Lieutenant] Calley was going to get a fair trial.

I believe that the system of military justice is a fair system. But as part of that system is the right of the President to review, I am exercising that right. And I think that reassured the country and that is one of the reasons that the country has cooled down on this case. I will review it.


[7.] Q. Mr. President, you have often said that in the area of civil rights that the law should be applied equally in the North and in the South. Ten days ago the Supreme Court approved the mandatory use of busing to overcome racial segregation. Do you endorse that decision, and do you believe that busing should be used as a technique to overcome racial segregation based on housing patterns in the North?

THE PRESIDENT. This problem involves some very technical legal distinctions. I will not go into them in detail.

I will, however, say this: I expressed views with regard to my opposition to busing for the purpose of achieving racial balance and in support of the neighborhood school in my statement of March of last year. I stated those views at that time with the preface that this was an area that the Supreme Court had not yet spoken on and that it was my responsibility, therefore, to speak on it and to give guidance to our executive agencies.

Now that the Supreme Court has spoken on that issue, whatever I have said that is inconsistent with the Supreme Court's decision is now moot and irrelevant, because everybody in this country, including the President of the United States, is under the law; or, putting it another way, nobody, including the President of the United States, is above the law as it is finally determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.

Now, what is the law in this instance? The law is that where we have segregation in schools as a result of governmental action--in other words, de jure--that then busing can be used under certain circumstances to deal with that problem. And so we will comply with that situation, and we will work with the Southern school districts, not in a spirit of coercion, but one of cooperation as we have during the past year in which so much progress has been made in getting rid of that kind of a system that we have had previously.

Second, however, the Court explicitly by dictums did not deal with the problem of de facto segregation as it exists in the North and perhaps as it may eventually exist in the South. That matter the Court still has not decided on explicitly. It will probably have that opportunity, because I noted a California case a couple of days ago from San Francisco which said that busing would be required to deal with segregation which was a result, not of what a governmental body did, but as a result of housing patterns coming from individual decisions.

Now, until the Court does move in that field, I still will hold to my original positions of March: That I do not believe that busing to achieve racial balance is in the interests of better education. Where it is de jure, we comply with the Court; where it is de facto, until the Court speaks, that still remains my view.


[8.] Q. Mr. President, in terms of scope, is it possible that U.S. forces might again be involved in Laotian- or Cambodian-type operations and, if so, under what conditions?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it is quite obvious, and you put your finger on it with the assumption of your question that with the number of forces that we now have in Vietnam, the possibility of any further actions like Cambodia of last year, or even actions like Laos in this year, is quite remote. When we get down to 184,000 by the end of the year, it will be completely remote, I would say.

At this time, we see no need for any further actions. I should point out as one indication of some effectiveness of previous actions, that the casualties which our television viewers heard on their television programs tonight, and they will see in their morning newspapers, were half of what they were this same week last year, a fourth of what they were this same week 2 years ago, and a seventh of what they were in this same week of 1968. So, progress is being made.

As a result of Laos, as a result of Cambodia, the war is winding down. The Americans are coming home and we will achieve our goal of a total withdrawal. But that goal will be achieved only when we also get our prisoners of war back, and when the South Vietnamese develop the capability to have a chance to defend themselves against a Communist takeover.


[9.] Mr. Theis [J. William Theis, Hearst Newspapers and Hearst Headline Service].

Q. Against that background, Mr. President, would you consider setting a troop withdrawal date so far in advance that it might be considered safe from our standpoint, such as the end of 1972?

THE PRESIDENT. I see no gain from our standpoint to set a troop withdrawal date by the end of 1972 or the end of 1973 or the middle of 1972, when we get nothing for it.

Once you set a date--in other words, when we say in effect to the enemy, "We quit, regardless of what you do," then we destroy any incentive the enemy might have to negotiate. And there is still some incentive. It gets less as months go on, and as our presence becomes less. And we destroy, of course, also our bargaining position with regard to POW's.

Even more important, once we set a date we give the enemy the information that the enemy needs to launch attacks on our rapidly diminishing forces at their greatest point of vulnerability.

