John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

November 29, 1961

THE PRESIDENT. Are there any questions?

[1.] Q. Mr. President, last week we had a show of force off the Dominican Republic. Under what circumstances would these ships and men actually have gone into action and is this an indication of policy in the hemisphere? Would U.S. forces be used to knock out any attempt by Castro, for instance, to overthrow an existing government?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the United States forces which remained in international waters were there because there was some feeling that steps might be taken in the Dominican Republic which would end any hope that a democratic solution could be achieved. Because events in the Dominican Republic proceeded in the way they did, United States forces have been gradually withdrawn.

It's our hope that, as a result of the conversations now going on in the Dominican Republic, that we can make progress towards achieving the kind of government which will permit the Dominican people to control their own destiny.

As to the broader questions, we would, of course, be concerned and have responsibilities as a member of the Organization of American States, if actions were taken by one state against another state through the use of force, and we would be most concerned about that whatever its source and particularly if its source came from the one you describe.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, do you plan a trip out of the country any time before the first of the year?

THE PRESIDENT. We have not finalized any plans.

[3.] Q. The Government-controlled press in South Viet-Nam is attacking the United States now, apparently because we are asking for political reforms in exchange for our military and economic assistance. I wonder if this has jeopardized our effort to stop communism there, and if you could throw any light on this situation for us?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there have been stories in the press there that have been critical of the United States and of course there have been stories in the United States press which may in some cases bear a different relationship to the Government than the press in Saigon does to its government but which nevertheless have suggested that the steps which are being taken within Viet-Nam to counter the Communist threat have not been sufficient. We--of course, our ambition is to permit the Vietnamese people to control their destiny, and we are attempting to work with the Government and encourage steps which will increase the sense of commitment by the people of Viet-Nam' to the struggle. These steps are bound to be subject to discussion and controversy, and we are going to continue to have our conversations with the Vietnamese Government.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, what significance do you see in the fact that the Soviet Government at this time permitted you to speak to the Russian people?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I welcomed it. We had expressed, Mr. Salinger had--I think other newspapermen in the United States had expressed their concern that Mr. Khrushchev had been interviewed at some length by three or four American newspapermen, that all his views were carried in full in the Western world and particularly in the United States, but no similar opportunity had been given to the President of the United States or any other American leaders and this view was presented with vigor to Soviet representatives and I am delighted that they decided to give us that opportunity.

Q. Mr. President, when Mr. Khrushchev visited this country a couple of years ago, he had quite a number of chances to speak to the American people on virtually all of our radio, television, and newspapers. Would you welcome such an opportunity to do so personally in the Soviet Union to speak to the Russian people and see them?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would think that Mr. Khrushchev came on invitation of the President of the United States and was a guest of the United States. I have not been given a similar invitation. I think that the important thing now is to attempt to work out a solution to the difficult problems which disturb our relations. The interview mentioned Germany and Berlin. There are also problems in southeast Asia, and that's the immediate task. And I think that probably they hold that view too in regard to any visit by a President of the United States that there are important problems that must be solved before such a visit would be rewarding to either side. No such invitation has as yet been extended.

Q. Mr. President, in your interview with the Izvestia reporter you said that what we objected to was the deprivation of a political choice, and I wonder if you could discuss with us how this criterion would apply to Finland where apparently the only anti-Soviet candidate and opponent to President Kekkonen has been pressured into retiring from the race.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the general thesis which I expressed on Saturday stands. We--what we desire is that the people of these countries will have a free choice. If they choose to follow under a condition of freedom, as I've said, with sufficient opportunity for alternative views to be presented, then we accept that. We would feel also, of course, that if they should choose the Communist system, then they should also be given the opportunity at another date to make another choice.

That is what we regard as freedom. That is not the view that has been held by the Soviet Union. And I would prefer to make that as a general statement rather than apply it to any particular country because some countries are having difficulties and I'm not sure that any statement that we might make at this time would be of assistance to them.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, you and your wife and other members of your family have declined to go to private clubs and to take part in other functions, even women's benefits at churches, where there was racial segregation. Now I wonder if you don't think it's simply fair that the President of the United States, members of his Cabinet, U.S. Ambassadors and other officers of this Government should decline to speak at and participate in functions where women newspaper reporters are barred?

