John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

January 31, 1962

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon.

[1.] I want to--I take pleasure in welcoming the editor of Izvestia and Mrs. Adzhubei, to this Presidential press conference. He is, as I said, editor of a paper which carried our interview last November, and he's also a member of the Central Committee, and therefore combines two hazardous professions, of politics and journalism, and also Mrs. Adzhubei, who is the daughter of the Chairman. We're glad to have them here to observe an ancient American custom.

[2.] Secondly, I want to express my satisfaction, and I believe that of all Americans, at the action taken by the Organization of American States at the Punta del Este conference. Six resolutions, representing a six point program, were passed by the conference early this morning. Not a single nation joined Cuba in voting against these resolutions. The 20 other nations of this conference joined in a vigorous declaration against Communist penetration of this hemisphere, in full support for the Alliance for Progress, and to expel Cuba from the Inter-American Defense Board. For the first time, the independent American states have declared with one voice that the concept of Marxist Leninism is incompatible with the inter-American system, and they have taken explicit steps to protect the hemisphere's ability to achieve progress with freedom.

[3.] Thirdly, I have an important announcement to make about the national stockpiling program. The purpose of this program over a period of several years has been to store for future use those strategic materials which might be essential to the Nation in the event of an emergency. After a review of this program, upon assuming the responsibilities of office, I was astonished to find that the total stockpile now amounts to some $7.7 billion worth of materials, an amount that exceeds the CCC's total inventory of farm products, and of more importance, an amount that exceeds our emergency requirements as presently determined by nearly $3.4 billion. In some cases the Government had acquired more than seven times the amount that could possibly be used. For example, the value of the aluminum in this stockpile exceeds the amounts we would need for 3 years in the event of war by $347 million. The excess supply of nickel is $103 million. This administration has taken steps to halt any new acquisitions to the stockpile with the exception of three items, still critically short, and on which we have spent less than $2 million. Unfortunately, the surplus of other materials is still growing, as the result of contracts negotiated prior to this administration's taking office.

It was apparent to me that this excessive storage of costly materials was a questionable burden on public funds and, in addition, a potential source of excessive and unconscionable profits. Last spring a detailed check was ordered, and our information to date has convinced me that a thorough investigation is warranted. The cloak of secrecy which surrounded this program may have been justified originally to conceal our shortages, but this is no longer the case, and secrecy now is only an invitation to mismanagement.

I have therefore discussed this matter with Senator Symington, chairman of the Senate stockpiling subcommittee. He agrees that the program should be completely explored, and without delay. I have assured him that we will make available to his subcommittee all the material we have already discovered and that the executive branch will cooperate fully with any investigation.

In the meantime, I have directed the various departments and agencies to accelerate their review of materiel requirements and I am appointing a commission to make a detailed review of our stockpiling policies, programs, and goals, in the light of changed defense strategy and improved technology. I am very much aware of the intricate and interrelated problems involved in this area, including the difficulties experienced by certain domestic mineral industries, the impact on world markets, and the heavy reliance of certain countries on producing one or more of these minerals. And I can say that we will take no action which will disrupt commodity prices.

All of these factors in a careful review of the program will be taken into account, but the full facts on this matter must be open to the public.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, do these recent manifestations of cordiality between the United States and Russia--I am speaking specifically of your hospitality to Mr. Adzhubei, Mr. Salinger's conference in Paris with Mr. Kharlamov, Mr. Salinger's forthcoming visit to Moscow--do these evidences equate in any way with an increase or improvement in the prospects for settlement of such basic issues as Berlin?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, we would like to have a settlement of the basic issues which have divided the Soviet Union and the United States. The meetings--I think two meetings took place between Mr. Adzhubei and Mr. Salinger, and out of those meetings came an interview which I think was very useful in helping us to express the viewpoint of the United States on serious problems to the people of the Soviet Union.

The conversations in Paris last weekend were directed to the same question. Mr. Salinger's visit in response to an invitation that he's received, is also directed to improving communications. We hope that as communications improve, that the problems which cause tension and danger to the world will lessen. The negotiations on these matters, however, of policy, are matters which are being conducted in this case by Ambassador Thompson, who, I believe, has a meeting with Foreign Minister Gromyko, tomorrow, at the third meeting, so-called probes in regard to the matter of Berlin.