Therefore, the setting of a date is not something that is in our interest. It is only in the enemy's interest.

What I will do is simply to say what I have said previously--and I have kept my word throughout on this--we are withdrawing from Vietnam. Our goal is a total withdrawal. We do not plan to have a permanent residual force such as we have practically in Korea at the present time. But I am not going to set a date, because I believe that setting a date is not in our interests.


[10.] Mr. Lisagor [Peter Lisagor, Chicago Daily News].

Q. Mr. President, may I ask a follow question on the conditions for the residual force? You have stated that it will be there until we get our prisoners released. You have also stated that it will be there until the South Vietnamese have at least a reasonable chance to defend themselves. Are both of these conditions for the residual force, one of them or the other? Could you clarify that for us?

THE PRESIDENT. The residual force, I think, first, Mr. Lisagor, with regard to the POW's, will be indefinite. In other words, if the North Vietnamese are so barbaric that they continue to hold our POW's, regardless of what we do with regard to withdrawal, then we are going to keep a residual force no matter how long it takes.

Second, however, with regard to the ability of the South Vietnamese to defend themselves is concerned, we have a very good idea when that will occur. And as soon as that eventuality occurs, we will be able to move on that.

So, I think I am answering your question by saying, in effect, that the two are separable. One will occur before the other, unless the North Vietnamese do move on the POW's.


[11.] Q. Mr. President, the demonstrators last week focused on Capitol Hill, on Congress, rather than the White House. Congress is, or probably will be, considering either cutting off funds for fighting in Vietnam, or war powers of the President, limiting the war powers. If you were in the Senate now, how would you vote on those two things?

THE PRESIDENT. I guess it would depend on who was President. [Laughter] Seriously, I understand the concern of the Senate on this, and I have talked, for example, with Senator Mansfield, for whom I have enormous respect and who disagrees with me on our plans in Vietnam-not in all respects, but believes we should move more quickly. But I believe that limiting the President's war powers, whoever is President of the United States, would be a very great mistake.

We live in times when situations can change so fast internationally that to wait until the Senate acts before a President can act might be that we acted too late.

As far as the Senate is concerned, however, I would like also to correct another impression. I think some of the people on television may have gotten the impression, when they saw some of the demonstrations down at the Senate--and Barry Goldwater's door had red paint on it, I understand, and his office door was locked--that Washington is somewhat in a state of siege.

Well, let me just make one thing very clear: The Congress is not intimidated; the President is not intimidated. This Government is going to go forward.

It doesn't mean that we are not going to listen to those who come peacefully, but those who come and break the law will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

In the meantime, however, I, as President, have my obligation to consider what they say and all of the other things that I know, and then to make the decision that I think will be in their best interests, as well as the best interests of other people in this country.


[12.] Q. Sir, according to published reports, Army Lieutenant Jonathan Rose, who is the son of a former high Eisenhower Administration official, and a Republican Party campaign contributor, is serving on duty here in the White House at your request and has served for 2 years, rather than being assigned to active duty. Now the Pentagon will not tell us why, but I wondered whether you could tell us, sir, what his expertise is that makes him so valuable to the White House?

THE PRESIDENT. First, he is a very competent lawyer, but we have other competent lawyers--excluding, of course, the President [laughter]--in the White House. But the other reason, I think, in fairness to Mr. Rose--and I am sorry that such a personal thing has to be brought up, but I know he would want the record clarified--he has a physical disability, an injury to his shoulder, which disqualifies him from active combat duty.

Consequently, it was felt that the best service he could perform in a civilian capacity was in the White House. That is why he is there. And I am very glad that a man with that kind of disability--there is nothing wrong with his brain--is available in the White House as one of our best young lawyers.


[13.] Q. If I may follow up on a question on Lieutenant Galley. I am not a lawyer, but I inferred from what you said that in this country men who are convicted of multiple murders get out on bail. Is that actually the case, and, if so, would you recommend that someone like Manson be out on bail as you seem to imply that Lieutenant Calley should be?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I am not going to go into the specific laws of each State, and they do vary, of course--and you, even not being a lawyer, would know that they vary according to every State. And some States are much more strict than others. Where capital crimes are concerned, there are many States that do not allow any bail at all if they feel that the individual is one who is a danger to society.

