John F. Kennedy
60th Press Conference
August 20, 1963
Robert P. Fitton
In office less than three years, John F. Kennedy held his 60th press conference. President Kennedy's news conferences were lively and informative, sometimes strewn with wit and a comradely with the press. Both from a policy and political perspective no doubt existed as to who was in command. Yet, Kennedy's charm wooed members of the press in a way that has been unmatched by other presidents. It was that same charisma, vigor, and intelligence that made what happened in Dallas even more unbelievable.
President John F. Kennedy
State Department Auditorium
August 20, 1963
4:00 P.M. EDST (Tuesday)
336 In Attendance
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. The House of Representatives begins this week consideration of legislation vital to the security and well being of the United States and the free world, the Mutual Defense and Assistance Bill of 1963. I hope the House will give full support to the authorization recommended by the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Our foreign aid program is essential to the continued strength of the free world. It gives us increased military security at a cost far lower than if we had to carry the entire burden alone. It gives protection against Communist internal takeover to free people who are yet not able to build solidly without outside help. It provides essential assurances to the new nations of the world that they can count on us in their effort to build a free society. Only with this assurance can they continue to maintain against the pressures that are brought upon them.
This does not represent an impossible burden for the United States; indeed, it is only half as heavy as it was during the Marshall Plan. Then about 2 percent of our gross national product was allocated to foreign assistance. The program today costs only seven-tenths of one percent. The bill before the House has already been cut $850 million from our original estimate last January. Fortunately, the bill now has bipartisan political support. More than half of the Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs committee are in favor of the $4.1 billion authorization now before the House. This program is not an abstract set of numbers, but a set of concrete and continued actions in support of our national security. No party or group should call for a dynamic foreign policy and then seek to cripple this program. One wonders which concrete actions critics would like to stop. Should we scrap the Alliance For Progress, which is our best answer to the threat of communism in this Hemisphere? Should we deny help to India, the largest free power in Asia, as she seeks to strengthen herself against Communist China? Do we wish to dismantle our joint defenses in Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Greece, countries along the very rim of Communist power? Do we want to weaken our front in Southeast Asia?
This is no time to slacken our efforts. This fight is by no means over. The struggle is not finished. Therefore, as has been said on many occasions before, however tired we may get of this program, our adversaries are not tired. I don't think this country is tired, and the cause of freedom should certainly not be fatigued. Therefore, I think it is necessary that we continue to make this effort. I hope the House will support it. Eighty percent of these funds are spent in the United States, and I think it is necessary and essential, as the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, General Clay and others, that the House figure be passed.
Experience shows us that the appropriation traditionally has been less. I think it is incumbent upon us to support the action of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and I hope the House of Representatives will.
QUESTION: Mr. President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have approved a series of safeguards that they say will maintain our security under the limited test ban treaty, but there seems to be some feeling in Congress that perhaps these safeguards won't be carried out as vigorously and as fully as some of the Members of Congress would like. What do you have to say to that, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know where that feeling would arise--
QUESTION: It has been raised.
THE PRESIDENT: -- in view of the fact that the four safeguards they suggested, the Chiefs of Staff were all mentioned in my address to Congress, which preceded their meeting. There is a letter going to the Congress in response to a request from the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, and we are going to describe in detail what steps we are going to take to implement the four safeguards.
The four safeguards consist of (1) that we should keep our laboratories activated and vital. I have already met with Dr. Foster and Dr. Bradbury; we have talked with others. We are going to do that.
Secondly, we should prep e a standby so that if the treaty should be breached, abrogated, or if we should have what the treaty language describes as an imminent threat to our security, we would be prepared to resume testing. Already we have begun to prepare Johnson Island for that unhappy eventuality if it should occur. $22 million has been already allocated. $11 million has already been put out in contracts. We are dredging the harbor, we are building some piers. There are two dredges already out there, so I can assure you that we are going ahead very rapidly in that area.
Third, I think they wanted or suggested a vigorous series of underground tests. We have already, in the last two years, conducted 97 tests underground. That is quite vigorous. We are going to continue to carry on, as I have said, a vigorous series of tests. So that I think that the areas of concern, the feeling of the Joint Chiefs, when they endorsed the test ban, that these areas should be met, I think -- oh --
And the fourth area, as I remember, was that we improve our methods of detection, and on that we have additional recommendations to make which will be unanimously endorsed, I think, by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
So we are just as anxious, we appreciate the concern of the Members or Congress, but this matter is of concern to us also, and I can assure them we are going to do the job.
