John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

February 21, 1962

THE PRESIDENT. [1.] I have one statement. It is increasingly clear that the impact of Colonel Glenn's magnificent achievement yesterday goes far beyond our own time and our own country. The success of this flight, the new knowledge it will give us, and the new steps which can now be undertaken, will affect life on this planet for many years to come.

This country has received more than 30 messages of congratulations from other heads of state all over the world which recognize the global benefits of this extraordinary accomplishment. And I want to express my thanks to them and at the same time pay tribute to the international cooperation entailed in the successful operation of the Mercury tracking network, and express particular appreciation to those governments which participated in this international program by permitting the location of 18 such stations all around the world, including those in the Grand Canary Island, Nigeria, Zanzibar, Australia, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Canton Island in the Pacific.

One of the messages that I received was from Chairman Khrushchev in the Soviet Union, suggesting that it would be beneficial to the advance of science if our countries could work together in the exploration of space. I am replying to his message today, and I regard it as most encouraging, this proposal for international cooperation in space exploration, including specifically Soviet-American cooperation, which I spelled out in my State of the Union Message of last year, and in my address to the United Nations. You may recall that last year in January of 1961 in the State of the Union Address, I said, "Specifically, I now invite all nations--including the Soviet Union--to join with us in developing a weather prediction program, in a new communications satellite program and in preparation for probing the distant planets of Mars and Venus, probes which may someday unlock the deepest secrets of the universe."

Previous to that, under the previous administration, many suggestions were made for international cooperation. On one occasion, the Vice President, then Senator Johnson, acting on behalf of President Eisenhower, presented a proposal to the United Nations for the peaceful uses of outer space.

We believe that when men reach beyond this planet they should leave their national differences behind them. All men will benefit, if we can invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. We look forward to visiting with Colonel Glenn on Friday and welcoming him to Washington next Monday.

It has been said that peace has her victories as well as war, and I think all of us can take pride and satisfaction in this victory of technology and the human spirit.

Q. Mr. President, can you tell us the nature of your actual response to Mr. Khrushchev on this proposal?

THE PRESIDENT. We will indicate in the response our desire that space be explored peacefully and that we will be glad, in the United Nations and in any other forum, to discuss how this can best be done so that this new ocean which I referred to yesterday may be a peaceful one. I think it's particularly important now, before space becomes devoted to the uses of war. So we will be prepared to discuss this matter, as I say, at the United Nations, or bilaterally, or any other way in which this common cause can be advanced.

Q. Mr. President, on the same subject, do you think it would be wise, or can you conceive of a situation where we would have Russian observers at a space shot by this country without United States observers being allowed to view up close the Russian shot?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, today we permit observers from all countries, members of the press from all countries, to come and watch our shots, and this has been a very open procedure, and one of the reasons why I think we all take satisfaction is because we took our chances out in the open, and our delays, which were well publicized and which may have caused some satisfaction to those who were not our well-wishers--it seems to me we have a double pleasure when it goes well.

I do feel that, of course, if there's any cooperation it must be in the sense we are now discussing--it must be wholly bilateral, and I think that that, of course, would be one of the matters which we would discuss.

Q. Mr. President, pursuing this subject even further, do you have any indication beyond the rather nebulous but hopeful remarks of Mr. Khrushchev in his congratulatory message that they are really willing to get down to cases in cooperation in these areas?

One recalls that they did actually do something in this respect in the International Geophysical Year and I just wondered if between the time of the State of the Union Message and now any other tangible developments have come up beyond or in addition to his statement yesterday.

THE PRESIDENT. No, We have seen no evidence that we would be able to confidently expect in the last 12 months that this kind of cooperation would take place. But we, I might say, now have more chips on the table than we did some time ago. So perhaps the prospects are improving.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, can you say whether up to this day the international scientific community or American scientists have received any data from the Soviet space flights of Titov and Gagarin?

THE PRESIDENT. You mean other than those we might have picked up ourselves?

