John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

August 10, 1961

THE PRESIDENT. Good morning. I have three announcements.

[1.] I read last week with great interest the statement by Prime Minister Macmillan, calling for negotiations looking toward Great Britain's entry as a full member in the European Common Market. I am gratified that this statement has been well received by the governments that are already members of the Common Market, and by the Commission of the European Economic Community. The United States Government, under the leadership of both parties, has steadfastly supported the political and economic integration of Western Europe. We are convinced that the continuing progress of this movement can bring new vitality to the Atlantic Community, and mounting strength to the free world. We welcome the prospect of Britain's participation in the institutions of the Treaty of Rome and in the economic growth that is the achievement and promise of the Common Market.

During the progress of the negotiations, the United States will of course give close attention to all developments affecting our own economic interests, and those of other friendly states in this hemisphere and elsewhere.

The enlargement of the European Community will necessarily result in some changes in the pattern of trade, but the necessary adjustments can be greatly facilitated if the European Community builds on the principle of broad and increasing trade relations with all other nations. It is our hope that progress towards this end can be made during the tariff negotiations under way in Geneva, in which both the European Economic Community and the United Kingdom are participating.

[2.] Secondly, I now have a report from the special panel on nuclear testing. This panel has examined a broad range of issues concerning our capabilities to detect and identify nuclear explosions. It has also gone into certain technical questions relating to nuclear weapons development. Although the report is made up of highly classified materials and cannot be released for that reason, I can say that as far as I am concerned this report has made me feel more urgently than ever that without an inspection system of the kind proposed by the United States and the United Kingdom at Geneva no country in the world can ever be sure that a nation with a closed society is not conducting secret nuclear tests.

In view of this report and in view of the deep longing of the people of the world for an effective end to nuclear testing, I am asking Ambassador Dean to return to Geneva on August 24 in an effort to ascertain whether the Soviet Union is now prepared to bring a safeguarded test ban agreement into being. It is my hope that he will succeed in convincing the Soviet representatives that the test ban treaty which we have proposed and stand ready to use as a basis for serious negotiations is a necessary and rational means of reducing the likelihood of nuclear war, and if we were successful, would be an admirable beginning in the long road towards general disarmament.

His return to Geneva is with our hopes and prayers, and I believe with the hopes and prayers of all mankind who are most concerned about further developments of this deadly weapon. This meeting is most important, most critical, and I am hopeful that we will find a favorable response by those who will participate in this negotiation.

[3.] Finally, I would like to say that while we face many problems about the world, one of the most encouraging features of recent months has been the wholehearted response which so many young men and women have given to the proposal for the Peace Corps.

We have an opportunity, particularly in the area of teaching, to send hundreds and hundreds of young men and women who are skilled in this area throughout the world, teaching them English. And English opens up not only a key of communication, but also opens up all of the great cultural, historical, judicial areas which have become identified with the Anglo-Saxon world, and which are so vital in these difficult days.

I am hopeful, therefore, that the Congress will support this effort. It has had a most promising beginning, and we have an opportunity, if the amount requested by the Peace Corps is approved by the Congress, of having over 2700 volunteers serving the cause of peace in 1962, fiscal year.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, in your reading of Mr. Khrushchev's recent speech and statements, have they increased, reduced, or left unchanged the chances for a peaceful settlement of the German problem?

THE PRESIDENT. I thought Mr. Khrushchev restated the position which he took at Vienna and which he took in the Soviet aide memoire, and that there were no new proposals in that speech. He did state his desire, as I have done before, to have negotiations on these matters which are in dispute, and I can say that it is the strong conviction of the United States Government that every means should be employed, every diplomatic means, to see if a peaceful solution to this difficult matter can be achieved.

I think that we will, in the coming months, as I have said, use every device available to us to see if we can reach an equitable solution, and to see if we can get a more precise definition of the phrases and words and thoughts which the Soviet Union has expressed in the matter of Berlin, Germany, and Central Europe.

