Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

June 17, 1959

THE PRESIDENT. I have no announcements.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, Senator Morton told us a couple of days ago that you are considering going directly to the people, perhaps make a few speeches, on behalf of your legislative program, mutual security and labor legislation, for example, and I wondered, could you elaborate a bit for us on just what you have in mind and what you think the necessity for such a procedure is?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, there is no specific program or schedule in mind.

What I have said, there are certain features that I have recommended to the Congress that I believe are vitally important for the welfare of the country, and I shall do what I can to inform the country so that we can have a strong public opinion supporting that kind of thing; some of them, as you have mentioned, mutual security, balanced budget, reducing Federal expenditures, and so on. There was no specific schedule developed at all.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press International: In view of the recent developments in Geneva, sir, do you feel that the prospects for a summit conference have grown dimmer since we last discussed this with you 2 weeks ago?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, certainly they have grown no brighter, unfortunately. There seems to be, if not an impasse, an unreadiness to discuss things that could be classed as giving us possibilities for fruitful negotiations at the summit and therefore I'd say the prospects are no brighter at this moment.

Q. Chalmers M. Roberts, Washington Post: Mr. President, assuming that the foreign ministers meeting does recess or break down without the kind of agreement you refer to, do you consider that Vice President Nixon's trip to Moscow next month might offer a new channel of negotiation with the Russians on these problems?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I hadn't thought of it as that, as a mechanism for reopening negotiations.

I would say this: we would never lose any opportunity that would arise through the contact of any responsible official of any government with his opposite number or with the other government to bring about some advance. I understand, for example, Mr. Kozlov is asking to see me, and I certainly shall make an engagement some way so he can come to see me.

Q. Charles W. Bailey, Minneapolis Star and Tribune: The Senate and House conferees yesterday agreed on a new wheat bill that would raise price supports 5 percent and at the same time cut acreage allotments by 20 percent. Could you give us your comments on this last approach?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I don't think I can comment very much on it this morning because it just came in to my desk, and I have not yet talked to the Secretary of Agriculture on this particular thing.

As you know, we still do not believe in raising price supports in any kind of a formula, because we just believe it's not good for the farming industry or for the country.

Q. Peter Lisagor, Chicago Daily News: Mr. President, back to foreign policy for a moment. Have you been in direct communication with Mr. Khrushchev in recent days in an effort to end the stalemate on the nuclear test ban talks in Geneva?

THE PRESIDENT. I think I have said several times that my communications with heads of state or heads of government are never made public by me unless there is mutual agreement, or unless someone else has done it. Therefore, I don't advise publicly whether or not I have communicated with any other head of government.

Q. Don Oberdorfer, Knight Newspapers: Mr. President, a congressional committee investigating what some people have called a munitions lobby is looking into the employment of high-ranking, former high-ranking officers by defense contractors. Do you think that improper pressures are exerted when former high-ranking officers take jobs with companies which solicit defense contracts?

THE PRESIDENT. Well really, I don't know anything about it. No one has certainly ever tried to do it to me, and anyway, I don't have anything to do with the contracting business.

I think there is justification for the Congress informing itself as to exactly what connections, not necessarily with former officers of the Government, but with the contracting officers of the present Government. I think it's all right to look into these things because we must be careful. I think anyone that is acting in good faith would have nothing to fear of such an investigation.

Q. Charles H. Mohr, Time Magazine: Mr. President, this is also a question about nuclear test cessation. The Berkner report on new seismic techniques for detecting underground blasts contained a section that suggested that there were muffling or decoupling techniques available to the Russians which would allow them to possibly reduce the seismic signal from a 10-kiloton blast to a 1-kiloton sound level. And in view of that, in view of the fact that we have already offered to inspect only 20 percent of events below 5 kilotons, do you still think it will be safe to conclude and sign a cessation agreement with the Russians without danger of cheating or evasion?

THE PRESIDENT. You've asked a question that has about as many technicalities in it as I can imagine.

Now, this decoupling is, as you know, the possibility of setting an explosion off, the full effect of which is not communicated to instruments that are related around the whole country.

Now, what we have done, we have filed these reports and I believe that there is a fixed date when they will come out for the public.

Isn't that so? [Confers with Mr. Hagerty] Yes.

Everybody will have a chance to take a look at them and the conclusions of the panel. 1

1 These documents were submitted by the United States Government on June 12 in Geneva to the Conference on Discontinuance of Nuclear Weapons Tests. They were released in summary form by the State Department on that date; the full report, entitled "The Need for Fundamental Research in Seismology" was published by the Department of State in July.