We're hopeful that these will bring a happy result. But I believe that any exchange of information, any exchange of views, any cooperation of any kind in these very hazardous times is very useful, so we're glad for them. And we are glad when they treat Americans as they do with courtesy when they visit Moscow.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, in your statements on stockpiling, is there any implication of wrongdoing by an individual?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that--no, I'm not making any implication. The only thing is I think that this is a large amount of money to be invested. I think the whole matter should be carefully looked into, contracts and all the rest, profits and so on. I would make no statement other than to say it's a matter which lends itself to a careful scrutiny by Senator Symington's committee and Senator Symington is most anxious to initiate such an investigation, which we both discussed last week and which we feel is overdue.

But we'll certainly wait, in answer to your question, on the investigation, before making any judgments.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, have you any reaction to the failure of some of our neighbors to the south--I am thinking of Argentina and Brazil--to go along with us all the way in our ambitions at Punta del Este?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I think that I've indicated what I consider to be the most significant fact, which is on the basic question of the compatibility of the Communist system with the inter-American system. I think there was a unanimity.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, some of the critics of your urban affairs plan charge that it's an invasion of States' and local rights. Would you comment on that, and would you also comment on it in a larger frame? For instance, what do you think of the argument that big government, so called, might not need to be so big if State and local governments were more efficient in fulfilling their duties?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, in regard to the specific question on the--I don't believe that such a Cabinet position would interfere with the States. In my opinion it would supplement their efforts. There is a responsibility which the States have for various--and each city has--for certain important functions in the life of every citizen, but the Federal Government also has one.

There is a Department of Agriculture, which has contact with each individual farmer in the United States. That does not interfere with the county responsibility or. the State responsibility.

Now, in the urban message I sent up yesterday, I pointed out that in our 10 leading cities, the citizens pay 35 percent of the income taxes paid in the United States. They have many serious problems which are increasing in time, particularly as our population increases by 3 million a year. I believe that these problems are entitled to a place at the Cabinet table.

Now, I'm interested in charges about big government--and I read these speeches, and then I receive a wire asking for the Federal Government to take over the operations of the New Haven Railroad. And we send a wire back to the States, after having put $35 million into maintaining that railroad: "What action are the States prepared to take?"

My experience usually is that these matters are put to the Federal Government by the request of cities, of States, or individual groups and it's not a question of the Federal Government anxious to extend its role, but rather that there is a need and no one responds to it and the National Government, therefore, must meet its responsibility. And I believe that with two-thirds of our people in the cities of the United States that they should be up alongside of the others in the Cabinet, so that we can deal more effectively with these programs.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, there has been renewed fighting in Laos. Would you give us your evaluation of the situation there, whether or not this fighting would threaten a political settlement, and also the situation in South Viet-Nam?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, the--of course if the fighting--hostilities began, the hope of a settlement would be substantially diminished. There have been, as you know, a series of tentative agreements. There is still a disagreement over who shall hold particular cabinet positions. It is my understanding that there is scheduled to be a meeting at Luang Prabang on February 2 between those leaders of the various groups within Laos. It is my earnest hope that both sides will refrain from hostilities after a cease fire which has been in effect generally since last May, so that we can see if a peaceful solution can be reached. Because if hostilities begin, they bring reactions and counteractions, and all of the work which has gone on in the negotiations of the last months could go up in smoke and fire. So that I'm hopeful that both sides will give the parties who are involved an opportunity to meet and continue and see if a solution can be reached, and I'm hopeful that both sides will work earnestly toward that goal.

The situation in Viet-Nam is one that's of great concern to us. There were, I think last week, nearly 500 incidents, deaths, ambushes and so on. It's extremely serious. The United States has increased its help to the government. I'm hopeful that the control commission will continue to examine that and come to some conclusions in regard to the Geneva accords.

We are anxious for a peace in that area, and we are assisting the government to maintain its position against this subterranean war.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, a political question, sir. The Republicans are holding leadership conferences around the country, including one here in Washington today, with the purpose of upsetting the Democratic balance of power in congressional elections that are coming up. Would you care to comment on the task these Republican teachers have, and with what hope they might look toward success in the fall?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I think that--I'm sure that I don't know who's giving the leadership direction but I'm sure that they'll have a varied program!