QUESTION: Mr. President, this is probably the last time we will have a session with you before the August 28th civil rights demonstration here. I wonder if you have any new thoughts, on that March, and whether you intend to participate or be involved in the activities that day, beyond conferring with a group of leaders of the movement.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I have already given my view at a previous press conference, and I will, as I have said, I have been asked for an appointment, and I will be glad to see the leaders of the organizations who are participating on that day.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Dr. Teller has charged that the Administration curtailed a number of the atmospheric tests last year for what he called "political reasons" in order not to alienate public opinion. Senator Humphrey has called this a very serious charge. Could you say whether those atmospheric tests were curtailed, and why?
THE PRESIDENT: No, we had set up a committee in the National Security Council headed by Dr. Seaborg, and we heard recommendations from the various laboratories, Los Alamos and Livermore, from the AEC, from the Department of Defense, and others, what tests would be most valuable. Obviously, we don't like to test in the atmosphere unless the test is essential. Every test in the atmosphere produces fallout and we would be, it seems to me, remiss in not attempting to keep the number of tests to the minimum, consistent with our national security.
As you remember, there were 28 atmospheric tests, 28 atmospheric tests, 97, as I have said, underground tests. That is quite a lot of tests. Before that there was a three-year moratorium where there were no tests, underground or in the atmosphere. In addition, as you recall, we have to proceed with some care in deciding what tests.
You remember one test went out and built an artificial Van Allen Belt, which was far different from what had been imagined, which could have endangered our whole space program, and indeed, that of any other country. So we kept a careful eye, and we, in fact, did more tests, several more tests, than we had originally planned six months before. So I don't think that the charge is valid. Quite obviously, we didn't test unnecessarily. Quite obviously there may have been tests that Dr. Teller would like to have run.
I don't know about that. But every test was considered by the National Security Council, was considered by the group of principals, of which Dr. Seaborg was the chairman. We carried out, as I say, several more tests, as I recall, than we had originally planned. We carried out in all 28, and there may have been, as I say, several tests that different scientists wanted to run at one point or another, but I think we did the major tests and I think that they were an impressive series. But it would be very difficult, I think, to satisfy Dr. Teller in this field.
QUESTION: Mr. President, have you narrowed your search for a new Postmaster General, and are you seeking a man with a business background or a political background?
THE PRESIDENT: The search is narrowing, but we haven't—there are other fields that are still to be considered, including even a postal background.
QUESTION: The ranking House Republican expert on atomic energy says that in spite of all Administration denials, he is sure that there was a side agreement at Moscow. Is there some way that you can present any proof positive?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I cannot. There is nothing I can say other than to say it isn't so. The Under Secretary of State can say nothing other than that it isn't so. There is nothing Governor Harriman can say other than that it isn't so. There is nothing the Prime Minister of England can say, who participated in it, Lord Hailsham, Lord Home, except that it isn't so. Now, we can't prove it.
QUESTION: Mr. President, this promises to be a very long session of Congress. There is talk of it running into Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner, and there is beginning to be talk heard among some of the rank and file that possibly it would be a good idea to put over both the civil rights bill and the tax bill into the next session. Do you think, sir, it will be possible for the leadership to keep Congress in town long enough to pass both of these major bills?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't see why not. What is the advantage of putting it over until next year? We have other problems. We have the whole new appropriations series. We have an election year. There are a good many excuses next year to get out of town. It seems to me this is the year for us to consider these pieces of legislation. I think there should be a vote on both of them this year, and they are both very important. The civil rights legislation represents a response to a very serious national crisis. I don't think it is a matter that should be put off to next year. The tax bill was recommended in January. It has not come to the House Floor yet. It will come in early September.
It should be possible for the Congress of the United States to dispose of this issue this year, 12 months. This is a matter which affects employment, jobs, our economic prospects, the struggle against a recession. We are talking about a tax cut beginning in January 1964, and we are talking about the state of the economy through the next six months, which I think is predicated in part upon a possible tax cut. If that proved to be disappointing, and we started all over again in January, when would you get it to a vote then--May or June or July of next year? What would happen to the economy in the meanwhile?
I think it is very important that we get a vote on both of these issues this year, and I think most Congressmen will agree that they should meet their responsibilities on two very vital matters before they go home, and should have voted on these matters. I hope up, but at least voted on them.
QUESTION: Mr. President, sir, there have been reports that if the limited nuclear test ban treaty is ratified, that you and Prime Minister Macmillan and Soviet Premier Khrushchev might go to the United Nations and register it there. If the treaty is ratified, do you see a possibility of conferring with them there, and with other leaders, such as Marshal Tito?
