John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

October 31, 1963

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon.

[1.] Q. Mr. President, I wonder, could you tell us something about this Government's policy toward reports we hear from Europe and from here about removal of American forces from Europe, or reduction in the size or the strength of American personnel in Europe?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I think that Secretary Rusk explained quite clearly the American policy last weekend, as he reaffirmed it. The policy of the United States is to maintain 6 divisions in Germany, as long as they are required. In addition to these 6 divisions, and over and above our NATO commitments, we sent to Germany as temporary reinforcements during the Berlin crisis of 1961, 6 combat units consisting of 3 artillery battalions, 2 armored battalions, and 1 armored cavalry regiment.

This augmentation of U.S. forces in Germany was made to help meet the deficiency of other NATO members in fulfilling their commitments at a very crucial time when the buildup of West Germany's own forces was incomplete. Although some of these deficiencies have been corrected, and the German force buildup is progressing, we are prepared to keep these additional combat units in Germany as long as there is a need for them.

Thus, we are not planning any reduction in United States combat units in Germany. As part of the reorganization of the Army's European logistic forces, we are planning some reduction in noncombat personnel, a matter on which of course we are in touch with our allies.

But we do not intend to bring back any units or personnel whose return would impair the military effectiveness of our forces in Germany. In short, we intend to keep our combat forces in Germany as they are today--that is, more than 6 combat divisions.

Q. ,Mr. President, that being so, how many human beings are we going to bring back from our European stations now?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, any we bring back may include some supply forces or--

Q. As much as a regiment, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we have over, I think, 240,000 or 250,000, so a regiment is a very small--less than a percent of that, so I am sure that there will be movements in and out. But we are talking about the whole European theater. But, in the case of Germany, and I think it is important to make this clear, the 6 divisions which are our NATO commitment, are being kept. In addition, these other combat units are being kept in Germany also. If there is any change in personnel, and I am sure there will be some, it will be in logistic forces. There have been some changes, for example, in our logistic supply lines in France. There may be some changes in headquarters units and all the rest. They are relatively small. They may be spaced over a period of time. But our combat effectiveness, of course, is increasing as our materiel increases.

Q. Will these 6 divisions, sir, be kept at conventional divisional strength?

THE PRESIDENT. That is correct. There will be no change, no change in the number of combat forces in Germany; no change in the number of these extra forces which, as I have said, are beyond our NATO commitment but which will be also kept in Germany.

Q. Mr. President, you spoke of some deficiencies. Who is falling short?

THE PRESIDENT. We are talking about deficiencies in 1961, when we were having a serious crisis in Berlin and where the NATO forces were inadequate. And, as you know, I think the Secretary of State made a reference to the fact that a number of our allies had not, and in some cases have not, met their NATO commitments today, with the number of forces that should be stationed in Germany for the defense of Germany.

Q. But we still have to keep these troops there, although apparently, because--

THE PRESIDENT. There has been a buildup since 1961, particularly among the German forces, whose target is 12 divisions. Some other countries have not met their quota. But we are keeping our forces there primarily because we believe that it emphasizes the commitment of the United States to the defense of the Federal Republic, and our concern about the defense of Europe. In addition, it should be pointed out that the Federal Republic, West Germany, is purchasing military equipment in the United States which provides an offset to our gold losses for our forces in the Federal Republic. So they are making an effort and so are we, and we are going to continue to do it.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, Senator Goldwater accused your administration today of falsification of the news in order to perpetuate irself in office. Do you care to comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. What was he referring to?

Q. He was making a speech here at the Women's National Press Club, and his point was that you and your administration are mismanaging the news, and using it to perpetuate yourself in office.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as I have said before, I think it would be unwise at this time to answer or reply to Senator Goldwater. I am confident that he will be making many charges even more serious than this one in the coming months. And, in addition, he himself has had a busy week selling TVA and giving permission to or suggesting that military commanders overseas be permitted to use nuclear weapons, and attacking the President of Bolivia while he was here in the United States, and involving himself in the Greek election. So I thought it really would not be fair for me this week to reply to him.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, back to the question of troop reductions, are any intended in the Far East at the present time, particularly in Korea, and is there any speedup in the withdrawal from Viet-Nam intended?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, when Secretary McNamara and General Taylor came back, they announced that we would expect to withdraw a thousand men from South Viet-Nam before the end of the year, and there has been some reference to that by General Harkins. If we are able to do that, that would be our schedule. I think the first unit or first contingent would be 250 men who are not involved in what might be called front-line operations. It would be our hope to lessen the number of Americans there by 1,000, as the training intensifies and is carried on in South Viet-Nam. As far as other units, we will have to make our judgement based on what the military correlation of forces may be. We are becoming increasingly mobile, as the Big Lift Operation suggests.