THE PRESIDENT. I feel that I have many responsibilities and the press has less and I would think that the press should deal with that problem and I'm sure that--I think it would be most appropriate if the members of the Press Club had a meeting and permitted you to come and present your views to them. [Laughter]

I will say that as we are expected, as President, to comment on everything, I will say that in my judgment when an official visitor comes to speak to the Press Club, that all working reporters should be permitted in on a basis of equality. That is not a social occasion but a working occasion.

That happens to be my personal view and the members of the Press Club will have to decide it in the way they want. They are entitled to have any arrangement they would want in regards, I would think, to social occasions, but I would think that when there is an official visitor here as part of--the guest of the people of the United States and there's a meeting held, that all reporters should come on a basis of equality. But that--I am not a member of the Press Club except honorary and therefore--but I give my view as an honorary member, not as President of the United States. [Laughter]

[6.] Q. Mr. President, in your interview yesterday--published yesterday--you spoke of the possibility of a commitment to peace between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Senator Mansfield early this month also suggested an exploratory meeting between the members of these two pacts to attempt to work out a better understanding between them.

Are these two ideas, yours and Senator Mansfield's, in the same vein and do you envisage such a meeting?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as I stated, as we stated at the time of the visit of Chancellor Adenauer, we hoped that negotiations would take place in regard to Berlin and Germany, and of course, this is a question which would be related to that. And at that time we would attempt to improve the relations between the NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries.

I think there are some differences in the view expressed by Senator Mansfield and by me, but the purpose was the same--to provide a lessening of tensions between the two blocs and to improve their relations. I think that the details could best be worked out in negotiation, but we cannot have, of course, an increase in harmony between the two blocs until we've come to some. negotiated and mutually satisfactory agreement in regard to Berlin and Germany. After we've done that, then such an arrangement would be meaningful.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, could you tell us what you had in mind when you suggested in your interview with Mr. Adzhubei the creation of an international administration on the Autobahn to Berlin?

THE PRESIDENT. I would think that--what I'm anxious to do is to work out some system which will permit freedom of access for the people of West Berlin without constant pressures and without harassment's which endanger their freedom and which increase the tensions between the countries.

One of the suggestions which have been considered is to provide some international authority which will control traffic in the Autobahn and, therefore, guarantee its free movement. I think we would have to wait until negotiations began between the Soviet Union and the Western powers before any precise suggestions in regard to this kind of control might be put forward.

Q. May I ask a subordinate question, sir? Does this contemplate international control under the United Nations, or something apart from the U.N.?

THE PRESIDENT. The details, I would think, of what kind of an international authority might be arranged could be, I think, better a subject for the negotiations. There could be many different forms that it would take--four--power, U.N., or some other bodies--but it must be one, of course, which is acceptable to both sides. That would be difficult to achieve, but I believe, would be one of the chief points in any negotiations.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, Congressman John Fogarty has criticized as a devastating blow to major areas of medical research, the recent cut of $60 million by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare from the budget of the National Institutes of Health.

Also, in the name of economy, the Atomic Energy Commission has announced curtailment of its reactor program.

Would you comment on this, and is any consideration being given to restoring these cuts?

THE PRESIDENT. The difficulty--whenever we have a cut, well everyone wants economy and wants cuts. Whenever any cut is made, of course, there are always complaints about it. Now the fact of the matter is that we substantially increased over the Eisenhower budget the amount that we requested for the Department of HEW, including research--including support for the health institutes.

The House of Representatives increased our request and the Senate substantially increased it. Now the figure which Mr. Ribicoff cut to was, I believe, several million dollars above the figure that the House of Representatives themselves passed, and the fact of the matter is that the figure as it now stands in the area of HEW, cancer research and others, is 25 percent now above what it was a year ago.

So that I think that we have funded these programs adequately. We would spend additional funds if we felt they could be usefully spent. And this matter has been very carefully examined.

And let me reiterate: the amount of money being spent is 25 percent above what was spent last year and it is above what was recommended by the House of Representatives itself, as well as being now above what we recommended in our budget, which was substantially above what President Eisenhower recommended in his budget.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, could you discuss the recent personnel changes in your administration and the reasons behind them?

THE PRESIDENT. The question was: would I discuss the recent personnel changes in our administration, and the reasons behind it. I think the first sentence of our announcement on Sunday, which said that we thought the changes would provide a better matching of the men with their tasks and responsibilities explains the change.

One of the problems, of course, is that our attention is focused today on--particularly on Western Europe, Berlin, Germany, the Common Market, and the Soviet and bloc tensions with the NATO Alliance and the United States.

