Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

May 11, 1960

THE PRESIDENT [reading]. I have made some notes from which I want to talk to you about this U-2 incident.

A full statement about this matter has been made by the State Department, and there have been several statesmanlike remarks by leaders of both parties.

For my part, I supplement what the Secretary of State has had to say, with the following four main points. After that I shall have nothing further to say--for the simple reason I can think of nothing to add that might be useful at this time.

The first point is this: the need for intelligence-gathering activities.

No one wants another Pearl Harbor. This means that we must have knowledge of military forces and preparations around the world, especially those capable of massive surprise attacks.

Secrecy in the Soviet Union makes this essential. In most of the world no large-scale attack could be prepared in secret, but in the Soviet Union there is a fetish of secrecy and concealment. This is a major cause of international tension and uneasiness today. Our deterrent must never be placed in jeopardy. The safety of the whole free world demands this.

As the Secretary of State pointed out in his recent statement, ever since the beginning of my administration I have issued directives to gather, in every feasible way, the information required to protect the United States and the free world against surprise attack and to enable them to make effective preparations for defense.

My second point: the nature of intelligence-gathering activities.

These have a special and secret character. They are, so to speak, "below the surface" activities.

They are secret because they must circumvent measures designed by other countries to protect secrecy of military preparations.

They are divorced from the regular visible agencies of government which stay clear of operational involvement in specific detailed activities.

These elements operate under broad directives to seek and gather intelligence short of the use of force--with operations supervised by responsible officials within this area of secret activities.

We do not use our Army, Navy, or Air Force for this purpose, first, to avoid any possibility of the use of force in connection with these activities, and second, because our military forces, for obvious reasons, cannot be given latitude under broad directives but must be kept under strict control in every detail.

These activities have their own rules and methods of concealment which seek to mislead and obscure--just as in the Soviet allegations there are many discrepancies. For example, there is some reason to believe that the plane in question was not shot down at high altitude. The normal agencies of our Government are unaware of these specific activities or of the special efforts to conceal them.

Third point: how should we view all of this activity?

It is a distasteful but vital necessity.

We prefer and work for a different kind of world--and a different way of obtaining the information essential to confidence and effective deterrents. Open societies, in the day of present weapons, are the only answer.

This was the reason for my "open skies" proposal in 1955, which I was ready instantly to put into effect--to permit aerial observation over the United States and the Soviet Union which would assure that no surprise attack was being prepared against anyone. I shall bring up the "open skies" proposal again at Paris--since it is a means of ending concealment and suspicion.

My final point is that we must not be distracted from the real issues of the day by what is an incident or a symptom of the world situation today.

This incident has been given great propaganda exploitation. The emphasis given to a flight of an unarmed nonmilitary plane can only reflect a fetish of secrecy.

The real issues are the ones we will be working on at the summit-disarmament, search for solutions affecting Germany and Berlin, and the whole range of East-West relations, including the reduction of secrecy and suspicion.

Frankly, I am hopeful that we may make progress on these great issues. This is what we mean when we speak of "working for peace."

And as I remind you, I will have nothing further to say about this matter. [Ends reading]

Q. Robert J. Donovan, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, since our last visit, or conference, Prime Minister Khrushchev has made some pretty vigorous statements about your plans for bringing Mr. Nixon to the summit in case you had to come home. Do his comments in any way change your intentions?

THE PRESIDENT. No, indeed. And, I should clarify something. There seems to be some misunderstanding, because a friend from Congress, a friend indeed of the other party, told me the other day that he had never heard of the latter part of my press conference on this point where I said that if my absence from the conference had to. be more than 2 or 3 days, I would be right back there. And I believe I remarked, although I am not sure, that the jet plane made this kind of a trip possible.

Now, as far as Mr. Khrushchev's statement, I can just say this: he has never asked me my opinion of some of his people. [Laughter]

Q. Charles H. Mohr, Time Magazine: In case, Mr. President, that the Soviet Union should reject your proposal for a surprise attack conference, or an "open skies" arrangement, do you think that the development of satellites like Samos and Midas will possibly in the next few years erase our worries on the score of surveillance; and also are you doing anything now to speed up those scientific projects?

THE PRESIDENT. I keep in touch with my Scientific Advisory Committee and operators, and I know of nothing we could do to speed these up. They are research items and as such no one can predict exactly what would be their degree of efficiency. So I couldn't make a real prediction of how useful they are going to be.