What I am simply saying is this: that the real test for granting a bail in any case is whether or not the individual concerned is considered by the judge to be one who will be a danger to society.

Now, Captain [Lieutenant] Calley, let me point out--he is not getting out on bail in the usual sense. He is confined to quarters on the base. He is, therefore, not free in the sense somebody getting out on bail is.

I am simply saying that I feel that a man who has a long process of appeal ahead of him, and who is going to be confined to quarters in any event, that this was the right thing to do under these circumstances.



[14.] Q. Mr. President, the State Department has said that the legal question of the future of Taiwan and Formosa is an unsettled question. Would you favor direct negotiations between the Nationalist and the Communist governments to settle their dispute?

THE PRESIDENT. I noted speculation to the effect from various departments and various sources that the way for these two entities to settle their differences was to negotiate directly. I think that is a nice legalistic way to approach it, but I think it is completely unrealistic. I am only saying at this point that the United States is seeking to, in a very measured way, while maintaining our treaty commitments to Taiwan--we are seeking a more normal relationship with the People's Republic of China.

There is one other point I think it is very important to make.

There has been speculation to the effect that the purpose of our--or one purpose of our normalizing our relations or attempting to normalize our relations with Mainland China is to some way irritate the Soviet Union. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are seeking good relations with the Soviet Union, and I am not discouraged by the SALT talk progress. I can only say that we believe that the interests of both countries would be served by an agreement there. We seek good relations with the Soviet Union; we are seeking good relations with Communist China. And the interests of world peace require good relations between the Soviet Union and Communist China. It would make no sense for the United States, in the interest of world peace, to try to get the two to get at each other's throats, because we would be embroiled in the controversy ourselves.


[15.] Q. Mr. President, you spoke of your intention to travel to Mainland China. Is that at the invitation of Chairman Mao?

THE PRESIDENT. I am not referring to any invitation. I am referring only to a hope and an expectation that at some time in my life and in some capacity, which, of course, does not put any deadline on when I would do it, that I would hope to go to Mainland China.



[16.] Mr. Horner [Garnett D. Horner, Washington Evening Star].

Q. Mr. President, would you describe for us, sir, the extent of your participation in the Justice Department's change of mind last week about banning the Vietnam veterans from camping on the Mall?

THE PRESIDENT. First, the Justice Department, Mr. Horner, brought the action in order to establish the principle that camping on the Mall was not something that was considered to be legal.

Having established that principle, there was only 36 hours left in which to remove them and thereby, of course, to engage in a confrontation which could have been, we thought, rather nasty.

Under the circumstances, it seemed to me that since in the negotiations with their lawyer, Mr. Ramsey Clark, it had been clearly indicated that they would leave on Friday night, that the decision having been made and the principle having been established, I saw no reason to go in and to arrest the veterans and to put them into jail at that time.


[17.] Yes, Mr. Bailey [Charles W. Bailey 2d, Minneapolis Tribune and Minneapolis Star].

Q. Sir, in your first answer on China, you said that you were considering suggestions for a two-China policy, along with suggestions that move in the other direction. Could you expound a little bit on what you mean by that?

What is the range of alternatives?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Bailey, what I meant to convey was that both within the Administration and from sources outside the Administration, there are those who favor a two-China policy; there are those who favor universality in the United Nations; there are those who favor a one-China policy, either Mainland China or Taiwan China.

All of these are positions that are taken. I am not suggesting that they are lively options as far as I am concerned. What I am saying is that this is a very complex problem. I will make the decision after advising with the Secretary of State and my other chief advisers in this field, and when I make it, I will announce it. But I am not going to speculate on it now because I emphasize this is a very sensitive area, and too much speculation about it might destroy or seriously imperil what I think is the significant progress we have made, at least in the travel area, and possibly in the trade area, looking to the future.

MR. CORMIER. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Nixon's fifteenth news conference was held at 9 p.m. in the East Room at the White House on Thursday, April 29, 1971. It was broadcast live on radio and television.

Richard Nixon, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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