Q. Yes, I mean through the international scientific community or any published works in the Soviet?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, except for those that may have been published. I am not sure that we have. But before I give you a final answer perhaps I can ask Mr. Salinger and Mr. Hatchet to see if before the end of the press conference we could find out if there's been any more detailed information made available to us or to anyone else, so I'll come back to that.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, on a more local level, the Washington Daily News suggested today that since Colonel Glenn's achievements illustrate the ultimate in physical and scientific discipline, that all the school kids and all the surrounding schools in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington be let out to welcome him here Monday. Would you go along with that suggestion?

THE PRESIDENT. We always follow the Washington Daily News--[laughter]--and I believe that that is being done. In this particular area, Washington, D.C., and 'perhaps those that may be nearby in Maryland and Virginia, we would be glad if they followed the example.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, there have been published reports to the effect that you have decided on a policy of disengagement in Laos after consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Could you clarify the situation as you see it in Laos and South Viet-Nam?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I would say that our policy has been quite consistent since last April, when we agreed to the cease-fire, and we have, since that date, been attempting to organize a government and secure agreements from the parties who are involved internally and externally for a neutral and independent Laos. That is our objective, and we're continuing to work for it.

Many months have passed, but that remains the star by which we guide our course there, and therefore, it would be improper at this time to talk about disengagement. We are engaged in the task of attempting to build a neutral and independent Laos, and it is to that end that we are directing our effort. And it would be, as I say, not precise to state that on the advice of the Joint Chiefs or for any other reason we are withdrawing our interest before that task has been accomplished.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, Chancellor Adenauer is reported to have said while talking with the parliamentary group of the CDU that possibly the time has come to break off the Thompson-Gromyko talks and throw the Berlin question into a Big four foreign ministers conference. Do you have any comment on this?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I know that there was a newspaper report based on, supposedly, what the Chancellor said in a conversation, but I think there is some question as to whether that represented an accurate description of his views. I will say that that is not the impression that we have received, and, in fact, we have received an opposite impression, and that is that these probes, or these talks, while they have not been productive so far, nevertheless the subject is not exhausted, and we should continue. If, and I've said this from the beginning, there is some evidence that by raising them to a ministerial level that we would be more successful, then I think we ought to do it. But I do think that the conversations at this level now at least permit us to see whether there is any ground for a hopeful negotiation. I presume that what you mean by four powers would be the Soviet Union, the British, the French and ourselves, and not West Germany, the British, French, and ourselves. As you know, General de Gaulle has been unwilling to have a four power foreign ministers conference, at least for France, until there is some evidence that such a conference might produce a useful result. So far the resuits have been comparatively minor, or minuscule.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, recalling your own interest in Algeria as a Senator, have you any comment on the cease-fire agreement that apparently has now been reached between the rebels and the French Government?

THE PRESIDENT. I'm hopeful that there is a cease-fire agreement, that it will permit an orderly and satisfactory solution, and we are, of course, most interested in the efforts that are being made to achieve that. I think that we should wait, as far as the United States is concerned, and watch the evolution with very concerned and friendly interest, which has been our policy for many months.

[7'] Q. Mr. President, no doubt you are aware as to what Congress has done on the urban affairs proposal. Would you care to comment, sir, on what your next step would be regarding the plight of the cities, and also what the future might hold for Mr. Weaver?

THE PRESIDENT Well, I think there's going to be an urban department some time. There isn't going to be one now, but there's going to be sooner or later. You have too large a percentage of our population living in the city, 70 to 75 to 80 percent. They face many problems. The mayors of the country and others who are most concerned with them have supported this proposal. We're going to have an urban department. It may not come this year, but in my opinion it will become as necessary and inevitable as the Department of Agriculture or HEW. Now, the difficulty, of course, is that many of those who do not live in urban areas are opposed to it. But if we in this country began to adopt the system that everyone who lives in a city area voted against those things which were of assistance to the farmer, and everybody who comes from a rural area voted against those policies which provided a better life for people in the city, and everybody who lived outside the Tennessee Valley voted against the Tennessee Valley Authority, and everyone who lived in the East voted against the development in the Northwest, or the development of natural resources, this country would come to a grinding halt.

