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The President's News Conference

March 21, 1970

THE PRESIDENT. [1.] I am sorry to delay you, ladies and gentlemen, but we had to revise the statement on the postal workers a bit, because of late developments. It is a very brief statement.

Prior to going to any questions that you may have this morning, I thought that in talking about this particular issue, I could also elaborate on three other announcements that will be made next week.


With regard to the postal strike, in addition to the statement,1 I would simply add that I recognize and appreciate the fact that postal workers in many areas have legitimate grievances. We are prepared to negotiate those issues, to discuss those issues, but under no circumstances will any grievances be discussed with any Government employees when they are out on an illegal strike. Any strike involving essential services by Federal employees is illegal.

1See Item 88.

We have made some progress due to the leadership of the Secretary of Labor and the Postmaster General yesterday in working with the leaders of the postal unions.

The great majority of the postal workers in the country are still at work and we believe will meet their commitment to stay at work and then have their grievances negotiated in an orderly way, which we have agreed to do with the leaders. However, as indicated, as you know, by the postal union in New York, at least in that case, and there may be in other cases, local unions which may reach other decisions.

On Monday I will meet my Constitutional obligation to see to it that the mails will go through. Now, further than that, I will make no statement on the postal strike today because these are very sensitive negotiations. We want to give the responsible leadership of the unions an opportunity to work with the Secretary of Labor and the Postmaster General for an orderly procedure. And I believe that there is still a chance that they may be able to work out a settlement.


[2.] On Monday the Secretary of State, as you have already been informed, will make a statement on the administration's Mideast policy, with particular reference to two requests by the Israeli Government, one for economic assistance, and the other for military assistance. The Secretary of State will have a press conference at that time in which he will answer any of the questions you may have on the specifics of that decision.

I would like to, at this preliminary point, indicate the basic factor that led to that decision, and also the factors that will guide us as we make decisions in this area in the future. As far as the military portion of the decision is concerned, I would describe it as essentially an interim decision. Our goal in the Mideast, or goals, I should say, in broad terms, are four.

First, to have a cease-fire; second, to reduce the flow of arms into the area; third, to achieve a political settlement; and fourth, to accomplish to the greatest extent possible, a balance between the forces in that area which will contribute to peace from a military standpoint and not to disturb that balance.

The decision that the Secretary will announce on Monday is one based on our present appraisal of the balance of power in the Mideast.

In recent days there have been disturbing reports that the Soviet Union, by deliveries of new [surface-to-air] missiles, SA-3's, to the U.A.R. and through the insertion of military personnel, may be taking actions which could change that balance. It is too early to say whether that is the case. We are watching the situation closely.

If the U.S.S.R., by its military assistance programs to Israel's neighbors, does essentially change the balance, then the United States would take action to deal with that situation. The Secretary of State will cover this matter in greater detail in his statement.

It is our hope that in our negotiations with the Soviet Union, bilaterally, and in the Four-Power talks, that we can convince all the major powers to stop escalating the arms race in the Mideast, to work together for a cease-fire, and to achieve, of course, a political settlement.

Apart from the recent reports, there have been some developments in the Mideast in our bilateral discussions with the Soviet Union that have been, I would say, modestly encouraging, and we trust that that trend, rather than this latest trend, will be the one that will prevail.

But the Secretary of State's statement on both the economic and military assistance program, as I have indicated, is based on the decision which was made on our analysis of the present balance in the Mideast, one that we believe should be maintained in the interest of peace and of a settlement.


[3.] On Tuesday I will make the statement on school desegregation which we have been in the process of preparing over the past several weeks.

It will be a very lengthy statement. I say lengthy in terms of the number of words, and it will be a statement made for distribution to the press throughout the country rather than a statement which can be delivered on radio or television, because of its length.

The reason for the length is that I determined that it was time to have a comprehensive study and discussion of all of the relevant legal decisions in this field, not only the decisions of the Supreme Court, but the decisions of the circuit courts and the district courts which apply to the very difficult problems that we have in both the North and the South. I am in the process of completing my final editing of the statement and will do so over this weekend.

