John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

August 30, 1961

PRESIDENT KENNEDY. I have several announcement to make.

[1.] First, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Governor Vandiver of Georgia, Mayor Hartsfield of Atlanta, Chief of Police Jenkins, Superintendent of Schools Letson and all of the parents, students and citizens of Atlanta, Ga., for the responsible, law-abiding manner in which four high schools were desegregated today.

This was the result of vigorous effort for months by the officials of Atlanta and by groups of citizens throughout the community. Their efforts have borne fruit in the orderly manner in which desegregation was carried out--with dignity and without incident.

Too often in the past, such steps in other cities have been marred by violence and disrespect for law.

I strongly urge the officials and citizens of all communities which face this difficult transition in the coming weeks and months to look closely at what Atlanta has done, and to meet their responsibilities, as have the officials and citizens of Atlanta and Georgia, with courage, tolerance, and, above all, respect for the law.

[2.] Secondly, as agreed at their recent meeting in Paris, the Foreign Ministers of France, the United Kingdom, and the United States will again be joined by the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, and they will meet in Washington on September 14. This meeting will constitute a further stage in the process of continuing consultation by the four powers and our NATO allies with respect to Germany and Berlin in light of the Soviet challenge to our position there.

[3.] Three, I am appointing Gen. Lucius Clay to be my personal representative in Berlin with the rank of Ambassador. The situation in Berlin is a serious one, and I wish to have the advantage of having on the scene a person of General Clay's outstanding capacity and experience.

While this appointment will not change the existing responsibilities of our military and diplomatic officers in Germany and Berlin, General Clay will be in close touch with such men as Ambassador Dowling in Bonn and General Watson our Berlin commandant, and the appointment adds to our resources of judgment and action by placing in a most important city an American in whom the Secretary of State and I have unusual confidence.

We are most grateful to General Clay for once again resuming his long career of public service. General Clay will take up his duties on September 15, will proceed then to Berlin, and will serve as long as this special arrangement seems desirable.

[4.] Lastly, I am sending the following message to the conference of unaligned states convening in Belgrade on September I:

"It is always encouraging when responsible world leaders join together to consider the problems that beset mankind. We recognize that most of the countries at Belgrade do not consider themselves committed on certain of the issues which confront us today, but we do know that they are committed to the United Nations Charter. The people of the United States share this commitment.

"We know that those gathering in Belgrade are committed to finding a way to halt the waste of the earth's resources in the building of the implements of death and destruction, and the people of the United States have constantly pledged themselves to this goal.

"We believe that the peoples represented at this conference are committed to a world society in which men have the right and the freedom to determine their own destiny, a world in which one people is not enslaved by the other, in which the powerful do not devour the weak. The American people share that commitment, and we have pledged the influence of this Nation to the abolition of exploitation in all of its forms.

"The peoples represented at Belgrade are committed to achieving a world at peace in which nations have the freedom to choose their own political and economic systems and to live their own way of life, and since our earliest beginnings this Nation has shared that commitment.

"All this and much more the leaders at Belgrade have in common. This and much more the people of the United States have in common with them. So for myself, and I'm sure for the American people, I express the hope that their deliberations there will bring us all nearer these goals."

[5.] Q. Mr. President, there have been increasing statements on both sides about the prospects for Western negotiations with Russia on the Berlin question. Could you spell out in any specific terms just what areas there are for negotiations and what will you hope to gain in view of recent Communist words and actions?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't think that it would be useful at this time to attempt to spell out the areas of negotiation.

We have indicated--and I've said before that we are prepared to participate in any exchange of views, to use all available channels which are open to us to see if a peaceful solution can be reached on the problems in Europe and in Germany--any solution which can provide greater guarantees to the people of West Berlin that they will have the right to live out their lives in a way of their own choosing and that we will be glad to participate in any conversations which we have hopes will advance that prospect. This is particularly true because the situation in this area is so fraught with danger.