What is important in the case that Mr. Smith was talking about, we not only have these divisions that I described there, but we have--after the '61 experience, we moved equipment for 2 more divisions. So during the Big Lift, we actually have 7 divisions. So that we are able to move around the world much faster, and with new planes which are beginning to come off the production line, particularly the ones in Marietta, Ga., out of Lockheed. And so we are going to have increased airlift capacity over the next 2 or 3 years. So naturally our force will be more mobile.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, on the basis of your experience in Philadelphia, yesterday and last night, will you regard next Tuesday's mayoral election as a test of how civil rights will affect the voting?

THE PRESIDENT. In Philadelphia, or just--

Q. In Philadelphia, yes--as well as in other large northern cities.

THE PRESIDENT. I am sure that that may be a factor in the election, although I am not sure that the two candidates have taken different positions, but I suppose this is a matter of major concern in the country today, and it may be reflected in the voting. As I say, I am not aware, although it may be, that the candidates have taken different positions on it. My guess would be that they have taken relatively the same position on the question.

Q. The question is whether or not there will be some backlash from white minority voters against the Democrats because of their pushing of civil rights.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I--it is possible. We will have to wait and see, though, as I have said from the beginning, it seems to me both parties have taken a clear position historically and at present on civil rights. But there may be. We will have to wait and see Tuesday, and I am sure that a good many things will be written into it.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, the United Nations Secretary General U Thant has withdrawn the mission from Yemen, which was supposed to secure peace and the withdrawal of Nasser's troops from Yemen. Since you are sponsoring this effort, could you tell us what further steps you have in mind?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, he is keeping his political people there and we are still hopeful that the governments of Saudi Arabia and the U.A.R. will come to some conclusion, either bilaterally or with the Secretary General, which will permit the cease-fire to be maintained, and the withdrawal which has been limited to be expanded. So, I have not given up on the hope of keeping that cease-fire.

Q. [Inaudible].--is not thinking of any bilateral moves?

THE PRESIDENT. No. We have expressed our great interest in seeing that fighting does not break out along the border, and I think it would be unfortunate if it did. We have indicated that to the countries involved. I am hopeful, as I say, that perhaps they will be able to work it out bilaterally, or at least keep a cease-fire.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, do you think the letters that Secretary of the Navy Korth wrote made his resignation advisable, and was it requested?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the letters which Mr. Korth and I exchanged explain the situation as I would like to see it explained.

Mr. Korth, I think, worked hard for the Navy and he indicated his desire to return to private life and I accepted that decision. But I think he worked hard for the Navy.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, thousands of jobs are lost every week to automation. The Federal Government is one of the leaders in automation. Do you think it is good for us, as human beings, to dehumanize work and sacrifice people to machines and money?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it is all a question of degree and how it is done. Obviously, most of the comforts we now enjoy are the result of automation, technology over a period of 100 or 150 years, and there were, historically, efforts at various times to stop the introduction of machines which made the labor of men easier.

So automation does not need to be, we hope, our enemy. What is of concern now is this combination of a rather intensive period of automation, plus the fact that our educational system is not keeping up, so that we are graduating or dropping out of high school so many millions of young men and women who are not able to operate in this new society who have only physical labor to perform and they can't find enough jobs.

So that is what concerns us. Now, as you know, job retraining is important in that area, vocational training. We are trying to combat school dropouts, trying to urge families to keep their children in school, and all the rest of these efforts with which you are familiar.

We have a proposal before the Congress for a new analysis of automation. In answer to your question: I think machines can make life easier for men, if men do not let the machines dominate them. And it is our intention to try to see that life is easier. The fact is, life is easier because of machines, and I think it can provide new jobs, but I think it is going to take a good deal of wisdom by those of us in the Government as well as labor and management.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, last week there was a certain amount of optimism that a sale of wheat would soon be reached for the Soviet Union. And a lot of this optimism seems to be gone in the last couple of days. I wonder if you could tell us quite precisely what seems to be holding up the sale and whether you are optimistic that the sale will go through?

