President John F. Kennedy
State Department Auditorium
January 31, 1962
At 4:00 P.M. EST (Wednesday)
420 In Attendance
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, I want to take pleasure in welcoming the editor of Izvestia and Mrs. Adzhubei, to this Presidential Press Conference. He is, as I said, an editor of a paper which carried our interview last November, and he is also a member of the Central Committee and therefore combines two hazardous professions of politics and journalism; and also Mrs. Adzhubei, who is the daughter of the Chairman. We are glad to have them here to observe an ancient American custom.
Secondly, I want to express my satisfaction, and I believe that of all Americans, at the action taken by the Organization of American States at the Punta del Este Conference. Six Resolutions, representing a six point program, were passed by the Conference early this morning. Not a single nation joined Cuba in voting against these Resolutions. The twenty other nations of this Conference joined in a vigorous declaration against Communist penetration of this Hemisphere, in full support of the Alliance for Progress, and to expel Cuba from the Inter-American Defense Board. For the first time the independent American states have declared with one voice that the concept of Marxist-Leninism is incompatible with the Inter-American system, and they have taken explicit steps to protect the Hemisphere’s ability to achieve progress with freedom.
Thirdly, I have an important announcement to make about the national stockpiling program.
The purpose of this program over a period of several years has been to store for future use those strategic materials which might be essential to the Nation in the event of an emergency.
After a review of this program, upon assuming the responsibilities of Office, I was astonished to find that the total stockpile now amounts to some 7.7 billion dollars' worth of materials, an amount that exceeds the CCC's total inventory of farm products; and of more importance, an amount that exceeded our emergency requirements as presently determined by nearly 3.4 billion dollars. In some cases, the government had acquired more than seven times the amount that could possibly be used. For example, the value of the aluminum in this stockpile exceeds the amounts we would need for three years, in the event of war, by 347 million dollars. The excess supply of nickel is 103 million dollars.
This Administration has taken steps to halt any new acquisitions to the stockpile with the exception of three items, still critically short, and on which we have spent less than 2 million dollars. Unfortunately, the surplus of other materials is still growing, as the result of contracts negotiated prior to this Administration's taking office.
It was apparent to me that this excessive storage of costly materials was a questionable burden on public funds, and in addition a potential source of excessive and unconscionable profits.
Last spring a detailed check was ordered, and our information to date has convinced me that a thorough investigation is warranted. The cloak of secrecy which has surrounded this program may have been justified originally to conceal our shortages, but this is no longer the case, and secrecy now is only an invitation to mismanagement.
I have therefore discussed this matter with Senator Symington, Chairman of the Senate Stockpiling Subcommittee. He agrees that the program should be completely explored, and without delay. I have assured him that we will make available to his Subcommittee all the material we have already discovered, and that the Executive Branch will cooperate fully with any investigation.
In the meantime, I have directed the various departments and agencies to accelerate their review of materiel requirements. And I am appointing a commission to make a detailed review of our stockpiling policies, programs and goals, in the light of changed defense strategy and improved technology.
I am very much aware of the intricate and interrelated problems involved in this area, including the difficulties experienced by certain domestic mineral industries, the impact on world markets, and the heavy reliance of certain countries on producing one or more of these minerals. And I can say that we will take no action which will disrupt commodity prices.
All of these factors, in a careful review of the program, will be taken into account, but the cold facts on this matter must be open to the public.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do these recent manifestations of cordiality between the United States and Russia--I am speaking specifically of your hospitality to Mr. Adzhubei, Mr. Salinger's conference in Paris with Mr. Kharlamov, Mr. Salinger's forthcoming visit to Moscow--do these evidences equate in any way with an increase or improvement in the prospects for settlement of such basic issues such as Berlin?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, of course, we would like to have a settlement of the basic issues which have divided the Soviet Union and the United States. The meetings--I think two meetings took place between Mr. Adzhubei and Mr. Salinger, and out of those meetings came an interview which I think was very useful in helping us to express the viewpoint of the United States on serious problems to the people of the Soviet Union.
The conversations in Paris last week end were directed to the same question. Mr. Salinger's visit in response to an invitation that he has received, is also directed to improving communications. We hope that as communications improve, that problems which cause tension and danger to the world will lessen. The negotiations on these matters, however, of policy, are matters which are being conducted in this case by Ambassador Thompson who, I believe, has a meeting with Foreign Minister Gromyko, tomorrow--I think a third meeting, so-called probes in regard to the matter of Berlin. We are hopeful that these will bring a happy result.
