John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

April 12, 1961

THE PRESIDENT. I have several announcements.

[1.] Today is the 16th anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is also the anniversary of the announcement of the vaccine which has been discovered to prevent paralytic polio. Today over 90 million Americans have been vaccinated with the Salk vaccine. Over 80 million remain unvaccinated. Almost 4,800,000 children have not been vaccinated and a majority of these are under 5 years of age. I hope that the renewed drive this spring and summer to provide vaccination for all Americans, and particularly those who are young, will have the wholehearted support of every parent in America. I hope that they will, knowing some of the long-range suffering which comes from an attack of polio, with this miraculous drug, I hope that everyone takes advantage of it.

[2.] Secondly, I wish to announce the formation of an advisory group, the members of which will be assisting Mr. Labouisse and other governmental officials in bringing about the much needed change in our foreign aid program which we announced in March. Mr. Eugene Black, President of the International Bank, and other distinguished members of the banking community who are familiar with the problems of development assistance abroad will be working with us. We have also secured the services of a distinguished member of the New York Bar, Mr. Theodore Tannenwald, who has agreed to assist us in the drafting of the new legislation; and Mr. George Gann of the Ford Foundation, who is giving us the benefit of his experience in the organizational aspects of the work. And finally, and in the most important phase of the effort, we are fortunate to have the services of Robert Blum of the Asia Foundation, William Dale of the Stanford Research Institute, and Samuel P. Hayes, of the University of Michigan, Don Humphrey of the Fletcher School in Massachusetts, and Professor Arthur Smithies of Harvard, who will work with Dr. Max Millikan of MIT, and Mr. Frank Coffin, Director of the Development Loan Fund, to shift the aid to a sound and economical basis.

[3.] Thirdly, I wish to announce that the U.S. Naval Ordnance Plant at South Charleston, W. Va., will be sold to the Food Machinery and Chemical Corporation of New York City. The General Services Administration has accepted the bid of $4,320,000, and this company is proposing to provide a development which will, they hope, stimulate the economy in this area and in this State, which is a matter of particular interest.

[4.] Q. Mr. President, has a decision been reached on how far this country will be willing to go in helping an anti-Castro uprising or invasion of Cuba? What could you say with respect to recent developments as far as the anti-Castro movements in Cuba are concerned?

THE PRESIDENT. First, I want to say that there will not be, under any conditions, an intervention in Cuba by the United States Armed Forces. This Government will do everything it possibly can, and I think it can meet its responsibilities, to make sure that there are no Americans involved in any actions inside Cuba.

Secondly, the Justice Department's recent indictment of Mr. Masferrer, of Florida, on the grounds that he was plotting an invasion of Cuba, from Florida, in order to establish a Batista-like regime should indicate the feelings of this country towards those who wish to re-establish that kind of an administration inside Cuba.

Third, we do not intend to take any action with respect to the property or other economic interests which American citizens formerly held in Cuba, other than formal and normal negotiations with a free and independent Cuba.

The basic issue in Cuba is not one between the United States and Cuba. It is between the Cubans themselves. I intend to see that we adhere to that principle and as I understand it this administration's attitude is so understood and shared by the anti-Castro exiles from Cuba in this country.

[5.] Q. Could you give us your views, sir, about the Soviet achievement of putting a man in orbit and what it would mean to our space program, as such?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, it is a most impressive scientific accomplishment, and also I think that we, all of us as members of the race, have the greatest admiration for the Russian who participated in this extraordinary feat. I have already sent congratulations to Mr. Khrushchev, and I send congratulations to the man who was involved.

I indicated that the task force which we set up on space way back last January, January 12th, indicated that because of the Soviet progress in the field of boosters, where they have been ahead of us, that we expected that they would be first in space, in orbiting a man in space. And, of course, that has taken place. We are carrying out our program and we expect to--hope to make progress in this area this year ourselves.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, your white paper,1 last week, referred in very diplomatic language to the takeover by communism in Cuba. Is it your view that Fidel Castro is personally a Communist?