Q. Mr. Mohr: Sir, do you think that their development will ease our worries on the question of secrecy?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I say, I just can't predict what the final results will be. Now, we do know this, right now. I believe it's Tiros that is sending back constantly pictures on the cloud cover all around the earth. That is admittedly a rather rough example of what might be done in photography, but that is being done constantly; and I don't know how many thousands of photographs have been taken. And they send them back on command.

Q. Laurence H. Burd, Chicago Tribune: Mr. President, last week you used the word "if" in connection with your trip to Russia. Have you changed any plans about that, or think you might?

THE PRESIDENT. NO, not at all. I have no idea, but you can never tell from one day to the other what is happening in this world, it seems, so I just said "if." I put it in the positive sense, I think. I expect to go; put it that way.

Q. Felix Belair, New York Times: I know, Mr. President, you don't ordinarily tip your hand on disposition of pending legislation before you, but since the legislative leaders more than a week ago said you were very much opposed to the emergency housing bill, may I ask if you have had any change of view about it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, what it says right now, I don't know; but I have said this: I am very definitely opposed of taking another billion dollars of Federal money and making use of it, making it available for direct loans when we don't need it. And I think it's a very bad way to stimulate housing.

As a matter of fact, while I think there has been some little slowup in the housing field, there is indication it's coming up--back to the level of 1.2, something of that kind. I see no reason for constantly getting excited about this one.

By the way, I've got another paper. [Laughter]

Q. (Questioner unidentified): How many more?

THE PRESIDENT. This is something that is good news in this whole economic field, and that is what you are talking about.

I understand the employment rose 1.9 million between mid-March and mid-April, and has reached a total of 66.2 million. This is the biggest April increase by far in the postwar period. There was also a sharp drop in the number of unemployed persons, a decline of more than one-half million.

It has been reported by the Commerce Department that retail sales in April were more than 3 percent above March, and 5 percent above last April.

Finally, figures from the Department of Commerce today show that in the first quarter of this year, gross national product reached 500.2 billion. This means that, in effect, the United States is producing goods and services at a rate of a half-trillion dollars for the first time in our history.

The achievement of these high levels of employment and production, at the same time that prices have been reasonably stable--the consumer price index has varied only one-quarter of one percent in the last 6 months--is proof of the great strength of our free enterprise system and its promise for the future. And if we continue to act responsibly, I think it will keep going.

Q. Edward T. Foillard, Washington Post: Mr. President, do you think the outlook for the summit conference has changed, or has been changed, in the last week or so?

THE PRESIDENT. Not decisively at all, no.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Mr. President, when you came into office you obtained a truce in Korea. Do you think a treaty now, an effort to get a treaty now would be useful, and will you discuss that with Mr. Rhee and the acting officials of Korea when you visit there?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mrs. Craig, I have no reason to believe that it would now be easy to achieve a treaty.

Now, as far as my trip to Korea is concerned, it is to be an official one. Assuming the permission of the people now in charge of Korea, and a proper opportunity, I should be glad to see Mr. Rhee who, as I have told you people, I have admired and respected over the years.

Q. Andrew F. Tully, Jr., Scripps-Howard Newspapers: Sir, I know this borders on your rule not to discuss personalities, but Mr. Truman has written an article in a magazine in which he says certain things about you, and I wonder if you would like to speak out in your own behalf for the record.

THE PRESIDENT. I just haven't time.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, now that you have been to Fort Benning and you have seen the wonderful display of modern Army weapons, I wonder if you don't realize that we need a stepping up of production of some of these weapons.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'd say this: of course, your question implies that you know very much more about the military than I do and it's probably true. [Laughter]

I can just say this: I do just as good as what the commonsense the Good Lord gave me and my own judgment and experience allow me to do.

Q. Pat Munroe, Chicago American: Mr. President, when an unfriendly cartoon or column appears in the press, that is unfriendly to you, we often hear people say, "I'll bet they won't let the President see that one." Now, what are your regular habits, sir, for keeping up with what we are saying about you?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know whether you can call it a habit, for the simple reason that it takes a lot of time if I was going to keep track of what all you people say. I take what I call the important sections of the Sunday papers that review world events, go over the things, and those are the things I study carefully. The kind of things that you tall of, cartoons and unfriendly quips, I just can't be bothered.