THE PRESIDENT: No, there has been no such plan. It has been suggested that I might speak at the United Nations, but I know of no decision which has been made on that, but as far as any ceremony of ratification or summit meeting involving ratification at the UN, I would think that would be very unlikely.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in your view, what do you think the effect of the August 28th march will be, both on the country and on the Congress?
THE PRESIDENT: I wouldn't-- I think the purpose, of course, is to attempt to bring to the attention of the Congress and the country the strong feeling of a good many thousands of citizens. I don't know, of course, how many are going to come. What we are really talking about is a problem which involves 180 million people. That 180 million people, it seems to me, have elected a Congress and elected some of us to attempt to deal with that matter. So that this issues does not stand or fall on August 28th.
The August 28th is a chance for a good many people to express their feeling, but it is hard for them, a lot of other people, to travel; it costs them money. They all-- many of them have jobs, so that I think what we are talking about is an issue that concerns all of our people and must, in the final analysis, be settled by the Congress and by the Executive Branch, working with 180 million people. This is an effort, however, to bring focus to the strong concern of a good many citizens, so that I think, as I said before, it is in that tradition that I meet with the leadership, and in which I think it is appropriate that these people and anyone else who feels themselves, who are concerned, should come to Washington, and see their Congressmen, and see any of us, if they feel that it is in the public interest.
QUESTION: Mr. President, I would just like to ask a three-part question: Do you feel that Cheddi Jagan, Prime Minister of British Guiana is a Communist; and what do you think of the possibilities of British Guiana becoming another Cuba, should the British leave very soon; and is the United States exerting any-- trying to exert any influence on the British to stay in British Guiana, or to suspend the Guiana Constitution?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't think it would be useful to respond, really, to any of those questions. With regard to Mr. Jagan's political philosophy, I think he has made it clear himself, and his associates have made it clear. The British still exercise a responsibility in the matter. I think we should leave it to them to exercise that in a responsible manner.
As to what might happen under hypothetical conditions in the future, quite obviously the United States Government is concerned about what happens in this Hemisphere and observes matters in this Hemisphere closely. But I think it is very important that we point out that this is primarily a British matter and we should leave the judgment to them.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in case serious negotiations will be started with the Russians around the proposal to place some stationary control posts on both sides of the Iron Curtain, in what area should these control posts be stationed according to the United States point of view, and could it be only in both parts of Germany?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I think we are a good, long way from reaching any conclusions or any position on the question of posts. This is a matter which I think would have to be discussed. I think it is a matter that has been discussed since it was first put forward four or five years ago. It is being discussed today in the NATO Council. It is a matter on which I don't think the United States will have a United States view. But I think there will be a NATO view. And that view, I think, will be evolving after a good deal of consultation.
So that in answer to your question, there is no-- I don't think it would be proper to refer to "an American view." I think this is a matter which we will have to work out in consultation, and then after the allies have consulted about it, and come to conclusions, then I would imagine there may be conversations between the allies and the Soviet Union. But we are a good, long way from that right now.
QUESTION: Mr. President, some Negro leaders are saying that, like the Jews persecuted by the Nazis, the Negro is entitled to some kind of special dispensation for the pain of second-class citizenship over these many decades and generations. What is your view of that in general, and what is your view in particular on the specific point that they are recommending of job quotas by race?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't think-- I don't think that is the generally held view, at least as I understand it, of the Negro community, that there is some compensation due for the lost years, particularly in the field of education.
What I think they would like is to see their children well educated so that they could hold jobs and have their children accepted and have themselves accepted as equal members of the community. So I don't think we can undo the past. In fact, the past is going to be with us for a good many years in uneducated men and women who lost their chance for a decent education. We have to do the best we can now. That is what we are trying to do. I don't think quotas are a good idea. I think it is a mistake to begin to assign quotas on the basis of religion or race or color, or nationality.
I think we get into a good deal of trouble. Our whole view of ourselves is a sort of one society. That has not been true. At least that is where we are trying to go. I think that we ought not to begin the quota system. On the other hand, I do think that we ought to make an effort to give a fair chance to everyone who is qualified, not through a quota, but just look over our employment rolls, look over our areas where we are hiring people, and at least make sure we are giving everyone a fair chance, but not hard and fast quotas. We are too mixed, this society of ours, to begin to divide ourselves on the basis of race or color.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there have been charges that Senator Goldwater could become a captive of the radical right. Do you see any indications that the influence of the radical right is growing to proportions where it might be a major factor in the 1964 campaign, and could, in effect, get enough strength to make any candidate a captive?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know. I don't know who has captured who. I would think that this is a matter which can best be handled by the Republicans at this time. Then after we have a convention and a candidate, then I would discuss it in some detail.