THE PRESIDENT. We are involved in negotiations which, of course, are very intensive and it seems to me that this is the week when these negotiations are reaching a critical phase. I don't think that it would be useful for me to comment on them. I think we ought to know in the next days whether we are going to be successful in completing our sale. But obviously this is a matter in which the seller and the buyer have interests which are not always harmonious and we have to reach the best bargain possible. That is what they want and that is what we want, and so I think we ought to let the negotiators negotiate.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, do you expect to use General David Shoup's services in the Government after he leaves?

THE PRESIDENT. I would hope so. I would hope so--if he will--I would like to have him stay.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, just shortly after the Bay of Pigs I asked you how you liked being President, and as I remember you said you liked it better before the event. Now you have had a chance to appraise your job, and why do you like it and why do you want to stay in office 4 more years?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I find the work rewarding. Whether I am going to stay and what my intentions are and all of the rest, it seems to me it is still a good many, many months away. But as far as the job of President goes, it is rewarding. And I have given before to this group the definition of happiness of the Greeks, and I will define it again: it is full use of your powers along lines of excellence. I find, therefore, the Presidency provides some happiness.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, there have been persistent reports in recent days that the State Department is negotiating with the Junta in the Dominican Republic looking toward a resumption of full diplomatic relations. Are these reports true, and is there some basis on which we would be willing to recognize the present Junta?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there have been conversations in the Dominican Republic to see what assurances can be given regarding the restoration of democratic rule, constitutional rule in the Dominican Republic. We have a charge d'affaires there, and quite obviously we are interested in that restoration. Those assurances are of free elections, so we are continuing to carry out these discussions, although actually they are relatively informal, and they have reaped no harvest as yet. But that would be our policy to attempt to see if we can resume relations with the Dominican Republic under assurances of a restoration of constitutional government. As yet we have had no success.

[12.] Q. Sir, when you approved the sale of wheat to the Soviet Union, you placed a condition on the sales that the shipments be in U.S. flagships to the extent that they were available. I wonder if you could explain to us how you came to place this condition on it; what the genesis of that condition was.

THE PRESIDENT. No, I think we ought to let the negotiators negotiate this week. I don't mean to be evasive, but I think we ought to let those who are representing the United States point of view, we ought to give them a free hand. So I would rather not get into a discussion of the wheat deal. Next week I am sure we can.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, could you tell us how many Russian troops there are in Cuba now and what you--

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think we can ever give a precise figure. All I can say is that the numbers have steadily been reduced, and in the last 2 months there have been further reductions and since the first of January there has been a marked decrease in the number of troops in Cuba, according to all our. intelligence estimates. I couldn't give you a precise number that are still there, but I can give you a--the general trend is outward.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, since you approved the w-heat sale, other groups have come along and suggested we sell other products to the Russians, too, surplus butter, for example. And Congressman Cooley says maybe if we send them some tobacco it will quiet their nerves a little bit. Would you favor expanding this list to other farm surpluses, if they are interested?

THE PRESIDENT. They have shown no. interest in anything else, but they may show interest if this deal is consummated, and I would be responsive to any further request they made for farm commodities. But first, we have to get this deal. I think this is the bellwether.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, can you explain Secretary McNamara's rejection of the atomic power plant for the new carrier in the face of the experts, like Admiral Rickover and Chairman Seaborg, and others who think it is necessary? And will the same policy go over to the other warships that the Navy wants, of over 8,000 tons, with the atomic energy power?

THE PRESIDENT. No, we are going to build a conventional carrier, which has already been announced at this time. That is what we think that the Navy needs. Now, we are not going to make any final decision until a later date on whether we are going to have nuclear power for important ships of the Navy.

As you suggest, there is no use having a nuclear carrier unless we have the ships that accompany it--and after all, there is a large train with a carrier--unless they have nuclear power. So that it requires a rather large investment. In the case of the nuclear carrier, it is about $160 million or $170 million more. If you add up the other ships that might have to accompany it, it gets into a large sum of money. What is the mission of that carrier? What is it going to be used for--limited war or strategic attack? What is the best use of that extra money? I think I am supporting Secretary McNamara in the decision that he has made so far in this matter.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, the United States Steel Corporation has rejected the idea that it should use economic pressure in an effort to improve race relations in Birmingham, Ala. Do you have any comments on that position and do you have any counsel for management and labor in general as to their social responsibility in areas of tension of this kind?