I would say, based on its present progress, that I consider this the most comprehensive analysis of the legal situation and also of the problems of segregation and education that has been made since the historic case of Brown v. the Board of Education in 1954. I am hopeful that it will contribute to a better understanding of, first, what the law is; and, second, that it will provide the direction to all of the agencies of the administration, of the Government, the Department of Justice, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and to others who may be interested, the direction that they need to carry out the law of the land. Beyond that I will have no statement on that subject today.


[4.] And then on Wednesday, the statement that was referred to after the leadership meeting on Tuesday will be made in which I will ask the Congress to provide additional legislation where the Federal Government can assist local authorities to deal with the increasing use of terrorism through indiscriminate bombing attacks.

This is an area where it is, from a legal standpoint, necessary to find a Federal interest. The Federal Government, of course, has no right or responsibility unless a Federal interest is involved. But I find that, based on my discussions with the Attorney General, there are several areas where we can strengthen existing laws, and that statement will be made on Wednesday.

I regret that this opening statement has taken so long, but I felt that it did cover some points that you would be interested in. Now we will go to questions.



[5.] Q. Mr. President, if I could raise one more question. As you know it has been discovered that several hundred letters or postcards have been sent to Senators opposing your nomination to the Supreme Court, Judge Carswell, most of them charging him with being a racist or a bigot. Some of these have been sent from California in bulk, mailed to States throughout the Union and then to be transmitted to the Senators in order to deceive the Senators into thinking that these letters came from their own constituents. I wonder what you thought of this type of procedure and whether you think this will prevent the confirmation of Carswell?

THE PRESIDENT. I always used to tell young Congressmen and Senators when they first came to Washington that in making a decision, they should do it not by weighing the mail but by weighing the evidence.

Now, I am convinced that the Members of the Senate who are considering this very important nomination to the Supreme Court will not be affected by such tactics. These tactics, as you know, have been used over the years in other matters, as well as in the Carswell case. I think the Members of the Senate will not be affected by it.


[6.] Q. You have said you might use the Army Monday in the postal strike. Is this the only step you could take or could you outline some of the steps you could take to get the mails through?

THE PRESIDENT. I will answer that question only by saying that we have the means to deliver the mail. We will use those means. But I do not want to indicate what they would be because I think that might put a disturbing element into the very delicate situation of negotiation going on in local unions throughout the country.

I am not threatening. I am simply stating as a matter of fact that the President of the United States, among Iris many responsibilities, has a responsibility to see that the mail is delivered, And I shall meet that responsibility and meet it effectively beginning Monday in the event that the postal workers in any area decide that they are not going to meet their constitutional responsibilities to deliver mail.


[7.] Q. Mr. President, will you entertain a question on Southeast Asia?

THE PRESIDENT. Sure, any question. I am not limiting this to the four subjects.

Q. I am wondering how you feel about the recent developments in Cambodia, and how it relates to our whole effort in Vietnam?

THE PRESIDENT. These developments in Cambodia are quite difficult to appraise. As you know from having been out there yourself on occasion, the Cambodian political situation, to put it conservatively, is quite unpredictable and quite fluid.

However, we have, as you note, established relations on a temporary basis with the government which has been selected by the Parliament and will continue to deal with that government as long as it appears to be the government of the nation. I think any speculation with regard to which way this government is going to turn, what will happen to Prince Sihanouk 2 when he returns, would both be premature and not helpful.

2 Prince Norodom Sihanouk was deposed as Chief of State of Cambodia on March 18, 1970.

I will simply say that we respect Cambodia's neutrality. We would hope that North Vietnam would take that same position in respecting its neutrality. And we hope that whatever government eventually prevails there, that it would recognize that the United States interest is the protection of its neutrality.


[8.] Q. Mr. President, could I follow that up with another question about Southeast Asia?

The Thais have apparently introduced troops into Laos, either with or without the help of the United States. I, first, wondered whether you could tell us whether we actually helped them by flying them in in our aircraft; and, secondly, what you think about the Thais fighting in Laos? Does that complicate our problem out there?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the Thai interest in Laos and the Thai participation in attempting to sustain the neutralist Government of Laos, I think, has been known for years; and their interest is, if anything, perhaps even more acute than ours. They have a 1,000-mile border with Laos. There are 8 million ethnic Laotians, as you know, who live in northeast Thailand. And if Laos were to come under the domination of a Communist North Vietnamese Government, it would be an enormous threat to Thailand.

