Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

September 28, 1959

THE PRESIDENT. I realize, ladies and gentlemen, that in the last few days the public and the press have been mostly preoccupied with questions of international import. But during this entire period, so far as I am concerned, there has always been in the back of my mind, and the subject of many conversations and discussions over the phone and otherwise about an important domestic problem, the steel strike.

As we start this conference, I want to read a little statement that I have written this morning on this matter:

"I have this to say to you today on the steel strike."

Incidentally, for your benefit, there will be the usual copies outside.

"I am not going to try to assess any blame, but I am getting sick and tired of the apparent impasse in the settlement of this matter, and, I think, so are the American people.

"Free collective bargaining--the logical recourse of a free people in settling industrial disputes--has apparently broken down.

"The long delay in coming to a reasonable agreement has already had a noticeable effect on our economy. Now, with negotiations abandoned, the prospects become serious for every individual in the Nation.

"This morning I shall not discuss specific governmental action but I tell you this: so far as governmental action can be brought to bear on this matter, I am not going to permit the economy of the Nation to suffer with its inevitable injuries to all. I am not going to permit American workers to remain unnecessarily unemployed. There are 500,000 steel workers out of jobs. There are 160,000 other workers in industry affected by the strike who are not receiving salary checks. This figure will continue to grow.

"This is an intolerable situation. It must not continue.

"It is up to both sides, labor and management, to recognize the responsibility they owe to our Nation and settle their differences reasonably and promptly. I shall use every conceivable personal and official influence available to me to break the impasse."

That is my statement, and I am ready for questions.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, could you give us a general evaluation of your talks with Mr. Khrushchev, and tell us specifically whether the renunciation of force mentioned in the communiqué means that Mr. Khrushchev now has withdrawn any Soviet threats or ultimatums with respect to Berlin?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, to have a little bit of outline, because this is a very involved subject, I think I had better try to keep straight on the track in this way:

First of all, I want to thank the American people. I think their restraint and their conduct on the whole was a credit to them. And if there is a better understanding on the part of Mr. Khrushchev of our people, of their aspirations, of their general attitudes about international questions, and particularly about their desire for peace, then that has been done by the American people.

I invited Mr. Khrushchev, as you know, to come here so that we might have a chance to discuss some of the obvious reasons for tensions in the world, and particularly between our two countries, because of the outstanding unsettled matters.

I did not ask him here for substantive negotiations, because those are impossible without the presence of our associates. But I thought that, through this visit of his and through these conversations, possibly I think as I have said to you before, some of the ice might be melted.

Now, if any of this has been done, again it's due to the American people; and I make special acknowledgements to the Mayors, Governors, the local officials who carried so much of the responsibility for making these visits possible, and for directing so many of the activities necessarily involved.

With respect to one other point, I think this: I think the American people have proved that they have an enlightened outlook toward these international problems; that they have got the strength in their own beliefs and convictions to listen to the other man politely, attentively, although reserving to themselves a right to oppose bitterly any imposition upon themselves of some of the practices, the beliefs, and convictions that are proposed and supported by another ideology; that they came through this with a very much better understanding, and proving that they themselves are very sophisticated, and if not sophisticated, let us say enlightened and understanding in these matters.

Now, the Chairman and I discussed the Berlin question at length. As you know, no specific negotiations can be carried out in such question as this without our allies, but you will have read the communiqué which brings up this point and says that negotiations are to be reundertaken, after making proper arrangements, in the aim to get a solution that will protect the legitimate interests of the Soviets, the East Germans, the West Germans, and above all, the Western people.

Over and above this, we agreed, in addition to what the communiqué said, that these negotiations should not be prolonged indefinitely but there could be no fixed time limit on them. I think that's perfectly clear and plain; and since it was the agreement of two individuals, I think that I should not attempt to go further in expounding on that point.

Q. Robert C. Pierpoint, CBS News: You seem to have a cold, sir. I was wondering, these have been very difficult and trying times for you, how have you borne up under this burden?