The report was prepared by the Panel on Seismic Improvement, under the chairmanship of Dr. Lloyd V. Berkner, which had been appointed December 28, 1958, by the Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, at the request of the Department of State. The Panel reviewed the feasibility of improving the system, recommended by the 1958 Geneva Conference of Experts, to detect and fully identify underground nuclear explosions.

Coupling with those reports is the production of a new technique that makes the possibility of detecting now very much better than it was when we made the first settlement at Geneva.

Now, this means that the very time when you have found out that some of the possibilities of concealment have grown up, the possibilities of detection have gone up at about an equal rate, apparently, so that you have a tremendously difficult technical problem to solve if you're going to get equality in this business.

But I do say this: we would be foolish if we expect 100 percent from any system. There is no system, whether it be defensive or detection or intelligence or planning or anything else, that is 100 percent perfect. What we do have to do is to refine the process to the point where we minimize risks and indeed bring them down below the level where they could be truly dangerous to our country.

Q. Robert J. Donovan, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, in thinking about your heavy responsibilities with nuclear warfare, I have often wondered, have you ever seen a hydrogen bomb?

THE PRESIDENT. They won't allow me. I have seen the bomb, yes, I mean they won't let me see the test, they want me not to go.

Q. Mr. Donovan: You have actually seen the hydrogen bomb?

THE PRESIDENT. I have seen the bomb, I haven't seen the test.

Q. Mr. Donovan: An atom bomb, too?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, yes. Oh, I have seen the bomb, I have seen all the weapons, I just haven't been allowed to go to the tests.

Q. Mr. Donovan: You couldn't give us any details on your visit--

THE PRESIDENT. No.

Q. Felix Belair, New York Times: Mr. President, with respect to a meeting at the summit, you made it quite clear in our last meeting, I think, that no head of a self-respecting government could go into a negotiation with other heads of government under any kind of ultimatum such as the Soviets have imposed on Berlin.

I wondered, does the Soviet failure to withdraw that ultimatum mean to you that you could not go into a summit negotiation on other questions such as disarmament, nuclear test suspension, or any others?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Belair, I don't recall that I put my conclusion and my statement of a couple of weeks ago on the basis just of Berlin. I said that if a foreign ministers meeting made such progress as to give to any reasonable person the belief that that progress would make a summit meeting fruitful, then I would be glad to go; because certainly I am not going to indulge just prejudice or preconceived notions or anything else to such an extent that it will stand in the way of some kind of tiny step toward easing tensions in the world.

So, if I did tie that directly to the Berlin bit, I did it only as an example. If there is any kind of reasonable progress that justifies a summit meeting, why of course I would never decline the opportunity.

Q. Edward P. Morgan, American Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, your political opponents have accused you on a number of occasions of lack of leadership. But now the shoe is on the other foot.

The Democratic Advisory Council, by implication anyway, is criticizing its own leadership in Congress, or the lack of it.

Could you give us the Eisenhower definition of leadership in Government, and could you spell out for us, sir, a little more your concept of the role of the Presidency now?

THE PRESIDENT. I think you have just quoted some things which give the best definition of what leadership is not. And I think I'll content myself with that statement.

Q. John Scali, Associated Press: Mr. President, there appears to be some sentiment in Britain for a summit conference, even if the Geneva foreign ministers meeting winds up without any substantial progress of casing the Berlin and other problems.

What do you think of this idea?

THE PRESIDENT. I sometimes hesitate to speak at too great length here because I have always a feeling I've spoken to you before so often on these things that I'm just putting on an old record.

What I want to point out is that there is developing in the world sort of an idea that heads of government can take themselves away from their normal posts and go and do a lot of things that cannot be otherwise accomplished.

Now, the foreign ministers of free countries are people who go to conferences clothed with a very great deal of authority. The governments involved normally try to establish limits within which their foreign minister can negotiate. He communicates with his own government every single night. There are exchanges of telegrams and cables to keep him informed and to keep the government informed so that from the standpoint of traditional diplomacy the foreign minister provides the mechanism--either he or the government's ambassadors--provide the mechanism through which these agreements are supposed to be obtained.

Now, everybody knows that when you are dealing in a dictatorship, there is only one man, finally, that can make the decision, a firm decision, final decision. Therefore there has grown what I believe to be a false doctrine that we should revamp our entire diplomatic procedures in order to go to a summit meeting every 30 days or so.