We are, of course, also bearing heavy responsibilities and are extremely concerned with the course of events in South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Mr. Bowles has traveled a good deal in those areas before and after becoming Under Secretary. He is now going to devote his entire time to our problems and policies in those areas. I believe it's a much more effective use of his extremely--of his obvious talents to use him in this area, rather than using him in the area of day-to-day administration in the Department of State.

I regard this, as I've said, as an increased opportunity for Mr. Bowles, and I think it's vitally important to the United States. We do not want to become so concerned about the problems we face in Western Europe that we ignore the tremendous responsibilities and opportunities that are before the free world in these important sections of the world.

So that I'm encouraged by the changes and I'm grateful to Mr. Bowles for taking on this assignment. I think he can render a real service as he has in the past.

I'm also grateful to Governor Harriman for becoming, after holding probably as many important jobs as any American in our history, with the possible exception of John Quincy Adams, for now taking on the job of Assistant Secretary for the Far East.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, there are reports that the morale among the Reservists who have been called up is bad. They claim they don't have--they say they have nothing to do; the equipment is inadequate. Do you care to comment?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have seen the newspaper stories. There isn't any doubt that any newspaper can go out and interview men who've been called up. Their lives are disturbed. Many of them are older. They've all got jobs. For most of them it's a heavy sacrifice. And we are not at war.

And they go to camps which have perhaps been newly opened or where the equipment may not be immediately available. And they're bound to be unhappy. I've seen the stories in some cases where newspapers have reported that the Department of Defense is determined to keep these people in for more than a year.

Then when it was proved that that story was wholly wrong, they then write that the Pentagon has changed its mind and not going to keep them in more than a year and then sent their reporters around to examine and interview servicemen and build up the sense that Americans are not ready to serve their country.

Now let me make it very clear what the reason, that we called these men--the reason we called these men is that there is a direct clash of interest in a major area, which is Berlin and West Germany. There also is increased tension in Viet-Nam.

When we came into office, we did not feel that there was sufficient strength in our conventional forces. Of the 14 Army divisions, 3 were training divisions. And the United States has commitments all around the world.

Now, while we rely on our nuclear weapons, we also, as I've said, want to have a choice between humiliation and a holocaust. And therefore, we believe that calling these men up and their willingness to serve increased the chance of maintaining the peace.

There are countries where leaders have talked very strongly about standing firm in various areas, but do not have the military force to support that statement. We require it. The United States is the strongest power and the leader of the free world, and as such we must have the power to make our commitments good.

These men, who may be serving in a very cold and windy camp in Fort Lewis, in Washington, therefore, are rendering the same kind of service to our country that an airplane standing on a 15-minute alert at a SAC base in Omaha is rendering. We called them in, in order to prevent a war, not to fight a war.

And, if our efforts to hold the peace should fail, then, of course, they would be used in a more direct way. But their function today is to indicate that the United States is serious about its commitments; that it means to meet its commitments; that it wants to negotiate a peaceful settlement if it can, but it does not propose to surrender.

And therefore, I would hope that any serviceman who is sitting in a camp, however unsatisfactory it may be, and I know how unsatisfactory it is, will recognize that he is contributing to the security of his family in a most direct way.

And, in these days when weapons are so terrible, the important thing is to attempt to maintain the peace, and they're helping to do it.

And I think it's up to us to make sure that they do get the equipment. It is up to us to make sure that their training is useful. As I have said, we've sent the Inspector General out to Washington to look at the camp and to talk to the people involved.

But I do think it would be well for us all to recognize that in the first place, these men are not going to be kept in longer than a year. There has never been such a proposal in the Pentagon that I've ever heard of--newspaper reports to the contrary, notwithstanding. This has never been suggested.

Secondly, it is our hope to get these men out before their 12-month period.

Third, these men were called in at the request of the administration and with the approval of the Congress, which gave us the authorization to call them in. In my opinion they're rendering a valuable function. We are going to get them out as quickly 'as we can. But they are doing a service and I hope they recognize it and I hope that all of us who are in a position to communicate will explain to them and to their families how important their service is today.

Q. Mr. President, now the--

THE PRESIDENT. This chimpanzee who is flying in space took off at 10:08. He reports that everything is perfect and working well. [Laughter]

[11.] Q. Mr. President, now that you have met with Chancellor Adenauer and the British Prime Minister Macmillan has met with French President de Gaulle, will you give us your view, sir, of the present state of Western readiness for negotiations on Berlin?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there is one more step to be taken in that series of meetings, and that is the meeting between Chancellor Adenauer and General de Gaulle which is, was supposed to take place this week but has been delayed a week because of the Chancellor's cold, but which will take place before the meeting of the foreign ministers at the time of NATO. And at that time, then, we should be able more precisely to answer that question.