THE PRESIDENT. I think I have borne up all right. But you know, I think that I came back with the beginnings of a cold from Europe, and I always have trouble with bad colds. And with this kind of activity, with all the medicines the doctors can prescribe, and what sedations everybody takes for himself over and above what the doctors prescribe-[laughter]--I've done nothing, but I'll tell you this: if I can get 5 days out in the desert somewhere, in the dry desert, I am going, quickly. [Laughter]

Q. Laurence H. Burd, Chicago Tribune: Mr. President, Mr. Khrushchev has given his version of why you are postponing your trip to Russia. He spoke of the grandchildren making the decision. What is the actual reason for--

THE PRESIDENT. I assure you there is no sinister or no ulterior motive behind it. This has been a rather trying period, the last year, and we have both set up for ourselves rather large and full schedules. He is going to China, for example, the day after he gets back to Moscow. I have Mr. Segni here on Wednesday; I have the Ministers from the old Baghdad Pact here within a week; I have the President of Mexico I'm very anxious to have some long talks with; I have a number of heads of state coming along. It just looked like too much to put these things all together and get some of the other things that we want to do. So, I was personally the first one that said, "Well, maybe in the spring," because we were talking about the weather in Moscow and the temperature right now, how quickly it's going to be very bad, and how soon you could have snowstorms that would probably limit travel. Finally, you know, he said, well, he thought that would be very fine; and then is when he got in to the grandchildren, and what he told was perfectly true--they, the grandchildren, seemed to make this decision. [Laughter]

Q. Felix Belair, New York Times: Mr. President, can you tell us if the general subject of China arose during the talks and in what context?

THE PRESIDENT. To this extent, yes: it was raised, but the discussion was largely confined to this: a statement of our respective views which, you know, are diametrically opposed on almost every point; and it was agreed that it would be unprofitable to try to raise the China question in the matter of, you might say, the philosophy of action.

Now, he did, because of course our concern about prisoners and so on, suggest that he might find it possible as a friendly gesture, not because he feels he has any right to interfere in those things, to bring up the matter of our five prisoners we've been so concerned about.

Q. William J. Eaton, United Press International: Sir, do you plan to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act to halt the steel strike, or do you plan to invite industry and union leaders to the White House?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I said that I didn't want to discuss this morning any proposed governmental action.

Actually, I am hoping to see a number of my own people, people that have been involved in this thing all the way through, today, discussing possible developments.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press International: Mr. President, could you tell us, or give us some estimate as to when you anticipate a summit conference?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I can't guess. I can't guess because, first of all, I will report to all of my interested associates everything I can think of on this visit I just had, and I will seek their reactions. I wouldn't want to make any guess now, because there were just two of us talking and neither of us tried to fix any real time.

Q. Garnett D. Homer, Washington Star: Do you feel, sir, that the conditions you have previously mentioned for going to a summit conference have now been met or still are to be met in further negotiation?

THE PRESIDENT. I would say, for myself, this: the conversations have, so far as I am personally concerned, removed many of the objections that I have heretofore held; but again this is a matter for negotiation and consultation with our allies. And, as I say, the progress made--I can say that we have to consider, as long as we are going to negotiate, that there is progress because we are not on an impasse.

Q. E. W. Kenworthy, New York Times: Could you tell us what Premier Khrushchev indicated he was prepared to do in the matter of on-site inspections, the number of on-site inspections and the composition of the control post personnel in policing a nuclear test ban?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I should make it quite clear, not only in answering your question but others that might be of that similar import, we couldn't possibly bring up among ourselves these detailed questions. It takes a long time to have a conversation, double the time that it does us because we don't have an interpreter; so this matter of composition of control posts and their numbers and the technical equipment and so on that would have to be used, those were not discussed at all.

Q. Charles H. Mohr, Time Magazine: Can we take it, sir, that your agreement that there is to be no fixed time limit on the negotiations over Berlin also means that there can be no fixed time limit on our occupation rights there, and our access rights to that city?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course there can be no fixed limit. We do say this, all of us agree that this is an abnormal situation, all the world does.

