John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

March 06, 1963

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning.

[1.] Important steps are being taken in the Congress this week with respect to three major parts of the administration's program and I want to take this opportunity to stress their importance to every American family.

First, hearings are being completed in both Houses on the youth employment opportunities bill, and I hope this measure can be enacted before the Easter recess. One million of our youths are out of school and out of work, creating an explosive social situation in nearly every community. This bill would put their hands to work, and minds, in our parks and forests, manning our hospitals and juvenile centers, and developing skills and work experience which will help them in later life.

Secondly, hearings have been completed in the House on our bill to train more physicians and dentists, to expand our medical colleges, and to provide loans to deserving students. With our population increasing every year, with the number of doctors and dentists in relation to that population increase deteriorating, it really seems a waste of our most valuable resources, which are our skills, to turn deserving young men and women away from our medical schools because they can't afford to go. We need them and we need their talents, and I hope this bill will pass.

Third, hearings begin in the Senate this week on our bills to combat mental illness and mental retardation. Almost every American family at some stage will experience or has experienced a case of mental affliction, and we have to offer something more than crowded custodial care in our State institutions. Our task is to prevent these conditions. Our next is to treat them more effectively and sympathetically, in the patients' own community. I hope the Congress will act on this bill.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, is it fair to assume from the language you used before the American Bankers symposium that, if necessary, if all else fails in Congress, you would accept a $13 1/2 billion tax cut without any reforms at all?

THE PRESIDENT. No, that isn't what I said. The program which we have sent up is the fairest and most equitable program, and the most fiscally responsible program. It provides for a combination of tax reduction and tax reform, and I think that a good many of the reforms make more equitable the tax reductions, make more equitable the burdens which the great mass of our taxpayers carry.

So that I think that the best program is the one we sent up which provides for $13 1/2 billion in tax reduction and $3 1/4 billion revenue in tax reform. I think that's the best combination. What we will do will depend of course on what kind of a bill the Congress enacts, but my judgment is that they will enact a tax reduction bill which will include important elements of the reforms that we sent up.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, can you say whether the four Americans who died in the Bay of Pigs invasion were employees of the Government or the CIA?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would say that there are a good many Americans in the last 15 years who've served their country in a good many different ways, a good many abroad. Some of them have lost their lives. The United States Government has not felt that it was helpful to our interest and particularly in the struggle against this armed doctrine with which we are in struggle all around the world to go into great detail.

Let me say just this about these four men: They were serving their country. The flight that cost them their lives was a volunteer flight and that while because of the nature of their work it has not been a matter of public record, as it might be in the case of soldiers or sailors, I can say that they were serving their country.

And, as I say, their work was volunteer.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, on Monday Adrian Fisher of the Disarmament Agency said that even if the Russians were able to test underground indefinitely this would not alter the strategic military balance between the United States and the Soviet Union. He said this was the executive assessment. Given that assessment, can you tell us what considerations then would prevent accepting a test ban on the terms set by Russia?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think, if I may say so--in my opinion that is not what is the administration's position. We have suggested that we would not accept a test ban which would permit indefinite underground testing by the Soviet Union. We would not accept a test ban which did not give us every assurance that we could detect a series of tests underground. That's the administration's position. We wouldn't submit a treaty which did not provide that assurance to the United States Senate. Nor would the Senate approve it.

Q. You believe that the present insistence on seven will have to be maintained--is that correct?

THE PRESIDENT. I believe that we will insist upon a test ban treaty which gives us assurance that if any country conducted a series of clandestine underground tests that that series would be detected.

Now we have not only the problem of the number of inspections, but the kinds of inspections, the circumstances under which the inspections would be carried out, so that we have a good deal of distance to go in securing an agreement with the Soviet Union. We've not been able to make any real progress on the question of the numbers, but I want to emphasize that this is only one phase of it. We have to also discuss what the area would be, in each test, what would be the conditions under which the inspectors would move in and out.

I want to say that we have made substantial progress, as a result of a good deal of work by the United States Government in recent years, in improving our detection capabilities. We have been able to determine that there are a substantially less number of earthquakes in the Soviet Union than we had formerly imagined. We have also been able to make far more discriminating our judgments from a long distance of what would be perhaps an atomic test and what would be an earthquake. But we have not been able to make those discriminations so effective that we can do without onsite inspections and without a sufficient number to prevent a series of tests being carded out which would be undetected. I can assure you that no agreement will be accepted which would permit any such conditions.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, the Republicans in Congress are saying they can cut your budget all the way from $5 billion to $15 billion. Do you think there is any room for substantial cuts in the budget?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the Congress can make a judgment on that, but I think we reduced the requests of the three services by $13 billion, and we cut out the program such as Skybolt and we decided not to go ahead with the installation of Nike-Zeus. There are many very hard decisions made in reaching the figure that we reached.