1 "Cuba" (Department of State Publication 7171, Inter-American Series 66, April 1961).

THE PRESIDENT. Well, he has indicated his . admiration on many occasions for the Communist revolution; he has appointed a great many Communists to high positions. A great many of those, I think, in the white paper--well, rather, the state paper--he indicated that two-thirds of those who had been members of his first government had fled Cuba, people who had a strong feeling for the revolution but who did not propose to see it come under the domination of the Communists.

So I would not want to characterize Mr. Castro except to say that by his own words he has indicated his hostility to democratic rule in this hemisphere, to democratic liberal leaders in many of the countries of the hemisphere who are attempting to improve the life of their people, and has associated himself most intimately with the Sino-Soviet bloc, and has indicated his desire to spread the influence of that bloc throughout this hemisphere.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, in your talks with Prime Minister Macmillan, did you come to some common understanding on the best way to handle the problem of Red China in the United Nations next fall?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we discussed the problem. We also discussed the differing approach which the United States has followed. We discussed the problem of the admission of Red China. We also discussed the fact that there was a difference in approach between the British and ourselves. I made it very clear that the United States was going to continue to meet its commitments to the people on Formosa--the government on Formosa--and I also did discuss the fact that the vote on the moratorium was very close. And that we had no--cannot make a final judgment as to what the vote on the moratorium will be on the admission of Red China. But I must say that the report I saw this morning of that conversation from London was not accurate in that it indicated that the United States had changed its position on the moratorium. That we have not done. And I want to take this opportunity to emphasize that the United States supports the Taiwan, Formosa, Government in its membership in the United Nations and is exploring with all interested parties what the position will be in the discussions at the United Nations next fall. The Prime Minister made his own position clear and that of his government.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, how do you reconcile your concern with unemployment in connection with the closing of about 50 military installations, which will throw thousands of civilian employees out of work?

THE PRESIDENT. I might say just to make it perfectly clear, in response to Mr. Hightower's question, in conclusion I would say that the United States is opposed under present conditions--continues to be opposed under present conditions to the admission of Red China.

Now, on your question, we stated in the-we have asked for a substantial increase in expenditures for the national defense. This will affect, beneficially, employment. I think we said in our statement very clearly that we did not think that defense bases should be kept going when they no longer had a--when there was no longer a need for them in order to maintain the defensive strength of the United States. I think that is a traditional position and one which this administration will follow. We will attempt to the best of our ability to maintain jobs for the people who are involved, but we cannot get a strong national defense if we continue defense systems or bases which are archaic and outmoded, and which no longer represent a real need. I am hopeful that the country's economy generally will be strong enough to absorb those who may be thrown out of work because of structural changes in our defense system. But I think it is a serious problem; as we change from planes to missiles you affect employment not only in the bases but in the defense industries themselves. This is a serious matter for the Government, but we cannot permit ourselves-we are paying in the $40 billions for national defense, which represents a heavy burden, and we have to make it as efficient as possible. So we will try to do that with due regard to the needs of people who are involved. But I am hopeful we can meet their needs on a broader national basis, and not merely maintaining bases for which we no longer have a need in our defense structure.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, do you have any indication that the Russians may be about to release the U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I do not. I have seen the story, but we do not have any information on the matter.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, the Russians seem to be taking their time in replying to the urgent call for a cease-fire in Laos. In the meantime, there are reports that they have stepped up their airlift of weapons to the rebels. How long can you afford to wait before the Soviets reply?

THE PRESIDENT. I am not sure that there is evidence that a step-up--there may have been an increase of 1 or 2 days, but over a period of 10 days or so, or 2 weeks, I don't think that there is any evidence that there has been very marked increase in their supplies. The supplies have continued, but I don't think it is fair to say, or accurate to say, that there has been a sharp step-up in the last few days.