[10.] Q. Mr. President, as part of our effort to show our good faith as a result of the Punta del Este meeting, is there any possibility that this Government might reduce its trade with Cuba? Last year I understand we purchased from Cuba about $17 million worth of goods in excess of what we sold, largely in the field of tobacco. I was thinking of giving up cigars for the duration. Is that under consideration?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, the trade which the things we sell to Cuba have been foods and medicines, which I think the total amount, as I recall, was around $12 or $13 million. I think any decision in regard to trade would better wait until the Secretary returns and we've had a chance to discuss the matter with him.

[II.] Q. Mr. President, visitors who go out to visit Lincoln Park on East Capital Street are dismayed to find it a slum. Congress has authorized and the National Council of Negro Women will erect there a memorial stadium and a statue of the great woman educator, Mary Bethune. Now the transit company proposes to put an eightlane freeway between the park and the Capitol, cutting it off. Could you inquire into that, and see if the freeway could be put further out beyond the park?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I will. [Laughter]

You're very gentle today, Mrs. Craig.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, does the United States intend to precondition the purchase of the $100 million of United Nations bonds on support of the other $100 million by other countries, and, if so, would not such a precondition serve to raise a question of earnestness in the support of the U.N. by all nations?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I think there's an obvious relationship between the amount that we purchase and the amount that other countries take. We stated that we would take--that we would consider taking $100 million worth of the bonds. It was our hope that other countries would take $100 million, I think the Canadians have indicated around

$7 million, and the British $12.million, and I think the Scandinavian countries have given it careful consideration. I think Mr. Black, of the World Bank, has written to other governments, so that in answer to your question, there is a relationship obviously between what we could do and what others will do. I'm hopeful that both will meet their responsibilities in the matter.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, in the debate just terminated in the Senate over the confirmation of John McCone as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a considerable body of opinion indicated that they were concerned about the supervision over CIA. Have you done anything in your administration to increase Executive supervision over CIA, and what is your view toward giving Congress a greater share over the supervision of CIA?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know, Congress does have groups that have a responsibility over CIA. They provide the budget, and they also provide--receive reports and confer and exercise supervision at the present time.

Secondly, I appointed General Taylor some months ago to be my representative in regard to matters affecting intelligence, and there are intergovernmental meetings in response to any activities that CIA might carry out with general supervision and it's a matter which has concerned me personally increasingly. So that those are the areas where there is control and I think it's up to all those who have control, as well as to Mr. McCone and the members of the CIA, to attempt to carry out their functions in a way which serves our interest, which I'm sure is their objective.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, speaking of going to Moscow, could you tell us under what conditions you would accept an invitation to visit the Soviet Union?

THE PRESIDENT. I would think that an invitation--and an acceptance of an invitation-would probably wait on the easing of the tensions which unfortunately surround our relationship. And so that, for the present, of course, until we have significant breakthroughs, that sort of journey would probably not be considered useful by either country. But we, of course, are always hopeful and we're making every effort that we can to bring an easing of tensions. And that's why Mr. Thompson is pursuing his course, and that's why we are making the other efforts that we're making.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, could you tell us whether you expect any difficulty in Congress with your Alliance for Progress program by reason of the opposition of some of the bigger Latin American countries at the Punta del Este conference?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that I could probably-the Congress, of course, has to make that judgment. In my opinion, the program is very essential; I think it was endorsed by 20 nations, the Alliance for Progress. This is a long struggle to improve the life of the people in this hemisphere. I think we must go ahead, and I'm confident that the Members of the Congress when they come back will feel the same way. So that what has happened recently, in my opinion, makes more desirable and essential the Alliance for Progress. That is where our efforts ought to be, and that's where we can serve the cause of freedom and I think the inter hemisphere system best. So I'm hopeful that Congress will agree.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, two network chiefs recently have expressed fear of Government supervision of the television networks. The FCC has denied any such intention. Can you foresee circumstances under which FCC supervision of television programming might become necessary or useful?

THE PRESIDENT. No. Do you mean of a different kind than now, a different relationship than that which now exists?

