Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

The President's News Conference

March 07, 1956

THE PRESIDENT. Please be seated.

I was disappointed, ladies and gentlemen, that my announcements last week on the Red Cross and farm bill didn't get the space in the newspapers that I had hoped. [Laughter] But I did note that during the week, the Senate acted favorably on the Colorado River project, so maybe some of you did some underground work for me; if so, thank you very much.

We will go to questions.

Q. Marvin L. Arrowsmith, Associated Press: Mr. President, there have been some published reports that some of your advisers are urging you to dump Vice President Nixon from the Republican ticket this year; and, secondly, that you yourself have suggested to Mr. Nixon that he consider standing aside this time and, perhaps, take a Cabinet post. Can you tell us whether there is anything to those reports?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, now, as to the first one, I will promise you this much: if anyone ever has the effrontery to come in and urge me to dump somebody that I respect as I do Vice President Nixon, there will be more commotion around my office than you have noticed yet.

Second, I have not presumed to tell the Vice President what he should do with his own future.

I have told him this: I believe he should be one of the comers in the Republican Party. He is young, vigorous, healthy, and certainly deeply informed on the processes of our Government. And so far as I know, he is deeply dedicated to the same principles of government that I am.

The only thing I have asked him to do is to chart out his own course, and tell me what he would like to do. I have never gone beyond that.

Q. Charles S. von Fremd, CBS News: Mr. President, it is apparent now, sir, that one of the prime issues the Democrats will make in this campaign if you do stand for re-election will be the state of your health. Would you comment on that, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have said already that I have tried to be as honest as I can in this regard. I think the people have a right to know about health.

If you will look back over the records of the Presidents that have had physical difficulty in office, I think there are four that have died in office in the last fifty years or so, including one that was, of course, shot.

So, I think, it is their business, and I think I have done pretty well--at least my doctors have--in keeping them informed as to how I am, and I expect to do the same.

Q. Mr. von Fremd: May I continue, sir? That brings up a corollary point though which was one of the reasons I asked the question, sir: some of the leading Democrats have charged that if you were renominated and re-elected that, in effect, the people would be voting for a part-time Presidency, that was one of the points I was trying to reach, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am not going to defend myself against charges; there are too many made, and I would be too busy. But I will say this: I carefully differentiated the other evening in a little talk between the proper, necessary, and constitutional duties of the President and many other things he does.

Now, I will certainly be less of a host in the coming years should I be re-elected, but there is going to be no neglect of the duties of the Presidency of the United States. When I feel I can't carry them on, I won't be there.

Q. Roscoe Drummond, New York Herald Tribune: Mr. President, would you state to us your position on the new version of the Bricker amendment that has now been voted out of committee?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I have made my position clear here numbers of times about the Bricker amendment, and I don't think it is necessary at all to reiterate.

I have always said that if the United States would be reassured by an amendment which stated that any treaty or international agreement that was not in consonance with the Constitution of the United States shall be null and void--if they wanted such an amendment, I would never stand in the way. I am not going to comment on the language of the present amendment.

Q. Frank van der Linden, Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch: Mr. President, do you feel confident that you will carry the same southern States, including Tennessee and Virginia, that you carried in 1952 or possibly carry more this year?

THE PRESIDENT. I am not going to guess; I am not a prophet.

Q. Edward J. Milne, Providence Journal-Bulletin: Mr. President, when you say you have suggested to Mr. Nixon that he chart out his course, is the implication of that that if he elects to remain on the ticket you are content to have him as your running mate?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I am not going to be pushed into corners here and say right now, at this moment, what I would do in a hypothetical question that involves about five ifs. I don't think you should expect me to.

I do say this: I have no criticism of Vice President Nixon to make, either as a man, an associate, or as my running mate on the ticket.

Q. William V. Shannon, New York Post: Mr. President, in view of Communist arms shipments to the Middle Eastern countries, and in view of recent disclosures that the United States has been shipping arms to Saudi Arabia, would you explain why this country refuses to sell arms to Israel?

THE PRESIDENT. What was that last? In view of what, did you say?

Q. Mr. Shannon: I say in view of recent disclosures that the American Government has been selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

THE PRESIDENT. Oh! Well, now, let's take that with a little bit of a grain of salt.

Back in June or July of '55, it was agreed that a few light tanks and some auxiliary types of equipment could go to Saudi Arabia; and the only thing that was sent out there was material that had already been bought and paid for, and export licenses issued a long time ago. As a matter of fact, I think, I am not sure, but I think there are some of these export licenses that are still existing, although whether the material has been paid for, I am not sure.