But I believe that any exchange of information, any exchange of views, any cooperation of any kind in these very hazardous times is very useful, so we are glad to welcome them here and we will be glad when they treat Americans as they do with courtesy when they visit Moscow.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in your statements on stockpiling, is there any implication of wrong-doing by an individual?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I am not making any implication. The only thing is I think that this is a large amount of money to be invested. I think the whole matter should be carefully looked into, contracts and all the rest, profits and so on. I would make no statement other than to say that it is a matter which lends itself to a careful scrutiny by Senator Symington's Committee, and Senator Symington is most anxious to initiate such an investigation, which we both discussed last week and which we feel is over-due.
But I will certainly wait, in answer to your question, on the investigation, before making any judgments.
QUESTION: Mr. President, have you any reaction to the failure of some of our neighbors to the South--I am thinking of Argentina and Brazil--to go along with us all the way in our ambitions at Punta del Este?
THE PRESIDENT: No. I think that I have indicated what I consider to be the most significant fact, which is on the basic question of the compatability of the Communist system with the Inter-American system. I think there was a unanimity.
QUESTION: Mr. President, some of the critics of your Urban Affairs Plan charge that it is an invasion of States' and local rights. Would you comment on that, and would you also comment on it in a larger frame? For instance, what do you think of the argument that big government, so-called, might not need to be so big if State and local governments were more efficient in fulfilling their duties?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, in regard to the specific question on the--I don't believe that such a Cabinet position would interfere with the States. In my opinion, it would supplement their efforts. There is a responsibility which the States have for various--and each city has, for certain important functions in the light of every citizen, but the Federal government also has one.
There is a Department of Agriculture, which has contact with each individual farmer in the United States. That does not interfere with the county responsibility or the State responsibilities.
Now, in the Urban Message I sent up yesterday, I pointed out that in our ten leading cities, the citizens pay 35 per cent of the income taxes paid in the United States. They have many serious problems which are increasing in time, particularly as our population increases by 3 million a year. I believe that these problems are entitled to a place at the Cabinet table.
Now, I am interested, charging about big government, and I read these speeches, and then I receive a wire asking for the Federal government to take over the operations of the New Haven Railroad. And we send a wire back to the States, after having put 35 million dollars into maintaining that railroad, "What action are the States prepared to take? "
My experience usually is, that these matters are put to the Federal government by the request of cities or States, or individual groups, and it's not a question of the Federal government anxious to extend its writ, but rather that there is a need. And no one responds to it, and the national government, therefore, must meet its responsibility. And I believe that with two-thirds of our people in the cities of the United States, they should be up alongside of the others in the Cabinet, so that we can deal more effectively with these programs.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there has been renewed fighting in Laos. Would you give us your evaluation of the situation there, whether or not this fighting would threaten the political settlements, and also the situation in South Viet Nam?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, of course, if the fighting and hostilities began, the hope of a settlement would be substantially diminished.
There have been, as you know, a series of tentative agreements. There was still a disagreement over who shall hold particular cabinet positions. It is my understanding that there is scheduled to be a meeting at the Luang Prebang on February 2nd, between those leaders of the various groups within Laos. It is my earnest hope that both sides will refrain from hostilities after a cease fire which has been in effect generally since last May, so that we can see if a peaceful solution can be reached. Because if hostilities begin, they bring reactions and counterreactions, and all of the work which has gone on in the negotiations of the last months could go up in smoke and fire. So that I am hopeful that both sides will give the parties who are involved an opportunity to meet and continue and see if a solution can be reached. And I am hopeful that both sides will work at least toward that goal.
The situation in Viet Nam is one that is of great concern to us. There were, I think last week, nearly five hundred incidents, deaths, ambushes and so on. It is extremely serious. The United States has increased its help to the government. I am hopeful that the control commission will continue to examine that and come to some conclusions in regard to the Geneva accords.
We are anxious for a peace in that area, and we are assisting the government to maintain its position against this subterranean war.
