News Conference 10, April 21, 1961

By President John F. Kennedy
State Department Auditorium, Washington, D.C.
Friday, April 21, 1961, 10:00 a.m. EST

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Official White House Transcript

THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, I have several announcements to make.

I know that many of you have further questions about Cuba. I made a statement on that subject yesterday afternoon. We are continuing consultations with other American republics. Active efforts are being made by ourselves and others on behalf of various individuals, including any Americans, who may be in danger. I do not think that any useful national purpose would be served by my going further into the Cuban question this morning. I prefer to let my statement of yesterday suffice for the present.

I am pleased to announce that the United States has offered concrete support to a broad scale attack by the United Nations upon world hunger. I have instructed the Food for Peace Director to offer 40 million dollars in food commodities toward an initial United Nations reserve of a 100 million dollars. This will be administered by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Operation. I am, informed that other United Nations members will also make similar contributions. The food will then be used to relieve hunger and to improve nutrition in underdeveloped countries of the world. Our participation in this project will complement rather than diminish our existing Food for Peace Program.

Third, I am pleased to announce that the Veterans Administration will pay a special insurance dividend of 230 million dollars, in a decision made this morning, to approximately five million holders of GI life insurance, beginning July 1. These dividends have been speeded up in order to assist the economy.

And lastly, I am pleased to announce that the Peace Corps is proceeding with its first project. At the request of the Government of Tanganyika, an African country that will gain its first independence on December 28th, the Peace Corps will send to that country a party of surveyors, geologists and civil engineers to help Tanganyika's own technicians map and construct roads. Twenty surveyors, four geologists and four civil engineers will provide some of the skills needed to accelerate the development plan. There is nothing more important in Tanganyika than the development of roads to open up the country, and I am delighted that some Americans have volunteered to help in this important effort.

QUESTION: Mr. President, can you tell us anything about your talk with Vice President Nixon last night?

THE PRESIDENT: I brought -- the Vice President came to the White House at my invitation, and I informed him or brought him up-to-date on the events of the past few days.

QUESTION: Mr. President, can you tell us the status of the mid-April economic review you promised?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I stated at a previous conference at the end, or mid-April, I think 75 days, we were going to undertake a review of the economy. That is now under way under the direction of Dr. Heller, and I hope when that survey is completed that we will have a statement to make on it.

QUESTION: Mr. President, quite respecting your feeling of not going beyond your statement of yesterday on Cuba, there still is in print this morning, quite widely distributed, a published report that you took the decision to continue training Cuban refugees with arms provided by this government, and for releasing ships and fuel for launching the current operations in Cuba. Furthermore, this report says, that you reached this decision against the advice of Secretary Rusk and Mr. Bowles. Now is this true?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that the facts of the matter involving Cuba will come out in due time. I am sure that an effort will be made to determine the facts accurately. As for me, I am confining myself to my statement, for good reason.

QUESTION: Mr. President, this is not a question about Cuba, it's a question about Castro. (laughter) Could you tell us whether any intelligence that you have received can shed any light on the reports that the Prime Minister has been incapacitated, that he has not been heard from since Monday or Tuesday, or reports to that effect?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I cannot. I saw, I think, some reference on the ticker this morning that Mr. Castro was seeing some members of the press today, so I suppose we will have a better idea of that later on.

Miss Craig?

QUESTION: Mr. President, the leaders of House and Senate Republicans told us yesterday, at press conference, that they are setting up special study committees on the effect of automation and technological improvements in agriculture as well as industry. Are you hoping that your Democrats in Congress will set up similar study committees? Do you need them?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I do think that on the Subcommittee on Labor, a Subcommittee headed by Congressman Hollander of Pennsylvania, has been conducting studies on the effect of automation for some months.

In regard to the effect of automation on agriculture, some of our most serious problems which have arisen in agriculture have been because of research combined with automation, which have brought an extraordinary increase in production, with far less manpower, so that I know that this problem is a matter of substantial concern to all of us.

I am glad that the Republicans are conducting this study, because I think all the attention we can get by both parties into what I consider to be a genuine national problem, automation, what happens to the people who are thrown out of work, I think will be most useful. And agriculture, where we have a great increase in production, with around 4,000,000 people less than we had several years ago, some years ago, in many ways it is one of the most extraordinary and admirable facets of our national life.