Q. Ruth S. Montgomery, Hearst Headline Service: Mr. President, to go back a minute, I am very puzzled about this statement by your predecessor. As I recall, you not only participated in the inaugural parade, but you also attended the inaugural ball that night, did you not, in '49?

THE PRESIDENT. I don't think I went to the ball. I had an invitation from Mr. Royall, then Secretary of the Army. He was very anxious, and he said the administration approved of his request, that I, as a five-star general, ride with him because I believe the Secretary of the Navy was going to have, oh, Admiral Nimitz or somebody, and he felt that he had to have one of these five-star generals which I still was then. So, I went along. Now, I think I went right back to Columbia that day.

Q. Miss Montgomery: I attended a party where you were that evening at George Allen's, and you and Mrs. Eisenhower went in and changed into evening attire and left for the ball.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, then, your memory is better than mine. [Laughter] Can I just say one thing: I have never advanced the theory that my memory is perfect, like a good many others.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press International: Quite aside from your comment about the U-2 plane episode, sir, I wonder if you could give us your reaction to a rather denunciatory speech made this morning, right ahead of the summit meeting, by the Russian Foreign Minister. Mr. Gromyko attributes to this country deeds and efforts which he said amount to dangerous ways of balancing on the brink of war. He says that the United States has deliberately engaged in provocative acts in conjunction with some of our allies. Now, with statements like this, do you still maintain a hopeful attitude toward the summit?

THE PRESIDENT. I'd say yes. I have some hope, because these things have been said for many years, ever since World War II, and there is no real change in this matter.

I wonder how many of you people have read the full text of the record of the trial of Mr. Abel. Well, I think he was sentenced to 30 years. Now, this business of saying that you're doing things that are provocative, why, they had better look at their own record.

And I'll tell you this: the United States--and none of its allies that I know of--has engaged in nothing that would be considered honestly as provocative. We are looking to our own security and our defense and we have no idea of promoting any kind of conflict or war. This is just-it's absolutely ridiculous and they know it is.

Q. Henry N. Taylor, Scripps-Howard Newspapers: Sir, would it be trespassing on your request about the U-2 to ask if you could tell us something about any possible Soviet reconnaissance flights over the western part of the world, and our response to them, if any?

THE PRESIDENT. I could just say this: as far as I know, there has never been any over the United States.

Q. Holmes Alexander, McNaught Syndicate: Sir, this is a question about Quemoy and Matsu; two of the Democratic candidates have said that if elected they would try to get rid of that responsibility. I know you don't deal in personalities, but I wonder if you could tell us as a military man to what extent these islands help us control the air and sea over the Formosa Strait.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am not talking personalities because I don't know who said this. I will say this: if you go back to the Formosa doctrine, you will find that the responsibility is placed upon the President to determine, in the event of any attack upon Quemoy and Matsu, whether this is in fact a preliminary to or part of an attack against the Pescadores and Taiwan. If that is true, then he must participate because then it will be the defense of Formosa, one of our allies.

Now, as to the actual value of Matsu and Quemoy, of course we must remember how much this seems to mean to the morale of all the Chinese forces on Formosa. From their viewpoint, any desertion of those islands means a complete surrender--abject surrender. So, it is a factor that anyone who is going to have to make possible decisions in the future has to take into consideration when he talks about the abandonment of these sets of islands. And frankly, no President of the United States can do it by himself.

Now, he can withhold support to Taiwan, but are you going to destroy Taiwan? So, none of these problems is ever a simple, black and white thing. You have got a very great number of conflicting considerations and they take study and heart searching, and you hope and pray that you are right most of the time.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post: Last week, sir, you announced that the U.S. would resume underground nuclear testing for purposes of protecting the detection and control system. 1 There seems, however, to be some dispute as to whether this would be joint or coordinated, that is, this testing in conjunction with the Soviet Union. Could you tell us what the argument there is, and what your own view is?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'll tell you, Mr. Roberts, having heard of this misunderstanding, I had a discussion with Dr. Kistiakowsky only this morning. These things are not nuclear weapons testing. They are for one simple--and as a matter of fact in many cases I don't think will involve any nuclear explosions except under the coordinated directions of a body made up of the U.K., U.S.S.R., and ourselves. That's the way I understood the agreement, and I believe that you will find that they are not expected to have anything to do either with weapons development or the Plowshare Project, anything else except just finding out how good this testing of the weapons below 4.75 is.