QUESTION: Mr. President, a political question, sir. The Republicans are holding leadership conferences around the country, including here in Washington today, with the purpose of upsetting the Democratic balance of power in the Congressional elections that are coming up. Would you care to comment on the task these Republican teachers have, and with what hope they might look toward success in the fall?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I am sure that--I don't know who is giving the leadership direction, but I am sure that they will have a varied program. (laughter)
QUESTION: Mr. President, as part of our effort to show our good faith as a result of the Punta del Este meeting, is there any possibility that this government might reduce its trade with Cuba? Last year, I understand, we purchased from Cuba about 17 million dollars' worth of goods in excess of what we sold, largely in the field of tobacco. I was thinking of giving up cigars for the duration. Is that under consideration?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, as you know, the trade--the things we sell to Cuba have been foods and medicines, which--I think the total amount, as I recall it, was around 12 or 13 million dollars. I think any decision in regard to trade would better wait until the Secretary returns and we have had a chance to discuss the matter with him.
Mrs. Craig. Mrs. Craig?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, visitors who go out to visit Lincoln Park on East Capitol Street are dismayed to find it a slum. Congress has authorized, and the National Council of Negro Women will erect there a memorial stadium and a statue of the great woman educator, Marie Bethune. Now the Transit Company proposes to put an 8-lane Freeway between the Park and the Capitol, cutting it off. Could you inquire into that, and see if the Freeway could be put a little further out beyond the Park?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I will. (laughter) Very gentle today, Mrs. Craig.
QUESTION: Mr. President, does the United States intend to precondition the purchase of the 100 million dollars of United Nations bonds on support of the other 100 million dollars by other countries, and if so, would not such a precondition serve to raise the question of earnestness in the support of the UN by all nations?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I think there is an obvious relationship between the amount that we purchase and the amount that other countries do. We stated that we would take--we would consider taking 100 million dollars' worth of the bonds. It was our hope that other countries would take a 100 million dollars. I think the Canadians have indicated around 7 million dollars, and the British 12 million dollars, and I think the Scandinavian countries are giving it careful consideration.
I think Mr. Black of the World Bank has written to other governments, but in answer to your question there is a relationship, obviously, between what we could do and what others will do. I am hopeful that both will meet their responsibilities in the matter.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in the debate just terminated in the Senate over the confirmation of John McCone as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a considerable body of opinion indicated that they were concerned about the supervision over CIA. Have you done anything in your Administration to increase Executive supervision over CIA, and what is your view toward giving Congress a greater share over the supervision of CIA?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, as you know, Congress does have groups that have a responsibility over CIA. They provide the budget and they also provide -- receive reports and confer and exercise supervision at the present time.
Secondly, I appointed General Taylor some months ago to be my representative in regard to matters affecting Intelligence, and there are inter-governmental meetings in response to any activities that CIA might carry out, general supervision, and it is a matter which has concerned me personally increasingly. So those are the areas where there is control, and I think it is up to all those who have to control, as well as to Mr. McCone and the members of the CIA, to attempt to carry out their functions in the way which serves our interest, which I am sure is their objective.
QUESTION: Mr. President, with people going to Moscow, could you tell us under what conditions you would accept an invitation to visit the Soviet Union?
THE PRESIDENT: I would think that an invitation and an acceptance of an invitation would probably wait on an easing of the tensions which unfortunately surround our relationships. So for the present, of course, until we have significant breakthroughs, that sort of journey would probably not be considered useful by either country. But we, of course, are always hopeful and we are making every effort that we can, to bring an easing of tensions, and that is why Mr. Thompson is pursuing his course, and that is why we are making the other efforts that we are making.
QUESTION: Mr. President, could you tell us whether you expect any difficulty in Congress with your Alliance for Progress program, by reason of the opposition of some of the bigger Latin American countries at the Punta del Este Conference?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that I could probably--the Congress, of course, has to make that judgment. In my opinion, the program is very essential. I think it was indorsed by 20 nations, the Alliance for Progress. This is a long struggle to improve the life of the people in this Hemisphere. I think we must go ahead. And I am confident that the Members of the Congress who come back will feel the same way. So what has happened recently, in my opinion, makes more desirable and essential the Alliance for Progress. That is where our efforts ought to be, and that's where we can serve the cause of freedom and I think the inter-Hemisphere system best. So I am hopeful Congress will agree.
QUESTION: Mr. President, two network chiefs recently have expressed fear of government supervision of the television networks. The FCC has denied any such intention. Can you foresee circumstances under which FCC supervision of television programming might become necessary or useful?
THE PRESIDENT: No. You mean of a different kind than we now--a different relationship than that which now exists?
QUESTION: Yes, over program content.