Q. Yes, over program content.

THE PRESIDENT. No. I don't. I think, as you know, the FCC does have certain regulations with regard to the percentage used in public service. Mr. Minow has attempted to use not force, but to use encouragement in persuading the networks to put better children's programs, more public service programs. I don't know of anyone-and Mr. Minow has already denied considering changing the basic relationship which now exists.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, in connection with the situation in Laos, is Mr. Harriman in touch with his opposite Soviet number in order to get the cooperation of the Soviet Union in reducing the heavy infiltration of Viet-Nam units in Laos?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Harriman, the Assistant Secretary, has indicated, as has the State Department, as have I, the great dangers in--to both sides in a resumption of hostilities. And we are making every effort to attempt to get an accord before this cease-fire, which appears to be strained somewhat, after many months, to try to get an accord before we have a breakdown of the cease-fire, and that is true of both sides.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, last year the administration put forward no civil rights legislation. Now the administration has submitted a bill on literacy tests in voting and Secretary Goldberg has endorsed "in principle" an FEPC bill. Does this mean the administration has suddenly decided to go further on the legislative route in the civil rights field?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that my State of the Union Address said that we would comment on the various bills, of which there are a great many that have been introduced. And that's what Secretary Goldberg did. In addition, I made specific reference to the question of voting, and literacy tests, and Senator Mansfield has indicated action would be on that bill. So it seems to me that we are where we said we would be in the State of the Union Address.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, is there a small war imminent between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that's a matter that you ought to talk to Mr. Patterson about. He hasn't confided fully in me.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, in your statement on stockpiling policy, you referred to three items you felt were under stockpiled. You didn't indicate what those were, and what considerations apply. Could you supply those for us?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that this--as I say, the whole matter of stockpiling is a matter which would wait on Senator Symington. I did say that they involved, I think, the sum of about $2 million, so they're not significant, but they are in short enough supply so that we are continuing those purchases. But they are not of major proportions, though they are in this case significant.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, they told us you took a cab ride or a limousine drive across from your house last night, at Lafayette Square, to inspect it. And in connection with that, you are familiar with the old Belasco Theater on Lafayette Square which now houses the United Services Organization home for the thousands of enlisted military people in the area. That theater as you know is going to be torn down. Does the Government and specifically you, as Commander in Chief, have any plans to place these people in a suitable area?


Q. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. Well I'm sure we'll be delighted to cooperate with the USO in getting satisfactory facilities. Last night I was looking at the question of the building next to Blair House, whether that ought to come down, the court building, whether that ought to come down or trees should be planted there, and I thought that--in agreement with the Fine Arts Commission that trees should be planted there. [Laughter]

[22.] Q. Mr. President, what effect do you believe the most recent collapse of the nuclear test ban negotiations with the Soviet Union will have on the possibilities for success in the coming March 14 Geneva disarmament talks? And will this collapse have any effect on your decision, if any, to resume nuclear testing?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, no progress was being made in developing a test ban which would have adequate inspection, and therefore we felt that it should be moved into the general disarmament conference, which begins on the 14th.

This failure, as I said somewhat earlier, represents the biggest disappointment of my first year in office, and continues to be a disappointment, because every action here as I say, breeds a response, and we have been anxious from the beginning to get an agreement which would prohibit tests with an adequate inspection. Now, we haven't been able to adjust that satisfactorily. Therefore it will put an additional burden and an additional opportunity before the Disarmament Commission. And of course our failure to get an agreement does increase the likelihood of various countries testing. That's one of the reasons why I was anxious that we get an agreement.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, on this question of the changed atmosphere between the U.S. and the Soviet Union of late, just to set the record straight, is this so far entirely a matter of atmospheric or is there in any of the negotiating issues across the board any indication of the possibility of an agreement?

THE PRESIDENT. I would say that on the question of Laos, that there has been evidence of a desire by the Soviet Union and the United States to come to the agreement along the lines suggested by Chairman Khrushchev and myself last June. On the question of Berlin and Germany, I don't think that significant progress as yet has been made. But I do think, as I've said, that the means of communication and the channels of communication should be kept very widely open, which has been a basic premise of ours for the last few months; which is the reason that Ambassador Thompson is working. Any way we can lessen the chance of danger, as I said at the beginning, we will explore. So that I think that attempts to separate the facts of the matter from what you would call atmosphere, though atmosphere can be very important in our lives, as we see every day.