Q. Mr. President, I would like to ask your judgment on a passage in Mr. Khrushchev's speech. He says that in connection with a peace treaty between the Soviet Union and the East German Government: "We do not intend to infringe upon any lawful interests of the Western powers. Barring of access to Berlin, blockade of West Berlin, is entirely out of the question." Is there a catch in this, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. I think you have to read the speech in total. I believe it was stated that we should engage in negotiations with the East German Government in order to achieve the result which has been suggested. There have been a number of proposals about the rights of the East German Government to control access, and also to control the territory of West Berlin, and, therefore the speech should be read in total.

But I do believe that we should use, as I have said, every means available to us to make a determination whether a peaceful solution can be reached which will protect the rights of the people of West Berlin and our own rights.

[5.] Q. As a former member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, sir, how do you feel about proposals to increase the size of the House from the present number of 437?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, as a former member of the House, I would feel that it should be left to the members of the House of Representatives. [Laughter]

[6.] Q. Mr. President, as a matter of prudence in these tense times, have you given any thought to making formal arrangements for the exercise of Presidential power in the event that you might become unable to function?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I have entered into the same kind of an agreement with the Vice President that my predecessor, President Eisenhower, entered into with Mr. Nixon in the case of Presidential incapacity or inability to fulfill his constitutional functions, and I will ask Pierre if he could, at his noon briefing, put out a statement on what that agreement consists of.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, recently you have appealed to our allies to make a greater effort in the conventional force field. In the light of that, are you satisfied with the results of the Paris conference which just concluded?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Rusk, after the Paris conference, went to Rome to talk to the Prime Minister of Italy, and I think was going to see Dr. Adenauer in Italy also and should be back very shortly, and then I think we could--I could give a precise answer.

That was one of the subjects which was discussed, and I think that I'll suspend any precise answer until Mr. Rusk has returned. In addition, those who participated at the Paris conference, the French Foreign Minister and, of course, Lord Home, have an obligation to report back to their governments to find out what the policy will be, as well as the members of NATO.

So I think it's still premature to make a determination. I am hopeful that the members of NATO will carry out the commitments which have been made in NATO on previous occasions, and particularly during these difficult days.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, in the event that Mr. Dean fails in his mission in Geneva, do you have in mind any deadline--any possibility of setting a certain date when you will decide to resume nuclear testing?

THE PRESIDENT. I think we will be able to tell almost immediately whether the Soviet Union has made any change in its insistence upon the Troika, and therefore a unilateral veto on any inspection system. That of course is the fundamental issue which has up till now made it impossible to secure the acceptance of a treaty. Quite obviously, if that were written into any treaty, the treaty would be self-policing, and we would have no treaty, and as I've said in my statement, it's impossible to make a precise determination without inspection of whether nuclear testing is going on. We'll be able, therefore, to tell quite quickly whether there is any prospect for success, and if there is not, Mr. Dean will come home and I will then make the appropriate decisions.

Q. Is this our last try, then, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT. We will try always if there's any genuine hope of success. But as I have indicated, this is probably a decisive meeting, because we will now find out whether there's any prospect of bringing an end to nuclear testing. And if we cannot agree on a system for effective inspection system on nuclear testing, which is really the easiest kind because of the various mechanisms that are available to determine testing--which is the easiest kind of disarmament in a sense, or at least limitations on arms, to police--how possibly can any country which will refuse to accept an effective inspection system on nuclear testing, how can they possibly say and argue in the General Assembly or anyplace else, that they're really for disarmament?