THE PRESIDENT: No. I don't. I think, as you know, the Federal--the FCC does have certain regulations in regard to the percentage that will be in public service. Mr. Minnow has attempted to use, not force, but to use encouragement in persuading the networks to put better children's programs, more public service programs. I don't know of anyone, and Mr. Minnow has already denied, considering changing the basic relationship which now exists.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in connection with the situation in Laos, is Mr. Harriman in touch with his opposite Soviet number, in order to get the cooperation of the Soviet Union in reducing the heavy infiltration of Viet Nam units into Laos?
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Harriman, the Assistant Secretary, has indicated, as has the State Department, as have I, the great dangers to both sides in a resumption of hostilities. And we are making every effort to attempt to get an accord before this cease-fire, which appears to be strained somewhat, after many months--try to get an accord before we have a breakdown of the cease-fire, and that is true of both sides.
QUESTION: Mr. President, last year the Administration put forward no civil rights legislation. Now the Administration has submitted a bill on literacy tests in voting, and Secretary Goldberg has endorsed, quote, in principle, an FEPC bill. Does this mean the Administration has suddenly decided to go further on the legislative route in the civil rights field?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that my State of the Union Address said that we would comment on the various bills, of which there are a great many that have been introduced. And that's what Secretary Goldberg did. In addition, I made specific reference to the question of voting, and literacy tests, and Senator Mansfield has indicated action would be on that bill. So it seems to me that we are where we said we would be in the State of the Union Address.
QUESTION: Mr. President, is there a small war imminent between Floyd Patterson and Sunny Liston?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that is a matter that you ought to talk to Mr. Patterson about. He has confided fully in me.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in your statement on stockpiling policy, you refer to three items you felt were under-stockpiled. You didn't indicate what those were, and what considerations applied. Could you supply those for us?
THE PRESIDENT: I think -- as I say, the whole matter of stockpiling is a matter which would wait on Senator Symington. I did say that they involved, I think, the sum of about 2 million dollars, so they're not significant, but they are in short enough supply that we are continuing those purchases. But they are not of major proportions, though they are, in this case, significant.
QUESTION: Mr. President, they told us you took a cab ride or a limousine drive across from your house last night, at Lafayette Square, to inspect it. And in connection with that, you are familiar with the old Belasco Theater on Lafayette Square which now houses the United Services Organization home for the thousands of enlisted military people in the area. That this theatre, as you know, is going to be torn down.
Does the government, and specifically do you as Commander-in-Chief have any plans to place these people in a suitable area?
THE PRESIDENT: USO? Well, I'm sure we will be delighted to cooperate with the USO in getting satisfactory facilities. Last night I was looking at the question of the building next to Blair House and whether that ought to come down--the court building, whether that ought to come down or whether tress should be planted there, and I thought--I was in agreement with the Fine Arts Commission that trees should be planted there. (laughter)
QUESTION: Mr. President, what effect do you believe the most recent collapse of the nuclear test ban negotiations with the Soviet Union will have on the possibilities for success in the coming March 14 Geneva Disarmament talks, and will this collapse have any effect on your decision, if any, to resume nuclear testing?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, no progress was being made in developing a test ban which would have adequate inspection, and therefore we felt that it should be moved into the General Disarmament Conference which begins on the 14th.
This failure, as I said somewhat earlier, represents the biggest disappointment of my first year in office, and continues to be a disappointment, because every action here, as I say, breeds a response, and we have been anxious from the beginning to get an agreement which would prohibit tests with an adequate inspection. Now we haven't been able to adjust that satisfactorily. Therefore it will put an additional burden and an additional opportunity before the Disarmament Commission. And of course our failure to get an agreement does increase the likelihood of various countries testing. That's one of the reasons why I was anxious that we get an agreement.
QUESTION: Mr. President, on this question of the changed atmosphere between the U.S. and the Soviet Union of late, just to set the record straight, is this so far entirely a matter of atmospherics, or is there in any of the negotiating issues across the board any indication of the possibility of an agreement?
THE PRESIDENT: I would say that on the question of Laos, that there has been evidence of a desire by the Soviet Union and the United States to come to an agreement along the lines suggested by Chairman Khrushchev and myself last June.
On the question of Berlin and Germany, I don't think that significant progress as yet has been made. But I do think that, as I have said, that the means of communication and the channel of communications should be kept very widely open, which has been a basic premise of ours for the last few months, which is the reason that Ambassador Thompson is working. Any way we can lessen the chance of danger, as I said at the beginning, we will explore. So that I think that attempts to separate the facts of the matter from what you would call atmosphere, although atmosphere can be very important in our lives, as we see every day.