Q. Do you think, generally speaking, sir, that the crisis in Berlin has a better chance of being settled through negotiation, as you have suggested, rather than by force, as the Soviets have threatened upon occasion?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't see that there could be any solution--which would serve the world--to Berlin by force, and therefore I'm hopeful that all people involved will realize that in these days of massive forces available on every side that for the future of the countries involved and for the human race--that we should attempt to work out a peaceful solution and that neither side should attempt to impose its will by brute force because in that case it would be unsuccessful and disaster would be the common result.

[6.] Q. On a domestic question, Mr. President, in view of the House action today on your school aid measure, how do you view the future prospects for such legislation?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's very difficult because everyone is for education but they're all for a different education bill. And it's very difficult to get a majority who will support legislation that has a prospect of getting out of the House committee and the Senate committee--and through the House committee and through the Senate committee-and be signed by the President.

So that it's going to require a good deal of good will on all sides, because the only one who loses today is not the administration but schoolchildren who need this assistance.

So we will be back next year. But it's going to require a recognition by all groups that--and our experience this year shows that there has to be some recognition that what we're concerned about is advancing education of the young people of this country, which, of course, is our most important asset and responsibility.

I'm hopeful that before the session ends there will- be an opportunity for the Congress to vote on our aid to higher education, because that is desperately needed. In the next 10 years we're going to have to build more school buildings than we have built since the beginning of this country.

And the Federal Government, since our earliest beginnings, has had a responsibility in this field. This responsibility continues.

And therefore, though the defeat today was quite clear, and though the defeat today indicates it will be difficult to find a satisfactory formula, we will attempt to do so.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, could you give us your views on .the wish of the Senate to question Dick Goodwin? Mr. Hatcher said this morning that he did not think the question of Executive privilege was involved.

THE PRESIDENT, NO. I've--Mr.--I think Mr. Goodwin is going to be available to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tomorrow afternoon at 5 in an informal meeting, and will be glad to discuss the entire report on the Punta del Este meeting, and all of its activities. And I'm sure other members of the delegation will be doing likewise.

Q. Sir, if I may pursue that just one second. You spoke of an informal meeting. Does this meet the problem of Executive privilege and not--

THE PRESIDENT. The question of Executive privilege has not been raised.

Q. Would it not be raised if there were formal meetings? is what I'm really getting at.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the question of Executive privilege has not been raised in the request that was made by Senator Morse for Mr. Goodwin to appear. And Mr. Goodwin attended the Punta del Este meeting as a member of the delegation, and I would be delighted, and I think it would be most helpful, if Mr. Goodwin appeared under the circumstances that I've described. Does that answer your question? [Laughter]

[8.] Q. Mr. President, I would like to ask you a two-part question: Do you think that Mr. Nixon should run for Governor of California, and as a politician, Mr. President, what do you think of the advisability of a political party giving a defeated candidate a second chance at the Presidency?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would think, in answer to your first question, if Mr. Nixon asked my view as a fellow practitioner of the--follower of the political profession-I'd be glad to give him my opinion, as I do have an opinion on the matter. [Laughter]

But, second, I think that history is filled with the case of men who have been defeated for offices who have continued their public service, and I think we've seen it very much in the last few years, and I'm sure we'll see it in the next years.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, do you think the Peace Corps should dismiss Charles Kamen because of the complaints that have been made about him?

THE PRESIDENT. I think the Peace Corps, as Mr. Shriver has said, should make a judgment as they do. I don't think Mr. Kamen is as yet a member of the Peace Corps. He's in training, as a good many other men and women are, and then he will either be accepted or rejected. It's a matter which I'm sure the Peace Corps will deal with in a responsible way. And I've every confidence in the judgment of those who make the selections.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, there's a very hard core of unemployment still. Do you have any special plans now beyond those you've already suggested?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are concerned still about unemployment, which is four and a half million and on a seasonally adjusted rate would be about five million, which is still too high.

We have had in the last a or 3 months a tremendous economic recovery, but population increases and because of productivity increases and technological changes, we still have a hard core, particularly in some of the major industrialized areas, as well as some of the areas which have had chronic unemployment, we still have this hard core.

I'm hopeful that as the economy begins to move ahead more that there will be a further decrease in the number of those unemployed.

In addition, I am hopeful that Congress will take action before they go home, on job retraining, because some of this is technological and even if we had a complete economic recovery you would still find some men left behind because of the change in skills.