[9.] Q. Mr. President, there has been considerable argument in Congress in recent weeks about the proper role of military officers in educating the public on the dangers of communism. Senator Fulbright wrote a memorandum on it. There have been some orders issued in the Defense Department on the subject of proper conduct of military officers in this matter. I wonder if you could give us your views on this subject?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Senator Fulbright sent a memorandum to the Secretary of Defense at the request of the Secretary of Defense and expressed his views about a matter which is of course of concern to the Department of Defense. The United States military, due to one of the wisest actions of our Constitutional Founders, have been kept out of politics, and they continue their responsibilities regardless of the changes of administration. I have no idea what the politics are of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I've appointed two of them since I've been President, and I have no idea what their views of politics are. This is a most important protection for our country, and it's equally important protection for the military. It prevents them from being exploited or discriminated by political people in either party. So therefore the problem always is, is how can the military remain removed from political life and how can civilian control of the military be effectively maintained and at the same time the military have the right and the necessity to express their educated views on some of the great problems that face us around the world. So I think this is a continuing matter which the Secretary of Defense is giving attention to. There is no desire to restrain or prevent any military man from speaking. What we are concerned about, however, always is that they not be exploited for any partisan purpose.

And I think basically it's for their own protection as well as the protection of the country. So in answer to your question, some of this arose because of an NSC decision in 1958, which placed special responsibilities upon them. And I think that it's therefore an obligation upon those who place those responsibilities upon them to clarify it in such a way that the common interest is protected.

So in my judgment, Senator Fulbright performed a service in sending his viewpoint to the Department of Defense and I am hopeful that every member of the Senate on this and every other matter will continue to give the administration the benefit of their judgment. That is why we are all up here.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, some members of your administration and others have privately expressed concern that the continued large flight of East German refugees to the West might result in an act of violence. Senator Fulbright suggested that the border might be closed. Could you give us your assessment of the danger and could you tell us whether this Government has any policy regarding the encouragement or discouragement of East German refugees moving West?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think we have attempted to encourage or discourage the movement of refugees, in answer to the last part of the question. Of course, we're concerned about the situation in Eastern Germany, and really in Eastern Europe. There has been a tremendous passage from East to West which, of course, I know is a matter of concern to the Communists because this tremendous speedup of people leaving the Communist. system to come to the West and freedom, of course, is a rather illuminating evidence of the comparative values of free life in an open society, and those in a closed society, under a Communist system. In answer to your question, however, the United States Government does not attempt to encourage or discourage the movement of refugees and I know of no plans to do so.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, are you satisfied that the United States compromises in the agreement at Punta del Este on the public information program and the committee of experts will not weaken your Alliance for Progress program?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we haven't concluded the negotiations. So far I have been very satisfied with what has been done, and I have the greatest possible hopes for this meeting. I hope that all of us will not get so occupied with other matters occurring in this hemisphere that we forget that perhaps one of the most significant meetings in the history of the Western Hemisphere, in this century, is now taking place in Montevideo, and that if we can reach a successful conclusion we can come out of that meeting, all of these republics, with a real hope that we can move ahead in improving the life of the people of this continent. And that's where the great struggle is going on. If we fail there, and if we fail here in the United States to recognize that this is the issue to which we should now be devoting our attention, then the spread of communism is--and the failure of the free society--is going to be far more assured.

So I am hopeful that the meeting will be successful. I am hopeful that the country and the people of this hemisphere will look at what's going on there, because that is the most significant event of recent weeks.

[12.] Q. Sir, have you asked your aides, or your science aides, to prepare for you some kind of a study on whether a greater focus can be put in our space efforts in some possible arrangement similar to the Manhattan project during the last war?

THE PRESIDENT. We are now attempting to devote--we are spending as much money and devoting as large a percentage of scientific personnel, engineering and all the rest, as we possibly can to the space program. We are constantly concerned with speeding it up. We are making what I consider to be a maximum effort.

It may be possible to improve it as we go along and we will attempt to do so. But we asked for all the money for this program that those in positions of responsibility felt could be usefully employed for this purpose, because beyond this we begin to get into diminishing returns on personnel and all the rest.