I am hopeful that we are going to get an answer, I hope, this week, shortly, so that we can get a cease-fire and so that the supplying of forces on both sides could be ended. Our supplies to the government forces are continuing.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, Senator Kefauyet and Representative Celler say that we must have legislation to bring down the prices of medicines for sick people and protect the purity of drugs. They have introduced legislation to do that by amending the patent and antitrust laws. Are you for that? Can you do anything executively, or can you do it through the Department of Justice?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that it may be that we can take some action executively without the Congress, and I will be glad to look into that. The Federal Trade Commission also, I am sure, will concern itself with this problem and with other related problems. Mr. Dixon was the counsel for that committee, who is the new chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.

I will be looking with interest to Mr. Kefauver's efforts in this area because the prices are high. I do think, moving away from your point, which I think is a good one, that all this effort would be useful and I think it would also be useful to provide medical care for the aged tied to social security as another facet of the problem of helping our people pay for--afford good health.

[12.] Q. Sir, will you help, actively, Senator William Blakley of Texas to get elected? He is running in the primary on the Democratic ticket, and he has opposed your program quite a bit, and also opposed some of your nominees.

THE PRESIDENT. He has been nominated by the party, but to the best of my knowledge I haven't heard--he hasn't asked for me, my assistance, as yet. If he does, I will certainly be glad to do what I think is useful. [Laughter] But I'm for Democrats in these fights between--I have read Mr. Tower's speech and so I think probably the people of Texas can decide these things. It isn't very useful, ordinarily, for people to come from out of State, whether it is the President or Senator Goldwater or anyone else, and I think probably the people of Texas can make a very effective judgment without external advice. But I would be glad to give it, if asked.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, this question might better be asked at a history class than a news conference, but here it is, anyway. The Communists seem to be putting us on the defensive on a number of fronts--now, again, in space. Wars aside, do you think that there is a danger that their system is going to prove more durable than ours?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that we are in a period of long drawn-out tests to see which system is, I think, the more durable, not better, but more durable. And we have had a number of experiences with this kind of competition--a dictatorship enjoys advantages in this kind of competition over a short period by its ability to mobilize its resources for a specific purpose. We have made some exceptional scientific advances in the last decade, and some of them--they are not as spectacular as the man-in-space, or as the first sputnik, but they are important. I have said that I thought that if we could ever competitively, at a cheap rate, get fresh water from salt water, that it would be in the long-range interests of humanity which would really dwarf any other scientific accomplishments. I am hopeful that we will intensify our efforts in that area.

I think that if we could increase the techniques for improving education in uneducated sections of the world--by using the latest devices of science--that that would be an extraordinary accomplishment. I do not regard the first man in space as a sign of the weakening of the free world, but I do regard the total mobilization of man and things for the service of the Communist bloc over the last years as a source of great danger to us. And I would say we are going to have to live with that danger and hazard through much of the rest of this century.

My feeling is that we are more durable in the long run. These dictatorships enjoy many short-range advantages, as we saw in the thirties. But in the long run I think our system suits the qualities and aspirations of people that desire to be their own masters. I think our system suits better. Our job is to maintain our strength until our great qualities can be brought more effectively to bear. But during the meantime, it is going to require a united effort.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, one aspect of the problem you have just been discussing is the strength of our economy. There has been increasing comment from both within your own administration and outside to the effect that even when we pull out of the current recession, we are going to be left with a very large, serious amount of unemployment. It has been suggested that measures quite different in character from what you have proposed, more far reaching, will be necessary to cure that. And I wonder whether you have anything further in mind?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, in the first place, I would like to see the measures that we have suggested be passed. We haven't yet secured the passage of the depressed area bill. We haven't yet secured the passage of the aid to dependent children, which has passed the House and I hope will pass the Senate shortly.

We have not yet secured the passage of the social security changes, one of which provides for earlier retirement which will, I think, provide some relief. But these steps--the unemployment compensation which is going to begin to flow into the hands of people in need in the next week, the aid to dependent children, the early retirement, the aid to depressed areas--all these will be useful.