THE PRESIDENT. Actually, Mr. Blough has been somewhat helpful in one or two cases that I can think of in Birmingham. I don't think he should narrowly interpret his responsibility for the future. That is a very influential company in Birmingham, and he wants to see that city prosper, as do we all.

Obviously, the Federal Government cannot solve this matter, so that business has a responsibility--labor, and of course every citizen. So I would think that particularly a company which is as influential as United States Steel in Birmingham, I would hope would use its influence on the side of comity between the races.

Otherwise, the future of Birmingham, of course, is not as happy as we would hope it would be. In other words, it can't be decided, this matter, in Washington. It has to be decided by citizens everywhere. Mr. Blough is an influential citizen. I am sure he will do the best he can.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, you have signed one Executive order and one law banning conflicts of interest on the part of executive branch employees. In the light of recent events on Capitol Hill, do you think that that law should be broadened to cover members of Congress and congressional employees?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that we ought to wait until the investigation is over. It has only begun, and it is a matter which Congress of course would have to consider. But I think that perhaps out of the investigation there may come a decision to develop new rules, procedures, or laws, but I would rather wait until the Congress has had the hearing and then we can make a better judgment about that.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, do you think that Premier Khrushchev has actually taken the Soviet Union out of the so-called moon race, and in any case do you think that the United States should proceed as if there were a moon race?

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't read that into his statement. I thought his statement was rather cautiously worded and I did not get any assurances that Mr. Khrushchev or the Soviet Union were out of the space race at all.

I think it is remarkable that some people who were so unwilling to accept our test ban treaty, where there was a very adequate area of verification of whatever the Soviet Union was doing, were perfectly ready to accept Mr. Khrushchev's very guarded, careful, cautious remark that he was taking himself out of the space race and use that as an excuse for us to abandon our efforts.

The fact of the matter is that the Soviets have made an intensive effort in space, and there is every indication that they are continuing and that they have the potential to continue. I would read Mr. Khrushchev's remarks very carefully. I think that he said before anyone went to the moon, there should be adequate preparation. We agree with that.

In my opinion the space program we have is essential to the security of the United States, because as I have said many times before, it is not a question of going to the moon. It is a question of having the competence to master this environment. And I would not make any bets at all upon Soviet intentions. I think that our experience has been that we wait for deeds, unless we have a system of verification, and we have no idea whether the Soviet Union is going to make a race for the moon or whether it is going to attempt an even greater program.

I think we ought to stay with our program. I think that is the best answer to Mr. Khrushchev.

Q. Mr. President, it still continues to be the fact that we have had no responses to your proposal for a joint moon exploration?

THE PRESIDENT. That is correct. In addition, the two astronauts of the Soviet Union earlier that week had made a statement saying the Soviet Union was prepared to go on lunar expeditions, so I think that we should not disregard our whole carefully worked out program which is being carried on very impressively in Huntsville, Ala., and in other places, merely because Mr. Khrushchev gave a rather Delphic interview to some correspondents.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, Fidel Castro claims to have captured some Americans whom he says are CIA agents, and he says he is going to execute them. Is there anything at all that you can tell us about this?


[20.] Q. Mr. President, what is the status of the bilateral air transport agreement between the United States and Russia?

THE PRESIDENT. It was initialed some months ago, more than a year ago, in fact a year and a half ago, and there are still some technical matters which have to be discussed before it can be formally signed.

Q. Are you optimistic of it being signed, and if so, when?

THE PRESIDENT. I think there is a good chance it will be signed; yes.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, as you know, the plan to build a National Environmental Health Research Center has been hung up in Congress. Apparently they can't decide where to build it. Now there is a report that you would like it built in North Carolina. Would you?

THE PRESIDENT. North Carolina would be very acceptable. I think the Budget recommendation was Maryland, but North Carolina does have the facilities. But I think in our recommendations we made, HEW made, the first recommendation was Maryland. The site in North Carolina is a good one, as there is a triangle there of colleges and hospitals and medical facilities. And I have indicated that that would be satisfactory, if that was the judgment of the Congress. I think our first choice was Maryland.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, in spite of something you said here in May 1962, there is talk that Lyndon Johnson will be dumped next year. Senator Thruston Morton used the word "purged." Now, sir, assuming that you run next year, would you want Lyndon Johnson on the ticket, and do you expect that he will be on the ticket?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, to both of those questions. That is correct.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, Navy Secretary Korth had some correspondence which indicated he worked very hard for the Continental National Bank of Fort Worth while he was in Government, as well as for the Navy, and that during this same period of time that he negotiated, or took part in the decision on a contract involving that bank's--one of that bank's best customers, the General Dynamics firm. I wonder if this fulfills the requirements of your Code of Ethics in Government, and if, in a general way, you think that it is within the law and proper?