I think it is unfortunate that we are not able to bring it more to the attention of the world where so many people, including in the Soviet Union and in China, are spending most of their time on subsistence agriculture, that we are able to have this extraordinary production with very few people. But like all lessons they bring problems with them, and I am glad they are conducting the studies.

QUESTION: Mr. President, at your last news conference you expressed hope that the Soviets would agree within a few days to a cease-fire in Laos. More than a week has gone by since then, and the Soviets have not agreed yet. Could you tell us how much longer you will wait before contemplating other kind of action?

THE PRESIDENT: I understand that the British and the Soviets are conferring at the present time, using it in a general sense, and we are hopeful that a cease-fire can be obtained in Laos. We continue to be hopeful.

QUESTION: Mr. President, Mr. Nixon, on the Ev and Charlie Show yesterday, said that he was going to give you ten days' grace to produce on your campaign promises that certain things would be done by ninety days. Did he go into this, or other domestic politics in your White House meeting?

THE PRESIDENT: No, there was nothing stated about -- on politics. Mr. Nixon and I discussed matters of national concern, and it was done in a wholly non-political way, and Mr. Nixon's response was most helpful.

QUESTION: Sir, I wonder if you would tell us what your grounds, your investigations of the Major General Ted Walker incident in Europe -- if you will please tell us what grounds you found for relieving him of his command for allegedly teaching troops anti-Communist doctrine?

THE PRESIDENT: When I saw the stories in regard to the things which had been said, or at least alleged to have been said in regard to General Walker, I called Secretary McNamara and asked him to investigate. Secretary McNamara then, I believe, suspended General Walker, and my term may not be precise, pending a completion of investigation, but no decision has been made in regard to General Walker until the investigation has been completed, to find out exactly what was going on.

I do not believe that Secretary McNamara took even that limited action, however, merely because he felt that General Walker was teaching -- talking against the Communists. That was not the grounds for concern. But no final decision, to the best of my information, has been made on the matter of General Walker. He will be given every opportunity, and those who have been critical of him will be given every opportunity, to present their case, and a final decision will then be made by Mr. McNamara, who will then bring the matter to my attention and I will then review it, without prejudice to General Walker.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you don't seem to be pushing the Space Program nearly as energetically now as you suggested during the campaign that you thought it should be pushed. In view of the feeling of many people in this country that we must do everything we can to catchup with the Russians as soon as possible, do you anticipate applying any sort of crash program?

THE PRESIDENT: We have added, I think it was 130 million dollars to the budget on Space several weeks ago, which provides some speed-up for Saturn, and some speed-up for Nova, and some speed-up for Rover. And I will say that the budget for space next year will be around two billion dollars.

Now we are now, and have been for some time, attempting to make a determination as to -- in developing larger boosters, whether the emphasis should be put on chemical, nuclear rockets or liquid fuel, how much this would cost, and some of these programs have been estimated to be between twenty and forty billion dollars. We are attempting to make a determination as to which program offers the best hope before we embark on it, because you may commit a relatively small sum of money now for results in 1967, 8 or 9, which will cost you billions of dollars. And therefore the Congress passed yesterday the bill providing for a Space Council which will be chaired by the Vice President. We are attempting to make a determination as to which of these various proposals offers the best hope. And when that determination is made we will then make a recommendation to the Congress.

In addition, we have to consider whether there is any program now, regardless of its cost, which offers us hopes of being pioneers in a project. It is possible to spend billions of dollars in these projects in Space to the detriment of other programs and still not be successful. We are behind, as I said before, in large boosters. We have to make a determination whether there is any effort we could make in time or money which could put us first in any new area.

Now I don't want to start spending the kind of money that I am talking about without making a determination based on careful scientific judgments as to whether a real success can be achieved or whether because we are so far behind now is this particular race we are going to be second in this decade.

So I would say to you that it is a matter of great concern, but I think that before we break through and begin a program which would not reach a completion, as you know, until the end of this decade; for example, trips to the moon, may be ten years off, maybe a little less, but are quite far away and involve, as I say, an enormous sum, I don't think we ought to rush into it and begin them until we really know where we are going to end up. And that study is now being undertaken under the direction of the Vice President.

