John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

March 21, 1962

THE PRESIDENT. [1.] I have one announcement. I've received this morning Chairman Khrushchev's reply to my letter of March 7 on outer space cooperation.1 I am gratified that this reply indicates that there are a number of areas of common interest. The next step clearly is for the United States representative on the U.N. Outer Space Committee, Ambassador Francis Plimpton, to meet in New York with the Soviet representative to make arrangements for an early discussion of the specific ideas of the Soviet Union and the United States. I have designated Dr. Hugh Dryden, Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to take the lead for the United States at this time in subsequent technical talks with Soviet representatives.

1 See item 96.

The United States is deeply committed to making all possible efforts to carry forward the exploration and use of space in a spirit of cooperation and for the benefit of all mankind. I am hopeful that there will be in this area prospects for practical cooperation.

[2.] Q. Mr. President, in Geneva in the talks that are going on now, the Russians have expressed the feeling that any onsite inspection in connection with an atomic test ban treaty would be an invitation to espionage and even be insulting. The British, on the other hand, have spoken in the last 24 hours of settling for an absolute minimum of verification.

I wonder what you consider an acceptable minimum of verification. In other words, would the United States accept any sort of inspection system that did not embrace the right of international inspection teams to be on Soviet soil as well as U.S. soil?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it's much better to permit the Secretary of State, Arthur Dean, and Mr. Foster, who are carrying the lead for the United States, to conduct the negotiations. We have--it's possible to pick up a number of disturbances from observation posts outside the Soviet Union. But, of course, the great difficulty is that you cannot distinguish by seismic means alone, at this range, between an earthquake and a possible nuclear explosion. And it is for that reason that we have felt that there must be onsite inspection and the ability to make that determination if a suspicious event should occur. It does seem to be a very basic difference between the Soviet Union and the United States because they have suggested that they would not be prepared, even if the devices were located off the territory of the Soviet Union, they would not be prepared to permit an inspection team to come on to make the precise determination as to the location and kind of disturbance which had taken place. So there is a disagreement between the Soviet Union and ourselves. I think that on the details of the discussion in the negotiations, we have sent very able men to represent us and I think they will represent the interests of the United States in this matter.

[3.] Q. Mr. President, Senator Jackson says that this administration and the last have been putting too much stock in the United Nations and that a strong Atlantic Community offers the best avenue to peace. What is your view on this?

THE PRESIDENT. I see nothing contradictory in a strong Atlantic Community and the United Nations. Nor is there anything contradictory in a strong Organization of American States and the United Nations. In fact, the United Nations, when it was written in 1945, gave room for these regional organizations, of which there are a great many and of which the United States is a member. I support the United Nations very strongly and I think the American people do, not because its power is unlimited and not because we commit our policy to the United Nations so much as' because we believe that it serves the interests of the United States and the interests of the United States are in an association of free people working together to maintain the peace.

Now, I would be very unhappy if the United Nations were weakened or eliminated. You would have a great increase in the chances of a direct concentration in some place like the Congo between the great powers. It might involve the United States directly and perhaps the Soviet Union on the other side. The United Nations serves as a means of channeling these matters, on which we disagree so basically, in a peaceful way. But that doesn't suggest that we have to choose between the Atlantic Community and the United Nations. We believe in the Atlantic Community; we are committed to strengthening it. We are attempting, for example, to do that in a number of ways-and in fact, our association is constantly growing more intimate. And we also support the United Nations. Senator Jackson is a very valuable Senator who's done very effective work and anything he says deserves a good deal of attention. I do want to point out that on this matter, certainly, there's no disagreement between us.

[4.] Q. There have been reports from Geneva, sir, that for all practical purposes the discussions there are deadlocked, not only in the field of disarmament but on such other topics as discussions with the Soviets concerning Berlin. Do you subscribe to that, sir, or do you think there is additional hope for further talks?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, I think the talks should go on. The conference has only been in session for--I'm not prepared to abandon it in any degree, and I think it would be a mistake for us to feel that its prospects are finished.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, in connection with your remarks about the United Nations, we have recently read criticism of the U.N. bond issue proposal and about the bill that has come out of the Senate foreign Relations Committee. Would you comment on these matters, too, please?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there has been an alternate suggestion put forward for meeting the financial crisis of the United Nations. I think most people are aware that the United Nations faces a very serious financial crisis--that unless it receives assistance by one means or another, that the operation in the Congo, upon which so much depends, will end and we will have a very difficult and 'perhaps chaotic situation which will, I think, be far more costly to us in the long run and far more hazardous. So we have to come to the assistance.

