John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

August 01, 1962

THE PRESIDENT. Good afternoon. I have several announcements.

[1.] Recent events in this country and abroad concerning the effects of a new sedative called thalidomide emphasize again the urgency of providing additional protection to American consumers from harmful or worthless drug products. The United States has the best and the most effective food and drug law of any country in the world, and the alert work of our food and Drug Administration, and particularly Dr. Frances Kelsey, prevented this particular drug from being distributed commercially in this country. Nevertheless, the drug was given to many patients on an investigational basis. We are reviewing what steps can be taken administratively to make this stage in the future less dangerous. We have recommended a 25 percent increase in the food and Drug Administration staff, the largest single increase in the agency's history, and the full amount was voted today by the conferees of the Congress.

And it is clear that to prevent even more serious disasters from occurring in this country in the future, additional legislative safeguards are necessary. The bill reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 19, while embodying many of the recommendations contained in the message of March of this year,1 does not go far enough, as Senator Kefauver and others have pointed out in their supplementary review on the committee report. I hope the Members of Congress will adopt those more careful provisions contained in the administration bill introduced by Congressman Oren Harris, of Arkansas, in the House. The administration bill, for example, unlike the Senate judiciary bill, will allow for immediate removal from the market of a new drug where there is an immediate hazard to public health which cannot be done now, and contains with it many other very essential safeguards which I hope the Congress will act on this year.

[2. ] Secondly, we are completing a careful review of the technical problems associated with an effective test ban treaty. This review was stimulated by important new technical assessments. These assessments give promise that we can work towards an internationally supervised system of detection and verification for underground testing which will be simpler and more economical than the system which was contained in the treaty which we tabled in Geneva in April 1961. I must emphasize that these new assessments do not affect the requirement that any system must include provision for on-site inspection of unidentified underground events. It may be that we shall not need as many as we've needed in the past, but we find no justification for the Soviet claim that a test ban treaty can be effective without on-site inspection. We have been conducting a most careful and intensive review of our whole position with the object of bringing it squarely in line with the technical realities. I must express the hope that the Soviet Government, too, will reexamine its position on this matter of inspection.

In the past it has accepted the principle, and if it would return to this earlier position we, for our part, will be able to engage in an attempt to reach agreement on the number of on-site inspections which is essential. Ambassador Arthur Dean has been participating in these deliberations and will be returning to Geneva promptly. He will be prepared for intensive technical and political discussions of these problems.

[3.] And finally, I want to express my very strong hope that the House of Representatives will give approval to the U.N. bond proposal. The U.N. is engaged at this very time in two very important negotiations, one involving the Congo, the other involving the future of West Iran. And it is daily proving its effectiveness in maintaining the peace and stability of much of the world.

This would be a most unfortunate time if we withdrew our support from it. And I'm therefore hopeful that the House will follow the Senate's example and give us the power to participate in this U.N. bond program which I believe to be essential for its survival, just as I believe that the survival of the United Nations is essential for the peace of the world.

[4. ] Q. Mr. President, in connection with your opening statement in this period of anguish over the use of this drug, with women asking for abortions, there's apparently been some difficulty in running down all of the remaining stocks of thalidomide still in this country. Is there anything short of what you told us or is there anything additional that the Government can do without legislation to run down these remaining supplies of this drug and take it into custody?

THE PRESIDENT. No. The food and Drug Administration has had nearly 200 people working on this and every doctor, every hospital, every nurse has been notified. Every woman in this country, I think, must be aware that it is most important that they check their medicine cabinet, and that they do not take this drug, that they turn it in. Every citizen, of course, should be aware of the hazards. And I'm sure they are.

Now, what we have to concern ourselves about is the, first, appreciation to Dr. Kelsey who spared us this terrible human tragedy which has been visited on families in Germany, and to provide both administrative and legislative safeguards to lessen the chance of such action coming in this country again. Also, I think, to see if we can assist our other countries in providing effective safeguards for their own citizens, because the interrelationship between them and us is very intimate.

[5-] Q. Mr. President, has the new information we've turned up--from our underground tests--affected our position on the need for international controls stations on Soviet territory, and have we any indication that the Russians are now disposed to negotiate or modify their position?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I think that our position, which Mr. Dean will elaborate, has been that the national control posts should be internationally monitored or supervised. That's the first point.

