John F. Kennedy photo

The President's News Conference

May 05, 1961

THE PRESIDENT. I have several announcements to make.

[1.] This week Ambassador Arthur H. Dean has reported to me upon the status of the nuclear test ban conference at Geneva. On the opening day of the resumed conference, the United States in closest cooperation with the United Kingdom presented a series of new proposals, and on April 18, 1961, presented a complete nuclear test ban draft treaty. The new U.S. position represents an earnest and reasonable effort to reach a workable agreement. It constitutes a most significant overall move in these negotiations. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union has introduced a new proposition into the negotiations which amounts to a built-in veto of an inspection system.

The Soviet proposal calls for a three-man administrative council to direct inspection operations and other activities of the control arrangements. This proposal reverses a position to which the Soviet Union had previously agreed. In earlier negotiations before this session in Geneva, it had been agreed that the inspection system would be headed by a single administrator, operating within a mandate clearly defined in the treaty. The Soviet Union would substitute a directorate, representing the Communist bloc, the Western Nations, and uncommitted countries. Each member of this triumvirate would have to agree with every other member before any action could be taken. Even relatively detailed elements of the inspection system would be subject to a veto or a debating delay.

We recognize that the Soviet Union put forward its proposition before it had considered our new proposals. It is now considering our draft treaty, and we hope it will do so in a positive manner, as of course we are most anxious to secure an agreement in this vital area--a responsible and effective agreement.

Ambassador Dean is leaving for Geneva today to resume the negotiations. The United States will continue to strive for a reliable and workable agreement. I have asked Ambassador Dean to report to me within a reasonable time on the prospects for a constructive outcome.

[2.] Secondly, I have asked Vice President Johnson to undertake a special fact-finding mission to Asia. The Vice President has agreed to do this. I consider this an extremely important assignment and I will be looking forward to receiving the Vice President's firsthand reports when he returns.

The Vice President will report directly to me upon his return. It is expected that the State Department will make public the itinerary and the technicians who will accompany the Vice President as soon as possible. It is anticipated that in the course of his trip the Vice President will consult with top governmental officials and conduct discussions on the highest level relating to the situations in those countries.

[3.] Next, I have today instructed the United States representatives on the Council of the Organization of American States to propose the convocation on July 15th of an extraordinary meeting of the Inter-American Economic and Social Council to be held at the ministerial level. The purposes of this meeting should be to initiate and develop planning and arrangements related to realistic economic development in the Americas, as well as to elaborate the objectives of the Act of Bogota in all key areas of economic and social betterment. This will be an important aspect of the cooperative program which I have set forth in the concept of the Alliance for Progress.

[4.] Finally, I was asked at a previous press conference what the Government was going to do about the aluminum extrusion plant that it owns in Adrian, Mich. I am pleased to announce that the General Services Administration has completed negotiations for the sale of the plant to the Harvey Aluminum Company of California and one of the conditions of the sale was that the plant be kept in production.

[5.] Q. Mr. President, you said earlier today that today's space flight should provide incentive to everyone in our Nation concerned with this program to redouble their efforts in this vital field. Do you have any specific proposals as to how these efforts should be redoubled, and would you want more money for space now than you have already asked from Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. The answer to the question is yes, we are going to send an additional request for appropriations for space, which I hope will have a beneficial effect on the program. We are going to make a substantially larger effort in space.

[6.] Q. Mr. President, in the speech prepared for delivery in Chicago last Friday which you did not read, you said that the principal adversary was not the Russians but rather our own unwillingness to do what must be done. Could you clarify for us your thinking on that and indicate some field in which the American people have not done what their governmental leaders asked?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the latter is not the correct--I said "our," not to make a distinction between the Government and the people. I was talking about the common problems of our free society.

I do wish that some of the speeches I give would get as much attention as the speeches which I do not give. [Laughter]

I do think there are a number of things that can usefully be done. We are going to require a larger effort in space. We are going to require a larger effort in other areas of the national security and we will be making our suggestions to the Congress.

I will say that this is a free society and it is not--it really requires a good deal of voluntary effort. On the matter of space, I've asked Secretary Goldberg to cooperate closely with Senator McClellan, to see if we can get a responsible, consistent effort by labor and management in the field of production of our missile program.