The second problem, of course, is that we have been meeting our assessments and we've been paying over 50 percent of the special assessments which were developed as a result of the Congo operation and as a result of the operation in the Middle East to keep the peace. Now, it seemed to us, and to the General Assembly--and I think this is an important point--it may be possible to suggest other plans but this is the one that the General Assembly has adopted.

The General Assembly puts forward this proposal which will make it compulsory in the future, and this will be ,particularly true when the World Court renders its opinion, and our judgment is they'll render an opinion that these special operations must be paid as regular assessments, otherwise the country involved will lose its voting power.

Now, this is the plan the United Nations has adopted and we have committed ourselves and we hope the Congress will support this effort. We said we would buy $100 million worth of bonds. The foreign Relations Committee stated we would buy $25 million worth of bonds and up to $100 million if the other countries met their quota.

Now, so far over $50 million has been pledged by other countries. Senator Aiken and Senator Hickenlooper--Senator Hickenlooper was a member, I think, of a delegation to the U.N., Senator Aiken has been a long time supporter. This is not a hostility to the U.N. on their part. They feel that this plan is preferable. But in my judgment it would mean that the United Nations would be faced with attempting to pay back $100 million in 3 years. I don't think that there is any evidence that they can do it. It would have to be submitted to the General Assembly to be voted upon after they voted upon a different plan. The smaller nations definitely could not contribute to it, and in my judgment it would be back in our lap at the end of 3 years.

Now, the General Assembly has moved. We are moving on a plan which I think offers a hope of success. As I say, already a number of countries have met their responsibility. We hope they'll go higher to the $100 million. I think we ought to go ahead and I'm hopeful the Senate and the House will, because in my judgment failure to go ahead in this ground is going to mean a collapse of this special effort, and then what's going to happen in the Congo and the Middle East? I think it would be a great mistake, and I'm hopeful that the Senate will consider it very carefully.

In my judgment, every survey shows that 80 to 85 percent of the American people realize the importance of the United Nations. And this is vital to the life of the United Nations, this issue.

Q. Mr. President, on the bond issue again, when you sent your message up to Congress you said that the proceeds of the bond issue would be used to liquidate the debts of the United Nations for the Congo and Middle East operations. And a few days later when Mr. Rusk went up, he said that the proceeds would be used to pay for these two operations for 18 months beginning next July 1st. The Senate foreign Relations Committee was not able to get this straightened out in testimony. I wonder if you could state what the--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't--I think-I'm not familiar with--I'm not aware that there is a disagreement between the statement that I made and Mr. Rusk made. I'd have to check his testimony and my statement to see if there was a disagreement. But there is a debt, and there will be need for funds. And therefore it seems to me that in a sense both positions are in accordance with the--both Mr. Rusk's statement and my statement are not exclusive. We're going--this goes to meet the debts, and to maintain these special operations for the next 18 months.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, there seems to be some continuing difference of opinion between yourself and Mr. Nixon, and I wondered if, in view of yesterday's statement, you feel that the CIA should have briefed you about the Cuban operation during the 1960 campaign?

THE PRESIDENT. I thought that yesterday's statements by the White House and by Mr. Dulles were very clear, and I think that closes the matter as far as I'm concerned.

[7'] Q. Sir, about this agreement that the U.N. Committee is now working on to get peaceful uses for outer space for the United States and other nations--it has been mentioned several times that this agreement would be patterned after the Antarctic Agreement, and, if so, would this not mean that we would give up any future scientific or territorial gains and would have to submit to inspection by foreign nations? And how would you separate your peaceful uses from your military uses, because wouldn't all of these scientific gains go together?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it's hard to--I would say that this is a--I had not heard this comparison. I'm not sure that there is a precise comparison between the Antarctic and outer space. I do think that this is a matter that will be negotiated. I think that the interests of our country will be protected in that negotiation. I can assure you, in fact, they will be. But we are anxious to assure, if possible, that outer space is used peacefully in order to protect the interests of the United States. So I think we should go into the negotiations and see if it's possible for us to cooperate, because there's not much security, as space continues to be more and more under the hazard of being used for military purposes.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, the critics of your medical care plan have charged that this will be the opening wedge for socialized medicine in this country. Would you care to comment on that, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it is an old argument, when a case is lost, to argue that it is all right here, but what is it going to mean for the future. Under that argument, there would not have been any progress on any social legislation in this country. That was the argument that was used against the Social Security Act in the thirties. It was the argument used against the minimum wage, it is the argument used against any agricultural program. It is the oldest argument in the world. The fact of the matter is, this is a useful program, it is developed for a special purpose, and, in my judgment, it's going to be adopted. I believe it has a good chance this year, if not, in the future, and it's in the economic as well as the social interests of the people of our country. But to say, "I am against it because in a future date somebody else may do something" doesn't seem to me to be a rational argument, and it was the kind of argument which was successfully defeated on many occasions during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.