Now, the great thing the United States is trying to avoid is the initiation of an arms race in that region. Because of that, we have constantly restated our position that we believe that the United Nations should take urgent and early action on this matter, that both sides in the controversy should agree to abide by the United Nations advice and armistice terms and avoid initiating incidents so we could get peace started.

We do not believe that it is possible to assure peace in that area merely by rushing some arms to a nation that, at the most, can absorb only that amount that 1,700,000 people can absorb; whereas, on the other side, there are some 40 million people.

There is one other point: you will recall that when Mr. Eden was here, so concerned were we about this point in doing this thing peacefully, throwing our full weight behind it, that we reiterated our adherence to the tripartite announcement of May 1950.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: Mr. President, since Premier Bulganin's first reaction to your most recent letter to him appears to be favorable, do you think there would be any benefit from your inviting him to visit this country?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, at this moment, Mr. Smith, I must confess I hadn't thought about that as an immediate development. The letter was received a little bit differently than normally. Immediately upon receipt it was published fully, I understand, in Russia, both in newspapers and over the radio; and the comments of Mr. Bulganin were very favorable.

Now, I would say merely this: we shall be alert to follow up any opening that looks like it would lead to a lessening of the tensions in the United States.

Q. Mrs. May Craig, Portland (Maine) Press Herald: Mr. President, Premier Bulganin also said in relation to a possible visit here, that he could not come as long as Russian citizens are fingerprinted. Now, is it not true that no diplomat and no official visitor is ever fingerprinted in this country?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that is the law; and moreover, I believe that there is a considerable latitude in the hands of the Attorney General and the Secretary of State for omitting this requirement on certain other people.

Q. Laurence H. Burd, Chicago Tribune: You said last week in your speech that you didn't plan any barnstorming campaign. Some Republican leaders have suggested that you may make some personal appearances, apart from radio and television. Would you plan some appearances, say, in the Farm Belt, in the big cities, or what are your campaign plans?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, the truth of it is I haven't any other than I announced the other evening.

Long before I ever took ill, I had made it very clear to certain Republican leaders that should they want me as their nominee again, that I was not going, as President, to carry on the kind of campaign I did in '52. I simply refused to do that.

Now, actually I made an appearance yesterday morning. When I heard there were 1500 Republican women here, I wanted to see them, and went over to see them. That causes no drain on me. It was between appointments. I was out of my office, I think, 21 minutes. And when you can do that and go and greet people, of course, it's political in its character, but it is not only proper but it is easy.

Now, how much I can do beyond, as I said, making certain explanations to the American people by means of mass communication, I have not put the exact limit on it at all.

Q. Carleton Kent, Chicago Sun-Times: Mr. President, this may violate your embargo on hypothetical questions. But suppose you found out before convention time that your physical condition was below the par that you expected? Could you say what you would do under that circumstance?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think--are you asking me whether I have meant what I have said in the past?

Q. Mr. Kent: No, sir.

THE PRESIDENT. I have said, unless I felt absolutely up to the performance of the duties of the President, the second that I didn't, I would no longer be there in the job or I wouldn't be available for the job.

That would be absolutely a result of the kind of statement I have made to the American people. I have promised them that, as a matter of fact.

Q. James B. Reston, New York Times: Mr. President, would you give us the benefit of your thinking, sir, about the trend of world events since the new theme that has been developed in the Soviet Union; and whether you think this forces us in any way to re-evaluate our own policy?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, this is what I think it does, Mr. Reston: I think that it forces us to take one part of the policies that we have been pursuing, and strengthen them.

I don't believe any American would want us to be weaker in the military side--in the side of national security and the security of our allies.

But when we take the economic side, which we had in many instances gone into so that our allies could support military establishments that we wanted them to have, and in other cases just to keep them from practical helplessness, I think we have got to study this more deeply, analyze it more deeply. In fact, seeing this, as it first started some months back, was one reason that I asked for more flexibility and some more aid this year.

I believe, with some flexibility in economic aid, we could do much more. But that is only a start.

I really believe the United States as a whole, and specifically its Congress and its executive departments, must study this matter very, very carefully, so that we don't get into a position of just responding to specious promises of the other side, and throwing our substance all over the world, but at the same time have a logical solidly followed program that our friends can believe in.

Now, I think it is very serious, very Serious, because there is possibly a recognition that if you pursue force to its ultimate, then you establish no limits on what you will do and, therefore, there is a type of thing that could eventuate that would be world tragedy of the kind we have never yet witnessed.

If that is true, then the attacker, the aggressive side, looks for new methods. You have got to have a campaign that is equally good there, and I think we must improve it.