What is true there is true of other programs essential to our national defense. We have meeting at the White House, under the leadership of Secretary Goldberg and Secretary Hodges, a panel composed of the leading business and labor leaders of this country and public members, to see if we can persuade labor and management to come to useful national conclusions on problems of price and wages which will affect our balance of payments, and also address themselves to the problems of automation.

Now the Federal Government cannot compel that. All we can do is indicate the need. We are asking the people of this country to spend a good deal of money on mutual security and foreign assistance, which is not a popular program but which I believe to be essential. We have asked the people to support a greater effort both of the National Government and in their own communities--to improve education. We are asking the people of this country to try, regardless of their own personal views, to reach--to come closer to the constitutional concept of equality of opportunity for all Americans, regardless of their race or creed.

There are a good many of these areas which are within the private sector where each person can contribute usefully to strengthen education, to improve the opportunity for all Americans, to pay heavy burdens as they do in taxation to maintain programs which they may not always wholly agree with but which at least many of us feel to be in the national interest. In their own private work they consider the national needs, and we will continue to try to point out where we need a national effort.

Q. May I ask one follow-up question, sir? When you use the word "our," are you suggesting that it's the unwillingness of Government and people to do what must be done?

THE PRESIDENT. I had not subjected that sentence to the--but what I do think is a problem is to, in a free society, to attempt to come to actions which permit us to compete successfully with the discipline of the Communist state. And I think it's probably not only true using the "our"--I would use it not only in the national sense, but also in the international sense.

There isn't any doubt, reading today's news from one country and another, that the forces of freedom are in many areas on the defense, partly because they have not always been 'willing to take those progressive steps which will associate the governments with the progressive aspirations of the people so that when I use "our," I use it really in the sense of speaking of the common purpose of the free world, which affects other countries besides ourselves. But as time goes on, I think the point made in the question is a good one.

I think we should continue as much as we can to indicate where the people, other than in the payment of taxes or in their acceptance of military obligations, where they can usefully contribute to the advancement of the national interest. I have suggested several areas, and I will suggest others in time.

[7.] Q. Mr. President, there have been reports that you would be prepared to send American forces into South Viet-Nam if that became necessary to prevent Communist domination of that country. Could you tell us whether that is correct, and also anything else you have regarding plans for that country?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, we have had a group working in the Government and we have had a Security Council meeting about the problems which are faced in Viet-Nam by the guerrillas and by the barrage which the present government is being subjected to. The problem of troops is a matter-the matter of what we are going to do to assist Viet-Nam to obtain its independence is a matter still under consideration. There are a good many which I think can most usefully wait until we have had consultations with the government, which up to the present time--which will be one of the matters which Vice President Johnson will deal with: the problem of consultations with the Government of Viet-Nam as to what further steps could most usefully be taken.

[8.] Q. Mr. President, is the administration satisfied that the Indian Chairman of the International Control Commission in Hanoi has pressed as vigorously as he might have the right of the Commission to go to the Hanoi airfield, where the Soviet planes have been putting down on the way to Laos? Specifically, has he at times declined to have the Commission do that?

THE PRESIDENT. There has been, as you know, some disagreement as to the authority of the International Control Commission. I would hope that--and after all, this is a matter which the British have, and the Indian Government, as well as the other two members of the Control Commission, the Canadians and the Poles--I would hope that they would use maximum influence to make the Control Commission as effective as possible. And we would be--this Government would cooperate in every way to make it effective.

[9.] Q. Mr. President, is it anticipated that the United States will continue to train and arm the Cuban exiles in this country or elsewhere, or will that operation be disbanded?

THE PRESIDENT. We have no plans to train Cuban exiles as a Cuban force in this country or in any other country at this time. There are, of course, Cubans who live in this country or have the opportunity to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States. But if your question means are we planning now to train a Cuban force, as I understand your question, we are not now training and are not now planning to train a Cuban force of the kind that your question would suggest.

[10.] Q. Mr. President, are you embarrassed or is the Government harmed in any way by the rather frank statements that Senator Fulbright has made on foreign policy?

THE PRESIDENT. Am I embarrassed--and what was the other word?