QUESTION: Mr. President, don't you agree that we should try to get to the moon before the Russians, if we can?

THE PRESIDENT: If we can get to the moon before the Russians, we should.

QUESTION: Isn't it your responsibility to apply the vigorous leadership to spark up this program?

THE PRESIDENT: When you say "spark up the program," we first have to make a judgment, based on the best information we can get, whether we can be ahead of the Russians to the moon. We are now talking about a program which may be -- which is many years away.

QUESTION: For instance, the Saturn is still on a forty-hour week, isn't it, Mr. President ?

THE PRESIDENT: As I say, we have appropriated 126 million dollars more to the Saturn, and we are attempting to find out what else we can do, and Saturn is still going to put us well behind. Saturn does not offer any hope of being first to the moon. Saturn is several years behind the Soviet Union. I can just say to you that regardless of how much money we spend on the Saturn, Saturn is going to put us -- we are still going to be second. The question is whether the nuclear rocket, or other kinds of chemical rockets offer us a better hope of making a jump forward, but we are second, and the Saturn will not put us first. I want, however, to speed up, if we can, on Saturn; and the Vice President is now leading a study to see what we ought to do in this area.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you anticipate that there will be a vote in both Houses of Congress this year on your medical care program:

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. If we had a vote in the House it would depend, of course, on the action of the Ways and Means Committee. I haven't any information yet as to whether we will get a vote in the House. It is possible that there will be one in the Senate, which is not constricted by the same rules.

QUESTION: There have been reports on Capitol Hill that this Administration has reconciled itself to no vote on medical care this year.

THE PRESIDENT: In either House

QUESTION: In the House, Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: In either body? In either House?

QUESTION: Yes sir.

THE PRESIDENT: Well I haven't seen the reports, and I would not make that assumption. I am hopeful -- we are dependent in the House on Committee action. There can't be a vote in the House without action by the Committee because of the rules of germaneness. The Senate, however, there's a somewhat different situation, where there's no rule of germaneness. So it is possible that somebody might offer the bill in the Senate as an amendment to another bill. I don't know that yet, but it is very possible that you could get a vote in the Senate this year. The House is a different problem, because you can't get a vote unless the Ways and Means Committee acts.

QUESTION: Mr. President, your order to investigate General Walker suggests that you look askance at the teachings of the John Birch Society. Can you tell us how you feel about that organization?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't feel that their judgments are based on accurate information on the kinds of challenges that we face. I think we face an extremely serious and intensified struggle with the Communists. But I am not sure that the John Birch Society is wrestling with the real problems which are created by the Communists' advance around the world.

I would hope that all those who are strongly concerned about it would address themselves to the kind of problems which are created by Laos, Viet Nam, by internal subversion, by the desperate life lived by so many people in this hemisphere, and in other places, which the Communists exploit.

These are the kinds of problems that we are dealing with. I said something about them yesterday, the use which the Communists make of democratic freedoms, and the success which they are able to -- once they have seized power, the success with which they are able to maintain their power against dissent.

This, it seems to me, to be the problem. We have talked about and read stories of 7,000 to 15,000 guerillas operating in Viet Nam, killing 2,000 civil officers a year and 2,000 police officers a year, 4,000.

Now there has been an election in Viet Nam in which 75 percent of the people, or 80 percent, endorse the government; and yet we read how Viet Nam is in danger because of guerilla operations, carried on by this small, well disciplined, well supplied, across the border, group of guerillas.

How we fight that kind of problem, which is going to be with us all through this decade, seems to me to be one of the great problems now before the United States. And I would hope all those who are concerned about the advance of communism would face that problem, and not concern themselves with the loyalty of President Eisenhower, or President Truman, or Mrs. Roosevelt, or myself, or someone else.

QUESTION: Mr. President, was your speech yesterday before the Editors intended to suggest another approach or a new departure in the Administration's dealing with the Russians?

THE PRESIDENT: No -- I didn't -- No.

QUESTION: You have practiced what has been described as the quiet diplomacy approach. Your speech yesterday seemed to suggest that you have perhaps decided upon another approach?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I wouldn't attempt to make a judgment or response to that. I think that -- I am concerned about these kinds of problems which I just described. I don't feel satisfied that we have an effective answer to it yet, and I think it's a matter of the greatest possible concern to all of us, because I think events have been moving with some speed.