[12.] Q. Could you clarify your rather mystifying remark about a possible trip abroad? Are you thinking of going to the NATO meeting in December?


Q. Could you tell us anything more about it?

THE PRESIDENT. I will as soon as we've made a decision about whether such a trip would be useful, but I'm not thinking about going to NATO. But I don't mean to be at all unresponsive, but the trip has not been--a trip has not been definitely arranged, and until it is, it would seem to me to be-and it depends on circumstances which may develop in the future and therefore it's really in about the status that I suggested.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, in attempts to clarify your civil defense policy, it's been reported that you favor community shelter, fallout shelters, over the private shelters. If this was so, could you give us some of your reasoning behind that move?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we have never thought that the Government could engage in the task of building shelters in each home because it would be a diversion of our resources and would vitally affect our deterrent strength which remains our best hope of avoiding a nuclear exchange. So that we have stated from the beginning and the decisions made last spring and summer in regard to the markings of available shelters emphasize the community structure.

We made some decisions in regard to Federal policy in relation to community shelters last Friday. We are now going to talk to some of the Governors who are directly concerned and involved in this matter because it requires cooperation between the Federal Government, the State, and the communities so that we will have a program and a budget to send to the Congress in January.

The emphasis will be on community shelters, and information will be made available to the individual as to what he could do within his own home. But the central responsibility, it seems to me, is for us to provide community shelters. It seems--it seemed the most effective use of our resources and to provide the best security for our people.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, there have been reports of sizable financial contributions to the sort of right-wing extremist groups that you criticized last week. Do you regard this as a danger to the elective process and will you press in the next session for some form of Federal financing of elections?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you know we set up a committee to provide for Federal--at least to reconsider the whole problem of financing presidential elections. That was their only responsibility. There is a committee in the Senate which has examined other methods of financing other campaigns. As I understand it, what you're referring to is the contributions by some individuals or groups to right-wing movements, not so much candidates--is that correct?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. As long as they meet the requirements of the tax laws, I don't think that the Federal Government can interfere or should interfere with the right of any individual to take any position he wants. The only thing we should be concerned about is that it does not represent a diversion of funds which might be taxable to--for nontaxable purposes. But that is another question and I'm sure the Internal Revenue System examines .that. But I would not want to interfere with the right of any individual to give his own finances or support to any movement that he chooses to do so, providing it comes within the laws, the present laws of the United States.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, the General Assembly last night voted to urge all nations to take separate and collective action to force South Africa to abandon its racial policies. What specific steps would you favor the U.S. taking to implement that resolution?

THE PRESIDENT. I've not examined the language of the Assembly resolution so that I'm not able to answer that.

[16.] Q. Sir, last year before the session of Congress began you listed domestic and foreign legislation that would be "must" for that session of Congress. Can you at this time list your priorities for legislation in the upcoming Congress?

THE PRESIDNT. No, I think that the--I should do that in the State of the Union Address and we will. Quite obviously, we've touched on one of the matters which are of importance--civil defense. I talked previous to this about another matter which is medical care for the aged. But the general program I think should wait till January.

[17.] Q. Sir, could you clarify one thing? There seem to be confusion and conflicting reports about whether you are going to press for a more liberal trade policy. Has the decision been made on that yet?

THE PRESIDENT. A preliminary decision has been made in regard to the matter, yes, and will be announced in January. Once again there are some consultations which must be made and will be made with the members of Congress who have responsibility in the area in the month of December, and then we will go to the Congress in January with our program.

Q. Mr. President, Senator Goldwater has indicated his opposition to us becoming associated with the Common Market. Would you comment on that and perhaps sum up for us the possible effect the Common Market might have on the American economy?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I don't know what the word "associated" means in the question. I don't know anyone--I have not heard it proposed that the United States should become a member of the Common Market or associated with the Common Market in the sense that the word is ordinarily used.

What we are concerned about is that we have the power to negotiate with the Common Market to protect our export industry. Now the Common Market will represent a tremendously important market for American production. It is one of our areas where we have concentrated most on in recent years and will--and represents a tremendous potential for us in the future, particularly when Great Britain joins it. But we don't--we want to, therefore, protect our export market.

