John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

March 14, 1962

THE PRESIDENT.[1.] I have a letter which we are releasing which is to Secretary Rusk, and I will read the most significant paragraph in regard to the opening of the disarmament conference and American policy there.

It says:

"My earnest hope is that no effort will be spared to define areas of agreement on all of the three important levels to which Prime Minister Macmillan and I referred in our joint letter of February 7 to Premier Khrushchev.

"Building upon the principles already agreed, I hope that you will quickly be able to report agreement on an outline defining the over-all shape of a program for general and complete disarmament in a peaceful world. I have submitted such an outline on behalf of the United States to the United Nations General Assembly last September, but an outline is not enough. You should seek as well, as areas of agreement emerge, a definition in specific terms The President's News Conference of measures set forth in the outline. The objective should be to define in treaty terms the widest area of agreement that can be implemented at the earliest possible moment while still continuing your maximum efforts to achieve agreement on those other aspects which present more difficulty. As a third specific objective you should seek to isolate and identify initial measures of disarmament which could, if put into effect without delay, materially improve international security and the prospects for further disarmament progress. In this category you should seek as a matter of highest priority agreement on a safeguarded nuclear test ban. At this juncture in history, no single measure in the field of disarmament would be more productive of concrete benefit in the alleviation of tensions and the enhancement of prospects for greater progress.

"Please convey on my behalf and on behalf of the people of the United States to the representatives of the nations assembled our deep and abiding support of the deliberations on which you are about to embark. I pledge anew my personal and continuing interest in this work."

[2.] Q. Mr. President, we had the announcement this morning of a new Democratic candidate for the Senate in Massachusetts, a young man I believe you are familiar with. I wonder, first, if you could tell us whether or not you advised him for or against his decision, and whether you approve it; and two, aware of his stated preference that you not get involved in his campaign and your strong endorsement last week of Senator Smathers of Florida, what the guideline is for your participation in party contests of this nature?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Well, in part, I am aware of the campaign. I think that my brother stated, and I think Mr. Salinger stated earlier today, that he was running, seeking the Democratic nomination. This is a judgment for the people of Massachusetts. I will not take part in that campaign, except I will go to vote in the primary in September. But my brother is carrying this campaign on his own and will conduct it in that way.

Now, in regard to Senator Smathers, Senator Smathers is an incumbent Senator, and I would--and I think that--I was hoping he would get elected. Congressman Fascell is the incumbent Congressman. Both, as a matter of fact, have been active in the Democratic Party and were active in my campaign. I was delighted to endorse them. But Teddy is running, as he stated, on his own.

[3-] Q. Mr. President, about the first of the year while you were in Palm Beach over the Christmas holiday, Mr. Salinger announced that you had accepted an invitation to visit Mexico, but left the date open, and it was our understanding then that you would go in the first half of the year, possibly in the late spring. I wonder what the status of that trip is? Do you still intend to go to Mexico by, say, some time in June?

THE PRESIDENT. I still expect to go in the of the Presidents first half of the year; that's correct. The trip is on, yes.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, some of the economy experts on the Hill have indicated they are going to take the ax to your request for foreign aid funds. Could you tell us what any sizeable cut might mean to your plans and program?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I know foreign aid--it's always open season on it. But I must say, if anybody will look at a map, as I tried to say in the message, of our obligations in Europe and in NATO, the assistance which we have committed ourselves to, and the importance of the countries--countries like Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan-the importance of India being able to maintain a viable economy, our commitments to Thailand, Viet-Nam, the Republic of China, South Korea, Africa itself, and now, with the great commitments to Latin America and the Alliance for Progress, it seems to me that it would be extremely unwise not to give us the resources to assist these countries to maintain their independence.

We spend $51 billion-odd on defense alone as well as other billions for the Atomic Energy Commission's work and so forth. Here are these countries which are right in the line of fire, which are dependent upon us for assistance, and we are unwilling, in other words, to give them the help? In Latin America, these countries which are trying, with staggering problems in some of these countries, with mass unemployment, or an average income of $100, no schools in many cases, turn to us for help; India, with an average income of $60, the fight at a crucial stage; in fact, those who seem to, on some occasions, to want to put the ax to foreign aid hardest are the ones that make the most vigorous speeches against communism and call for a policy of victory.