Now, we are also considering what longer range steps could be taken. In some of them which involve different changes in monetary policy, of course, we are rather limited because of the effect on the outflow of gold. Where for our domestic needs we might want to proceed differently, we are limited, because we don't want to start to stimulate the gold outflow again. But we are giving it a good deal of consideration.

These matters are not easy. You want to affect this hard core of unemployment which may continue after we have had a recovery without providing for inflation, without providing for an outflow of our gold. But we are now, in the administration, considering what other measures could be recommended to the Congress which would assist in this area. But I must say it is one of great complexity.

[15.] Q. Mr. President, a Member of Congress said today that he was tired of seeing the United States second to Russia in the space field. I suppose he speaks for a lot of others. Now, you have asked Congress for more money to speed up our space program. What is the prospect that we will catch up with Russia and perhaps surpass Russia in this field?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the Soviet Union gained an important advantage by securing these large boosters which were able to put up greater weights, and that advantage is going to be with them for some time. However tired anybody may be, and no one is more tired than I am, it is a fact that it is going to take some time and I think we have to recognize it.

They secured large boosters which have led to their being first in sputnik and led to their first putting their man in space. We are, I hope, going to be able to carry out our efforts with due regard to the problem of the life of the man involved this year. But we are behind and I am sure that they are making a concentrated effort to stay ahead.

We have provided additional emphasis on Saturn; we have provided additional emphasis on Rover; we are attempting to improve other systems which will give us a stronger position--all of which are very expensive, and all of which involve billions of dollars.

So that in answer to your question, as I said in my State of the Union Message, the news will be worse before it is better, and it will be some time before we catch up. We are, I hope, going to go in other areas where we can be first and which will bring perhaps more long-range benefits to mankind. But here we are behind.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, the White House News Photographers Association bars Negro members. Do you feel that a group attached to the White House should follow such a policy?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't. I hope they will let everyone in. Everyone comes into the White House and I would hope that those who are involved in that organization--I am sure when the matter is brought to their attention that they will permit everyone who is accredited and is a photographer to come to the White House. Anyway, I'd certainly like to see it.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, Mr. Gomulka said in a speech released yesterday that persons who are now high in your administration, unnamed, had given some assurance during the campaign last fall that if elected you would consider the present Polish-German frontier to be final. Have you given any such assurance?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I saw the story but' I am not informed as to who had the conversation with Mr. Gomulka. In fact, I haven't been able to determine who that might be. But in answer to the--and quite obviously at that time we were not in any position--in any case I was not informed of any conversation then or since then. It may have taken place with Mr. Gomulka. In regard to the question itself, I think that the satisfactory' solution of the line should be part of a general solution of the problem of Germany, of the question of Germany, involving the peace treaty with Germany and all the rest.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, in connection with the domestic economy and the lag in Congress on the real program, how do you feel that a greater sense of urgency can be developed among the American people generally? Apparently some Congressmen feel that back home at Easter-time there was not enough push and drive and interest among the people there to give them that interest in your program.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, when you have 7 percent unemployed, you have 93 percent working, and therefore it is a fact that you have these pockets of unemployment, which are extremely serious. Some Congressmen can come back who represent West Virginia and some parts of Pennsylvania, and Gary, Ind., and southern Illinois, and all of the rest, and eastern Kentucky, and tell you that there is a great sense of urgency in this matter. Others who represent other areas may not feel it. But I think it is a serious matter. When you look at the rate of economic growth in Italy, Germany, and France this year, and our economic growth, I would say that it is a matter of the greatest urgency. And in addition, anyone who honestly is. seeking a job and can't find it deserves the attention of the United States Government and the people, particularly those who are fortunate enough to work, and that includes us all.