THE PRESIDENT. In the case of the contract--the TFX contract--as you know, that matter was referred to the Department of Justice to see whether there was a conflict of interest and the judgment was that there was not. That is number one.

Number two, the amount of the loan to the company. That bank was one of a number of banks which participated in a line of credit and it was relatively a small amount of money, as bank loans go. So in answer to your question, I have no evidence that Mr. Korth acted in any way improperly in the TFX matter. It has nothing to do with any opinion I may have about whether Mr. Korth might have written more letters and been busier than he should have been in one way or another.

The fact of the matter is, I have no evidence that Mr. Korth benefited improperly during his term of office in the Navy. And I have no evidence, and you have not, as I understand it--the press has not produced any, nor the McClellan committee--which would indicate that in any way he acted improperly in the TFX. I always have believed that innuendoes should be justified before they are made, either by me, in the Congress, or even in the press.

[24.] Q. Mr. President, Senator Goldwater also said today that if he is nominated, the Republican--for the Republican President-if he is the Republican Presidential nominee, he will gladly debate you. Would you accept this challenge?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have indicated that I was going to debate if I were renominated.

[25.] Q. Mr. President, a number of your congressional leaders have said they favor the so-called quality stabilization bill, but all of your executive departments are opposed to it. Can you tell us what your views are on this legislation?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that hasn't come to me as yet. I am not--I have never been for the quality stabilization bill. I will have to look at the bill when it finally comes and the form it is in. I can't comment on the legislation before it finally comes to the desk of the White House, but the administration witnesses have spoken my views.

[26.] Q. Mr. President, unemployment is just about as high today as it was a year ago, but there are rumors that the administration has given up on getting Congress to extend the accelerated public works program. Is this a fact?

THE PRESIDENT. NO. The amount of money that is in the public works program runs through July so that there is still a good deal of money that is available for public works under that program.

Q. Doesn't the act, sir, expire in January?

THE PRESIDENT. The amount of money, though, given the pipeline runs through July. So this is not a matter for immediate decision before us.

[27.] Q. Sir, would you please tell us what is going to be the final decision on Mr. Otto Otepka, the Security Officer of the State Department, who is up for firing? And would you please, in a related question, tell us what was the final decision on whether the State Department employees can go before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and answer questions?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't think any final decision has been made on Mr. Otepka. I think there is a hearing scheduled in the next few days on the matter. And I have said to you before that the Secretary of State would study the matter and so would I before any final decision is reached. Of course, if a decision is reached of the kind you describe, it would be possible for him to appeal to the Civil Service Commission.

Now, the question of--I have no objection, and I think it would be perfectly appropriate, for any employee of the Federal Government to appear before any congressional committee. I would think it would be proper that the head of the department would be notified, but I am sure that they will give permission.

[28.] Q. Mr. President, a little while ago you said that our present force of combat troops would remain in Germany as long as they are required. I wondered whether you planned to be the sole determiner of that or whether it would be a bilateral or a NATO-wide proposition.

THE PRESIDENT. I would think it would be a NATO--well, it would certainly be discussed in NATO, and, of course, the country particularly affected, in this case the Federal Republic. Its views would have very heavy weight, very heavy weight. I am sure that no action would be taken which would not meet the needs of the country involved, the Federal Republic as well as our own.

[29.] Q. Mr. President, in negotiating the limited nuclear test ban treaty we and the Russians avoided the issue of international inspection by limiting it to the three environments in which that, theoretically, was not required. Now we have joined at the U.N. in proposing a wider ban, including underground tests. Is there anything new in the state of the art of detection or in our understanding of the Soviet position that leads us to hope we can get anywhere with this approach?

THE PRESIDENT. I am doubtful that we can get any place. We are still insisting on inspection. The Soviet Union is still resisting inspection. And therefore, unless the art of seismology improves, I would think we would not get an agreement. Sometime it may improve so that it is not necessary for us to have the kind of detailed inspections that we believe necessary or perhaps the Soviet Union will change its policy. I would hope either event would occur. For the present, I am not optimistic.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's sixty-third news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Thursday afternoon, October 31, 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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