1 On May 7 a White House release stated that the President had that day announced approval of a major expansion of research and development directed toward an improved capability to detect and identify underground nuclear explosions. The release added that the program, to be known as Project VELA, had grown out of the recommendations of the Panel on Seismic Improvement ("Berkner Panel"), and that it provided that "such nuclear explosions as are essential to a full understanding of both the capabilities of the presently proposed detection system and the potential for improvements in this system would be carried out under fully contained conditions and would produce no radioactive fallout." The release further stated that Soviet negotiators at Geneva had concurred with the proposal that underground nuclear explosions should be conducted to improve the capability of the proposed control network; that they had also indicated a willingness to discuss research and development in the seismic detection area with the U.S. and the U.K.; and that agreement had been reached to convene a group of U.S.S.R., U.K., and U.S. scientists at Geneva on May 11 to exchange information on the seismic research activities of the three nations as a basis for future determination of the areas in which coordinated or joint research would be most fruitful.

Q. Mr. Roberts: Well, sir, is it your understanding that we would show everything involved, mechanism and so on, to the Soviets under this program?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, now, Mr. Roberts, there are some details I just can't get down to. You know that. But, I would think that everything that they found it necessary to see in order to determine whether this thing is effective, they would see and should see.

Now, I think that to get a little further on the thing you might get that statement of Dr. Kistiakowsky's and show it to him--[confers with Mr. Hagerty]

Mr. Hagerty just reminds me of what Dr. Kistiakowsky told me, another point. Our people are leaving tomorrow, they will meet there together-the U.S.S.R. and the U.K. and the U.S.--in determining exactly how we will do this.

Q. Charles W. Roberts, Newsweek: Sir, in connection with the Abel trial which you mentioned, the Soviet Government in that case made no effort to defend Colonel Abel. I wonder if an American citizen were arrested by a foreign government and brought to trial as a spy, what the policy of this Government would be so far as his defense was concerned.

THE PRESIDENT. We would certainly offer the good offices of our Embassy, and see whether there was anything we could do. Of course it would be an internal matter there, and we would have to do it with the permission of the other country. I think that if there is anything wrong diplomatically with my answer, you had better ask the State Department, but I think that would be the result.

Q. Robert C. Pierpoint, CBS News: Mr. President, many people seem to feel that the result of yesterday's elections in West Virginia once and for all buries the religious issue in politics in America. Do you agree with that premise, sir, and how do you feel about it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know whether I agree completely with the conclusion or not. Certainly I have made as strong a statement as I can, deploring the insertion of the religious issue in elections. As a matter of fact, I think it is very, very bad for this country. But as to what this election means, the only thing it means to me is--as a response to one question I said that I normally read only the Sunday papers, but I have read what the newspapers said were going to happen. Now, this morning, I am a bit astonished. [Laughter]

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, you have said many times that you wouldn't go to the summit under any threats or ultimatums.

Yesterday, as you know, the Soviets in their note threatened retaliation against us if we continued to fly these planes over their territory. Do you regard that kind of threat as within the category you were speaking of?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I think that you have to set that aside in a special category. I don't believe it's the kind of thing that you call an ultimatum at all.

Q. Edward P. Morgan, American Broadcasting Company: A point of clarification, Mr. President. Do we infer correctly that your prepared statement this morning is the final, complete, and ultimate answer to your critics, friendly and hostile, on the subject?

THE PRESIDENT. I said that at this time I could see nothing more useful that I could say, so that's where I stand at this moment.

Q. Thomas N. Schroth, Congressional Quarterly: You said last summer, sir, that you planned to put before Congress at its final session a plan to reorganize the highest echelons of Government in order to relieve the burdens on some of the high officials. Can you give us any of the details of your plans and whether you expect to send them to Congress?

THE PRESIDENT. I've had to change my plan a little bit, because I became convinced that anything you did this year of extraordinary nature would probably be made political in some form or another. So I decided that regardless of who was elected to my present office, when I go up in January, as I must go under the Constitution--I must go make a statement--I'm going to put in then the plans that I have adverted to in these conferences before.

In general, it is to get closer, tighter day-by-day coordination in everything that touches upon the foreign field through one proper part of the plan; and the other, get all our business affairs, our types of procurement and making of contracts and all that, get that more tightly coordinated day in and day out.

The first one, I think, is tremendously important, because almost every department now has really heavy responsibilities in the foreign field. I think more and more we have to have not merely day-by-day meetings with the department heads concerned; it has to be closer, more tightly done than that.