Thailand also is a signatory of the Geneva accords of 1962 and under those circumstances would be expected to respond to requests by the Government of Laos, set up under those accords and agreed to by all of the parties including the North Vietnamese and the Communist Chinese, and would be expected to provide some assistance.

Beyond that, I would say that any questions in this area should be directed to the Government in Thailand or Laos. It is a matter between these two Governments.



[9.] Q. There have been numerous reports in the newspapers that the South Vietnamese Assemblyman, Chau, who has recently been sentenced to 90 years in prison, on many occasions cooperated with the United States Government in Saigon and gave them information; and specifically that in August of 1967 he informed Ambassador Bunker and others of the oncoming Tet attacks. Can you tell us if there is anything to those reports?

THE PRESIDENT. I won't comment on those reports. I will only say that this is a matter which Ambassador Bunker has discussed with President Thieu, that those discussions, of course, were on a private basis, and I think any speculation about what the discussions were would not be appropriate.


[10.] Q. Mr. President, you expressed the hope that all major powers would stop the escalation of the arms race in the Middle East. Do you have any indication that France would be cooperative in their sale of planes to that area?

THE PRESIDENT. First, as has been indicated, there is a long lead time on the delivery of French planes to Libya. Secondly, while, of course, I would not presume to speak for the Government of France--that question should be directed to them--the Government of France is not taking a position that its delivery. of planes to Libya is for the purpose of transshipment basically to the U.A.R. France is a participant in the Four-Power talks.

I discussed this matter in considerable detail with President Pompidou when he was here. I will not reveal what those discussions were, as I do not reveal the discussions, as he does not either, between chiefs of state. But I do believe that France recognizes, as we recognize, that any shipment of arms to the Middle East which imperils the balance of power increases the danger of war. And I think that France in its shipments to Libya will be--in its shipments over the next few years, will be guided by that principle, as we are guided by that principle in making our determinations of what arms we ship.


[11.] Q. You made a very successful trip to Paris when [President] de Gaulle was there, and I see by the Gallup poll that the visit here of Mr. Pompidou was a success. Would you consider going back to Europe at any moment?

THE PRESIDENT. I would certainly consider it. Seriously, I would enjoy the opportunity to return to Europe. And I think that the chance to have face-to-face discussions with European leaders would be quite constructive in our development of a common foreign policy where our interests were common.

However, I do not have any present plans to go to Europe, none over the next few months. But I would hope to plan a trip to Europe sometime before the end of my term of office.

And incidentally, President Pompidou invited me to return again while he was President, and I told him I would come sometime. After all, he will be in for 7 years and I will have plenty of time.


[12.] Q. Why is your civil rights message, from what you say, going to be emphasizing the legal aspects of the problem? What is there that you want to clear up?

THE PRESIDENT. No, the message will speak for itself. It goes into great detail, because the law at all levels is confused. The various circuit courts have come down on both sides of various questions that have come before it. The Supreme Court has left several gray areas. And wherever the Supreme Court has not spoken, it is the responsibility of the administration, then, to interpret the law and carry it out in a way that it believes is appropriate.

So what I am doing is to map out those areas where the law is clear, and then indicate how I interpret the law; and also indicate how I believe the administration should move in those areas where the Court has not spoken.

To give you one example--and I don't want, of course, to indicate in advance what I am saying in the statement--is that the Supreme Court, while it has spoken out very clearly on de jure segregation, has not spoken out on de facto segregation. Now the question is, what should the policy, under those circumstances, of the Federal Government be in cases of de facto segregation in northern States? I will address myself directly to that question and try to indicate what the best position should be, not only from a legal standpoint, but here primarily from the standpoint of education and the goal of desegregated education that we want to achieve. This is an area that I think probably answers your question.


[13.] Q. Mr. President, as I understand it, you are to make another decision in the near future on further troop withdrawals from South Vietnam. Can you tell us if the events in Laos have had any effect on your judgment that will affect your decisions?

THE PRESIDENT. No, they have not. They have had no effect up to this point, and I do not expect the events in Laos to affect that decision.