Q. Or is the Government harmed in any way in its foreign relations by a member of your party speaking as he has?

THE PRESIDENT. No, Senator Fulbright and I spent an hour together last evening, and we've had--I've talked to Senator Fulbright, I think, at least on five different occasions. in the last 4 or 5 weeks, and I expect to continue to confer with him. He is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he is a valuable citizen, and I think his counsel is useful and I think that he should say what he thinks. And if he has indicated disagreement on occasions, then he has indicated general support on a good many other occasions, although that has not become as newsworthy.

[11.] Q. Mr. President, about 10 days ago you sent a message to Congress on the conflict of interest laws and in that message you mentioned that public confidence is the basis for effective government, and that when that confidence appears to falter or does-falter then we are in some sort of trouble. Since that time one of your Cabinet members, Secretary of the Interior Udall, has been involved in a situation in which one of his friends, believing to have acted on his suggestion, solicited members of the oil and gas industry for contributions to a $100-a-plate Democratic Rally.

Now, in this instance, do you believe that ethical standards have appeared to falter or have you had any advice for your Secretary in this case?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I know that the Secretary attempted, I believe, according to what I read of his press conference and the conversations that I have had with him myself, did--when he heard of the letter that had gone out which he had not envisioned--did attempt to have those letters recalled.

I think this whole question of trying to raise funds for campaigns is a very difficult one and it leads to embarrassments. I wish and I hope that before we get into another presidential campaign that we can work out some system by which the major burdens of presidential campaigns on both sides would be sustained by the National Government, as suggested by Theodore Roosevelt, as suggested by Senator Neuberger--Dick Neuberger--when he was here. Because, to try to raise $6 million or $7 million, which a presidential campaign must, from people, is a very difficult task and leads to embarrassing situations. I made it clear in the campaign, and I make it clear again, that no one should contribute--that while we are glad to have support, no one should contribute to any campaign fund under the expectation that it will do them the slightest bit of good, and they should not stay home from a campaign fund or dinner or campaign under the slightest expectation that it will do them a disservice.

I'm satisfied that that's Mr. Udall's view, from my knowledge of him. But I do think that every member of the Cabinet, every member of this administration, should bend over backwards to make sure that there are no misunderstandings of the kind that could have arisen from this incident.

Secretary Udall understands that. I hope everybody else does. But I think the best way to prevent an embarrassment to a Cabinet officer--and I think that Mr. Udall was embarrassed by this incident--and embarrassment to an administration, would be to try to work out some other way of raising funds for these presidential campaigns, because there isn't any doubt that people give--and I am talking now not about this incident, but about generally--under the expectation that they should, or it is expected of them. As long as we can't get broader citizen participation, I think it ought to be done through the National Government, and I would support that strongly if the Congress would move in that direction.

Q. Have you spoken to Mr. Udall about this, sir?


[12.] Q. Mr. President, has the administration made any determination with respect to an embargo on trade with Cuba?

THE PRESIDENT. We had a meeting of the National Security Council in which we discussed the problems of Cuba. As you know, the only kinds of supplies that are now being sent to Cuba involve food and medicine, so that we have to consider carefully all of the implications of further action and that is being done.

Q. Is a decision imminent?

THE PRESIDENT. That will be considered carefully.

[13.] Q. Mr. President, in addition to the statement you issued earlier, will you here give your evaluation and reaction to today's successful launching of an American astronaut into space and back?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I first would like to repeat what I said about Major Gagarin, which was that as a human accomplishment and as a demonstration of courage, I think' everyone, whether they are citizens of this country or citizens of another country, take the greatest personal satisfaction in the accomplishment of another member of the human race.

As an American, I am, of course, proud of the effort that a great many scientists and engineers and technicians have made, of all of the astronauts, and, of course, particularly of Commander Shepard and his family.

We have a long way to go in the field of space. We are behind. But we are working hard and we are going to increase our effort. In addition, we are making available the scientific information which we have gathered to other scientists in the world community and people who share our view that the probe into space should be peaceful, and should be for the common good, and that will continue to motivate us.