Q. Mr. Reston: May I presume to ask one other question on that?


Q. Mr. Reston: Did you get any indication in Geneva, in your conversations with Mr. Khrushchev and Mr. Bulganin, of this new offensive that they are now pursuing in the Middle East?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. I talked to them about one or two moves that they were making, and they said words to this effect, "Purely commercial, purely commercial." So you knew that there was something new, but you couldn't tell how it was going to unfold, how big it was going to be, but, I mean, the hint was there, all right.

Q. Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Mr. President, Mr. Wilson said yesterday that we did not have as much intelligence about Russia as we hoped to have or should have, and other people have indicated this. I wonder if you think that a watchdog committee in Congress, of experienced men, responsible to the public from year to year, looking at the activities and expenditures of CIA would be better than a commission that would come in and give a spot check for just a few months?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, this is what I think: intelligence is a military matter, largely. Now, of course, you need intelligence also in the economic field, but it is all wrapped up in the matter of national security.

I think that the established military committees are fully competent to take care of this matter; in fact, I think they have taken care of this matter.

So I personally, while it is not up to me to tell Congress how it shall organize itself, I personally believe that the system we have now is working well.

Q. Paul Scott Rankine, Reuters: Would you comment for us, sir, on the significance for the Western powers generally of recent developments in Jordan and, in particular, the dismissal of Lieutenant General John Bagot Glubb?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, anyone that would minimize the possible results to flow from such a thing would be certainly more complacent than he should be in a position of responsibility. However, this is a matter that I don't believe can be bettered or improved by any general discussion of it at the moment.

I will say only this: both America and Britain, so far as I know, are pursuing the policy of trying to promote understanding and friendship among, you might say, the potential enemies in the Mid-East, in the belief only in that way can we bring about a situation that is not going to be a permanent source of irritation to the whole world, and really a possible powder keg.

So, therefore, we try to be friends to both sides as, indeed, does Britain, in the hope that by doing that we can promote real understanding and friendship between them.

Now, when you come down to the example of Jordan, it is a matter that I would rather hear discussed from London than from here.

Q. Ray L. Scherer, National Broadcasting Company: Mr. President, in connection with your new letter to Mr. Bulganin, could you indicate if your proposal to halt production of fissionable materials for war is based on a recognition that it is easier to control future production than to inspect existing stockpiles?

THE PRESIDENT. Oh, that is right.

Of course, you cannot control this particular type of production completely; but knowing the methods used in any plant, if you had what you call external inspection only, you know the amount of material that goes in, you know the amount of material that comes out and is donated or given to peaceful uses; it doesn't take any great amount of mathematical ability to determine how much there is missing or used somewhere else.

So I think that the proposal for the future is the recognition of the fact that there is not much that inspection can do about that already produced.

Q. Merriman Smith, United Press: At any time while you were in Thomasville, did Vice President Nixon meet with you there?

THE PRESIDENT. No. No, he didn't meet with me.

Q. Robert E. Clark, International News Service: Mr. President, in answering the last question about your health, you seemed to be saying if at any time you feel that your health is not up to carrying the burden of the Presidency, you will withdraw from the race; is that correct?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, now, don't hold me down if I get a week's case of the flu or something else. You people get down to the point that you are worse than the doctors in quizzing me. [Laughter]

I am talking about my general, let's say, organic fitness for the job, as I see it, and that means carrying a burden of hard work right on through the year and through the months. Now, any time that I believe that has failed to the point of inability to perform the job properly, then that goes before the American people instantly.

Q. William H. Lawrence, New York Times: Mr. President, could you tell us, sir, any of the specific purposes for which you are meeting with the Mexican President and the Canadian Premier at White Sulphur?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, one of the things is in recognition of the fact that the North American Continent is a continent that is bound together by geography; you can't get away from it and therefore we have common problems.

So far as we have common aspirations, common policies, international policies in the world, we have particular relationships with our two big neighbors. So we just want to meet for a chat-talk--with these two people.

You will recall that we meet one evening, we are there all through the next day, and the following day we leave. It is not one of these long international conferences.

Q. Francis M. Stephenson, New York Daily News: I would like to ask what purpose is in mind in the Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting in Puerto Rico now?

THE PRESIDENT. You people have often heard me say the one thing that is hard to find in Washington is time to think. I am constantly after the Chiefs of Staff, as a corporate body, to get together and study the security affairs of the United States, to judge as to adequacy, the efficiency, economy, and everything else.

Consequently, here, in order to insure that they had at least an uninterrupted week or 8 or 9 days, whatever it is, of time to think, I told them to go off some place, and they chose Ramey Field.

Q. Joseph R. Slevin, New York Herald Tribune: I would like to ask you about two aspects of East-West trade controls. Do you believe in retrospect that the August 1954 relaxation of controls on trade with the European Soviet bloc was desirable; and do you now believe that there should be a relaxation of controls on trade with Communist China?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, to answer the first question, no, I don't believe it was a mistake.

You must remember that we had gone from a war production for Korea to the point where nations had some excess capacity for other purposes; and the traditional trading areas in Europe, of course, were East-West, the East providing the raw material, the West providing the services and the manufacturing facilities. That is a general statement, but that was largely true.

Now, those were interrupted. We had friends in the world we wanted to make a living. We didn't want forever to have to just dole out of our pockets and carry them by the means of grants. They could not develop with us the sufficient amount of trade because we are ourselves a nation that produces surpluses.

There had to be some relaxation. The great problem is where does trade give the other fellow no advantage that you don't get?

Normally, in times of peace, this is down purely to an economic basis, an industrial basis, and nothing else. If a man wants to make a trade, he does it on the basis of whether he thinks he is going to make a profit. But now in this tortured time, politics, that is international politics, enters into the thing, and you ought to make certain that you are not damaged in the trade to the extent, in other words, that the other fellow gets a net advantage over you from the security angle and the political angle.

Now, regarding do I think there should be further relaxation, or anything of that kind, this is what I say: this is the kind of matter that has got to be studied every day. That is the reason we keep the control of COCOM and people like that, to see that we are not just getting rigidly fixed behind any one position with respect to any one item. The items change, I should think, from time to time.

Q. Charles E. Shutt, Telenews: Two questions, if you please, Mr. President: From time to time you have given us the benefit of your thinking about how world conditions are as relative to peace or the possibilities of war. Could you give us those, please?

And the second question, knowing your belief and your strong feeling for harnessing the atom for peace, should these talks and this correspondence with the Soviet Premier progress to the point, do you believe that a personal meeting with him would be beneficial?

THE PRESIDENT. I think that you people are going to have to decide among yourselves just how many questions one person gets, particularly when both of them are questions that you could talk a half hour on.

Now, the first one--what was the specific question, the first one?

Q. Mr. Shutt: What you thought about conditions of peace today, sir?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, actually, it is difficult to give any specific evaluation, even any specific opinion, about such a matter.

I do believe this: I believe the world has wakened to the fact that global war is getting well-nigh unthinkable, a word that has been abused often in the past; but I believe they are just getting to that point, which means that this uneasy peace which has been often called the cold war, is going to take, I believe, a different direction. We are not going to limit or eliminate those features that were brought out under the possibility there might be war. But there is going to be a broadening, a very great broadening, of the contest as I tried to explain, I believe, to another question.

Now, that, at least, doesn't carry always the inherent threat of major war, and that would be that much gain.

But, at the same time, as we see in various parts of the world, there is always this threat of some new breakout, which can be very dangerous and can be the powder keg variety.

But I would say we are in a very great campaign, that we have put out some of our resources, we are continuing to fight along lines that we believe are based on decent, moral, ethical values, and that we have got to be alert to every threat to us, to counter it more by positive measures that people throughout the world will trust than just by trying to answer specific thrusts.

Well, I didn't entirely answer the second one, but go ahead. [Laughter]

Q. Anthony H. Leviero, New York Times: There has been considerable criticism lately on our rate of progress in guided missiles. But Secretary Wilson said yesterday that in the whole scheme of things too much emphasis was being placed on this one weapon. Have you any observation to make on that?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think if you say emphasis merely by the amount of talk that sometimes occurs about some of these things, why, his statement is absolutely correct.

Here is one possible means of delivery of a very terrible weapon; but already we know that there is possessed in the world the means of delivery that could make the world a very unhappy place in which to live. So this is another means; but it does have a very great psychological value.

I think we feel there is always a deterrent that is exercised when we know that a weapon can be delivered only with human beings in it. When you can hurl a weapon a long way without a human being in it, that, at least in our kind of civilization, is a terrible thing and, therefore, it has a tremendous psychological value and it has material value as it comes closer to perfection.

But let us remember this: it must not come close to perfection merely in the distance one can be thrown, it must come closer to perfection in your ability to guide it, to keep it right square on target, to make it safe to use, and then to produce it in the great numbers that are needed--and they are very intricate weapons. So I say you have got a very great scheme of things with an array of weapons; and in the whole, as you say, larger scheme of things, I think there has been more talk than this one item would warrant.

Merriman Smith, United Press: Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Eisenhower's eighty-first news conference was held in the Executive Office Building from 10:32 to 11:03 o'clock on Wednesday morning, March 7, 1956. In attendance: 210.

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/233028

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