So I do think that legislation would be helpful, and if these programs do not work, then we're going to have to consider what other steps we can take. But we have a large deficit and it's difficult to think that we could usefully increase that in order to effect employment without adversely affecting the cost of living. That's our difficulty there.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, Mr. Nixon has called the movement of American troops into West Berlin a useless gesture, which Mr. Khrushchev might interpret as weakness rather than strength. At the same time, the Republican National Chairman has said that your administration's attitude in general is one of appeasement toward communism throughout the world. Do you have any comment on this criticism by top spokesmen of the opposition party?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't. We are in a situation in Germany which is fraught with peril and I think that anyone who is aware of the nature of the destructive power that's available to both sides should, I would think, be careful in attempting to take any political advantage out of our present difficulties.

Now, in regard to the statement of the Vice President, I'm quite aware that Berlin is, from a military point of view, untenable, if it were subjected to a direct attack by the Soviet Union. What we hope will prevent that direct attack is the awareness of the Soviet Union that we mean to defend our position in West Berlin, and that American troops, who are not numerous there, are our hostage to that intent.

It would seem to me, and I think at the time, that the West Berliners would benefit from a reminder of that commitment, and it was for that reason that those troops were added to the garrison of West Berlin. I don't see really how that weakens our commitment. If troops were withdrawn, would that strengthen it?

[12.] Q. Mr. President, in view of the fact that the economy is recovering, what steps is the administration prepared to take to prevent a breakdown in the auto negotiations in Detroit?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, they're being carried on at the present time between the Auto Workers and the automobile industry, in the hope that they will come to a conclusion which will make it possible for work to be maintained and that it will make it possible for an agreement to be reached that will not provide for an increase in the cost of cars.

This is a matter in which the public interest is involved, quite obviously, but it's a matter which should be left, at this time, to the--those on both sides of the bargaining table, who are bargaining in a free economy.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, I'm not clear from your answer to Mr. Spivak whether we are actively seeking negotiations with the Russians at this time on the question of Berlin, whether Mr. Thompson or any other official of the Government is trying to set a date, time, and place for talks on--

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think Mr. Thompson is going to be returning, under his regular schedule, in the next few days to Moscow and, as I have said, we will be using those means which are available to us to attempt to exchange views among all the parties that are interested, and see whether a satisfactory solution can be reached. And I feel I should leave it at that point.

[14.] Q. Do you believe that there is anything the Government can or should do to try to head off a hike in steel prices? And if so, what would you plan to do?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'm hopeful that the steel companies themselves will reach a conclusion that the October increase in wages can be absorbed without an increase in steel prices.

The inflation which marked our economy before 1958 was, I think, tied very closely to the increases in steel prices. Since 1958 the steel prices have remained relatively stable. And it is a fact that during that same period the cost of living has remained relatively stable.

Now my economic advisers inform me that it would be possible for the steel companies to absorb the increase, without increasing-- the increase in wages--without increasing prices, and still insure to the steel companies, and their owners, a good profit.

I am concerned that an increase in steel prices would set off another inflationary spiral, and also make us less competitive abroad, serve as a brake on our recovery, and also affect our balance of payments.

So that I am very hopeful that these private companies will--and I'm sure they will-concern themselves with the public interests that are involved in their decision.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, you described the present session of the Geneva nuclear test ban conference as critical. Does the Soviet reaction to our latest proposals bring us closer then to a resumption of tests, or what is our next step in this area?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Dean is going to continue during next week, and I would think that by the end of next week I think they're meeting every other day--we should have a much--we'll have an answer as to whether it's going to be possible to reach an agreement.

He will then return home, and as I said before, we would then be expected to make the appropriate decisions.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, the language adopted last night by the conference committee on the foreign aid bill gives you authority to make long-term commitments for development lending. If both houses approve this language, would you then think that there is at least a kind of moral obligation upon the part of the Appropriations Committee to honor those commitments with appropriations?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I would think that the Appropriations Committee would have to make their own--meet their own responsibilities. But it would mean that--if the conference report is accepted by the House and Senate--that the House and Senate and those committees which have particular responsibility for foreign affairs have set this figure.