[14.] Q. Mr. President, leaving aside the matter of the space trip today, I think many of us are concerned by the relentless knelling of the gong of gloom and doom by some of the administration officials who participate in foreign affairs. I was wondering, sir, if you could tell us if there are any bright spots on the international horizon?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think that we have grounds for encouragement. I am hopeful that NATO will be strengthened by the meeting in Oslo, and that we will make a more determined effort. I believe that as other situations become more difficult, that there is a common recognition of the need for closer collaboration. That is true of NATO.

Secondly, I am hopeful that our ties with Japan can become strengthened as the weeks and months pass, and I have a good deal of encouragement from the effort which India is making on its third 5-year plan, which if successful could make a tremendous difference in the cause of freedom throughout all of Asia.

Then I feel that there is a greater recognition in this hemisphere of--I don't think that there is any doubt about this--that there is a greater recognition of the urgency of a common hemispheric approach to the problems of poverty and a common hemispheric effort to improve the life of the people. In addition, I think there is a common hemispheric awareness now that there is cause for alarm in the determined effort which Communists are making to seize control of the liberal revolutionary movements which are endemic to the Western Hemisphere, and turn them to their own ends.

And, quite obviously, I think that we are happy about what happened this morning. I am not a pessimist about the future, but I think that we have a good many problems, but that doesn't

[15.] Q. Mr. President, you have emphasized on several occasions in public the necessity to find new nonmilitary ways to assert and support our foreign policy. Can you suggest to us this afternoon any ways in the immediate future that we might do that in meeting the Communist threat in Southeast Asia, specifically?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the United States can play an important role. And I think in considering the problems in our own hemisphere we have to remember that the United States is holding back--is protecting the integrity by its guarantees of a good many countries which are in the direct line of hazard in the Middle East, in Asia, and in Western Europe--and that in itself is a substantial accomplishment. We can assist these countries by our guarantees or at least we can protect these countries by our guarantees against outright military invasion. We can assist them through economic assistance to improve the life of their people. We can assist them through defense support in strengthening their armed forces against internal guerrilla activity. But in the final analysis they have to--and we cannot do it for them--they have to organize the political and social life of the country in such a way that they maintain the support of their people.

There is a limit beyond which our efforts cannot go. I think that I have described what our efforts can do. In the final analysis, then, the responsibility rests with the people involved to maintain the support of the people, to identify their government with the people.

One of the reasons why it has been a satisfaction to have the President of Tunisia here, Mr. Bourguiba, is that he has done that. He has stood for freedom; he has identified himself with a common effort--national effort--by the people under freedom, and that's what we need to do around the globe.

[16.] Q. Mr. President, what are you and the Defense Department doing to better prepare the one-half million dependents, more than half of whom are wives, sons, and daughters, of Peace Corps qualifications, for their roles while living overseas with their husbands, in the case of wives, and fathers, in the case of sons and daughters?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't think the Defense--did you say the Defense Department?

Q. I asked what you and the Defense Department, because I was referring primarily to Armed Forces wives and sons and daughters who are of Peace Corps qualification.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, that really is a responsibility of the Peace Corps, which is to-- may not be.

Q. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. [Laughter] We have at least 485,000 dependents of our Armed Forces--

THE PRESIDENT. In order to make themselves more effective?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I see. I think that is a good--I don't know whether we are doing enough. I am not informed about the matter. I think it is a good point, and I think that the Defense Department and the State Department and the White House should see if there is anything more effective we can do, so we will.

[17.] Q. Mr. President, in view of the communistic declarations of Cuba's Castro, what is the position of the United States now on the Monroe Doctrine and how do we expect to enforce it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the Monroe Doctrine and other treaties which the United States has committed itself to, of course, govern the foreign policy of the United States in this hemisphere. I have discussed the problem, and the Secretary of State has made other references to it. It is a matter of some concern now on an individual and hemispheric basis.

[18.] Q. Mr. President, how would you appraise your first 100 days in office?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I feel I can read what you gentlemen write about it and I wouldn't attempt to contradict you.