[9-] Q. Mr. President, what is your reaction to the news that the 1200 prisoners from the Bay of Pigs are going to be tried as war criminals in Cuba? Specifically, do you feel there's anything this Government can do for them?

THE PRESIDENT. We would--have been attempting--as you know, the Red Cross has been attempting to secure an entrance into Cuba to see about the feeding of the prisoners. Of course, it is a matter of great national as well as personal distress.

[10.] Q. Many people not farm experts are perplexed by the continuing food paradox--a million starving even outside Communist countries, while we're up to our necks in surplus. And they wonder why we can't go far beyond extending Public Law 480, church distribution, and so forth, and really make tremendous amounts of surpluses that we can't seem to get rid of available to the hungry. Would you discuss economic or other factors preventing this?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are putting a good many hundreds of millions--in fact, billions--into this program. I think the-there isn't any doubt that we could produce more food. We could produce, really, more of almost everything in the United States. There is a limit to what the United States is able to maintain. We spend, as you know, billions of dollars each year on our agricultural program. It isn't as if this--the limitation, in answer to your question, is really a financial one. How much can the United States afford to put into its agricultural program? We're putting in $6 billion; we're giving away, as I say, hundreds of millions, indeed some billions of dollars worth of food, in an unprecedented effort. I agree we should always try to do more. But in answer to your question, the reason is only the limitation of available funds. This food has to be bought, and it has to be appropriated for, and it has to come out of the taxpayers of the United States. We do an awful lot, not only on this program of food but also on foreign aid. In fact--and have done it for a great many years. And I think we should. But I think that--I would certainly contrast the record of the United States in this regard to other countries, even those with a surplus of agricultural abundance, and what we've been able to do through private agencies and through the Federal Government.

[ 11. ] Q. Sir, a clarification on your comments on the bond issue. Do you find the Senate foreign Relations Committee plan an acceptable one?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I do. I do.

[12.] Q. Mr. President, the Attorney General has suggested that the price of stock in the proposed communications satellite corporation be reduced from $1,000 to $100. Has any thought been given to reducing this price to $1 so all the taxpayers could get in on the ground floor?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that the--of course the limitation is that there may be quite a long period of time before there is any return on this investment. We attempted in the program we set up to balance off the need for large investments by--which only a few companies can make, and also to permit it to have a broader distribution than just a few large companies. We're attempting to make an adjustment. As you know, a good many companies are unwilling to invest in the satellite, because it would require a good many years before they would get a return. And I don't know--I would have to examine whether it's in the public interest to lower the price. I don't think that the return would be, to the American people, in dollars and cents, except as part perhaps of a participation in a great new effort. I'm not sure the dollar and cents return would be comparable to what they might be able to get in other areas, at least for a great many years.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, the Soviet Union has recognized an Algerian Government before it has formally taken place. Would you say what you think about this, and what the United States might possibly do towards recognition and at what time?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as you correctly say, there is a cease-fire now in effect in Algeria. A government has not been established. There is still--in the field of foreign policy France still bears responsibility. A government will be developed and at that time the United States will take the proper action. I think that this matter, as I've said from the beginning, is a very sensitive and difficult matter that's been handled with great skill by President de Gaulle. It's been handled by those on the Algerian side with a desire to--not to destroy but rather to build, and I think the United States should take a similar attitude rather than attempting for political purposes to exploit a situation. I think we should wait until the proper moment and the proper moment finally will come.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, there are reports from Guantanamo Bay of a buildup in Cuban military strength in the fortifications outside the American naval base there. Do you consider this a threat to the base, and do you have any plans for increasing the base's defenses?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we're always concerned about the defense of American territory wherever it may be and would take whatever proper steps were necessary. We have no information that there's a, if that is your suggestion, that some attack on Guantanamo is about to take place. We see no evidence of that.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, Congressman Porter Hardy's subcommittee has been having some troubles getting hold of some records from the State Department, and they have contended that lawyers at the State Department are barring them from these records which deal with the foreign aid in Cambodia, which was used in a Russian-sponsored hospital. Now I realize this took place before your administration took power, but there is the contention by the committee that the State Department at the present time is withholding the records. I wonder if they have consulted you on this, and if you have given the State Department any instructions?