In my opinion the fight is being fought in these towns and cities and states all around the world. And I believe this program is just as important as our national defense. Over half of it is directly tied to arms assist. ance, which means that it represents an additional appropriation, in a sense, for the Pentagon. And I would think it would be the most unwise act possible to cut our assistance program.

I am more conscious of that than I ever was, sitting where I do. We bear great responsibilities, and if anyone feels that these countries are unimportant, or that it doesn't make any difference if Latin America is taken over, or if significant countries are, by Communists, and if they're not interested in this fight, then they should cut it.

But I am interested. I think we should carry it on. It's been supported by people in both parties. It is a bipartisan issue and I'm hopeful that the Congress will recognize how vital this program is to our security.

[5'] Q. Mr. President, a domestic question, please. You conferred earlier this week with labor leaders. They left the White House saying that in their opinion our economy was dragging in its forward thrust. Later, published reports said that you had agreed with them. Would you comment, please?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I stated to them that, of course, we were not as happy about January, that the figures in January were not as high as we hoped they would be. The preliminary estimates we've got now for February indicate that February is much better. My position, I said to them, is the same that I expressed at the press conference a week ago. I think we should wait. We do have confidence in this economy. The problem, of course, that concerns them is that there may be increases in productivity which--and there may be increases in capital investment and consumer spending and all of the rest, but you still have these large pools of employed in places like Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Gary, where you have technological changes.

You have steel now where there is 85 percent capacity which is the highest that we have had for a long time and yet you have, according to Mr. McDonald, that day nearly 125,000 people out of work in the steel industry. So that this is a serious national problem, unemployment during a period of prosperity which--or relative prosperity.

Now I think that we have sent up a number of programs which I believe will be of help. Manpower retraining, which has now been passed, I think will be of help. And youth employment opportunities, I'm hopeful action will be taken on that. I think our trade program itself would be very helpful. I think that the programs I've suggested for stimulating the economy-for example, I think it would be certainly in our national interest to pass the bill providing for permanent national standards for the payment of unemployment compensation, so that those who are affected will be benefited.

I'm hopeful that they'll pass the so-called Clark bill, public works bill, and also give us additional powers to fight a recession if it comes again.

These are some of the proposals which we have suggested and which they support and we may come forward with others as the year goes on if our economy does not show sufficient vitality. But it is a problem and a matter of concern to them as well as to us.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, you have said that you would go to a summit conference at Geneva to ratify agreements, and you also said that you might go to help resolve disagreements. Under what circumstances would you not go to a summit conference at Geneva this spring?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am not sure that the description you have given of my position is precisely the one that I've given. I stated that I would go there to ratify an agreement, that I would go there if we were on the brink of a war or a serious international crisis, where my presence would make a significant difference. I would add a third one: I would go if I thought it was in our national interest.

Now, that's really--we'll have to make a judgment whether any of those three conditions have been met before I would go. I am not--I do not intend to go unless there is--a situation develops which I believe would make such a trip fruitful and rewarding. And my position, it seems to me, is constant, and we will have to wait to see whether events make such a trip useful.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, will you go to Congress for approval before committing combat troops in Viet-Nam or elsewhere?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, if--coming back to the phrase, if you mean would I go to the Congress before committing combat troops, as you know, there are a good many Americans who are now there who have not, as I said before in a press conference, fallen under the description which is generally used in using the phrase "combat troops." I have described what their mission is and what instructions they're operating under. If there is a basic change in that situation in Viet-Nam which calls for a constitutional decision, of course I would go to the Congress.