This figure does represent a cut in both economic assistance and military assistance. And as we do have heavy responsibilities in the coming years in these areas--we've accepted a particularly heavy responsibility and commitment, for example, toward the countries of Latin America--I am hopeful that the Appropriations Committees and the Congress will come as close as possible to the figures that the conference has set, because any cut would diminish by that much our ability to do the job.

I think the compromise, while of course not in the language which was originally suggested, I do think gives us a very valuable tool. And I'm therefore appreciative of the work that was done by the conference.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, everything in the past 3 months that's been said by you and written about you indicates that you have a grave sense of your responsibility for involving this country and the world in a nuclear war over Berlin. Yet everything that's been said by Mr. Khrushchev and written about Mr. Khrushchev indicates he doesn't seem to share this grave responsibility.

Do you think there's been a failure in our diplomacy and our policy that he is not yet convinced about his responsibility in setting off a nuclear war?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, every country operates under different systems and every-Mr. Khrushchev--there has been a good deal of brandishing of nuclear weapons, but I am hopeful, as I've said, that anyone--and I'm sure Mr. Khrushchev knows very well what the effect would be on the people of this world of ours if nuclear weapons were exchanged in a massive way between the countries which possess them--and I'm conscious of this and I'm sure Mr. Khrushchev is--and we will have to wait and see now whether from that consciousness on both sides peace can be achieved, which is our objective.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, what is your view of the interference in the internal political affairs of Brazil by Castro in sending a message of encouragement to the leftist elements there, and what is your general view of the situation?

THE PRESIDENT. I think it's a matter which should be left to the people of Brazil. It is their country, their constitution, their decisions, their government, and I'm confident that they are going to solve the problem themselves without outside interference by any country.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, in view of the Berlin situation and the common threat, you have called up 75,000 reserves and have called in aircraft and naval ships. Can you tell us whether you're satisfied with what our NATO allies are doing to increase their strength, and can you tell us what they are doing and what they are planning to do if you have any knowledge of that?

THE PRESIDENT. There have been some increases, but we do not have a final judgment on what our NATO allies will do nor will we finally, I think, until the end of September. In addition, the United States is going to be considering what other steps it could take.

We have in the meeting of the foreign ministers in early August urged very strongly that the NATO countries commit larger forces to the defense of Europe. It involves their security and it involves peace in this area and I'm hopeful that all the countries that are involved will make the kind of effort which is required.

And I think if they do not, then, Europe has diminished to that degree. I am hopeful that we're going to meet our responsibility and we're asking them to meet theirs. And by the end of September we'll know whether that's going to be done.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, on steel do you have any thoughts or specific plans for meeting the situation if the steel industry does not seem to be persuaded by the arguments that you have been presenting against the price increase?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'm hopeful that the view which has been expressed today, and been expressed on other occasions, and the problems--and the public responsibilities of people involved, I'm hopeful that they will have an effect, and I prefer to leave it at that for the present.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, Ambassador Dowling has delivered a message to the Soviet Ambassador in Germany insisting-and that was the word of the note--that the Soviet Union take the necessary steps to insure continued unrestricted access to East Berlin without hindrance as to place or time. The East Germans have restricted some of the entry points into East Berlin for us and for the West Germans. Can you tell us how you intend to follow through on this?

THE PRESIDENT. We--the communication between East and West Berlin is open. And the situation which you've described has existed for a number of days.

Q. Do I understand that we consider the present situation to meet these requirements of unrestricted access?

THE PRESIDENT. We--I don't feel the-situation in East Berlin is satisfactory in any way. And we have made clear that we have--do not consider it satisfactory. But it is also a fact that communication does exist between East and West Berlin, and that it's possible for those who have official responsibilities, as well as private citizens, to pass.

It is limited--it is not, in our opinion, in accordance with the agreements; but it does exist. What we are concerned about in addition, of course, is the whole question of access to West Berlin itself.

Q. Mr. President, on Berlin, if one takes the public statements of the two sides at face value, it would seem the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. are on something of a collision course here.