THE PRESIDENT. I'm generally familiar. My understanding is that they have turned over the cables to the committee, but they have not--they have agreed, I think, and this may be subject to change afterwards, my understanding is that they have agreed to turn over the names that might be involved in an executive session. But we cannot run the executive branch of the Government if every foreign Service officer, or everyone else who is acting in good faith-and if there's evidence that it is not in good faith, then we ought to bring that right out and he ought to be, he ought to have some action taken. But if he's acting 'in good faith, then how can we expect honest reporting from them? Or how can we expect that they're going to--if they feel that this might be, 6 months or a year from now, be used against them in some hearing, about which they can only presume?

The responsibility is on us to carry out the foreign policy of the United States with the cooperation of the Congress. And we don't--I'm sure the Congress would not want us to be inhibited in getting our information upon which our judgments must be reached. We desire to cooperate with Congressman Hardy. I believe he said he was going to--he's seen me on one occasion about another matter last year. I think I saw somewhere or heard some place that he is planning to discuss this directly with me. And I'll discuss it, and I'm hopeful that we can work this out as other matters have been worked out, in a spirit of comity. But I do think there are important issues at stake.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, Dr. Hans Bethe has commented favorably on a zonal disarmament inspection plan that has been put forward by Professor Louis Sohn of Harvard University. The plan would operate on a random sampling basis, and would supposedly satisfy the United States desires by opening up territory to verification on a sampling basis, while at the same time pleasing the Russians by not opening up their entire territory to what they say they fear would be espionage. I wonder if you would comment on whether parts of this proposal offer constructive possibilities?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think one of the suggestions in the matter of preparations which have been discussed, which we all recognize is a rather difficult matter, of determining if preparations are being made for testing, was this. I'm not sure that the genesis was the same as the one you've suggested, but it had been suggested that a sampling system might be used.

But I think once again this is a matter which I think should come forward in the proper way at Geneva. But I am familiar with the--a proposal which is either the same or similar.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, at some of our military camps there have been demonstrations by mobilized reservists, including in one case an attempted hunger strike. I wonder if you couldn't comment on these demonstrations, and couldn't you give the reservists some notion of when they might be released?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I understand the feeling of any reservist, particularly those who may have fulfilled their duty and then they are called back. And they see others going along in normal life, and therefore they feel: how long are we going to be kept?

We have stated that we are, as you know, building two new divisions which will replace these reservists, and which will come into effect--I think the dates are August and September.

Now, on the question of releasing the reservists, we will release them on the first possible date consistent with our national security. They were called up because of the crisis in Berlin, and because of the threats in Southeast Asia. And I do not think that anyone can possibly read the papers and come to the conclusion that these threats do not continue. There is no evidence that we are going to quickly reach a settlement in either one of these areas.

These reservists are doing a very important job. In my judgment, the fact they were called up and the fact they responded has strengthened the foreign policy of the United States measurably since last July and August.

Now, secondly, there is always inequity in life. Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded, and some men never leave the country, and some men are stationed in the Antarctic and some are stationed in San Francisco. It's very hard in military or in personal life to assure complete equality. Life is unfair. But I do hope that in many ways--some people are sick and others are well--but I do hope that these people recognize that they are fulfilling a valuable function, and that they will feel, however humdrum it is, and however much their life is disturbed and the years been yanked out of it, they will have the satisfaction afterwards of feeling that they contributed importantly to the security of their families and their country at a significant time.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, could you tell us whether the reports you've received on the talks between Secretary Rusk and Mr. Gromyko in the last day or two on the Berlin problem have produced even a glimmer of a possibility of a modus vivendi of some sort?

THE PRESIDENT. I would think it would be wiser to let the talks continue, which they are, and then to make a judgment as to our prospects when these talks have reached a more final stage, which they have not as yet.