The second point: we have no information in regard to the Soviet position. What we've been attempting to do is to bring our own position in line with new scientific data which became available to us in late June. We are completing that with a final meeting before Mr. Dean goes back this afternoon. But the general position will be developed by Mr. Dean, but at least I've outlined it.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, the British announced earlier today the decision to terminate the agreement on the Thor missile bases. Two questions: Were you given advance notice of this decision? And secondly, what will be the effect, militarily and psychologically?

THE PRESIDENT. We were given advance notice. Mr. Watkinson, Mr. Thorneycroft's predecessor, had discussions with Mr. McNamara, and Mr. Thorneycroft informed us of the statement he was going to make in Parliament today.

Secondly, it should have no adverse effect, psychologically. Our ability to meet our commitments to the defense of Western Europe in the conventional and in the nuclear field remains unchanged by this announcement, and the United States commitment remains unchanged.

[7'] Q. Mr. President, in the last 10 days there have been a series of developments beginning with the agreement on Laos, and yesterday ending with the announcement of an agreement on Indonesian-Dutch settlement on New Guinea. There was also the Malaya and Britain announcement that a Malaysia federation will be formed. Will you comment on these developments and the effect it has on that area and what danger spots you perceive?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the agreement, of course, on West Iran has to be approved by the two governments involved, although we are very much indebted to Ambassador Bunker and to those who participated on behalf of the two countries in the negotiations here, and, of course, to the Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant.

We are also hopeful that the full significance of the Geneva accord on Laos will be recognized by all the countries that were signatories, and that there will be withdrawal of foreign troops, that Laos will not be used as a springboard, and that the ICC will be effective and be given full powers. This will be determined, of course, for the future.

As to the general situation there, we are still concerned about the implementation of the accord, and also about the situation in Viet-Nam. We have made two--we have a chance for two significant--three significant steps now as you described them. If we could get an agreement satisfactorily between Mr. Adoula and Mr. Tshombe in the Congo, this would be an important summer, though we still have very significant problems that still involve our relations with other countries coming up. But at least there is progress in those areas.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, it was, I believe, on July 11th that you asked the Attorney General to prepare a report for you on events in Albany, Ga. If you have received this report, will you tell us what it says, and if the federal Government can or contemplates action to preserve Negro rights in Albany?

THE PRESIDENT. We have been--I have been in constant touch with the Attorney General and have received more or less daily reports, and he's been in daily touch with the authorities in Albany in an attempt to provide a solution. There is--what is involved here is partly local laws and partly those laws which involve the National Government, particularly as they might involve public facilities, and some of these matters are in the court.

Let me say that I find it wholly inexplicable why the City Council of Albany will not sit down with the citizens of Albany, who may be Negroes, and attempt to secure them, in a peaceful way, their rights. The United States Government is involved in sitting down at Geneva with the Soviet Union. I can't understand why the government of Albany, City Council of Albany, cannot do the same for American citizens.

We are going to attempt, as we have in the past, to try to provide a satisfactory solution and protection of the constitutional rights of the people of Albany, and will continue to do so. And the situation today is completely unsatisfactory from that point of view.

[9'] Q. Mr. President, have you reached a decision yet as to the extent and timing of additional nuclear testing required by this Government?

THE PRESIDENT. No, as you know, we are repairing the pad at Johnston Island, and we will make a judgment in regard to those three tests when the pad is completed. That will of course conclude--if we go ahead with those tests--that will conclude this series of tests.

Q. Excuse me, sir. Did you say three tests?

THE PRESIDENT. I believe there were three that are still to be done.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, the Gallup poll published today shows that some 72 percent of those polled are opposed to a tax cut if it means the Government will go further into debt. Can you tell us what factor this will be in your decisions about the tax cut?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as I have said before, we are going to wait until we get the July figures, which will be available in this first 10 days, after the first 10 days of August. In addition, we'll make a judgment as to whether those figures indicate we're in a plateau or whether we are in more serious economic difficulty. And the figures, of course, today on unemployment, which are the lowest they've been for the last 18 months, are somewhat encouraging, but we can make a more final judgment in early August. Then we will discuss that matter with the appropriate members of the responsible committees.