So I am hopeful that after a longer look is taken at this proposal, and it's analyzed on its merits, that in my judgment the Congress of the United States will support an urban program. I believe it's vitally important, and I regret that Congress did not see fit to adopt it. I don't think it is so much the administration's loss as it's a loss for the city and the country.

Now in regard to Dr. Weaver, he would have been admirably qualified as the head of the largest division which would have been included in the urban department. I see now that various people who opposed the urban department are now ready to support him for any Cabinet position he wishes, Defense, State, Treasury, or anything else. I consider him admirably qualified the Presidents fled for this particular position because he's had long experience in it, and while I'm sure he is grateful for those good wishes for a Cabinet position where there is no vacancy, I think he feels that he would have been-that this country would have been better served to have voted for an urban department, and permitted him to continue his service in that capacity. Mr. Weaver will get along all right, but I think the question is, the people in the cities are the ones who have been defeated.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, Soviet planes are continuing to fly through the Berlin air corridor despite our objections. This comes at a time when the Soviets are increasingly critical about the alleged lack of progress in the Berlin talks in Moscow. Do you think this could be a pressure move by the Soviets to force us to come up with additional concessions in Moscow?

THE PRESIDENT. I wouldn't attempt to draw any conclusions except to say that we've continued to fly the air routes into Berlin. And while those flights have not passed without some interference, I think the fact is that, of course, our rights in this area are being maintained. I'm hopeful that the Soviet Union and ourselves will be able, as I said from the beginning, to reach an accommodation, because obviously, any interference with these kinds of rights or rights which may be on the Autobahn, all these things carry with them hazards which none of us should welcome if we look to the possible end of the road.

So I would not make any judgment. I merely hope that it will be possible for them to desist.

[9.] In answer to Mr. Lisagor's questions, it says some exchange between the Soviet and U.S. scientists of informal nature, but only medical information. There was no technical information in regard to the exchanges which have taken place in space.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, could you give us any information on the present whereabouts of U-2 pilot Powers and when he will be available for questioning by the press and Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. There is, as you know, a board of inquiry which is examining whether Mr. Powers completed his contract. That board of inquiry is under the leadership of Judge Prettyman and represents outstanding citizens. Mr. Powers has been cooperating fully. He will be available for the Congress-this inquiry will be completed by the middle of next week--and he would then be available to the Congress and to the press. And I must say that there is so far no evidence that he did not comply with his contract, but I think we could make a more precise judgment at the next press conference, or a more final judgment, I would say.

[11.] Q. In your view, Mr. President, is the South Vietnamese Government now carrying out the administrative reforms and creating the political conditions in which our increased assistance can be most effective?

THE PRESIDENT. We're working with them to accomplish both of these objectives. And these objectives, I must say, are hard to carry out. This country's been in the struggle now for a number of years. It has not--it had not many skilled administrators when it got its independence in '54, and it had been at war for really, in a sense, with the Japanese occupation and the war with the French, for almost 15 years before that, so that it's a very difficult assignment. It is a fact, however, that the gross national product, agricultural production, health, education, all these things materially increased in the last 6 years. But I think it's a matter for which the Vietnamese Government must be concerned about. We're prepared to offer every assistance we can in making that Government a more effective instrument for the people.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, concern has been voiced by church leaders that wives and children of servicemen cannot accompany them to Europe and live with them. They are worried about moral implications, breakup of homes. Since the logistic requirements are no longer so urgent, it seems, is there a chance that this order may be changed soon?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, most of the servicemen in Europe have their-who are married--have their families with them. There may be some who may be there for a more limited time who do not. In addition, of course, we're concerned about the gold flow which comes because of our troop commitments to Europe. I've said before that we spend $3 billion a year in maintaining our military forces around the world, and our bases. So if we are able to cut that somewhat, we shall do so. But to be more specific, most of the servicemen now in Europe have their families with them. There are some who do not, and the purpose of it, of course, is to limit this drain.