Here is a free city, sitting inside a Communist country, and a hundred and ten miles from the Western Germany of which it feels it is a part. Therefore, the only way you can get a solution is by negotiations that will probably take some time. We agree that these would not be unnecessarily or unduly extended, but we did say there is no fixed time to which they are limited.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Mr. President, will you clarify for us the situation in regard to the credits the Soviets want, the money they still owe us, and will you need amendment of the law before you could give them more credits?

THE PRESIDENT. I had Secretary Dillon take the details of this question up with the Soviet delegation.

Now, he can give you most of the details. There is this about it: Mr. Khrushchev himself said they were ready to discuss the lend-lease matter and settlement, both sides expressed a desire for greater trade under proper conditions; but just exactly to what extent these are to go and what can be done now under the law, you will have to discuss with Secretary Dillon. I can't quite go into all those details, but I will say this: I took Mr. Khrushchev, as you know, on several helicopter rides. He said his own Government had already, and for a long time, opposed his riding in such an instrument. But he said that he is interested in the purchase of one exactly like I used, and I believe he said he is going to ask Mr. Dillon to be his representative in seeing whether he cannot do so.

Q. Andrew F. Tully, Jr., Scripps-Howard: Sir, what did you think of Mr. Khrushchev?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, he is a dynamic and arresting personality. He is a man that uses every possible debating method available to him. He is capable of great flights, you might say, of mannerism and almost disposition, from one of almost negative, difficult attitude, to the most easy, affable, genial type of discussion.

I think that the American people sensed as they went around that they were seeing some man who is an extraordinary personality, there is no question about it.

Now, I thoroughly believe that he is sure that the basic tenets of the socialistic, or communistic, doctrine are correct. He has made great dents into the original concept of this doctrine. For example, he very definitely stated that he had made much better use of the incentive system in the Soviet economy than we. He knows all about our taxes and all the rest of it, but he talks in terms that if you do a better job you get a better house. He talked about some of the things they are providing for their people who really perform. So, in a number of ways, he shows how the application of the doctrine has been changed very greatly in modern usage in the Soviet region.

Q. Edward T. Folliard, Washington Post: Mr. President, to use your phrase, do you think that you and Mr. Khrushchev did melt some of the ice around East-West relations and if so, how much?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'd say this: the most that could be done here, Mr. Folliard, is a beginning.

I think that there are a number of people close to him that are quite aware of some of the problems that come about unless we do melt some ice. For example, he himself deplored the need for spending so much money on defenses. We tried, between ourselves, to talk for a little bit about our comparative costs, therefore how we could calculate just exactly how much of our wealth is going into these things that are, after all, negative and sterile and purely defensive. Well, this was an interesting exercise, but of course we got nowhere except his continued insistence they're just too expensive, we must find better ways.

The same way with the individual whose name I forget exactly, the man who was talking to Mr. McCone--well, Mr. McCone's opposite number. He pointed out their effort to develop this program of peaceful use of atomic energy; he said we must do it together because it is just too expensive for one country alone.

So, in a number of ways you find, if the ice isn't melted, an awareness on their part; not only the one that great wars are unthinkable, that's in the background, but in many ways, detailed ways, they are finding out we just have to do something that's a little bit more reasonable than what we have been doing.

Q. Charles W. Roberts, Newsweek: Sir, the most important of the three preconditions for a summit that we've made now seems to be the removal of threats to Berlin. I know you touched on that in the first question, but I wonder if you could indicate to us whether the Chairman did promise to ease the pressure or remove pressure somewhat.

THE PRESIDENT. I think the statement I have read answers your question; the reason that I don't want to say any more, we agreed exactly on that statement and I'm sure that he himself will make it, corroborate it. But to go further can be putting words in somebody else's mouth, that I don't think is fair.