Now, this idea that there are three services and therefore you can save $3 billion by cutting $1 billion out of each and at the same time when a good many members make speeches which are very militant, which would suggest that the solution to our problems can be best obtained by war actions or warlike actions, it doesn't seem to me that we ought to be cutting our defenses at this time.

Now, in addition to that, it's been suggested that we cut school lunches, that we cut aid to dependent children. I want to see these in more detail. I think we have been generalized enough. Are you going to cut these kinds of programs which are essential to a better life for our people? Are we going to make a determination that we are going to be permanently second-best in space? Because if you cut the space programs substantially, that's what you are writing into law, and I thought the United States made a commitment that we were not going to be second permanently. And we are not going to be second in the field of national security. The fact of the matter is the Congress last year appropriated half a billion dollars more than we had requested for national security. Now they are talking about cutting it $3 billion or $5 billion.

I don't think that the struggle is over. So I would be opposed to those kinds of cuts, and my judgment is that we sent up a hard budget. The fact of the matter is that the nondefense, non-space expenditures were held even, though in the previous years for the last 10 years or so they increased by nearly 7 percent.

I think we made a hard budget. Now you may be able to cut some of it. But I think that I want to know where they're going to cut it and whose life is going to be adversely affected by those cuts.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, three related questions: Do you have any accurate information on the number of Russian troops that have been removed from Cuba? Are you satisfied with the rate of troop removal? And was there in the Russian aide memoire any suggestion or provision for verification of troop removal?

THE PRESIDENT. No, the answer to your question would really be no to all of them. [Laughter]

[7.] Q. Mr. President, your policies in Europe seem to be encountering great difficulties. Cuba continues to be a problem. At home unemployment is high. The school bill seems far off. There seems to be more concern in the country for a budget deficit than for a tax cut. In view of all these things there is some impression and talk in the towns and country that your administration seems to have lost its momentum and to be slowing down and moving on the defensive. I wonder if you could comment on this feeling in the country?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I've read that. There is a rhythm to personal and national and international life and it flows and ebbs. And I would say that we are still--we have a good many difficulties at home and abroad. And the Congress has not acted yet on the programs we've sent forward so that we are still in the gestation period in those areas. Some of our difficulties in Europe have come because the military threat to Europe is less than it has been in the past. In other words, whatever successes we may have had in reducing that military threat to Europe have brought with it in its wake other problems. And that is quite natural and inevitable. I prefer these problems to the other problems.

I think that in the summer of 1961-and of course this all may come again--we were calling up reserves in preparation for what might be a collision of major proportions between the Soviet Union and the United States in Berlin. I would say our present difficulties in Europe, while annoying in a sense, or burdensome, are not nearly as dangerous as they were then. As far as Cuba, it continues to be a problem. On the other hand there are advances in the solidarity of the hemisphere. I think we've made it clear that we will not permit Cuba to be an offensive military threat. I think that we are making some progress in other areas so that if you ask me whether this was the "winter of our discontent" I would say no. If you would ask me whether we were doing quite as well this winter as perhaps we were doing in the fall, I might say no, too.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, yesterday Governor Rockefeller charged that you had been appointing "segregationist judges" to the Federal bench in the South. Privately, some NAACP officials have said before that that they, too, had been critical of some of the judgeship appointments that you had made in the South, and that that had blunted a certain amount the aggressive stand that the executive branch had taken against segregation and race problems in the South. Will you comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I think that some of the judges may not have ruled as I would have ruled in their cases. In those cases there is always a possibility for an appeal. On the whole, I believe--and this is not true just of this administration, but the previous administration--I think that the men that have been appointed to judgeships in the South, sharing perhaps as they do the general outlook of the South, have done a remarkable job in fulfilling their oath of office.