[19.] Q. Would you care, sir, to evaluate for us the quality of congressional support the administration's domestic program is getting at the present time? I ask this because in some circles there is a belief that certain congressional leaders in your party are more prone to negotiate the terms of surrender even before they start fighting for your program.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I read the same-[laughter]--I think that we've secured--I think they blame the leadership and they blame me and they blame the Congress, and I think we've secured the passage of important legislation already: one we signed the other day, the pension and welfare bill; the one the week before, the manpower training. We have, I hope, passed good bills in the House and Senate on higher education. I hope that the conference will not give us the worst features of both but, rather, the best features of both, the House and Senate bill.

We are moving ahead in the committees in other areas. So I think we can make a much fairer judgment on the quality of the Congress and the Executive as the session goes into the summer, than we can today. But I have had complete cooperation from Senator Mansfield and Senator Humphrey-the leader and the whip--from Speaker McCormack, from Congressmen Albert and Hale Boggs, and from George Smathers. So I must say that they've been very faithful and I think they're doing the best they can.

You have to remember that this House of Representatives is somewhat evenly balanced. We only won the Rules Committee fight at the beginning of this session, at the time Mr. Rayburn put his enormous prestige on the line, by only six votes. These are not easy matters. We are very critical, frequently, of failure of other countries to take needed action, but we have to realize it's a hard fight even in our own country.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, I understand that an exchange of letters at the summit has settled the question of the B-70, or the RS-70. Can you tell us who won what and from whom?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that if you took the powers of the Executive and the powers of the Congress and pushed each to its logical, or at least its possible conclusion-not its logical but its possible conclusion-you would have, in a Government of divided powers, you would have a somewhat chaotic situation. If they refused to appropriate the salary of members of the Government, if we took actions which failed to consider the responsibilities of the Congress--in a country where the constitution gives divided responsibilities we have to attempt to adjust the strong feelings on both sides.

In my opinion, there was no winner and no loser except, I think, the relations between the Congress and I think the public interest.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, you used the words "American territory" in relation to Guantanamo Bay. Is that not subject to an incorrect inference of the true position of that bay?

THE PRESIDENT. My answer was an attempt to not particularly select one area or another. It's the legal definition of Guantanamo, maybe not precisely, though I would have to look that up. I would say it's an area which the United States, under a treaty with Spain, at the turn of the century, Was given rights to maintain and to hold, and whether it's--it may be, as I say, incorrect legally to call it a territory, and I would not want to launch a new description of Guantanamo, and I may be very well subject to correction-only that it's an area which is under the responsibility now of the United States. That may be a more precise term.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, in explaining the need to resume nuclear tests in the atmosphere, you said we're spending huge sums on some military programs, including hardened missile sites, and that we can't be certain how much of these preparations might turn out to be useless when we know more about thermonuclear explosions. In the wake of increased missile accuracy and warhead yields and the fact that the Russians can build very large bombs, can you tell us, as Commander in Chief, why we're expanding what would appear to be an increasingly vulnerable land-based missile system, rather than putting our efforts in mobile land-based systems, or directing more of our deterrent to sea where they cannot be zeroed in?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that--as you know, the Secretary of Defense, and those who have particular technical competence, made a judgment that the present arrangements were more satisfactory than the so-called mobile Minuteman. That is filled with difficulties, too; transporting always-24 hours a day--around the railroads of the United States, missiles to be fired at any moment, is not--offers--has a debit side too. So that in balance this was felt to be the most satisfactory device. And, in addition, as you know, we have the alert, those that are in the air, and we also have Polaris. So that the--I think the reason is a desire not to commit all of our resources to any one particular weapons system. But I do think a judgment was made that the efficiency of the mobile, at the present time, was not sufficiently demonstrated over the hardened site to warrant a program in that regard, particularly as we develop more successfully devices for interpreting a possible missile attack. So that we have a warning system which would be sufficient to get our Minuteman off the hardened base. But I think the more they looked at the trains going through America, the less desirable it seemed.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, did I understand you to say that we had offered to withdraw our demand for control posts for nuclear test bans inside the Soviet Union?


Q. And they had refused?

THE PRESIDENT. No. What I said was that those who advocated a system of attempting to--and there are those--to carry on an inspection system by having devices located off the territory of the Soviet Union, I think would also agree that you cannot make a successful distinction by this means between an earthquake and an underground nuclear explosion. And that therefore there has to be even under this system, which is not the one the United States is now--has put forward-even under this system you would have to have an inspection in order to make that distinction. So that the--and the Soviet Union has rejected that kind of inspection. So that I was merely attempting to indicate that those who advocated that policy did not have a policy which gave any assurances of success and which the Soviet Union has already in effect--has rejected.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

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

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

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