The use which Communists make of democracy, and then when they seize power, the effectiveness with which they manage the police apparatus so that dissent cannot arise, and so that the people can no longer express their will, liquidation by gunfire of the opposition, or by forcing them out of the country to be refugees -this suggests the kind of problem which we are going to have in this decade.

In my judgment, it is an extremely difficult matter for the free nations to deal with. But I must say that it is a matter to which we must address all of our energy and all of our attention.

QUESTION: Mr. President, how would you evaluate the present state of your domestic program in Congress?

THE PRESIDENT: I think we have done better recently. Yesterday the Senate passed the $1.25 minimum wage. There was action on aid to dependent children, and on Social Security. The vote in the Senate was very ample on the minimum wage. There were only 28 votes against it, so that I think that at least yesterday we made progress.

QUESTION: How much more, sir, do you think needs to be done, in order to give you a satisfactory score on your hoped-for legislative program?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I am hopeful that we can move ahead on the various other parts of the program, including Education and Housing. We are making progress on Social Security, distressed areas, and minimum wage. There may be other proposals which we might make to the Congress, after we have considered -- completed our review of the economy and made a judgment as to exactly what peak or plateau the economy is going to reach this year; and that is what we are attempting to do now, to see whether any additional government programs may be necessary to encourage it.

QUESTION: Sir, since last Saturday, a certain foreign policy situation has given rise to many conflicting stories. But during that time, reporters in Washington have noticed that there has been a clamming up of information from formerly useful sources. To my knowledge the State Department and the White House has not attempted to take a representative group of reporters and say "these are the facts as we know them." And this morning we are not permitted to ask any further questions abut this foreign policy situation. In view of the fact we are taking a propaganda lambasting around the world, why is it not useful, sir, for us to explore with you the real facts behind this, or our motivations?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think in answer to your question that we have to make a judgment as to how much we can usefully say that would aid the interest of the United States. One of the problems of a free society, a problem not met by a dictatorship, is this problem of information. A good deal has been printed in the paper. I wouldn't be surprised if those of you who are members of the press would be receiving a lot of background briefings in the next day or two by interested people or interested agencies.

There's an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan, and I wouldn't be surprised if information is poured into you in regard to all the recent activities.

Now, I think we see some of the problems, to move from this particular case, in the problem of Space, where the Soviet Union -- no reports were made in regard to any experiments that they carried out. "Our man in space" -- I saw in a national magazine about some student said the Americans talk a good deal about their man in space. The Soviet Union says nothing and yet it wins. Well, that is one of the problems of a democracy competing and carrying on a struggle for survival against a dictatorship.

But I will say to you, Mr. Vanocur, that I have said as much as I feel can be usefully said, by me, in regard to the events of the past few days. Further statements, detailed discussions, are not to conceal responsibility because I am the responsible officer of the government, and that is quite obvious, but merely because I do not believe that such a discussion would benefit us during the present difficult situation. I think you will be informed and some of the information, based on what I have seen, will not be accurate.

QUESTION: Mr. President, have you any assurance your tax investment incentive plan will be supported in Congress?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I think it will be a hard fight, because the plan when it was sent up was intended to secure as much revenue as may have been lost because of the tax credit plan. The tax credit plan puts special emphasis on stimulating new industry and therefore new employment, but in order to make up the revenues we lost by the tax credit plan we have had to take control of other revenues, and of course those people are going to object -- the expense accounts, and the dividend credit, and so on, so that I think we will have a hard fight.

QUESTION: You asked for it at this Session. Do you think your educational program will be persuasive this Session?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope so, because I really believe that the tax credit program, in fact the whole tax bill, was carefully considered by people in the Treasury, as well as the Council of Economic Advisers -- had the strong support of Mr. Dillon and others, who have given this matter great consideration. I am hopeful the Congress will respond favorably. But it is a technical matter, it involves important interests, and I think it will be very soberly considered, which I hope it will be. But I am hopeful it will pass and I think it would be useful if it would.

QUESTION: Mr. President, are you contemplating visiting any other countries besides France on your trip at the end of May to see General de Gaulle?