So I would not generalize. There may be cases where this is not true, and that is unfortunate. But I would say that on the whole it has been an extraordinary and very creditable record and I would say that of Federal judges generally that I have seen in the last--certainly in the last 10 years.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, of late some of your congressional critics have started to charge that your administration has been deliberately withholding important information on the Cuban situation. Among the claims that have been made is that your Central Intelligence chief, John McCone, actually knew before October 14th that the Soviets had planted offensive missiles in Cuba. Is there anything that you can say on this?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I've seen charges of all kinds. One day a distinguished Republican charges that it is all the CIA's fault, and the next day it is the Defense Department's fault, and the next day the CIA is being made a scapegoat by another distinguished leader. So that we could not possibly answer these charges, which come so fast and so furiously. Mr. Arerids 1 said the other day that the testimony by the Air Force before the committee indicated that we knew all about this October 10th, even though General LeMay 2 made it very clear in the same testimony that the Air Force didn't have such information. So we are not in a position to answer these.

1 Representative Leslie C. Arends of Illinois ranking Republican member of the Armed Services Committee.

2 Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force.

I think in hindsight, I suppose we could have always, perhaps, picked up these missile bases a few days earlier, but not very many days earlier, because the missiles didn't come in, at least in hindsight it now appears, until some time around the middle of September. The installations began at a later date. They were very fast, and I think the photography on the same areas, if we had known that missiles were going in, 10 days before might not have picked up anything. The week before might have picked up something. Even the pictures taken October 14th were only obvious to the most sophisticated expert. And it was not until the pictures taken really the 16th and 17th that you had pictures that would be generally acceptable. So this was a very clandestine and fast operation. So I feel that the intelligence services did a very good job. And when you think that the job was done, the missiles were discovered, the missiles were removed, the bombers were discovered, the bombers were removed, I don't think that anybody should feel that anything but a good job was done. I think we can always improve, and particularly with the advantage of hindsight. But I am satisfied with Mr. McCone, with the intelligence community and the Defense Department, and the job they did in those days particularly taken in totality.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, as you prepare for your visit to Costa Rica this month, there seems to be a position there among the Central American countries in Panama that the United States should take a more active leadership in attacking the problem of Cuba. I wonder if you could give us some of your thoughts about how you think this project should move along that you might find it possible to discuss with your colleagues there in San Jose?

THE PRESIDENT. Well one of the matters, of course, that is of interest to us is the question of the movement of people in and out who might be trained by the Communists in Cuba for guerrilla work or subversion in other parts of the hemisphere. This is an action which must be taken by each of the countries in Latin America. We are making proposals to them bilaterally. There has been an OAS Committee which has reported on the need for control. Now it's up to the Latin American countries, I would hope in common consultation as well as individually, to take those steps which will control the movement of people in and out. So we'll know who they are, why they're going, what happens to them when they get there, and when they're coming out, and what happens to them when they come out. This is the kind of thing which each country finally has to do itself because it is part of the element of sovereignty that the control of movement is within the country of citizenship, but we are bringing this to the attention of the Latin American countries as perhaps one of the most important things we can do this winter. In addition there have been other things which have been done on trade, diplomatic recognition, and all the rest. But I think we've indicated very dearly that what we feel is the wisest policy is the isolation of communism in this hemisphere. We would hope that the countries of Latin America with us will participate actively in that program.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, recognizing the interdependence of Canada and the United States and of course conscious that the current anti-American flare-up is about defense, are there any attempts being made to ease the irritations that are chronic, such as wheat surplus policy or the trade balance between the two countries?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, on the wheat we're in constant communication with the Canadians and other wheat producers, that our disposal under P.L. 480 would not disturb their normal markets. In the question of trade balances, we were able to be of some assistance to Canada during its difficulties some months ago, on the Canadian dollar, with other countries, and I would hope that the United States and Canada would be able to--having been joined together by nature-would be able to cooperate.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, for 20 years the Justice Department has assured Congress that it had evidence showing that Interhandel was a cover for the German firm of I. G. Farben, and therefore the seizure of General Aniline and Film in this country during World War II was justified.

Now in the past few days there has been an agreement between Justice and Interhandel on the division of the proceeds from the sale of General Aniline. Has Justice Department discovered that its facts are wrong, or has there been, or is this the result of pressure from the Swiss Government?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I would say that the agreement is an equitable agreement. It could have gone on 10 years more in the courts, and it has been now 15 or 20 years. The lawyers have enjoyed it, but I don't think that there is anything else--I don't think we would get a better arrangement if we continued the litigation for another 10 years. We feel that the arrangement which has been worked out will return the assets to those who have a claim to them, and I think the division of resources is fair.

