The President's News Conference
THE PRESIDENT. Ladies and gentlemen, since this is my first press conference since the inauguration, I can imagine there are a number of questions. Consequently, I will make no opening statement, and we will go directly to your questions.
PRESENTATION OF LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS
[1.] Mr. Cormier [Frank Cormier, Associated Press]
Q. Sir, do you plan to make your own State of the Union Message, and do you have a major legislative program to present to Congress this year?
THE PRESIDENT. I shall have a major legislative program to present to the Congress this year. Whether that would best be presented by a series of individual messages or a State of the Union Message, supplemented by some individual messages, is yet to be determined. I will make a determination within the next 2 weeks, after consultation with the legislative leaders.
PEACE PLAN FOR VIETNAM
[2.] Miss Thomas [Helen Thomas, United Press International].
Q. Mr. President, now that you are President, what is your peace plan for Vietnam?
THE PRESIDENT. I believe that as we look at what is happening in the negotiations in Paris, as far as the American side is concerned we are off to a good start. What now, of course, is involved is what happens on the other side.
We find that in Paris, if you read Ambassador Lodge's 1 statement, we have been quite specific with regard to some steps that can be taken now on Vietnam. Rather than submitting a laundry list of various proposals, we have laid down those things which we believe the other side should agree to and can agree to: the restoration of the demilitarized zone as set forth in the Geneva Conference of 1954; mutual withdrawal, guaranteed withdrawal, of forces by both sides; the exchange of prisoners. All of these are matters that we think can be precisely considered and on which progress can be made.
1Ambassador-at-Large Henry Cabot Lodge, head of the United States delegation at the Paris peace talks.
Now, where we go from here depends upon what the other side offers in turn.
RELATIONS WITH COMMUNIST CHINA
[3.] Q. Mr. President, now that you are President, could you be specific with us about what your plans are for improving relations with Communist China, and whether you think they will be successful or not?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have noted, of course, some expressions of interest on the part of various Senators and others in this country with regard to the possibility of admitting Communist China to the United Nations.
I also have taken note of the fact that several countries--including primarily Italy among the major countries--have indicated an interest in changing their policy and possibly voting to admit Communist China to the United Nations.
The policy of this country and this administration at this time will be to continue to oppose Communist China's to the United Nations.
There are several reasons for that. First, Communist China has not indicated any interest in becoming a member of the United Nations.
Second, it has not indicated any intent to abide by the principles of the U.N. Charter, and to meet the principles that new members admitted to the United Nations are supposed to meet.
Finally, Communist China continues to call for expelling the Republic of China from the United Nations; and the Republic of China has, as I think most know, been a member of the international community and has met its responsibilities without any question over these past few years.
Under these circumstances, I believe it would be a mistake for the United States to change its policy with regard to Communist China in admitting it to the United Nations.
Now, there is a second immediate point that I have noted. That is the fact that there will be another meeting in Warsaw. We look forward to that meeting. We will be interested to see what the Chinese Communist representatives may have to say at that meeting, whether any changes of attitude on their part on major, substantive issues may have occurred.
Until some changes occur on their side, however, I see no immediate prospect of any change in our policy.
MAJOR PROBLEMS OF CONCERN TO THE PRESIDENT
[4.] Q. Mr. President, what problems that you have to cope with do you feel require your most urgent attention now?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Kaplow [Herbert Kaplow, NBC News], the major problems with which I have been concerned in this first week have been in the field of foreign policy, because there only the President can make some of the decisions.
And consequently the Security Council, as you ladies and gentlemen are aware, has had two very long meetings, and, in addition, I spent many long hours at night reading the papers which involve the foreign policy of the United States.
This afternoon I will go to the Pentagon for my first major briefing by military officials on our military situation.
Going beyond that, however, I would say that the problems of our cities, which have been discussed at length at the Urban Affairs Council, and our economic problems, which were discussed at the meeting we had in the new Cabinet Committee on Economic Policy,2 require urgent attention.
2The Cabinet Committee on Economic Policy was established by Executive Order 11453 of January 24, 1969.