We may be able to improve it and if we can, we will, but it is our hope to make the largest possible effort.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, if fighting should break out over Berlin, that is, if peace efforts fail, do you believe it can be limited to a conventional war or would it lead to the use of nuclear weapons?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are hopeful that we would be able to reach peaceful solutions to these problems.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, the Budget Director testified at the Capitol a week ago and said that your administration was a little unhappy with the policy planning and the generation of ideas in the State and Defense Departments and cooperation between them. Can you tell us what that problem is in a little detail and what is being done to improve the situation?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think he also expressed satisfaction that some progress was being made. One of the problems, of course, is that nearly every international problem involves several governmental agencies: certainly the Defense Department, State, and in many cases at least one other agency. And therefore, the problem of coordinating these different agencies in an effective way represents a major problem of administration. We have, of course, as you know, on a number of the most important international problems that we faced, set up task forces which meet frequently and render at least weekly reports to the NSC, but it's a matter of constant concern, though I think we have improved our techniques recently.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, several congressional committees have issued reports that were quite critical of the handling of foreign aid in the past in Peru and Laos specifically, and they centered much of their attention on two or three individuals: Mr. Theodore Achilles, Mr. Rollin Atwood, Mr. Graham Parsons, who still have some positions of some responsibility in the Government. I wonder if you contemplate, or your administration contemplates, any action--removal of these individuals from positions of responsibility, or any studies of their role today, and do you have any specific plans for tighter administration of these programs in the light of the past record?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I am hopeful, if we are able to secure passage of legislation now before the Congress, that our administration will be more effective. In addition, we hope to bring in, if we are effective in the Congress, 5 new area administrators, and between 45 and 50 new country heads, into the administration of foreign aid. Now, on the three names you gave me, I am familiar with two of them. One of them is an Ambassador now to Sweden, and the other is at work here in the State Department, and I am not informed about the third. I am not aware of anything in their records that throws any question, of course, on their integrity, and we are satisfied that they can meet the responsibilities which they now hold.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, would you give us your views on the latest hijacking plane incidents involving

THE PRESIDENT. The Cuban one or the American one?

Q. Both. [Laughter]

THE, PRESIDENT. It's my understanding that the hijacking which took place yesterday of the American plane was done by a-at least the information I had before I came in--by a Frenchman who had been treated earlier this year for mental aberrations at Bellevue. The hijacking a week ago was done once again by two men, one of whom had also been treated for mental weakness. It does indicate that the lunatic fringe, those who are desirous of seeing their names in the paper, and all of the rest, have seized upon this technique.

I am, of course, wholeheartedly opposed to it. I am hopeful that we can make it possible to work out satisfactory procedures so that every government involved takes steps to prevent hijacking which endangers the lives of innocent people.

Now, let me say that we are--have ordered today on a number of our planes a border patrolman who will ride on a number of our flights. We are also going to insist that every airplane lock its door, and that the door be strong enough to prevent entrance by force, and that the possession of the key be held by those inside the cabin so that pressure cannot be put on the members of the crew outside to have the door opened.

In addition, I am hopeful that governments everywhere will use their maximum influence to discourage this kind of action which endangers the lives of the crew and of the people involved, and which is an exercise in futility. And that is the view of this Government and we will take every means that we can to prevent not only the hijacking of our own planes but the hijacking of other planes. I'm hopeful that all concerned will do the same. It just endangers the lives of people who should be protected.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, there seems to be some doubt in the country as to whether the Russians really did put two men in orbit around the earth, as they have claimed. Are you satisfied from the evidence available to you that they did do what they said they did?


Q. Mr. President, after this latest Soviet space effort, Senator Long of Missouri, among others, said that the real problem was not our present space effort but the lack of young Americans going into science. He pointed out that the Soviets are still graduating three times as many scientists as we are. Can you, sir, see anything that the Government can and is doing to step up this problem?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are hopeful that we can secure the passage of the Aid to Education Act as well as the NDEA, both of which offer scholarships to talented young men and women, and that we can increase the number of scientists who may be graduated.