So that I think it was the best solution.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, reports from Texas seem to indicate that the United States is ready to transfer the Chamizal to Mexico. If this is true, could you give us some idea of the timetable expected?

THE PRESIDENT. No, but there have been negotiations on Chamizal for a good many years, and they were stepped up following the visit to Mexico. We are close, I would hope, to an agreement, and I think that the next week should tell us whether we can get an accord. The advantage of course of the Chamizal is that if we can get a solution, is that it will wipe out a black mark in the record of the United States where we refused to accept an arbitration claim 40 years ago and as a result we have never been able to get the Mexicans to agree to any arbitration with us. So I am very anxious to see it settled, and we have made pretty good progress on it. There are still some questions that have to be settled but the prognosis I would think was hopeful, and I would think we would know in the next few weeks.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, I have a two-prong question on the NATO nuclear force. First, can you tell us how goes the Merchant 1 mission? And secondly, the lack of enthu-

1 Livingston T. Merchant, Special Representative for NATO Multilateral Force Negotiations.

siasm, if we can believe the press, reflects a certain amount of public opinion in Europe as to the Polaris-armed surface force because of its alleged greater vulnerability as compared to the atomic submarine. Why haven't the proposals for a conventionally powered submarine force been put forth, a proposal which would not apparently annoy Congress as much as an atomic submarine and would cost only about half as much as the atomic submarine?

THE PRESIDENT. There are some people who are opposed in Europe to the multilateral concept because of national reasons. Now if we had come forward with a proposal for submarines, those submarines would have to be built in the United States. They would be quite expensive; they would take at least 2 years or so longer than this program would; there would be elements of control by the United States inevitably because of various technical reasons, and that system would have been under attack.

Now I think that if anyone will examine the argument between surface and submarine they will feel there's a good deal of merit to the surface argument. In the first place, the submarine is a very difficult weapon system to operate. We are going into what is really a unique experience, the multilateral manning. It's not easy to find merchant ships at sea. It took us more than a days to find that recent Venezuelan ship in the Caribbean. They are not easy to find. It took us longer to find the Portuguese ship some months ago. The ocean is a large ocean.

Now we are going to be part of that multilateral force. Can you imagine a situation where the Soviets could discover every one of these ships and mark them and then attack them, destroying the American flag and the Americans aboard and not expect that that would not launch a general conflagration which would include Polaris, Minuteman, and every other weapon which might be involved? That they could isolate this force which the United States was part of and expect that they could attack the surface ships successfully without any of these ships firing a missile and not initiate the use of all the nuclear weapons?

I just don't think that the logic is on the side. This way the ships can be built there; the force can be built more quickly; there is not a balance of payments drain; it's much easier to operate from the surface if you are going to have a multilateral force.

Now, number two, how goes the Merchant mission? In the first place, we have indicated that we would keep our commitments to Europe, and we have indicated that our atomic strength is sufficient to defend Europe and the United States and our other interests. There has been concern however in Europe about what might happen over a long period. So, in an attempt to meet that concern without providing for the ultimate distribution of nuclear weapons to every national entity which would increase the danger and increase the expense and not increase the security, this concept of a multilateral force was put forward. We are responding to European suggestions. And it may be that when the proposal is examined in detail they may not feel that it provides sufficient additional security to warrant the additional expenditures of money and may decide that the present arrangement is satisfactory. That, we, of course, would accept. But if they are interested in the multilateral force, if they feel the multilateral force does provide extra security, the United States wants to he responsive. We take the lead in this matter because we are the nuclear power and have had the nuclear experience. It may take some months of negotiation to determine whether such a force can come into being, but if there is a desire for it we are responsive to it. And that is why Ambassador Merchant is going because we feel this is a way of maintaining the close ties between Europe and the United States.