The Vietnamization program is going on as scheduled, and when our decision is made, it will take into account, of course, the factors at that time.

But what has happened in Laos to date has not changed the situation as far as the decision is concerned.



[14.] Q. Mr. President, in what you had to say about the Middle East and the decisions to be announced by the Secretary of State Monday, there seemed to be the clear implication that the decision is against sending the additional arms to Israel. Could you go so far as to say whether or not that interpretation is on the right track?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Horner [Garnett D. Horner, Washington Evening Star], I am not going to preempt what the Secretary of State is going to say. But let me also indicate that the Secretary of State's statement will cover the whole area of a major economic proposal--request-that was made by the Government of Israel, and also the area of military requests that are made by the Government of Israel.

I would think that it would be unwise to anticipate or speculate in advance what the Secretary of State is going to say on these various things.

What I am simply saying is this: that insofar as the military portion of the decision is concerned, that portion is based on the fact situation as we see it at this time, and that will be constantly reappraised as the fact situation changes.

That is why I refer to it as essentially an interim decision rather than one that looks forward over a period of say 2 years, 3 years, or 4 years, because the fact situation does change.


[15.] Q. Mr. President, as a California voter, how do you feel about the disclosure that Senator Murphy remains on the Technicolor payroll and the entry of Mr. Simon into the race there?3

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as a California voter, I intend to vote for Senator Murphy if he wins the nomination, and I expect him to win the nomination.

3Senator George Murphy and industrialist Norton Simon were both candidates for the Republican United States Senate nomination in California.


[16.] Q. On a domestic question, sir, one of the key issues in the country seems to be still inflation and in light of the last report on the cost of living rise, and some of the indications that the Government policy is being eased on the money supply, et cetera, do you still hold the optimism that you voiced earlier about the control of inflation in the very near future, or what is your analysis of it now?

THE PRESIDENT. The problem of inflation, when you refer to monetary policy, of course, indicates the irony which only the sophisticated economists seem to understand.

As Dr. [Arthur F.] Burns indicated in his testimony--or let me be perhaps a bit more precise in that, as some who interpreted his testimony indicated, there has been some casing of monetary policy, and the question therefore naturally arises, as you have put it, why do you ease monetary policy when the rate of inflation is still at a high level?

Of course the answer is that because of the long lead time, the lag, in the effect of monetary policy on the economy, it is necessary to change your monetary policy before prices start to come down. I don't mean that; I should say not before prices start to come down, because that is not going to happen--before the rate of increase of prices starts to come down.

The reason that decision must be made in that rather complex way is that if in monetary policy you wait until you see the Consumer Price Index moving on a downward curve, if you wait that long, then the danger is that you will have waited so long that you trigger recession, and what we are trying to do here is have a policy in which we avoid both recession, on the one side, and still control inflation, stop the rate of increase, on the other side.

Incidentally, in this kind of a conference my answers, I think, should be a little bit more extended, because it is a question that requires a longer answer. When we speak of the question of recession, I have noted some statements to the effect, "Well, aren't we in a recession now?" Well, the answer to that question is, of course, that if one man is out of work, he is in a recession. That is a recession for him.

The rate of unemployment at the present time is 4.2 percent. I have noted that some of our critics have suggested that this, therefore, is a recession.

Well, I was looking over the figures this morning and if 4.2 percent rate of unemployment is a recessions and as far as I am concerned, I don't like to see any man out of work--but if 4.2 percent is a recession, then the 6.7 percent unemployment that we had in 1961 was a recession; the 5.5 percent in 1962, we were in a recession; 5.7 percent unemployment in 1963 was a recession; and 5.2 percent unemployment in 1964 was a recession.

I think, however, that any fair-minded appraiser of the economic trends of that time would have not said that that period from 1961 to 1965 was a period of recession for the United States, even though the unemployment rate was over 5 percent.

I am not suggesting that this administration expects an unemployment rate of over 5 percent, and that we are not going to take action to keep the rate below that. I am only suggesting simply these conclusions:

One, this country is not in a recession at the present time.

Second, this is an activist administration. We are going to take action to avoid a recession at the same time that we are taking action to cool the fires of inflation.

And third, 1970 is going to be a good year from an economic standpoint. From a political standpoint, I really cannot judge.