Q. Mr. President, may I ask, was there not a memorandum on September 6 by the Defense Secretary forbidding the travel, though, for wives and children?

THE PRESIDENT. We have attempted in recent weeks and months to limit the number of families going overseas, and the only reason for it has been that we are losing dollars and gold, and we have to attempt to bring it into balance, and this has been one of the ways which we've considered. We have left the families over there which were already there, but we're attempting to limit those that may go. This presents a hazard and a difficulty. But we're also very concerned about attempting to bring this flow into balance. And one of the ways is to try to cut that $3 billion to $2 billion or $1.9 billion, and one of the ways in which we can do this is to attempt to limit family travel even though quite rightly it does present burdens to those involved.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, I hope this isn't repetitious, but the United States Air force has a great reputation in Western Europe for clearing the sky of interference. And it has been reported out of Germany that you are weighing a decision about giving fighter escorts to the transports in and out of Berlin. Would you want to comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. No. Every plane that has set out has completed its mission. Every plane that has set out to fly from West Germany to West Berlin has arrived.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, in considering the conditions under which the United States might refrain from a resumption of nuclear testing, I wonder if you would comment on the following suggestion contained in a recent letter to the editor of the New York Times: "Let both sides be allowed to maintain preparations at the ready for immediate tests should the other side be detected setting off a surprise explosion."

THE PRESIDENT. Well in the first place, that's part of the problem but not all of the problem. Part of the problem is the fact that the Soviet Union already had set off its tests, and--while the moratorium was in effect. And therefore we have to consider the effects upon our security of those tests. So that this suggestion does not meet the whole problem.

Secondly, it's more difficult for us to maintain ourselves at the ready to be prepared for tests. Some months have gone by since the Soviet tests. We have been making our preparations, as I have said. It takes many months, and we are concerned, that if we had another moratorium, that the Soviet Union would set a target date and be prepared and once again it would take us a period of time, perhaps not quite as long as this time, to carry out our own tests.

I would say the greater concern is the effect of the Soviet tests and the extrapolations which can be gained from them in making the judgment as to whether we should carry out our tests. But I did read the letter in the Times, and at least it is a suggestion which I considered and which others considered.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, the Attorney General, your brother, has encountered evidence of a certain amount of hostility from student groups in various countries. Inasmuch as this has happened before with other American visitors in the past administration, have you given any thought to what it is about us that students in particular seem to resent? [Laughter]

THE PRESIDENT. Well, one of the reasons that I was anxious to have the Attorney General make the trip was because of this very--rather curious factor, because you would feel that students, who are intellectually curious, would be attracted by a free society which gives that intellectual curiosity a chance to develop, rather than a totalitarian society. And therefore, as you know, in the Attorney General's schedule, on nearly every occasion he has spoken at colleges and universities, so I'm sure he will have some views of that. What has also interested me is the stereotype of the United States. It is a view of the United States almost 50 years old, and there is no doubt that it is a--Marxist oriented, and the--even in those cases where they may not be Communist.

There are many explanations for it. In the first place these were colonial areas. They were held under subjugation in many cases by Western powers. The road 6f revolt was in many cases because the Communists were most active. They dominated the thinking. And I don't think that the students have caught up with the tremendous changes which have taken place in the United States in the last 50 years, or with the fallacies in the Marxist system which have become obvious in the last 20 years.

In addition, I don't think we are able emphasize those facets of American life which should be most attractive. I said yesterday that the University of California has more Nobel prize winners than the Soviet Union. They find in this country, and there are 40 or 50 of them, a climate which permits them to function most effectively. And all of the cultural efforts here, all of the intellectual efforts, all our great schools and universities, these are the part of the story we ought to tell.