In the meanwhile, I have consulted with the leaders of Congress and those who bear particular positions of responsibility in the matter.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, there is a school of thought which believes that we should include in any nuclear test ban treaty a provision which would permit us to conclude our scheduled April tests. This is based on authoritative reports that the Soviets in their recent nuclear tests have sufficient data to develop an anti-missile weapon, and that we vitally need our own atmospheric tests to catch up with them. Would you care to comment on this matter?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, in the first place, I've not seen authoritative reports which state as a result of their recent tests they have developed an anti-missile system.

Q. Data, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT. Data? Well, data, everything contributes to the development of data. We're carrying on a Nike-Zeus test ourselves which will contribute data. That's the first point. The second point, I'm not aware that our tests will contribute data. But I am not convinced, nor have I known of anyone else, that they would provide a breakthrough in this very complicated area of the anti-missile missile. I think Mr. McNamara has expressed some views on the difficulties of developing an anti-missile system. And the third point is that if the position of the United States stays as it is, we would prefer to secure a test ban treaty. We believe that to be not only in the interest of the peace and the world but also in the interest of the United States. In our opinion, our security position would be strengthened if there were no more atmospheric tests because--and we believe that if the others are going to test then we have to test. But we would prefer to have no test. Therefore, I prefer an effective treaty.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, many Latin Americans are wondering whether the recent expulsion of Cuba from the OAS and the trade restrictions by the United States will help free Cuba of communism. Could you tell us what positive action the United States could take to make Cuba less dependent upon the Communist bloc?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are attempting to work with the hemisphere to isolate the expansion of communism in the hemisphere. And that has occupied a good deal of our attention and it was the purpose of the meeting at Punta del Este. And I believe that that purpose was achieved in that the nations of the hemisphere unanimously, with the exception of Cuba, went on record as considering communism alien to the hemisphere.

Now, we have also carried out certain trade actions indicating our position in regard to Cuba, and we are continuing to consider what can usefully be done to expand freedom in this hemisphere.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, there have been reports that some Western officials at the disarmament meeting at Geneva have expressed doubt that any system of inspection and control, no matter how rigid or comprehensive, could possibly either prevent or detect secret preparations for nuclear weapons tests in an area as large as the Soviet Union. Would you give us your view on that?

THE PRESIDENT. Obviously, I think that we could develop a system which would predict, or which would detect, significant tests or tests which could lead to significant results with an effective inspection system. Preparations-of course, there is no guarantee, because preparations are another matter, there is no guarantee that any inspection system can be worked out that can predict all inspections. But I think that we could work out a system that would detect a series of tests. And that would be most useful. We could also, and will suggest, some proposals to at least make it more difficult to prepare-make preparations. But I've never suggested that we could develop a foolproof system on preparations. And I don't regard that as significant, as being able to detect the tests themselves, because once--preparations are only important if they lead to tests. Once the tests come, then if the system is satisfactory, we receive a notification and could take action ourselves. There would be a time loss, but it would not be as--the important thing is to have some ability to detect preparations and also a very effective ability to detect the tests themselves.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, I believe as a Senator about 6 years ago you were a cosponsor of legislation passed by Congress entitled The federal flood Insurance Act of 1956, setting up a program of federal insurance and coinsurance against property loss by floods and other damage, water damages. That program never got off the ground because of lack of appropriations. In view of the devastating northeaster on the East Coast last week, and the importance of some kind of insurance against water damage, which is not provided by the insurance companies in the rebuilding of these areas, would you consider requesting appropriations to get this flooded federal insurance program under way again?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Well, I know that your--why this has become a matter of--living--[laughter]--and I must say that I think your experience indicates the desirability of legislation. The legislation is still on the books--the authorization--the Senate passed the appropriation, but the House did not. So I would support it if--in fact, I will take another look at it and see whether we should recommend a supplemental appropriation in regard to the matter. But I do think the bill was useful and I think the experiences in the recent storm generally along the coast would indicate the desirability of the bill and the appropriation.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, the Russians have been playing a very dangerous game in the Berlin air corridors, dropping tinfoil fragments and so on. Does this Government contemplate any countermeasures to discourage them from carrying their harassment further?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, obviously, the harassment makes it more difficult to reach accord on Berlin and has been the subject of very vigorous representations by Secretary Rusk and by Lord Home at Geneva. And, obviously, it makes it, as I've said, more--it presents additional hazards in securing a satisfactory accord.