Now, from my viewpoint, the dictator can give his foreign minister just as much flexibility in dealing with these troublesome and tough questions as can a democracy. Therefore, I think to assume that foreign ministers have now become useless, they are no good, throw them away, and make every single head of government or head of state to spend his time in work that has been the function of specialists in this line, I think is a step backward in diplomacy. This is like Alexander and Napoleon meeting on a raft in a river and settling the fate of the then world.

You can't do that. To my mind, if these foreign minister meetings cannot prepare the ground and sow some of the seed for accord, then I see no use whatsoever for trying to have a harvest when there is no planting and no tilling.

Q. Garnett D. Horner, Washington Star: Reports this morning are, sir, that the crew of the Navy bomber plane, Navy patrol plane, that was attacked by MIG fighters say that most of the guns on the plane would not work so they could shoot back, because of missing parts.

I wonder if you have anything to say about that angle or if you have new information about who were the attacking planes?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I have no new information. But I will say this: that such a report as this is, well, one that would cause anyone great concern, particularly myself because I have been a military man through my fife. I have sent that whole report to the Navy Department, through the Defense Establishment, to get a complete report. I would expect that the Navy at the proper time will make it public.

Q. Raymond P. Brandt, St. Louis Post Dispatch: Mr. President, both the steel management and the steel unions are issuing self-serving statistics which are in great conflict. Is there any way that Government can bring out some impartial figures on profits and wages and productivity so the people can understand the issue and make their own decisions?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think you have asked about the most intelligent question on this particular matter; and I haven't thought about it in this particular way, to put these statistics together, you might say in columns right down the line and seeing what the judgment is. I don't know whether this would be helpful or not, but I'll take your suggestion and I'll have it studied. It's one that I just wouldn't want to shoot too rapidly on for the simple reason that they are tough questions, they are people that are bargaining right now, and it's not my business to try to influence them. But I do say, this is a matter that affects the public, and I do have a public duty to do what I can, as long as I don't get into the business of the bargaining itself. Therefore if I can do anything, why you can bet I will.

Q. Pat Munroe, Chicago American: Mr. President, going back to the wheat problem, assuming that there is no way to stop the flood, have you an alternate plan which would involve the destruction of the wheat in order to save tremendous storage costs or perhaps would you advocate a "crash" giveaway program, worldwide?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, no. You can't advocate that, because then you hurt all the other producing countries; Canada, Argentine, Australia, Turkey, everybody that produces wheat now find themselves in a very bad spot, and their market has gone to pot.

I would not advocate destruction. Possibly this is the Pennsylvania Dutch in me that when something has been produced for the use of people, and it's been produced by the sweat and toil of those people, I just find there's something rebels in me against advocating destruction as a cure. I believe there is a better one than that.

As far as storage is concerned, of course, originally I think it was hoped that all this storage would be done right on the farms. I will say this: just the carrying of these surpluses and the storage costs are getting to the point that it's itself such a burden that it is one the Government ought to be getting out of as far as it can.

Now, the only plans that we have so far are those that have gone in my messages to the Congress. By and large, their central feature is, get these support prices down so you get this kind of incentive out, get products to be in the classes that the market itself gives reasonable prices for them. I think that by and large must be done.

Q. Jerry O'Leary, Washington Star: Mr. President, a Democratic Senator has complained that the executive branch is lobbying to get support for Mr. Strauss. If that's true, do you see anything wrong with it?

THE PRESIDENT. There are a number of things that I have recommended to the Congress, and when my conscience tells me they are right, I'm going to use every single influence that I can from the executive department to get the Congress to see the light. If that's lobbying, I'm guilty, but I don't think there's anything else to do about it.

Q. James B. Reston, New York Times: Sir, I wondered if you would talk to us a bit about the apparent misunderstandings that have grown up with France, and the relations of those misunderstandings to the defense of NATO.

And, second, do you have any plans to see General de Gaulle about them?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the only part of your question that I can answer in detail is the second part.

I think all of you know that from the time of his election there has been a standing invitation, more than once repeated, to President de Gaulle to come over here.

In the meantime, I have made plans that if any errand takes me to Europe, I'm going to make a special effort to meet him, because there are differences of opinions between our two governments; and I think he believes and I believe that a personal conversation between the two of us might ease some of the rough points in these arguments and possibly solve them.

He and I are old friends, comrades of the war and since, and I would be hopeful that here would be one place that because of the special character of the problems, so many of them having to do with defense, that maybe two heads of government who both by coincidence have been old comrades-in-arms, we might have some solution that wouldn't otherwise be apparent.