I think the Attorney General attempted to communicate that, but of course, he is one voice. But he is attempting to--as you know, it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness. But I do agree with you that this is one of the most serious, and I think in many ways stimulating, problems we face-how to tell our story in a way that makes it new and exciting to young students and also have them examine objectively under the light of present circumstances the serious failures of the Marxist system, which can be told from the Wall to China. And I think that is our job, and I think the trip's been worthwhile for that purpose alone.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, there has been considerable discussion regarding possible tax reduction. Would you tell us what the prospects are for an income tax cut within the next few years?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, you were--I was set to answer that till you said "the next few years." I don't know what's going to be our economic situation in the next few years. Obviously, our present tax structure brings in, in good times, a tremendous revenue and if we do not have a recession and our present tax structure remains we would be in a position, obviously, where a tax reduction in a few years or in a period of time might be possible. The fact of the matter is that if we had not had the Berlin crisis, which required a $3.5 billion additional expenditure last summer at the time when we were considering our tax reform bill, it might have been possible to make changes in some of the categories. That was denied to us.

Therefore, for the present there is not a chance of a tax reduction. The key will be whether we can have continued prosperity, and I therefore urge again that the Congress consider very carefully the proposals that we've made which we hope can keep the economy moving ahead. I regard that as a problem which should engage our best efforts of both parties. And we sent up a number of proposals on which at least we have our ideas: capital expenditures, the income tax for a period of time if we begin to have a slump, retraining, youth employment, and all the rest. Now, if these aren't the proper means, I'd like to have other suggestions. But you can't look at '49 and '54 and '58 and '60, and say that nothing needs to be done. So I would hope that those who do not agree--and there seem to be some--with our suggestions, I think they're obligated to come forward with some of their own. And I can assure them we will look at them most carefully, because if we have another recession in '63 and '64, it will affect our gold problems, it will affect our problem of unemployment, and all the rest. So I think it's a matter we all ought to be looking at and it's the kind of dialogue to which both of our parties ought to be addressing themselves, rather than some of the rather ancient arguments which it seems to me were settled in the days of Franklin Roosevelt.

[17] Q. Mr. President, in view of your remarks on the military dependents' travel, is it correct to believe, then, that such travel will not be resumed until the gold flow situation improves?

THE PRESIDENT. I would prefer to talk to the--have you talk with the Defense Department who can perhaps give us more up-to-date information than I'm able to do today. And I can perhaps supplement that after the press conference with Mr. Salinger.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, if we could go back to the space question, we have been talking about a race in space, for example a race between the United States and Russia to get to the moon. Suppose now we should get this international cooperation that you've been talking about. What form would it take? Would it go so far, for example, as a joint United States-Russia mission to the moon? Would it go that far? Or just how would it work?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it would be premature to attempt to suggest, because all we have now, so far, is an indication of interest, and we know from long experience that it's more difficult to transform these general expressions into specific agreements. So I think that we should wait until we see what response we get from the Soviets to our answer to Mr. Khrushchev and then decide what it is we can do. We are spending billions of dollars in space, and if it's possible to insure that space is peaceful and that it can be used for the benefit of everyone, then the United States must respond to any opportunity we have to insure that it's peaceful. But I can't give you an answer until we see whether the rain follows the warm wind in this case.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, Secretary Goldberg is understood to be considering a plan to permit 100 percent set-asides for labor surplus areas in selected civilian agency procurement contracts. If he indicates his approval of this plan, will you give yours in the form of an Executive order authorizing these increased set-asides?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'd be very responsive to that, if we can do it. I think one of the great concerns--we have a rather limited amount of contracts, both defense and civilian, that go to areas of maximum unemployment. Partly that's because there aren't sufficient plants in those areas. But in answer to your question, if Mr. Goldberg suggests it, I would be inclined to approve it, though I'd like to--I'd first have to examine it in more detail than I have up to this time.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's twenty-fifth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, February 21, 1962.

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

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