Now, that question was asked in a particular way. You might get a different answer if you'd asked the question differently. If you said, "Do you believe in a tax cut as a means of preventing a recession at some future date, and unemployment which will bring potentially a larger deficit and a further increase in the debt?" I think you might have gotten a different percentage, and particularly if the 1958 experience had been recalled, where there was no tax cut and there was the largest peacetime deficit in history because of a drop in income levels. All this must be taken into consideration as well as the views of the members of the House and Senate, the schedule of the House and Senate. For example, the Senate finance Committee will not even conclude its hearings on the trade bill until the first of September, and then have to go into executive session. We recommended a tax bill last year which has just been reported out yesterday from the Senate finance Committee, 18 months after we recommended it. So that it does require very careful judgments, not only of the economic factors, but also of the legislative situation.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, it's been a long time since we've had a definitive report on your health from the best possible source. How is your aching back?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it depends on the weather, political and otherwise. It is very good, though, today.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, there are reports or indications that Ambassador Gavin is resigning, at least in part because of the financial burden of maintaining his post in Paris. Does this indicate that your Palm Beach agreement with Congressman Rooney is not working, or do you feel that Ambassadors now have adequate representation allowance?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I think Representative Rooney has done everything he said he would do, but I think the situation still squeezes, because Ambassador Gavin has some family, some children to educate. And while he has received sufficient funds to keep his nose above the water, he has not been given funds which would permit him to meet his family responsibilities in a proper way. 10 that we are going to have to-I hope to have another talk with Congressman Rooney and see if we can be somewhat more generous. The fact of the matter is we are far more stringent with our Am.bassador to Paris than I believe the French Ambassador to the United States is treated. And the same is true with London and some of our other major posts. So I think that while Congressman Rooney has met the requests we made, I think we might have to change the request.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, Senator Goldwater says that if the economy continues to move sideways, then the economy will become an issue in this year's political campaign. Are you willing to match the record of your administration in the economic field with that of the last administration?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't think the record of the last administration, particularly from '57 on, was satisfactory. I'm not satisfied with our record. And I don't think that any American ought to be. Now if we wanted to compare the economic statistics, the day that I assumed office and today, you'd find that the gross national product was up 10 percent, that the incomes are up about 10 percent, that--in a whole variety of areas the improvement is between 10 and 15 percent. Even profits have gone from an annual average of about $40 billion to $50 billion, and the Standard and Poor level of stock prices is about 5 points above what it was at the time that I took office. But that still is not sufficient.

We have to provide a greater rate of growth because of our increase in population, and even though our gross national product may have gone from around $500 billion to $550 or $555 billion on an annual basis this year, it still--there is still a gap between what we are doing and what we could do, based on our manpower and on our plant capacity.

So that Senator Goldwater--I would be glad to compare statistics, but where I think we disagree is that there are some things we think we should do about it. I think if we could get the standby tax bill, which would meet the problem which I responded to in an earlier question, that we could then apply that tax reduction if the economy, for example, began to drag in the fall or the winter of 1963.

The problem is now that if we go by this session without a tax reduction then recommend one in January--if you go through the usual procedures the bill will not come to the floor of the Senate possibly until late summer, and by then we would have gone through nearly a year more. So I support that bill. It's my understanding that the Senator in question does not.

In addition, I support the public works bill, the youth employment, youth opportunities bill, manpower retraining, additional funds, and so on. So I think that we have suggested some areas where action would help us meet the problem that I am very conscious of, which is that as a country since 1957 we have not been fulfilling our capacity. But if we want to just compare statistics we will be glad to compare them to the recession which was in effect when I took office.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, you said some time ago that Ambassador Galbraith was taking up with the Indian Government the question of the purchase of Soviet jets. Has he had any success in dissuading Mr. Nehru from making such a purchase?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, he has talked to Mr. Nehru some time ago, some weeks ago. I don't believe he has had a recent conversation with him. Since that time, a mission has gone to London to look at Lightnings. I understand a mission has gone to Moscow to look at Migs. The Indian Government itself will make its final judgment as a sovereign power. Mr. Galbraith only attempted to suggest some of the factors which were of interest to us as a friend of India.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, in your initial statement on nuclear testing, you said that it was perhaps possible to rely on fewer control posts. Does this mean that we formally plan an offer reducing the number that we've suggested or will you wait to talk about numbers only after the Soviets first accept the principle of on-site inspection?