QUESTION: Sir, independent oil producers have urged you to take action quickly, even before completion of the Ellis study about June, to reduce oil imports. Now this week the independents are urging Congress to write into your trade program a provision reducing crude imports about 250,000 barrels daily, and limiting them in the future to 14 percent of domestic crude oil production.
Sir, do you think that the domestic producers will receive any relief from Executive action in the near future, and do you favor tightening of import controls on oil by such legislation as they propose?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, in the first place, as you suggested, this is a matter which is still being examined by Mr. Ellis' Commission. In regard to legislation, I am not familiar with this proposal, it’s the first I have heard about it. There are, of course, obvious difficulties, traditionally, in attempting to write in quota restrictions on various commodities in any kind of trade legislation, because one begets another, and we can find ourselves with a whole series of limitations and exclusions which would--which is the reason, I think, that Franklin Roosevelt originally came forward with the reciprocal trade program.
But we are very much aware of the concern, the fact that in some of our States that wells are down ten or eleven days a month, and that this is a matter of serious concern to a good many Americans. I will have to leave it at that at the present time because the study is not complete and I would have to examine the legislation, other than my general comments on it.
QUESTION: Mr. President, to go back to the Urban Affairs department, the Republicans say that you were playing politics last week when you said that you would like to have Mr. Robert Weaver, a distinguished Negro, to head that department. They also accuse you of injecting the race issue into this whole matter. Would you care to comment?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I merely said in response to a question that it was quite obvious that Mr. Weaver is the very successful, able head of by far the largest division which would be placed in an urban department. It was well rumored that Mr. Weaver would be appointed to the Cabinet. In fact, it may have played some part in some decisions in regard to the matter. So I think it is much better to get it out in the open. Obviously, if the position had been passed, Mr. Weaver would have been appointed. It was well known on the Hill. The American people might as well know it.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Congressman Alger of Texas today criticized Mr. Salinger as a "young and inexperience White House publicity man,"--(laughter)--and questioned the advisability of having him visit the Soviet Union. I wonder if you have any comments?
THE PRESIDENT: I know there are always some people who feel that Americans are always young and inexperienced, and foreigners are always able and tough, and great negotiators. But I don't think that the United States acquired its present position of leadership in the Free World if that view were correct.
Also, as I saw the press, it said that Mr. Salinger's main job was to increase my standing in the Gallup Polls. Having done that, he's now moving on to--(more laughter)--to improve our communications.
As I say, Mr. Salinger and Mr. Adzhubei were responsible for our interview, which I think was very helpful. If there is anything we can do, I don't think we should worry so much about Americans traveling abroad. I think they have acquitted themselves well, and so will Mr. Salinger. I am sure that some people in the Soviet Union are concerned about Mr. Adzhubei's visits abroad, too.
QUESTION: Mr. President, with regard to your request for authority to cut taxes as an anti-recession measure, a Democratic Member of the House Ways and Means Committee said the other day that no such authority was necessary because a request could go through Congress faster than a declaration of war.
What do you think of this, and of the argument that this power might be used for political reasons as well as economic?
THE PRESIDENT: If you recall, in our proposal we harnessed it to a statistical base, which was charted on the recessions which you have had since World War II and therefore would go off or be prepared to go off after we reached a certain peak of unemployment after a certain period of months. That is the purpose of it. So it seemed to us it was a tool which would be most valuable.
As you know, Arthur Burns, who was Chairman of the Economic Advisers under President Eisenhower, has endorsed this proposal. It has been endorsed by people on all sides of the spectrum. There is nothing more costly, nothing more expensive, than recurrent recessions, and if we can take action early enough, it is felt by the economists and businessmen, for example, the CED and others, that this would be a way of easing the impact.
If you can tell me anything more expensive than the large deficits we ran as a result of the '58 and '60 recessions, and the unemployment we had as a result of those recessions--I consider this to be soundly based.
Now, if we cannot get it, then we will have to consider the action that you suggested. But I think it would be a very important standby tool. This economy is a very--it fluctuates and moves. And we don't want to have a recovery in '62, and a lack of vigor in that recovery in '63, when early action might maintain the economy and maintain employment. I hope this will be given a long look even though I realize that the Ways and Means Committee has other priorities. But in my judgment, in the long run, I think we have a good chance to have it accepted.
MERRIMAN SMITH (UPI): Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.