[19.] Q. Sir, the United States administration-your administration--has resisted with vigor, especially through its Ambassador to the U.N. Soviet attempts to change the structure of the world organization. Will the administration, now that General de Gaulle has indicated his displeasure with the structure of the U.N., resist with equal vigor any French attempts to change its structure?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we would not favor the change in the structure. I am not sure that there is an agreement--there is certainly not an agreement. They may both disapprove of the structure, but their disagreements are based on different factors, General de Gaulle and the Soviet. I would be opposed to changing the United Nations in the way the Soviets proposed. I support the United Nations and its present organization. We can, I think, perhaps provide more effective representation among the civil servants structure of the United Nations among all countries and all continents. And we also, I hope, can consider how the newly joined countries can play a greater, have a greater voice in the Security Council. But these are the kinds of improvements I would like to see in the United Nations-not tripartitism of the kind suggested by the Soviet Union, which would make it impossible for the United Nations to function. And I regret that this same principle has been suggested in the Geneva talks.

[20.] Q. At the beginning of the news conference, sir, you told us what the United States cannot do in Cuba. Last night in the broadcast you said, "I think Latin America is in a more critical period in its relations with us. Therefore, if we don't move now, Mr. Castro may become a much greater danger than he is to us today." Can you explore, sir, what we can or are doing in the line of that now?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that we attempted to indicate some of the areas where I hoped we could take affirmative action, in the speech I made to the ambassadors in March. Mr. Dillon is in Rio at the meeting of the Inter-American Bank. And we are, in the months of April and May and June, going to attempt in other ways to implement the concept behind alianza para progresso. I hope that the Congress will appropriate as quickly as possible the $500 million suggested by the Act of Bogota. That would be at least an important start. We will have other proposals to make, but I think that it's important that we seize the initiative and do not permit those who are not friends of freedom to become the spokesmen for the material aspirations of the people of Latin America. So that I hope we identify ourselves with both the social, political or the social and the material aspirations of the people of Latin America.

Q. Mr. President, in that same question, you said that--you pointed out that this Government has indicted a pro-Batista Cuban. But I am not clear from your answer, sir, whether this Government will oppose any attempt to mount an offensive against Castro from this country. Could • you clarify that?

THE PRESIDENT. If your phrase "to mount an offensive" is as I understand it, I would be opposed to mounting an offensive.

Q. Are we barred by our own neutrality acts or by the OAS treaty from giving any aid or arms to anti-Castro elements in the country?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there are, of course, as I stated--there is a revolutionary committee here which is, of course, extremely anxious to see a change in government in that country. I am sure that they have-that they are very interested in associating with all those who feel the same way. Mr. Castro enjoyed some support here in the United States and received some assistance when he was attempting to carry out his revolution. In fact, some Americans were involved in the military actions with him. That latter is what we are particularly anxious to--

[21.] Q. Would you say, sir, to what extent the United States can lend its good offices to disputes that arise between some of the new countries and their former colonial countries? I am thinking particularly of the West New Guinea dispute between Indonesia and the Netherlands.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we are going to see Mr. Sukarno, and I am sure that that will be one of the matters we will discuss. I did not have a chance to--that was one of the matters touched upon by the Foreign Minister of the Netherlands. It is rather difficult for the United States to offer its good offices unless we were asked by both parties to do so. To the best of my knowledge, we have not been asked by both parties to mediate that dispute.

[22.] Q. Mr. President, returning to that Texas election for a moment, what significance, if any, do you see in the vote there in terms of enacting your congressional programs? In other words, was this purely a local election or did it reflect some sort of a reaction to the administration?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I would think it would be probably unwise--I don't know how profitable it would be then, let's say that--to attempt to make a judgment. You could--each side can claim some comfort out of the Texas election. But I think that Senator Blakley runs as a Democrat, and I think that his prospects are--I think that he will probably run an active and vigorous campaign. And we will see what happens. But I wouldn't attempt, in the divided field with over 71 candidates, to make any judgments about which way Texas is going.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's ninth news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, April 12, 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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