[17.] Q. Mr. President, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday voted out unanimously and sent to the floor a "sense of the Senate" resolution concerning the U.S. position at SALT [strategic arms limitation talks]. Could you make a remark about that?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the Senate resolution, I understand, simply says that the United States and Soviet Union should try to negotiate a freeze on offensive and defensive missiles.

Of course, that is what SALT is all about, so I think the resolution really is irrelevant to what we are going to do. That is our goal. It takes two, however, to make the deal.

If the Soviet Union will come along with that, as we hope they will, then perhaps we can make some arrangements. I can certainly say in this respect, though, that it is somewhat more intricate than the resolution would imply.

We found in our preliminary discussions that the Soviet Union did not come in with generalized language, which had been previously their tactic in arms negotiations, but they came in with very precise weapon systems by weapon systems analysis.

Now whether we eventually have a comprehensive agreement or a system-by-system agreement, remains to be seen. We are prepared for either.

But our goal certainly is to limit both offensive and defensive missiles, and if the Soviet Union has the same goal, we will make a bargain.


[18.] Q. Mr. President, a clarifying on the Mideast: You said earlier, I think, that Secretary Rogers' decision on the military side would be based in large part on our best present assessment of the balance of power in the Middle East?

THE PRESIDENT. That is right.

Q. Have you included in that calculation the recent reports of additional weapons and personnel from the Soviet Union?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Semple [Robert B. Semple, Jr., New York Times], those reports came in during this last week, after we had made our decisions. We, however, have evaluated those reports--and they are, as you know, somewhat fragmentary at this time; they are intelligence reports--we evaluated those reports. Those reports, as of the present time, and considering our present evaluation, do not indicate a significant shift in the balance.

What I am saying here, basically, is that the United States intends to continue to watch the Mideast situation to see whether further shipments of arms or personnel to the Mideast does tip the balance in a way that it would be necessary for us to provide some assistance, additional assistance to Israel, so that they would not be in an inferior position.

Because what we must understand here is that once that balance shifts perceptibly to one side or the other, then the danger of war greatly increases, until you have a political settlement. We have to realize that we have in the Mideast peoples whose enmities go back over centuries. We have to realize that when one gets an enormous advantage over another, or a significant advantage, the danger of war coming escalates.

That is why our policy has been to try to maintain a balance, so that neither is encouraged to embark on an aggressive course.


[19.] Q. Mr. President, one more question on economic policy, sir: Is your administration no longer concerned about the inflationary expectations on the part of business or union leaders at the bargaining table?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, yes, we are concerned. I think your question really relates to inflationary psychology, as I understand it.

Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. We are concerned about that. For example, that is why our budget policy is not changing. While we have, as you know, made one change in the construction area, because construction, as you know, is the area where monetary policy is strict--it is hit first, and hit hardest--and that is why we have eased up on our construction freeze where Federal and State projects are concerned.

But except for that particular area, our budgetary policy remains one of restraint, and that, of course, will tend to cool off any inflationary psychology.

We also believe that business and labor leaders cannot help but be impressed by the fact that over the past 4 months the economy has been, in terms of its growth, on a flat projection rather than on an upward projection. And we are going to continue to do everything that we can to see that the inflationary psychology doesn't get another jolt just at the time that we had it cooled, which we think had occurred in January and February and early March.

But I want to be quite candid. I wish that our economic friends could, with great precision, tell us that, well, if you do this, that, or the other thing, at a certain month in the future your unemployment rate will be this, and your interest rate will be this, and the inflation will have been checked to this extent. But no honest economist will tell you that. We aren't that sure.

But I will say this: I am confident that the policies that we are following, first, have taken the fire out of the inflation. I am confident that the Consumer Price Index will begin to reflect that as we go on through the balance of the year.

I am also confident that this economy is not going to be plunged into a recession, because I believe that the steps that are being taken now in the monetary field and in other areas will keep the economy from being depressed and will keep it on a moderately upward trend. That is what we are trying to accomplish.

Reporter: Thank you very much, Mr President.

Note: Reporters were called to the President's office at the White House for his unscheduled news conference at 11:55 a.m. on Saturday, March 21, 1970. It was not broadcast on radio or television.

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

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