I personally think that the question is answered right there: there is no fixed time on this. No one is under duress, no one is under any kind of threat. As a matter of fact, he stated emphatically that never had he an intention to give anything that was to be interpreted as duress or compulsion.

Q. Warren Rogers, New York Herald Tribune: When Mr. Khrushchev talked to your grandchildren, sir, did he tell them that one day they might live under communism?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I don't think--no, I know he didn't. I think one of them might have thought he's old enough to know what he might have been saying. But he didn't; no, as a matter of fact, on the contrary, this was the kind of heartwarming family scene that any American would like to see taking place between his grandchildren and a stranger.

Q. James B. Reston, New York Times: Mr. President, Mr. Khrushchev used the phrase, talking about disarmament, "the strictest comprehensive control of disarmament."

I wondered two things: first, did he apply that to all disarmament or only to the total disarmament scheme he laid before the U.N.?

THE PRESIDENT. He said constantly, in talking about disarmament, "I want you to study the proposal I made." He did not add anything in the way of details to me. I did point out to him that we had allies, that we had made comprehensive plans and proposals of our own in the past, that Britain had just proposed another one in the United Nations, and that at this moment I had a very comprehensive committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Coolidge studying our whole past history in this matter and trying to discover whether we had anything new.

But in details of exact degree of strict control, I didn't go into it at all.

Q. Mr. Reston: Could I just get off one other point on that?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes.

Q. Mr. Reston: Did you try to indicate or set any goals that you would try to cut your budgets, for example, in the military field?

THE PRESIDENT. No. As a matter of fact, the reason I avoided budgets is a very simple one, because I don't believe there is any comparison of budgets between countries where everything is directed, and where costs really cannot be compared.

But I did say this: no nation could be more anxious than ours to get rid of some of this burden as long as we could with security, and with justice and honor, do it.

Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Mr. Khrushchev told us that his system would beat ours. Have you any plans to make the American people aware of their responsibility for their freedom?

THE PRESIDENT. Wall, I would say this: I don't know how I can do this in terms of a plan; but I certainly was impelled, by some notes I made during these last 3 days, that every time I talk I am going to try to bring home to the American public the individual responsibility of the citizen.

As a matter of fact, I had to send out a message this morning, I forget on what group it was--"Know Your America Week," I believe that's it--and I said the American's rights and privileges are going to be maintained only if he exhibits a commensurate responsibility of his own to their maintenance--that is, self-discipline.

I think this applies again to the steel strike--all of us to think of it, get a proper judgment of our own, and really make these contending parties--again I say I am not assessing blame, but they've got to remember the country and what it stands for, freedom and human dignity. And we are going, one of these days, to have to look at this problem very, very earnestly if we are not by our own carelessness to damage our system.

Q. John Scali, Associated Press: Mr. President, when we move into these new negotiations on Berlin, could you tell us whether we will be guided by the same standards and principles that we had before, namely, that any solution must guarantee allied rights there, and protect the freedom of the West Berliners?

THE PRESIDENT. I can't guarantee anything of this kind, for the simple reason I don't know what kind of a solution may finally prove acceptable.

But you must start out with this: the situation is abnormal; it was brought about by a truce, a military truce, after the end of the war--an armistice--and it put strangely a number of free people in a very awkward position.

Now, we've got to find a system that will be really acceptable to all the people in that region, including those most concerned, the West Berliners.

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

Note: President Eisenhower's one hundred and seventy-second news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 11:05 to 11:29 o'clock on Monday morning, September 28, 1959. In attendance: 288.

Shortly after the news conference was concluded the Press Secretary to the President issued the following statement in response to queries by the press:

The President, of course, did not mean that the freedom of the people of West Berlin was going to be abandoned or that allied rights were going to be surrendered by any unilateral action.

What he was referring to was that he could not now give in detail the ultimate solution of the Berlin question. Any agreement must be acceptable to the people of the area, including the most concerned-the people of West Berlin and the Federal Republic of Germany.

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/234357

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