[19.] Q. Mr. President, speaking of ties with Japan, as you did, do you think it might still be useful for General Eisenhower to visit Tokyo in the fall, or is that still under consideration?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think whatever the judgment would be of the President, I would accept, and--

Q. The State Department has asked him not to, if I recall correctly.

THE PRESIDENT. I have looked into it and it is--I saw that statement and I have talked to the State Department, and we are attempting to come to a more definitive conclusion as to what we might suggest to him, though, of course, what we would do is give him all the information we have and then see what his best judgment was. I think that President Eisenhower could very usefully travel abroad as an individual and also, of course, as a respected citizen of this country. When and where he should go is a matter on which he would make a judgment. But we would, in the meanwhile, provide him with all the information we had as to the appropriateness-as, really, to the wisdom of exactly when those trips should be taken and where. The final decision will be made by the President--President Eisenhower--but We will make available to him all the information that we have.

[20.] Q. Mr. President, during the campaign you repeatedly mentioned the plight of laundry workers in some of our big cities, being paid substandard wages. How do you feel about both Houses having passed a minimum wage bill which specifically excludes them from coverage?

THE PRESIDENT. I wish we could include them in the coverage. I am hopeful that we will not settle with what we now have, but that we will get the laundry workers in. One of the problems with laundry workers, of course, is that they are paid quite badly now. I would say they are among the lowest group--almost the lowest group in the American economy. Laundries are not a prosperous business at the present time. The passage of the minimum wage of $1.25 would increase the cost of the laundry owners by a substantial sum because manpower represents a high percentage of their cost, and they are competing with home laundries, which now have become a rather easy alternative in many cases, so that the argument .is made that we would liquidate a substantial percentage of the industry and throw them out of work. So it is not the easiest problem. But, nevertheless, considering all that, in my judgment they should be covered. And that goes for hotel and restaurant workers, too--it was necessary to drop them in order to get the coverage we did. The coverage we passed, which was 3,600,000, is the first time that we expanded the coverage since 1938. It's a hard fight, but I am hopeful that we will come back to them and get those groups covered.

[21.] Q. Mr. President, does your administration have plans for further spending in public works as an attack on unemployment, and do your remarks that a substantially larger effort is needed in the space program indicate that you prefer to channel any extra spending into the military field?

THE PRESIDENT Well, I think we can make a judgment as to what additional efforts should be made in retraining or public works, and so on, based on our judgment of the economy, and also what other expenditures we have to make in the fields of national security and related--we are making a study of what greater effort should be made in the field of conventional forces at the present time. All these will be completed before the end of the month, and will be made public. So that we are trying to make a judgment on the state of the economy, of what usefully could be done, of the international and national needs. I cannot today give you an answer to the--

[22.] Q. Mr. President, is there any evidence that the Soviet Union is making available to the scientists in other countries the knowledge which it recently acquired from its man in space?

THE PRESIDENT. I have not heard it. Now, I don't want to be inaccurate. It is possible they have, but it has not been brought to my attention. And there was our statement this morning in which we spoke of the fact that we were going to disseminate it to other scientists. We did. It was suggested that others who have pioneered in this field have not made that information available.

[23.] Q. Mr. President, in that connection, were you satisfied with the coverage given today of the space shot, and if you were, and it was not a successful thing, would we be back in the orphanage?

THE PRESIDENT. Back in the what?

Q. In the orphanage.

THE PRESIDENT. I agree that if it had failed, having had some experience with that, it would be a very difficult time for NASA and for us all. But fortunately, it succeeded. I have not got the answer, however, to the question of the buildup.

What I think is somewhat unfair is when pressmen themselves, or editorial writers, criticize NASA for attempting a big buildup with all of the implications it would have to our prestige and standing if there is a failure. We are not responsible, at least we are making every effort not to be responsible, for encouraging a press concentration on this event, because quite obviously if we fail we are humiliated here and around the world.

But in a free society, if a newspaperman asks to be represented, and to come, then he can come. So I think everybody ought to understand that we are not going to do what the Russians did, of being secret and just hailing our successes. If they like that system, they have to take it all, which means that you don't get anything in the paper except what the government wants. But if you don't like that system, and I don't, then you have to take these risks. And for people to suggest that it is a publicity circus, when at the same time they are very insistent that their reporters go down there, does seem to me to be unfair.

What is fair is that we all recognize that our failures are going to be publicized and so are our successes and there isn't anything that anyone can do about it or should.

Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Kennedy's eleventh news conference was held in the State Department Auditorium at 3:30 o'clock on Friday afternoon, May 5, 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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