THE PRESIDENT. We first have to have an acceptance of the principle. Then as the scientific information is made available, a conclusion could be reached as to what would be the appropriate number of on-site inspections. In addition, because of the new scientific information, we believe that we can provide a more immediate worldwide system of control posts, at substantially less cost than the former proposals that we made, less in number but more effective in determining seismic explosion, or movement. So that we believe that this system, the new data, can provide a more effective control than we've ever had before, but it does not provide a substitute for on-site inspection because there will still be a good number of events which may occur in the Soviet Union for example, and we will not be able to detect without inspection whether these are earthquake or seismic events.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, Senate opponents of the administration's communications satellite bill contend that some provisions of this bill would infringe on your authority in the foreign affairs field. How do you feel about that?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't agree with that. This bill was carefully drafted. We've had a number of conferences about the matter. We believe that it is the most effective way of providing for the development of a communications satellite. The responsibilities of the federal Government are very well reserved, both in the membership of the Board, the powers of the federal Communications Commission, the power of the State Department, the general Executive powers of the Presidency, so I must say that I think the bill is the best way to do it. The Senate itself must reach a judgment as to whether they agree.

[U.] Q. For clarification, sir, if I understood you correctly, you said originally that research would now permit a reduction in the number of on-site inspections and would also permit an internationally monitored system of control posts. Does this mean, sir, that we could now forego the international control posts?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I think the language I used was carefully chosen and is precise. Mr. Dean can develop our thoughts in more detail, but the phrase I used is the one that describes our position on that matter--internationally monitored supervised national control posts.

Q. In place of our previous proposal, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that Mr. Dean can describe our proposal, but I've described it in general phraseology as I have our general position, which will be filled in by Mr. Dean at Geneva.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, there has been some criticism by some disarmament specialists, among them Dr. Louis Sohn of Harvard, who is consultant to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, that far too much time and effort have been spent in trying to negotiate a nuclear test ban and too little attention has been given to the more basic problem of limiting and controlling production of delivery vehicles. Would you give us your view?

THE PRESIDENT. We are now involved, as you know, at Geneva, on this question of general and complete disarmament. The Soviet Union has stated that it will not permit inspection of what may be left over. We can inspect what they destroy but not what they retain. As Mr. Lovett said this morning, in a particular image that we can count the bodies but not the births. So that's our particular problem, and until we are able to get an inspection of what is in production we cannot get an agreement on general and complete disarmament. But it is to secure that agreement that we're now at Geneva.

Q. Mr. President, we're getting ready to negotiate on this disarmament at Geneva and why, can you tell us, was this proposal of the United States made there not presented first to the American people fully and to the Congress rather than just to a few individuals, not even to the leaders of both the Presidents House and Senate or both parties before it was made at Geneva? Won't it be much harder to vote down a treaty that results from this negotiation later on? And wouldn't it have been better for the American people to have debated this first before the proposal was made internationally?

THE PRESIDENT. There're a number of facts in your question which I am not sure I agree with. In the first place, there has been testimony before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, making available to the Joint Committee the information which was secured scientifically in late June. In addition, that information, all that we had, was published in early July.

Now, we are not proposing to reach any agreement that will not be submitted to the United States Senate in accordance with our traditional procedures. I am describing our position. All the technical information which we have will be made available, so that I think that we are acting in accordance with our traditional position.

The point is that the information in regard to our improved ability to detect seismic events, this only became scientifically available to the United States really in late June. So we are attempting to get this information out as widely as possible. We will discuss it fully at Geneva. We'll make it available to the Joint Committee. Mr. Foster, our disarmament administrator, has discussed it with various members of the Congress. We've met about it in the National Security Council. We are proceeding in an orderly way and I can assure you that we are as concerned about the security of the United States--the people who are involved in this discussion--as anyone could possibly be. We're also anxious to get a treaty if we can get it. And we feel that we have struck a very appropriate balance between these two facts.

Q. Sir, wasn't it true that Mr. Foster didn't go before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy until after the proposals had been made public in Geneva?

THE PRESIDENT. Not the proposals, because the proposals--the first discussion of any proposals we may make were made by me this afternoon. What was made public was the new scientific information as to our ability to detect an earthquake or a nuclear event below ground, what the difference of materials might be, alluvial, granite, and all the rest. That is the only information which has been made public, because we are attempting, therefore, to bring our policy position up to date with our new scientific information. But we are not talking about--we have made available fully the scientific information through Mr. Dean and we are discussing what effect this might have on our policy. And the Members of Congress and the country will be kept fully informed about it. I quite share with you that they are entitled and must know because obviously any treaty that we would sign would require the support of two-thirds of the Senate, and therefore they are going to be kept step by step in touch with us.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us any recent steps that have been taken to reduce the flow of gold abroad?