Q. Warren Rogers, Jr., New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, yesterday Assistant Secretary of State Walter Robertson said that he thought this attack on the Navy patrol plane was deliberately timed at the time of the Geneva foreign ministers conference to create tensions.

Do you agree with that, sir, and have you yet determined who did it?

THE PRESIDENT. Well of course, I always try to get away from motives.

Now, we don't know who did it, don't know who did it. And while you might say it is more than coincidence that such a thing has happened, to supply a motive where you are not sure is just some kind of wisdom that I don't have. So I would say that it does seem a strange coincidence, and I'll let it go at that.

Q. J. F. Ter Horst, Detroit News: Sir, there seems to have been a trend in Congress in the last few days for the Democratic leadership to approach legislation in the view that half a loaf is better than none, in order to get your signature on what they might propose.

Do you think this falls within the definition of constructive legislative work, as far as you are concerned? Does this meet your legislative goals?

THE PRESIDENT. By the Constitution, I am part of the legislative process. I think that the American public expects its President always to exercise his best judgment in giving his approval or disapproval or qualified approval or disapproval in such cases. That's exactly what I do.

Now, whenever any legislative program is put before me, I have to decide whether, in principle, it agrees with the basic beliefs by which I conduct my office, and whether in amount or quantity or quality it comes within the reasonable range of what I am trying to get at. And if it does these things, I think it is a disservice to veto anything merely because it has failed in some detail to go along with the expressed views of the President.

On the other hand, as quickly as it gets out of line I think the President is not doing his duty unless he does express disapproval.

Now, what is happening right now in the Congress, I will know only when the bills of which I speak are laid on my desk and then I know what the program is. I don't think it's profitable to begin to guess what their views are in what they are doing. I'll just have to wait until I get the bills.

Q. Earl H. Voss, Washington Star: Mr. President, you probably noticed in the papers this morning General Creasy's statement about nerve gases.

I am wondering if you can tell us what you think about the possibility of persistence of a balance of terror, even if we were to get a nuclear disarmament such as we are seeking.

THE PRESIDENT. You say we get nuclear disarmament. I think that always we have--that is, the Western World has coupled nuclear disarmament with a degree of general disarmament. Now there are many ways of bacteriological war, nerve, or gas warfare. There are other terrible weapons of mass destruction that are now in the, well just let's say they are capabilities that anybody could use, along with the nuclear terror.

So, I would think that when we talk about nuclear warfare, we shouldn't talk about it alone, we should talk about its results, and what is done with it rather than merely on nuclear warfare. So, I would think that disarmament is a matter that has to be dealt with pretty well across the board.

Q. Spencer Davis, Associated Press: Would you comment, sir, on the action of the International Olympic Committee in expelling Nationalist China from its ranks and refusing to recognize it under the name of Republic of China?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, of course, it's been known by this for years, even after it had to occupy Taiwan as what it considers a temporary abode. I believe there are some 40 or 45 nations now recognize it under that name. Frankly, it seems to me that the Olympic Committee has gotten into politics rather than merely into international athletics.

Q. John Herling, Editors Syndicate: This relates to the steel problem, sir.

There is just about 10 days left before steel companies start banking their furnaces, and without intervening in actual negotiations, as you have declined to do, do you believe, sir, it would be useful if you were to invite union and industry representatives to the White House to establish a kind of a climate of accommodation within which they might hammer out an agreement?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I will tall you on that one: you have got a historical incident, and I believe the outcome was an attempt to seize the steel plants when exactly that kind of method was adopted.

While I would urge again, personally and directly or indirectly and through press and press media, for each side to recognize the great dangers that come about in inflation and in price rises, I believe for the Government directly to go into this thing further, in trying to apply political or other pressure, then we are getting inevitably into the beginning of a process that could be more hurtful than helpful.

And so, to take a publicized meeting of this kind where everybody would have to be talking to his own constituency, I would doubt that you would get as much advance as you would by keeping insisting that these people in their bargaining must remember the public, the public of the United States, because in the long run, 175 million is so much more important than either side of this steel industry that we should take that as the main target, the advance and welfare of the public, and to put their own selfish or personal desires and ambitions in that context before they make their conclusions.

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

Note: President Eisenhower's one hundred and sixty-first news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:32 to 11:03 o'clock on Wednesday morning, June 17, 1959. In attendance: 229.

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/235015

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