It is very difficult to single one out and put it above the other. There are a number of problems which this administration confronts; each requires urgent attention. The field of foreign policy will require more attention because it is in this field that only the President, in many instances, can make the decisions.
NONPROLIFERATION TREATY AND MISSILE TALKS
[5.] Q. Mr. President, on foreign policy, nuclear policy, particularly, could you give us your position on the Nonproliferation Treaty and on the starting of missile talks with the Soviet Union?
THE PRESIDENT. I favor the Nonproliferation Treaty. The only question is the timing of the ratification of that Treaty. That matter will be considered by the National Security Council, by my direction, during a meeting this week. I will also have a discussion with the leaders of both sides in the Senate and in the House on the Treaty within this week and in the early part of next week. I will make a decision then as to whether this is the proper time to ask the Senate to move forward and ratify the Treaty. I expect ratification of the Treaty and will urge its ratification at an appropriate time, and, I would hope, an early time.
As far as the second part of your question, with regard to strategic arms talks, I favor strategic arms talks. Again, it is a question of not only when, but the context of those talks. The context of those talks is vitally important because we are here between two major, shall we say, guidelines.
On the one side, there is the proposition which is advanced by some that we should go forward with talks on the reduction of strategic forces on both sides--we should go forward with such talks, clearly apart from any progress on political settlement; and on the other side, the suggestion is made that until we make progress on political settlements, it would not be wise to go forward on any reduction of our strategic arms, even by agreement with the other side.
It is my belief that what we must do is to steer a course between those two extremes. It would be a mistake, for example, for us to fail to recognize that simply reducing arms through mutual agreement failing to recognize that that reduction will not, in itself, assure peace. The war which occurred in the Mideast in 1967 was a clear indication of that.
What I want to do is to see to it that we have strategic arms talks in a way and at a time that will promote, if possible, progress on outstanding political problems at the same time--for example, on the problem of the Mideast and on other outstanding problems in which the United States and the Soviet Union, acting together, can serve the cause of peace.
THE MIDEAST PROBLEM
[6.] Q. Mr. President, do you or your administration have any plan, outside the United Nations proposal, for achieving peace in the Middle East?
THE PRESIDENT. As you ladies and gentlemen are aware, the suggestion has been made that we have four-power talks. The suggestion has also been made that we use the United Nations as the primary forum for such talks. And it has also been suggested that the United States and the Soviet Union bilaterally should have talks on the Mideast, and in addition to that, of course, that the problem finally should be settled by the parties in the area.
We are going to devote the whole day on Saturday to the Mideast problem, just as we devoted the whole day this last Saturday on the problem of Vietnam.
We will consider on the occasion of that meeting the entire range of options that we have. I shall simply say at this time that I believe we need new initiatives and new leadership on the part of the United States in order to cool off the situation in the Mideast. I consider it a powder keg, very explosive. It needs to be defused. I am open to any suggestions that may cool it off and reduce the possibility of another explosion, because the next explosion in the Mideast, I think, could involve very well a confrontation between the nuclear powers, which we want to avoid.
I think it is time to turn to the left now [turning to reporters on his left].
[7.] Q. Mr. President, sir, could you tell us whether you have had a chance to examine the Johnson budget, and whether you see any hopes for a reduction in the Johnson budget?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I have examined it. As far as hopes for reduction are concerned, the Director of the Bureau of the Budget has just Friday issued instructions to all of the departments to examine the budgets in their departments very closely and to give us recommendations as to where budget cuts might be made.
This is for two purposes: One, because we would like to cut the overall budget; and two, because we want to have room for some of the new programs that this administration and the new approaches that this administration would like to implement.
At this time I cannot say where and how the budget can be cut. I will say that we are taking a fresh look at all of the programs and we shall attempt to make cuts in order to carry out the objectives that I set forth during the campaign.
POSSIBILITY OF A CEASE-FIRE IN VIETNAM
[8.] Q. Mr. President, do you consider it possible to have a cease-fire in Vietnam so long as the Vietcong still occupy Vietnamese territory?