If the Soviet Union desired to see this matter settled peacefully, it would seem to me that all sides, both sides, should bend every effort during these days, particularly during the time of the Geneva disarmament conference, to avoid incidents that are liable to lead to actions and counteractions which can only intensify the danger. But we are waiting to see what effect the representations of the two Secretaries have had on the Soviet Union in regard to the chaff, which is a particularly dangerous kind of action.

[13.] Q. Sir, during your 1960 campaign, when you spoke of getting the country moving again, a lot of States and a lot of voters interpreted this to mean jobs for themselves. And now, recently, States such as Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have been complaining that some of their defense contracts have been going elsewhere and the ones they had under the previous administration, that is, the level has not stayed even as good as it was. Do you have any comment on this situation?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I would have to--in my opinion, I don't think that in any of those three cases, even though this matter of contracts is a matter of continuing concern-defense contracts--we have a particularly difficult problem in Detroit, which has been the subject of a recent discussion. I don't think that the contracts in any of those three States--and I'd have to check it--are less than they were before.

The question is whether the distribution of the contracts is as equitable as it can be. The Defense Department, when manpower policy No. 4 was repealed in 1953, was given express indications by the Congress that they were not, except for the set-aside portion of the contract, that they were not supposed to attempt to steer contracts into areas where there might be unemployment. I supported Defense manpower policy No. 4, but since that time the Defense Department has not been able to take that into consideration.

On the other hand, equity dictates that these contracts be assigned in areas which are not only efficient but where there is a work force which can be effectively used. But I will say that we have been considering the problem. Governor Lawrence discussed the problem of Scranton with me when he came to see me. We were talking about the problem of Detroit. My judgment is, and I would have to recheck it, that probably in these States the contracts are equal to or greater than they were the year before. But there is a concentration of contracts in a relatively few States which is historic, and I am concerned that in the case, as I say, of Detroit and two or three others where there's high unemployment, we do try to get some work to them, and it's a matter now which we are discussing.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, there have been reports that the United States Government has been considering an application to export from $75 million to $100 million worth of wheat per year to Communist China over the next 3 years. Could you say if there is any bona fide request from the Chinese for such an export of wheat, and if so what do you think about it?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I've heard of no requests from them for the wheat. There have been two companies in the United States which have put in a request for a license to--one was the International Trading Company, I believe, of Seattle, and one other company--which have put in requests for the right to export wheat to China. But there is no information that they are working on an assignment or as an agent, and the United States Government has no information that the Chinese Communists have requested us for wheat.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, if Congress should pass legislation directing you to spend additional funds for the B-70, would you feel bound by any such direction?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that we should wait until the Congress has acted and the Appropriations Committees have acted and then we can make a much better judgment as to what the final situation will be. But it's a matter which I am confident that--I'm very hopeful can be adjusted satisfactorily. And I think we ought to wait on action.

[16.] Q. I wonder if we could be quite clear about what seemed to be an emendation of your statement of last month about the necessity for inspection against clandestine preparation for nuclear tests. Then you seemed to lay great emphasis upon the necessity for inspection against preparations. I understood you to say just now that you thought that the detection of tests themselves was more important than the inspection against preparations.