In addition, of course, we have a good many very talented scientists, but we did not make a major effort in this area for many years, and we are now behind and paying the price of having the Soviet Union exploit a great propaganda advantage now on three separate occasions, with the flight of the Sputnik, the flight of Mr. Gagarin, and the most recent one. They are still, as I've said before, many months ahead of us. And therefore, we can look for other evidences of their superiority in this area. We are making a major effort which will cost billions of dollars. But we cannot possibly permit any country whose intentions toward us may be hostile to dominate space. What I would like to see at the United Nations and elsewhere is an effort made to have space insured for peaceful purposes. And the United States delegation to the General Assembly is going to make a major effort in that regard this year.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, there has been a lot of talk recently about the developments of a neutron bomb. Can you give us your estimate of the feasibility of developing a weapon which would destroy human beings without destroying real estate values?


[19.] Q. Could you tell us, sir, whether your report from the experts on the test situation changes the general belief in this country that while we have no evidence that the Russians are cheating, we have no evidence that they are not cheating?

THE PRESIDENT. I think my statement -stated that we could not make a precise determination whether testing was going on in a closed society by present techniques.

[20.] Q. Sir, I wonder what you think of a proposal by Senator Styles Bridges to amend the Mutual Assistance Act whereby we will deny any aid to any country exporting strategic goods to a country dominated by Russia.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that is a language somewhat similar to the Battle Act, and I'd have to look at the language of Senator Bridges and compare it to the Battle Act before I could give you a judgment on it.

Q. If it's an extension, I think it might hit at some of our allies, mightn't it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'll read the language

[21] Q. Mr. President, when you were a Senator, you were actively in favor of legislation to broaden our immigration laws and establish a more liberal and equitable quota system. Under present laws, many of the foreign born scientists and scholars who contributed so largely to our national strength might not be admitted. What plans does the administration now have in this area of immigration?

THE PRESIDENT. We have consulted with Congressman Walter and others as to what we can do to improve our immigration laws and we are going to continue to do so.

[22.] Because yesterday's hijacking aroused such great public excitement, and the week before, even though we now see that neither one of these hijackings was done by Cubans, does, it seems to me, make it important for us to act with the prudence which is worthy of a great power which bears responsibilities for the defense of freedom all around the globe, and not to make determinations on policy until our information is more complete.

In addition, we should realize that over 25 planes have come to the United States, 14 have been returned, 9 have been sold in response to a court order, and that, therefore, we should, I think, concern ourselves with procedures which will prevent a repetition and which will make sure that our own responsibilities are fully met in this regard.

The point I want to make is that what is going on in Montevideo is so important that we should not get overexcited about matters when our information is so faulty, so incomplete.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, in connection with the Berlin crisis, there has been quite a bit of speculation about one or more summit conferences. Would you tell us what your attitude is at this time toward summit negotiations?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the attitude which I have held and still hold is that no summit between East and West is useful unless the groundwork has been laid beforehand which will insure some success. As far as a summit of Western leaders, I think that if it should prove important in coordinating our policy on any matter, Berlin, I think that that meeting should be held and would be prepared to do so.

[24.] Q. Mr. President, during the foreign aid debate, there has been some concern expressed by legislators based upon the reports from Montevideo that some of the Latin American nations are not, apparently, eager to institute the self-help measures which you've made a condition of your program, and that the administration may not insist upon those conditions. Do you intend to insist upon those conditions?

THE PRESIDENT. We're prepared to make a major effort in this regard and we're hopeful that other countries who also have high living standards will do so. But of course it would be completely useless unless an effort were made by all concerned. One of the proposals which have been made in Montevideo which is of particular interest is that under the aegis of the Inter-American Bank, that a study by independent experts be made of each country's economic planning and progress and commitment, and it seems to me that this is a great basis for a hemispheric effort. We're not interested in making the contributions which I think we have to make unless we feel that they're going to improve the life of the people. And, therefore, there's a responsibility on us all, for us to contribute to the success of this goal and for the countries involved to make sure that this effort helps the people, because otherwise the effort will fail and those societies will inevitably be wiped away--unless some real progress is made.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: The President's fifteenth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 10 o'clock on Thursday morning, August 10, 1961.

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

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives