Department of State
Foreign Policy Briefing
Washington, D.C.
March 27, 1962
Afternoon Session: 4:17 - 4:45 p.m.
The President of the United States

ACTING SECRETARY BALL: Ladies and gentlemen, under our Constitution there is one man and one man alone who is called upon to make the awful and lonely decisions, the ultimate decisions on questions of foreign policy which may mean life or death for all of us.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.


PRESIDENT KENNEDY: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Salinger, ladies and gentlemen, I want to express my great pleasure and satisfaction at your willingness to come to Washington and to participate with us in the discussions ranging over several days on the matters which affect the security of the United States.

I recognize the difficulties which we in Washington face of attempting to communicate a greater understanding
to our people of the very complex, sophisticated, and sensitive issues which disturb our tranquility around the world. And your coming here makes this task somewhat easier. This task is essential, because we need the support of an informed public opinion on the very challenging tasks which lie ahead in the coming months and years.

What I am not always sure is if we realize how difficult and really how unprecedented is this task.

Looking back over the great empires of the past who maintained a degree of influence and power around the world - Rome, Great Britain, France, and the others - it was all based on power, and it was really always based on the relationship between those who were possessed and the possessors.

We are not an empire, and we seek to exert our influence by entirely different means. We deal, even though we have great resources - we deal with many of these countries as equals. And though we may, for example, have a very difficult, involved dispute with the leadership in a country like Laos, which is small, it is impossible for us to have our right won unless a degree of conviction goes with it to the people who are involved. There is no way of compelling a response to the interests of the United States. So that this makes our task more difficult, and makes it unprecedented.

Secondly, I know that foreign policy must be confusing to many of our citizens, who see us meet with Khrushchev and carry on intensive diplomatic relations with him and with his ministers, and yet attempt to isolate Castro, to assist Yugoslavia, and yet refuse to have any contact at all with East Germany; to attempt to support a coalition in Laos, even though on other occasions coalitions have not always had a fortunate result; to aid equally India and Pakistan, even though one is allied with us and the other follows a neutralist policy; to support the United Nations in the Congo against the desires of our oldest allies - Great Britain, France, Belgium; to attempt to carry out reforms - to support reforms in Latin America when reforms themselves introduce tensions and uncertainties and changes in power relationships which may cause instability.

For a country which was isolationist until 20 years ago, this is an extraordinary difficult task, and yet we are the only ones who are doing it and who seem prepared to continue to do it in the days and months ahead.

It is our task to attempt to indicate to a people who are busy, and who have only occasional contacts with the details of these problems, the basic trend of American foreign policy, which, as you know and which is quite obvious, is an attempt to build a world of independent states, independent and sovereign, independent of us, of course, and also independent of the Communist system.

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