We want to keep the ratio of exports to imports comparable to what it is today or perhaps even improve it, because if we're not able to export substantially more than we import, we're going to either have to cut off all assistance to countries abroad or begin to withdraw our troops home.

We spend over $3 billion a year in keeping our bases and our troops abroad. That represents a $3 billion drain or potentially gold drain upon us. The only reason we've been able to afford that, of course, has been that we've had a balance of trade in our favor of around $5 billion.

Now in addition we are concerned that American companies who are locked out of the Common Market because of their high tariffs will feel that the only way that they can get into the market will be through investing in Western Europe, and therefore we will have capital leaving, which will cost jobs. Every time an American firm invests in Europe and builds its company there, it hires European workers and not American workers.

Now we believe in the free flow of capital. We do not believe in capital exchange here. Therefore we have to have the ability to negotiate with the Common Market so that American goods can enter the market and we will not have American capital jumping the wall in order to compete.

So that this is a matter of great importance to the American workers and industry and to the American economy, and it is in that--because of that reason, as well as our desire to associate as closely as we can to Europe, which is going to be such an important power and force, that we are considering what our trade program will be. But if you use the word "associate" with the Common Market, or "join" the Common Market, that is not an accurate description of our policy.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, do you favor, and did you urge on Chancellor Adenauer closer ties, particularly political ties between the two halves of Germany?

THE PRESIDENT. No. In answer to your first question, the reason I answer it with some hesitation is the question of "ties." At the present time, for example, as you know, the East Germans and West Germans do negotiate in regard to trade. So that we have to decide--and those negotiations may continue and we will have a clearer idea of what form they will take if we get into negotiation.

Political ties could be defined in so many ways that I think that unless you would be prepared to define it more precisely, I think the wiser thing would be to wait till we got into negotiation with the Soviet Union and then to determine what these relationships would be.

I think my interview on Saturday indicated my general view of the Federal Republic and its actions in the future.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, you have espoused more liberal trade barriers. Yet, the other day, you put machinery in motion that could result in a higher import duty on cotton textiles. Now I understand the Japanese have protested. How do you square your policy on lowering trade barriers with this sort of protectionist action?

THE PRESIDENT. I square it in an attempt to achieve a balance which serves the interest of the United States and those countries which are involved around the world.

I will point out that the United States does sell cotton at a price which is vastly lower than an American manufacturer can buy it for. We sell it at the world price which represents a contribution by the United States to each pound or bale of cotton which is sold abroad, which permits a manufacturer in a country around the world to buy their cotton much lower than our manufacturers, which puts our manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage.

We do that for obvious reasons. But we have to try to balance off those burdens.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, a Republican Congressman making answer to your speech in Los Angeles in which you criticized extremist groups went back to 1949 and got a speech you made in Salem, Mass., in which you reviewed the loss of mainland China, and found in that what he considered inconsistencies. Would you care to comment on your view then and now?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I always have felt that we did not make a determined enough effort in the case of China. Given the problems we now see, I think a more determined effort would have been advisable. I would think that in my speech in '49 I placed more emphasis on personalities than I would today.

And I would say that my view today is more in accordance with the facts than my view in '49. But my--I've always felt, and f think history will record, that the change of China from being a country friendly to us to a country which is unremittingly hostile affected very strongly the balance of power in the world. And while there were--there is still, of course, room for argument as to whether any United States actions would have changed the course of events there, I think a greater effort would have been wiser. I said it in '49, so it isn't totally hindsight.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, earlier you said that information would be made available to private citizens as to what they can do individually to protect against fallout. Do you have an opinion as to whether individuals should build private shelters or not?

THE PRESIDENT. I stated that we are going to send out a booklet when it is ready. I hoped it would be ready by the end of November. The booklet will reflect the decisions we made in November, and I think it will tell them what the Federal policy will be; what we hope to do, and what each individual can do in his own home, which will provide greater assurances if an attack should come.

I want to emphasize that the best defense still remains the American deterrent.

But I do think that within each individual home that some steps can be taken which are not expensive, but which would, if a disaster should strike us, provide a greater security, though of course, there is no security against blast.

And there is bound to be, particularly as these new weapons increase in power, there are obvious limits to what any of us can do. But in answer to your question, the booklet which will be sent out, I hope shortly, will inform each individual what he can do within his own home as well as within his community.

Reporter. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's nineteenth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 10 o'clock on Wednesday morning, November 29, 1961.

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

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