THE PRESIDENT. I think that it is not helpful in discussing Vietnam to use such terms as "cease-fire" because cease-fire is a term of art that really has no relevance, in my opinion, to a guerrilla war.
When you are talking about a conventional war, then a cease-fire agreed upon by two parties means that the shooting stops. When you have a guerrilla war, in which one side may not even be able to control many of those who are responsible for the violence in the area, the cease-fire may be meaningless.
I think at this point this administration believes that the better approach is the one that Ambassador Lodge, under our direction, set forth in Paris--mutual withdrawal of forces on a guaranteed basis by both sides from South Vietnam.
NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND THE SOVIET UNION
[9.] Q. Mr. President, back to nuclear weapons. Both you and Secretary Laird have stressed, quite hard, the need for superiority over the Soviet Union. But what is the real meaning of that in view of the fact that both sides have more than enough already to destroy each other, and how do you distinguish between the validity of that stance and the argument of Dr. Kissinger3 for what he calls "sufficiency"?
THE PRESIDENT. Here, again, I think the semantics may offer an inappropriate approach to the problem. I would say, with regard to Dr. Kissinger's suggestion of sufficiency, that that would meet, certainly, my guideline and, I think, Secretary Laird's guideline, with regard to superiority.
3Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.
Let me put it this way: When we talk about parity, I think we should recognize that wars occur, usually, when each side believes it has a chance to win. Therefore, parity does not necessarily assure that a war may not occur.
By the same token, when we talk about superiority, that may have a detrimental effect on the other side in putting it in an inferior position and, therefore, giving great impetus to its own arms race.
Our objective in this administration, and this is a matter that we are going to discuss at the Pentagon this afternoon, and that will be the subject of a major discussion in the National Security Council within the month--our objective is to be sure that the United States has sufficient military power to defend our interests and to maintain the commitments which this administration determines are in the interest of the United States around the world.
I think "sufficiency" is a better term, actually, than either "superiority" or "parity."
CRIME IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
[10.] Q. Mr. President, you talked quite a bit during the campaign about crime in the District of Columbia. We have had quite a bit of it since January 1st, and I wondered how you proposed to deal with it.
THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Healy [Paul F. Healy, New York Daily News], it is a major problem in the District of Columbia, as I found when I suggested to the Secret Service I would like to take a walk yesterday. I had read Mary McGrory's column and wanted to try her cheesecake.4 But I find, of course, that taking a walk here in the District of Columbia, and particularly in the evening hours, is now a very serious problem, as it is in some other major cities.
4Mary McGrory of the Washington Evening Star and United Features Syndicate. Her column of January 26, 1969, was in the form of a letter to the President and referred to the problem of crime in the District of Columbia. In the column Miss McGrory mentioned that the policemen of Precinct 8, after investigating four robberies at her residence, had sampled cheesecake which she had prepared in her kitchen.
One of the employees at the White House, just over the weekend, was the victim of a purse snatching, which brings it very close to home.
Incidentally, I might point out in that case that my advisers tell me that by seeing that the area is better lighted, that perhaps the possibility of purse snatching and other crimes in the vicinity of the White House might be reduced. Therefore, we have turned on the lights in all of that area, I can assure you.5 [Laughter]
5The President was referring to President Johnson's economy move that all unnecessary lights in the White House be turned off.
But to be quite specific with regard to the District of Columbia, it was not only a major commitment in the campaign; it is a major concern in the country. I noted an editorial in one of the major papers, the New York Times, for example, that Washington, D.C. was now a city of "fear and crime." That may go too far, but at least that was their judgment. All three of the Washington papers indicate great concern.
Consequently, I have on an urgent basis instructed the Attorney General to present to me a program to deal with crime in the District of Columbia, and an announcement of that program and also an announcement as to what we will ask the Congress to do, in addition to what we will do administratively, will be made at the end of this week.