THE PRESIDENT. Any recent steps? A good many recent steps have been taken involving negotiations between the Under Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Roosa, and the foreign banks. In addition, as you know, I made a comment about the efforts which Secretary McNamara was making to lessen our balance of payments for our military from $3 billion to $1.6 billion and we hope, in a year, to a billion a year, our loss there. We are tying our aid more and more, and we will bring it this year, the loss in dollars in aid, from $1.3 billion to $800 million, and we are--in the tax bill we are providing additional provisions in the tax bill which will make it less attractive to take dollars abroad. And this is a matter under very constant concern and, as I said before, we hope by the end of next year to bring our balance of payments into balance.

I think we discussed last week why drastic remedies of the type of devaluation would be self-defeating, and would not be employed by this Government. I think that if we proceed on the basis that we are, that by the end of next year, if our exports maintain their present rise and our wage-price structure remains the same as it is now, relative to Europe, that we can bring this into balance.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, after the resignation of General Norstad was announced, there have been many speculations in Europe that there may occur a complete change in American strategy going as far as to a nuclear engagement. Could you comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't understand possibly how anyone could come to that conclusion. General Norstad requested that he be permitted to resign. He'd held the position for a great many years. The Chairman of our Joint Chiefs, General Lemnitzer-there may be those who for their own reasons wish to put this story out, but there is no evidence for it. General Lemnitzer will carry on the policies of the United States Government the same way as General Norstad has done. So those rumors are wholly unfounded, wholly untrue, and the slightest check by those who transmit them through Europe would demonstrate that they are unfounded. I can assure you we are continuing our defense of Europe. And I've said before, we cannot maintain the defense of Europe without also maintaining our nuclear strength on which this administration has spent a good deal of additional funds. So I can assure you that the stories are untrue, though I have some idea of where they come from and why.

[21] Q. Mr. President, can you tell us if you consider the developments in Peru encouraging toward the point of our recognizing the new government there? And also, is there any comment you'd like to make on the discussion of your policy toward Peru?

THE PRESIDENT. We are encouraged by the release of President Prado. We are encouraged by the fact that civil liberties have been restored. We've been encouraged by the assurances of the junta that free elections would be carried out in a period of time, and we are anxious that some clear assurances be given that there will be--that they will abide by the results of these elections.

We had relations with President Prado's government. When that government was overthrown and the President imprisoned, it was quite natural that we would reexamine our relations. That reexamination is going on and we have been encouraged by those signs which I've named and we hope that there will be other evidences that there will be a return to constitutional free government, which is the object of the Alliance for Progress.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, with regard to the fallout which has been discovered in milk in Utah, has your administration planned any precautionary steps and, specifically, will there be more air bursts in Nevada?

THE PRESIDENT. Any radioactive materials that come from the tests in Nevada have been dissipated, or if they have not completely been dissipated, will be very immediately.

Now, secondly, I am not aware of any further test--in fact, there are not any further tests in Nevada.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, although there are not going to be any celebrations on this first anniversary of the Alianza para el Progreso, do you feel satisfied or pleased with the rate of progress so far obtained by the Alianza, by the Alliance for Progress?

THE PRESIDENT. Measured by all that has to be done, I think we have to do much better, but that is the point of Ambassador Moscoso's determination to mark the day rather than celebrate it.

[a4.] Q. Mr. President, is it correct to infer from your earlier remarks on drugs that you would like to see reversed the present situation whereby pharmaceutical houses are able to distribute drugs on an experimental basis through doctors without federal approval?

THE PRESIDENT. I would like to see--I think that we can administratively improve the control of the food and Drug Administration, of the distribution of drugs during this period. So, in answer to your question, while the worst--I would say that generally I am in favor of a greater degree of federal supervision.

Now I want to say, on the other hand, that of course we've had remarkable medical progress from these drugs. There is--the fact is that this drug was tested on animals, and at least for a year, my information is there were no signs of deformity. Very recently, in a test there was. But we cannot always get a clear indication from animals. These tests may show up as being wholly safe, and after very careful work these may be distributed with due warnings, and there may be hazards in them. But I think we have to improve, which we can administratively, this phase of our procedures.

But I do want to say that all of our advances, I suppose, require some risk. In this case, however, fortunately, due to the very fine work of a doctor, we were spared a good deal of disaster which, as I've said, the Germans have experienced. But in answer to your question, I think we ought to be tougher on this phase of it.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's fortieth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, August 1, 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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