THE PRESIDENT: I am planning -- my only present plan is to go to France.

QUESTION: There has been some talk of going to London, I understood, to christen the Radziwill baby.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that has been considered, but I have not reached any judgment on it. I think there's some interest by the family, and it would really be a question of whether it would be the best thing to do.

QUESTION: Mr. President, would you explain the reason for the dropping of espionage charges in Chicago recently against the Russian spy Melekh, and was that a part of a bargain for the RB-47 fliers ?

THE PRESIDENT: In answer to the last part of the question, it was not. There was no connection. The dropping of the charges was made after an examination of the details of the case, and of the national interest, and it was felt that it would be useful to take the action we took. I am sorry I can't be more responsive, but, I will say it was not in regard to the RB-47 fliers.

QUESTION: Mr. President, we have demonstrated a great capability in Space in communications and meteorology. While these are not as dramatic as a man orbiting in space, there has been a strong feeling among scientists the world over that the country that would first develop a space telecommunications system, to bring communications within the reach of every nation in the world at the price they could afford, would make an even greater impact than the country that orbited man first in space. Are you considering putting more funds, because you have cut some, in both communications and meteorology, are you considering adding more funds to the budget?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I believe we have, or are about to, if we have not already done so, put an additional -- and I just have to go from memory now, of a decision made several weeks ago. I am under the impression that we decided to put another 25 to 27 million dollars into a communications satellite, as part of this general program.

QUESTION: Yes, but industry also has been interested in putting its funds in it, and there was a statement by Mr. Webb that we were not going to at this point put any of this program into industry's hands until we had investigated further. Since they are willing to spend money, are you considering perhaps allowing them to share the cost in advance of this program?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know enough about the matter to give you a detailed answer, except I do know that we did put an additional sum of money for a communications satellite, amounting to the sum that I suggested there. Now if there are any other further things that can be done, or if anyone else wants to put their money into it, I am sure that Mr. Webb will be agreeable. But I must say from examining this and other programs, I find that the government puts most of the money into them.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you intend to send Vice President Johnson to Southeast Asia soon?

THE PRESIDENT: We have been considering the Vice President going to Southeast Asia, and I think a decision will be reached on that in the next -- perhaps over the weekend, or the next few days.

QUESTION: Mr. President, given the stress that you have put this morning and in recent days on this problem of fighting the indirect Communist tactics, do you still -- and also given the rather harsh language out of Moscow, including Mr. Khrushchev's note to you -- do you still feel that it is useful to go ahead with efforts at the diplomatic level, to negotiate formal agreements with the Soviet government?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we still continue to hope that some agreement could be reached on cessation of nuclear tests. We are, of course, very discouraged by the newest insistence of the Soviets on a veto. It is quite obvious that the Senate would not accept such a treaty, nor would I send it to the Senate, because the inspection system then would not provide any guarantees at all.

Now, I noticed the language used by Mr. Khrushchev himself, not merely one of this representatives, in Mr. Lippmann's article, that -- a strong insistence on the tripartite, and on unanimous agreement in regard to the inspection system. I am hopeful that there may be a change in that. But if there isn't a change in that position, it is going to be very hard to get an agreement. But I believe that Mr. Dean should continue because if these test conversations should break up, then of course our hopes of getting any agreement on disarmament would be substantially lessened, and we could look for a proliferation of atomic testing in other countries. So that I feel that Mr. Dean should continue, though we have been discouraged by the Russian position.

QUESTION: Do you feel, sir, that it is possible to have really a two-level operation here, an undeclared kind of warfare which you have been talking about, and yet a formalized effort not only in the test ban negotiations but in terms of exchanges and other types of negotiations? Are these two things compatible?

THE PRESIDENT: The incompatibility may rest in the fact that it is hard to get an agreement on any matter when there is suspicion between the two systems, and when one of the systems is pressing their interest with great vigor around the world. It makes the chances of getting any agreement far less.

I thought the best hope was the nuclear testing, even though it was always true that the obstacles were large. But if there is any chance at all of getting an agreement on a cessation of nuclear tests, regardless of what appears to be the obstacles, I think we should press on.

So in answer to your question, I still believe that Mr. Dean should continue to work at Geneva.

(SMITH, UPI): Thank you, Mr. President.