WITHDRAWAL OF NOMINATIONS AND REEXAMINATION OF PACIFIC AIRLINE ACTION
[11.] Q. Mr. President, why did you decide to withdraw all the appointments 6 that had been sent to Capitol Hill by your predecessor, and can you tell us why you decided to cancel the decision, for the time, in the Pacific airline case?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, first, with regard to the appointments, I had two precedents to follow. And so consequently, I took my choice. In the one instance, President Kennedy, as you will recall, did not withdraw the appointments of judgeships which he inherited from President Eisenhower. On the other hand, President Eisenhower had withdrawn all appointments and then proceeded to make new appointments, including some from the list that had been withdrawn.
6For list of withdrawals, see Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 5, p. 166).
I felt that the Eisenhower approach was the more efficient way to handle it.
I should point out that among those names that have been withdrawn, I already know that some will be reappointed. But I felt that the new should examine the whole list and make its own decision with regard to whether the individuals that had been appointed would serve the interests of the Nation according to the guidelines that the new administration was to lay down.
With regard to the action that had been taken by the previous administration on the airlines, I received recommendations or, shall I say, requests on the part of both the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that this matter be returned to the White House for further examination.
As you know, the President has authority in this field only where it involves international matters. Under the circumstances, since both Chairmen were members of the other party, and since also had received suggestions from a number of other Congressmen, both Democratic and Republican, as well as Senators, that this should be reexamined, I brought it back for reexamination.
One other point that should be made: There is no suggestion, in asking for a reexamination of that decision, of impropriety or illegality or improper influence. We will examine the whole situation, but particularly with regard to its impact on foreign relations.
DISCUSSIONS OF NOMINATIONS WITH THE FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL
[12.] Q. Mr. President, Ramsey Clark stated this morning that you gave president Johnson assurances through Attorney General Mitchell that you would not withdraw the judicial nominations of Mr. Poole and Mr. Byrne 7 and several others. Could you comment on that, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I remember exactly what did occur, and it may be that we did not have an exact meeting of the minds in the event that Ramsey Clark, former Attorney General Clark, had that understanding. What happened was that Ramsey Clark discussed this matter during the period between the election and the inauguration with Attorney General Mitchell. He asked Attorney General Mitchell to ask me whether I would object to action on the part of President Johnson in the event that he did submit these appointments to the Senate.
7Cecil F. Poole and William M. Byrne, Jr. Their nominations as United States District Judges for the Northern and Central Districts of California, respectively, were submitted to the Senate by President Johnson on January 9, 1969.
My reply was that I would not object to President Johnson's submitting such-submitting names to the Senate, just as I did not object to his action in the trans-Pacific case or in any other area. As you ladies and gentlemen are quite aware, I have scrupulously followed the line that we have one President at a time, and that he must continue to be President until he leaves office on January 20.
However, I did not have any understanding with the President directly, and no one, including Attorney General Mitchell, as far as I was concerned had any discretion to agree to a deal that these nominations, having been made, would be approved by me. I have withdrawn them and now I am going to examine each one of them. As I have already indicated, I have decided that in at least some instances some of the names will be resubmitted.
THE TFX AND CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEES
[ 13.] Q. Mr. President, in the last administration, the McClellan Committee8 ran into a considerable problem in obtaining information on costs, performance, and development on the TFX [Tactical Fighter Experimental aircraft], F-III contract. I wondered if you will open the records on this, and what your general view is with regard to dealing with congressional committees?
THE PRESIDENT. I understand not only the McClellan Committee, but Mr. Mollenhoff9 did some examination in this field, too.
8The Senate Committee on Government Operations under the chairmanship of Senator John L. McClellan of Arkansas.
9Clark R. Mollenhoff, Des Moines Register and Tribune, who asked the question.
With regard to the TFX, and also with regard to all of the matters that you have referred to, this administration will reexamine all past decisions where they are not foreclosed, where the reexamination is not foreclosed, by reason of what has gone before.
I will not, however, at this time, prejudge what that examination will indicate. I believe that it is in the best interests of the Nation, when a new administration comes in, with a new team, that the President direct the new team, as I have directed it very strongly during this first week, to reexamine all decisions that may have been questioned, either by Senate committees or by responsible members of the press, or by other people in public or private life. This we are doing and this is one of the areas in which a reexamination is going forward.