THE PRESIDENT. That's correct. I said that because quite obviously you could prepare for years and have no tests. So the tests themselves, which carry out the results of the inspection, of course are a matter of particular significance because you could be preparing indefinitely. That is not to say that preparations are not important. We are going to make proposals in regard to inspection of preparations. I merely attempted to balance off two important matters and give you what I considered to be the one with the greatest weight.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, much of the criticism of the Alliance for Progress centers on the charge that the Latin American countries are slow in submitting development plans for their countries and in effecting the reforms that are a precondition of getting that aid. I think only three countries have submitted plans, and three countries have made no attempt at reforms. I'm curious as to whether the Government has considered setting a cutoff date for reforms, or perhaps cutting off aid to countries which don't effect tax reforms and land reforms, as a way of making this program more popular.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think we should have some sense of perspective about the Alliance for Progress. It was, after all, only--the organization took place only 7 months ago. This is a whole new communal effort. I attempted to describe yesterday some of the things which have been done during that 7-month period. Some of these countries have made great efforts, with great difficulties, to carry out the kinds of reform which would make our assistance most useful. Some other countries are in the process. But there--every one of these issues must be fought out within each country because if it were easy it would have been done long ago. So I do think that we should not--having set our hand to a program which I believe has great potential, we should attempt to work as closely as possible with each one of the governments in assisting them. It requires in many cases personnel which they do not have; it requires experience and technical training which they do not have. The problem of the Marshall plan was rebuilding; here it's a case of building, in many cases. So this is an extremely difficult task. There are a good many local 'pressures which make this fight harder. In many cases countries must put in fiscal reforms which cause-which have a deflationary impact, with all the political hazards that they produce. In some of these countries they are carrying out these reforms and these reforms--as I say, each one of them hurts some group in that country at the beginning. And, therefore, they're very difficult. And yet they have to carry them out when they're hanging, in some of these cases, with Communist minorities who are exploiting every discontent. So that while I feel we should be very positive in our efforts in this community effort, I do think we should have some understanding of how complicated this task is and give this child a chance to build some strength before we psychoanalyze him.

[18.] Q. The House Agriculture Committee last week, sir, rejected your temporary dairy price support program, and there are indications they will make some substantial changes in the rest of the farm bill. If the Congress does not approve a bill that carries most of your recommendations, do you foresee some cutoff or specific time when you would recommend the ending of the existing programs?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, the decision of the House majority of the Agricultural Committee, and which I thought was unfortunate, meant that the dairy farmers would not have till December to adjust themselves to the production standards which the agricultural bill set. Instead they must adjust themselves, unless there's some change made in that decision, by April, which will, I would say, would have a great--it would produce a harsh effect on the dairy farmers. And I would hope that the Agricultural Committee of the House would reverse that decision. It--I must say I found it to be inexplicable, because it's-we are asking them and putting burdens on them and restraining them, and to compel them to do it in as brief a time as this, I think produces unnecessary hardship.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, I wonder if you could clarify a little further your position on defense contracts? At one of your recent press conferences you discussed this in relation to areas of unemployment, and this seems to have become an issue in the California gubernatorial campaign. Former Vice President Nixon takes the position that you are injecting politics in the allocation of defense contracts, and Governor Brown takes the opposite position. I wonder if you could clear it up?

THE PRESIDENT. What action is it of mine that has injected politics into the--

Q. I think at your last press conference you discussed this.

THE PRESIDENT. No. I was asked a question with regard to a matter that was before Secretary Goldberg, and I think the reporter who asked me specifically said nondefense expenditures. Now, the fact of the matter is that defense expenditures in California are higher than they were under the previous administration for both defense and space, and in fact, as you know, in California the contracts amount to a--traditionally and historically since World War II, to a high percentage. So I was responding to a question which was asked in regard to nondefense expenditures and a suggestion of the Presidents Mr. Goldberg's that perhaps we could use these contracts in nondefense areas, in areas of high unemployment. So that I didn't really see that that was a fuse sufficient to light off Mr. Nixon. [Laughter]

[20.] Q. Mr. President, this week you accepted an invitation to address a mammoth rally in behalf of health care for the aged in Madison Square Garden in May, I believe. Is this part of an all-out administration effort to obtain a vote on this issue during this session of Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. That is correct.

Q. Then it is not true that the administration leaders will hold off for another year?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, no, this plan will come to a vote, in my opinion, definitely in the United States Senate, and I am hopeful in the House, before the end of this session.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The President's twenty-seventh news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 3:30 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, March 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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