So I think that if we decide in the final analysis, or Europe decides that this isn't what they want, we would be glad to hear any other proposals and we would feel that the exploration itself has been interesting and useful, because if we had refused to cooperate, then the burden really would have been on us.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, Congressman Leonard Farbstein has announced that he will introduce an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act which would give the President the right to deny aid to any nation that discriminates against American citizens because of race, creed, or color. How do you view this and would you exercise this mandate?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would like to take a look at his language, and find out under what conditions it would give us this power, before I could comment on the amendment.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, former Ambassador Guillermo Belt, the Ambassador from Cuba to the United States in the old days, said in a lecture at Georgetown Visitation Convent last Sunday that Castro would not be able to survive 2 weeks if he was denied Soviet oil. I wonder if there isn't something that you can do about this, or maybe bring greater pressure on some of our allies who are shipping Soviet oil in their ships to Cuba?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, but those are not our figures. There isn't any doubt that over a long period of time that denial of oil would make a difference. To deny the oil would require, of course, a blockade, and a blockade is an act of war, and you should be prepared to go for it. I think we indicated last October that in periods where we considered the United States was in danger, we were prepared to go as far as was needed to remove that danger, and we would, of course, be willing always to do so again, if we felt there was a situation which carried with it that kind of danger to the United States.

But you should not be under any impression that a blockade is not an act of war, because when a ship refuses to stop, and you then sink the ship, there is usually a military response by the country involved. We are attempting to persuade NATO and other countries not to ship into Cuba, but the primary source of shipments into Cuba are bloc ships, and at this time we do not believe that war in the Caribbean is to the national advantage.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, it is 10 years now since the death of Stalin, and it's a fact ironically noted much more in the Western World than the Communist world. Could you give us your appraisal, sir, of the significance of the changes in the Soviet Union in terms of the future, of the East-West relations in this period of time?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I think that it would take at least a half hour program on a national network, and I couldn't comment on that. [Laughter]

[18.] Q. Mr. President, yesterday U.N. Secretary General U Thant received a letter from the Cuban Foreign Minister in which he hinted that the Cubans might like to discuss the resumption of friendly relations with us. I wonder if you think that this might be possible, and if so, what conditions would have to be met first?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I understand the note had some reference to it from Havana but the note actually delivered at the U.N. did not have any such references. We have had no indication that there's a desire to resume friendly relations to us. We have said on many occasions that we regard the present Soviet presence in Cuba as unacceptable to us and we regard the communization of Cuba and the attempt to subvert the hemisphere as matters which are not negotiable. I don't see any evidence that there is in prospect a non-realization of relations between Cuba and the United States.

[19.] Q. The length of your joint communique with the President of Venezuela, you say "The President of the United States pledges the full support of his country to the Republic of Venezuela," et cetera. Could you tell us something about the nature of that full support in case there was a serious or a successful coup d'etat revolution against President Betancourt?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it would depend a good deal on the conditions and what our obligations might be under the Rio treaty. We strongly support President Betancourt's efforts in Venezuela in a good number of ways. But if you are asking me, I would have to see what the conditions were, what the responsibilities were under the Rio treaty, the OAS, if we knew we were going into a more substantial situation. If you are talking about aggression from outside, the answer is very clear. If you are talking about internal acts, we would have to judge those acts and depend a good deal on what the Government of Venezuela decided was the appropriate response.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, I think you've had a preliminary or tentative meeting with the Clay 1 committee on foreign aid. Can you tell us whether they're taking that hard and hardheaded look at foreign aid that you asked them to when you appointed them?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, they are, very definitely.

1 Gen. Lucius D. Clay, Chairman, Committee to Strengthen the Security of the Free World.

Q. Mr. President, the Mansfield committee, sent at your suggestion to the Far East and Europe, has recommended a thorough security reassessment in the Far East and a clamp down, if not a reduction in our aid to that part of the world.2 Would you have any comment on this, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't see how we are going to be able, unless we are going to pull out of Southeast Asia and turn it over to the Communists, how we are going to be able to reduce very much our economic programs and military programs in South Viet-Nam, in Cambodia, in Thailand.

2 See "Viet-Nam and Southeast Asia," Report of Senators Mike Mansfield, J. Caleb Boggs, Claiborne Pell, Benjamin A. Smith to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, committee print, 88th Congress, 1st session (Government Printing Office, 1963, 22 pp.).

I think that unless you want to withdraw from the field and decide that it is in the national interest to permit that area to cob lapse, I would think that it would be impossible to substantially change it particularly, as we are in a very intensive struggle in those areas.

So I think we ought to judge the economic burden it places upon us as opposed to having the Communists control all of Southeast Asia with the inevitable effect that this would have on the security of India and, therefore, really begin to run perhaps all the way toward the Middle East. So I think that while we would all like to lighten the burden, I don't see any real prospect of the burden being lightened for the U.S. in South. east Asia in the next year if we are going to do the job and meet what I think are very clear national needs.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's fifty-first news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 11 o'clock on Wednesday morning, March 6, 1963.

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

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