Do you have any feeling from private information, or other sources, that there is somewhere in all this wordage going back and forth, some room for diplomatic negotiation, and possibly a peaceful settlement of this problem?

THE PRESIDENT. I do not have such information at the present time. Though I am hopeful that--as I have said--that negotiations can be successful. There have been some statements which have been made which would indicate that there would be a recognition under all conditions of the rights of the people of West Berlin. Other statements have not been precise.

So we will know as time goes on. As I've said before at a previous press conference, it was important that we try to get at the real meaning of words--dealing with access, and rights, and freedom and the rest.

But in answer to your question, I am-do not have information today which would make me wholly sanguine about present prospects.

[22.] Q. Sir, there has been some indication that in the Cabinet, and elsewhere in the Government, that some of our top officials are deferring to the State Department for matters of decision involving the military and defense. There've even been papers sent from the Defense Department over to the State Department for clearance. I wonder if this is done at your order?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, ma'am, if you would be more precise, I could perhaps tell you.

Q. Well, sir, recently at a press conference, Secretary McNamara was asked several questions about the future in Berlin. He said, I can't answer those questions, you'll have to go to the Secretary of State.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it depends what questions they were. If the questions dealt with matters which come under the competence of the State Department, then it seems to me Mr. McNamara was quite right.

My judgment and experience has been that Mr. McNamara is fully competent to deal with the military--his military responsibilities, and so does. And Mr. Rusk does.

There are a good many matters that overlap. This is a government which is supposed to communicate. And that's what they're doing. But I've never heard it suggested that Mr. Rusk that Mr. McNamara was turning over his responsibilities to Mr. Rusk, or vice versa.

But I would think that it would be the height of folly not to have the most intimate communication on a matter as important as Berlin.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, can you at this time discuss with us some of the contents of the letter you received from Chancellor Adenauer this morning?

THE PRESIDENT. No, the main thrust of the letter was in regard to what measures might be taken by the countries which have responsibilities in the area to any further steps which might be taken by the Soviet Union or the East German regime to limit access of the people of West Berlin or our access to West Berlin, and it dealt with that matter of countermeasures.

[24.] Q. Mr. President, what is your view of the bitter Democratic primary fight in New York City, and do you favor one Democratic group over another?

THE PRESIDENT. No. [Laughter]

[25.] Q. Mr. President, there has been some concern expressed over the amount of time it takes the allies to consult on the specific steps necessary to handle the Berlin situation. I think you, in one of your press conferences, recently indicated you weren't quite satisfied with the amount of time it took to draft a note. Could you tell us whether you are satisfied with the present tempo of such consultations?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, well they're meeting almost every day--in any case every other day--the ambassadors of the countries that are directly involved. There are four countries that are involved and there is also NATO, so quite naturally it takes a longer time.

When it's a matter of involving a direct interest of the United States, however, we have attempted to make our responses immediate. For example, last week, when there was some suggestion that air traffic might be interfered with, we did get out the same day our response, because we thought the matter was so important.

But there is very--there is daily consultation, and I'm hopeful that through that consultation and through advanced planning we can meet some of the problems that you suggest, but it's difficult to meet them all satisfactorily.

[26.] Q. Time magazine today publishes a version of the Cuban invasion in which they say that Secretary Rusk canceled the air support for the landing force and that you supported his viewpoint. Could you comment on that?

THE PRESIDENT. NO, I said from the beginning that I would not comment or attempt to, on the matter because I didn't think it was in the public interest. I'll merely state that this is the most inaccurate of all the articles that have appeared on Cuba. [Laughter]

Q. Sir, in a recent interview with Senor Castro he told me that you have said in the inaugural speech that you would not fear to negotiate and will not negotiate in fear.

It was a question I could not answer and maybe you could give us an idea on it because he says that the United States negotiates with the Russians and big powers and seems to be afraid--that was his words--to negotiate with Cubans about all the problems that concern both countries.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. Well, I've expressed my view that as long as Cuba makes itself a willing--the Cuban Government makes itself a willing accomplice to the Communist objectives in this hemisphere, that we could not have successful negotiations. And that, in my opinion, is what their status is today. Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's sixteenth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4:10 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, August 30, 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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