PLANS FOR CURBING INFLATION
[14.] Q. Inflation and rising prices, Mr. President, are of great concern. What specific plans do you have to curb them?
THE PRESIDENT. In the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Policy, which I set up, one of the three new institutions I set up--I say three new institutions-if I might digress for a moment, I suppose the Nation wonders what a President does in his first week and where is all the action that we have talked about. We have done a great deal, particularly in getting the machinery of government set up which will allow us to move in an orderly way on major problems.
I do not believe, for example, that policy should be made, and particularly foreign policy should be made, by off-the-cuff responses in press conferences, or any other kind of conferences. I think it should be made in an orderly way. So it is with economic policy. That is why, in addition to the Urban Affairs Council and a revitalized National Security Council for foreign affairs, we now have a Cabinet Committee on Economic Policy. That Cabinet Committee has considered the problem of inflation, and the problem is, first, that we are concerned about the escalation of prices to a rate of 4.8 percent, and we do not see, if present policies continue, any substantial reduction in that.
And, second, we are considering what actions can be taken which will not cause an unacceptable rise in unemployment. By unacceptable rise in unemployment, I want to emphasize that we believe it is possible to control inflation without increasing unemployment in, certainly, any substantial way.
I should make one further point. Unless we do control inflation, we will be confronted, eventually, with massive unemployment, because the history affairs in other countries indicates that inflation is allowed to get out of eventually there has to be a "bust" then unemployment comes. So what are trying to do, without, shall we say, too much managing of the economy, is, going to have some fine tuning of fiscal and monetary affairs in order to control inflation.
One other point I should make in respect: I do not go along with the suggestion that inflation can be effectively controlled by exhorting labor and management and industry to follow certain guidelines. I think that is a very laudable objective for labor and management to follow. But I think I am aware of the fact that the leaders of labor and the leaders of management, much as they might personally want to do what is in the best! interests of the Nation, have to be guided by the interests of the organizations that they represent.
So the primary responsibility for controlling inflation rests with the national administration and its handling of fiscal and monetary affairs. That is why we will have some new approaches in this area. We assume that responsibility. We think we can meet it, that we can control inflation without an increase in unemployment.
THE OUTLOOK FOR PEACE IN VIETNAM
[15.] Q. Mr. President, during the transition period in New York, several persons who conferred with you came away with the impression that you felt the Vietnam war might be ended within a year. Were these impressions correct, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. I, Of course, in my conversations with those individuals, and any individuals, have never used the tern "6 months, a year, 2 years, or 3 years," because I do not think it is helpful in discussing this terribly difficult war, a war that President Johnson wanted to bring m an end as early as possible, that I want to bring to an end as early as possible.
I do not think it is helpful to make overly optimistic statements which, in effect, may impede and perhaps might make very difficult our negotiations in Paris. All that I have to say is this: that we have a new team in Paris, with some old bees, but a new team. We have new direction from the United States. We have a new sense of urgency with regard to the negotiations.
There will be new tactics. We believe that those tactics may be more successful than the tactics of the past.
I should make one further point, however: We must recognize that all that has happened to date is the settlement of the procedural problems, the size of the table, and who will sit at those tables.
What we now get to is really that hard, tough ground that we have to plow: the substantive issues as to what both parties will agree to, whether we are going to have mutual withdrawal, whether we are going to have self-determination by the people of South Vietnam without outside. interference, whether we can have an ex-. change of prisoners.
This is going to take time, but I can assure you that it will have my personal attention. It will have my personal direction. The Secretary of State, my Adviser for National Security Affairs, the Secretary of Defense--all of us--will give it every possible attention and we hope to come up with some new approaches.
Helen Thomas, United Press International: Thank you, Mr. President.
Note: President Nixon's first news conference was held in the East Room at the White House at 11 a.m. on Monday, January 27, 1969. It was broadcast on radio and television.
Richard Nixon, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/239551