Q. John Scali, Associated Press: Mr. President, you said in your initial statement that the Soviet account of the downing of this plane contained many discrepancies, and that there was reason to doubt that the plane was downed at a high altitude, as Mr. Khrushchev claims.

Can you tell us, sir, whether the administration at some future time intends to expose these discrepancies, and can you at this time without violating what you have said, give us any more details about how we believe this plane actually came down in the Soviet Union?

THE PRESIDENT. You raise a question that is really an auxiliary to the main issue, and so I don't mind saying this: take the pictures themselves, we know that they were not, or we believe we know that they are not pictures of the plane that was downed, and there are other things in their statements.

Now, I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but these things you can be sure will be carefully looked into. Again I say I do not foreclose any kind of statement that in the future may be necessary; I am saying that now I can see nothing more useful to say.

Q. John Herling, National Newspaper Syndicate: Mr. President, in reference to the drop in unemployment to which you referred, the hard core unemployment continues in many depressed areas, including West Virginia. Now, in view of that, sir, is Senator Dirksen correct in predicting that you plan to veto the depressed areas bill?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, if I don't approve of the particular depressed area bill, what do you expect me to do? As a matter of fact, as I have so far been reading this bill, the amounts there to be put under this greatly inflated bill of $251 million, or something like that, the amounts that are going into the areas like West Virginia, Southern Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Eastern Kentucky are less than they would be under ours. It's a shotgun--it's getting to be a pork barrel bill, as I see it. So I say I am not predicting anything; I am just saying this: I'll do what my judgment tells me to.

Q. Frank van der Linden, Nashville Banner: Sir, recently you proposed that the several southern cities having the problems of sit-in demonstrations should have biracial committees to meet and try to solve them.

Yesterday six of the stores in downtown Nashville admitted Negroes to the lunch counters. I wondered, sir, if you felt that was a solution to the problem, do you think that would be a pattern for the other cities to follow?

THE PRESIDENT. Let me say this: let us assume that I had the wisdom of a Solomon. I am still a good many hundred miles away from any of these cities, and any solutions to these problems must take into account local considerations and feelings and beliefs.

We here can talk and believe in the ideals that have been set up for us by the Constitution, and certainly we have a responsibility in helping to enforce or seeing that the constitutional rights guaranteed are not violated.

Now, when it comes to sit-ins, I am just not enough of a lawyer to say just exactly what they do mean--what they mean in the constitutional or legal terms. We, you and I, can talk about it in social terms and you might say on a moral standard, but this is something else.

I would say for that question, you ought to go to the Attorney General. I am just not that much of a lawyer.

Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: In view of your emphasis on you might go back to the summit, if you had to come back here, have you any idea how long the Paris meeting will go on--how long do you think it will take you to. get to some agreement?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't know. But I just want to point this out: I hear that some--I don't know whether this is all of the others or not--do not like the simultaneous translations. Now, let us assume you have called an hour's conference, and one of you, for example, wants to make a, let's say, a 10-minute exposition. When you take seriatum translations, here is already a half hour of an hour's conference gone, and you have had only 10 minutes.

Now, these are very slow and laborious things, and consequently the possibility of prophesying how long this thing is going to be is really remote. Now, for my part, I am perfectly ready to work as many hours as an individual human can to get this thing along the line. I am prepared to go to this thing as long as there is any usefulness whatsoever promised, and even if I am called back--I know I have one date for 24 hours--I am still ready and prepared to go back. That is what I have been trying to insist, that I am not making my own convenience and my own duties here the decisive thing as to how long this conference will last.

Q. Lillian Levy, National Jewish Post and Opinion: Mr. President, are any changes in the present borders of West Germany part of the German question to be discussed at the summit? I ask this, sir, because this issue has been raised by a responsible West German leader and member of Adenauer's Cabinet who recently suggested that Germans be allowed to return to Sudetenland.

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't get the very first clause of your question.

Q. Mrs. Levy: Well, what I asked--were boundaries going to be part of the German question to be raised?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, at this time we wouldn't raise it. As a matter of fact, they've been living with these boundaries for a long time, and I would see at this moment no possibility of changing them except in methods that would be unacceptable. So, it might be raised by someone but I have no plan to do it.

Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Eisenhower's one hundred and eighty-fifth news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:27 to 11:01 o'clock on Wednesday morning, May 11, 1960. In attendance: 275.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234352

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