[24.] Q. Sir, independent oil producers have urged you to take action quickly, even before completion of the Ellis study about June, to reduce oil imports. Now this week ' the independents are urging Congress to write into your trade program a provision reducing crude imports about 250,000 barrels daily and limiting them in the future to

14 percent of domestic crude oil production. Sir, do you think that the domestic producers will receive any relief from Executive action in the near future, and do you favor tightening of import controls on oil by such legislation as they propose?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, in the first place, as you've suggested, this is a matter which is still being examined by Mr. Ellis' commission. In regard to legislation, I'm not familiar with this proposal; it's the first I've heard about it. There are, of course, obvious difficulties traditionally in attempting to write in quota restrictions on various commodities in any kind of trade legislation, because one begets another, and we can find ourselves with a whole series of limitations and exclusions which is the reason, I think, that Franklin Roosevelt originally came forward with the reciprocal trade program. But we are very much aware of the concern, the fact that in some of our States that the wells are down 10 or 11 days a month, and that this is a matter of serious concern to a good many Americans. I'll have to leave it at that at the present time because the study is not complete and I'd have to examine the legislation, other than my general comments on it.

[25.] Q. Mr. President, to go back to the Urban Affairs Department, the Republicans say that you were playing politics last week when you said that you would like to have Mr. Robert Weaver, a distinguished Negro, to head that department. They also accuse you of injecting the race issue into this whole matter. Would you care to comment?

THE PRESIDENT. NO, I merely said in response to a question that it was quite obvious that Mr. Weaver is the very successful, able head of the--by far the largest division which would be placed in an urban department. It was well rumored that Mr. Weaver would be appointed to the Cabinet. In fact, it may have played some part in some decisions in regard to the matter, so I think it's much better to get it out in the open. Obviously, if the legislation had been passed, Mr. Weaver would have been appointed. It was well known on the Hill. The American people might as well know it.

[26.] Q. Mr. President, Congressman Alger of Texas, today criticized Mr. Salinger as a "young and inexperienced White House publicity man"--[laughter]--and questioned the advisability of having him visit the Soviet Union. I wonder if you have any comments.

THE PRESIDENT. I know there are always some people who feel that Americans are always young and inexperienced, and foreigners are always able and tough and great negotiators. But I don't think that the United States would have acquired its present position of leadership in the free world if that view were correct.

Now he also, as I saw the press, said that Mr. Salinger's main job was to increase my standing in the Gallup poll. Having done that, he is now moving on--[laughter]-to improve our communications.

As I say, Mr. Salinger and Mr. Adzhubei are responsible for our interview, which I think was very helpful. And I think anything we can do--I don't think we should worry so much about Americans traveling abroad; I think they've acquitted themselves and so will Mr. Salinger. I'm sure that some people in the Soviet Union are concerned about Mr. Adzhubei's visits abroad. [Laughter]

[:27.] Q. Mr. President, with regard to your authority to cut taxes as an antirecession measure, a Democratic member of the House Ways and Means Committee said the other day that no such authority was necessary because a request would go through Congress faster than a declaration of war. What do you think of this and of the argument that this power might be used for political reasons as well as economic?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you recall, in our proposal we harnessed it to a statistical base which was charted on the recessions which you have had since World War II and, therefore, would go off or be prepared to go off after we reached a certain peak of unemployment after a certain period of months. That is the purpose of it. So that it seemed to us it was a tool which would be most valuable.

As you know, Arthur Burns, who was Chairman of the Economic Advisers under President Eisenhower, has endorsed this proposal. It's been endorsed by people on all sides of the spectrum. There is nothing more costly, nothing more expensive than recurrent recessions. And if we can take action early enough, it was felt by economists and businessmen, the Council--for example, the CED and others, that this would be a way of easing the impact.

If you can tell me anything more expensive than the large deficits we ran as a result of the '58 and '60 recessions and the unemployment we had as a result of those recessions--I consider this to be soundly based.

Now, if we cannot get it, then we will have to consider the action that you've suggested. But I think it would be a very important standby tool. This economy is a very--it fluctuates and moves--and we don't want to have a recovery in '62 and a lack of vigor in that recovery in '63 when early action might maintain the economy and maintain employment. I hope this will be given a long look, even though I realize the Ways and Means Committee has other priorities. But in my judgment, in the long run we have a good chance to have it accepted.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's twenty-second news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, January 31, 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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