QUESTION: Mr. President, the railroad management and unions have reached what appears to be an impasse by submitting differing proposal for arbitration procedures. Does this mean that the Administration will now revise its proposals for compulsory arbitration in Congress?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I understand that there is going to be a meeting tomorrow morning at 9:00 o'clock of a select group of the Senate Commerce Committee who will meet with the parties with a proposal for settlement of the dispute. Then we will have a better idea, if this proposal is accepted by both of the parties, or one of the parties. If it is not accepted by the parties, then the Senate Commerce Committee must make a judgment as to whether they will accept the legislative proposals that we sent up, or some proposal of their own. But I think we ought to have an answer to your question by tomorrow morning.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you have mentioned the economy in reply to a question about the tax bill. Could you appraise the economy at this stage--how we are doing, and how is the economy going? Is it good, sluggish, or bad?
THE PRESIDENT: I would say good. I think it is slightly better, although not much better, but slightly better than was estimated in January. So that looking over, I think, the Federal Reserve Board statistical comparisons based on the '57-'59 base as 100, it was 119 in January and it is 127 now, and it rose, I think, a point in the last month. So that unemployment is 5.6 percent, and factory hours are strong. So I would say that the state of the economy is good.
What we are concerned about, of course, is what is going to happen for the rest of 1963 and 1964, because we have now run from the winter of '61, the fall of '60 and the winter of '61, when we had our downturn, and in '58 the downturn, and then '60 and '61. And we have now run pretty steady with the exception of the difficulties of June of 1962, and we have had a pretty steady rise.
Of course, you have to have a very substantial rise in order to take care of the number of people coming into the labor market. What I am concerned about, therefore, is that the tax bill be passed if we are going to see 1964 another good year.
But to answer your question, standing as we do right now, I would say that the state of the economy is good. What we must be concerned about always, of course, is the future. That is why I consider the tax bill so essential.
QUESTION: Mr. President, can you bring us up to date, sir, on the Soviet troop strength in Cuba? Has there been a net reduction in recent weeks and months?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, there has been a decline in the last-- since my last conference, I think, when we discussed it about two months ago. The intelligence community judges that there has been a decline, and the primary emphasis of those who remain now is in training, and not in concentrated military units. But there are still Russians there, and this is still a matter of concern to us.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Dr. Teller, in urging the Senate to reject the nuclear test ban today, said that it weakens American defenses, and thus invites attack, because the information that is necessary to develop a sure-fire anti-missile missile can only be developed through atmospheric tests. What do you have to say to this?
THE PRESIDENT: I think Mr. McNamara answered that very clearly. Other scientists have answered it. I recognize Dr. Teller has made it very clear that he is opposed to it. He opposed it all last week and this week. There are a good many other scientists with comparable experience. We have a Scientific Advisory Committee to the President. We have other scientists who work in nuclear matters. We have Nobel prize winners and others. We have members of the military and others who think that the test ban is a source of strength to us. I understand Dr. Teller is opposed to it. Every day he is opposed to it. I recognize he is going to continue to be opposed to it. I think that the question was very clearly answered by Mr. McNamara on what effect the atmospheric test ban would have on the development of an anti-missile weapon.
Now, let us just think of the other side of it, if we begin to test again and the Soviet Union tests again, and others begin to test again. How much security do we have? As I said before, in my message I sent to Congress, we needed only one test to develop the Hiroshima weapon. To anyone who works in the laboratories today, a 30-megaton weapon is perhaps not as sophisticated as a 60- or 70- or 80-megaton weapon. It is still many, many, many times, dozens of times, stronger than the weapon that flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki. How many weapons do you need and how many megatons do you need to destroy?
I said in my speech what we now have on hand, without any further testing, will kill 300 million people in one hour. I suppose they could even improve on that if it's necessary. So on your specific question, I refer you to Mr. McNamara's answer, which I think is the clearest and most specific answer that you could possibly get on what effect the atmospheric test ban will have on the development of this weapon.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in this connection, Utah scientists have announced that Utah children under 2 years have received from 2 to 28 times as much radioactive Iodine-131 last year in less than a month as our Government says is safe for an entire year. Does the Government have any plans to examine some of these children to detect possible damage?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I have seen the report about the radio Iodine and it is a matter of concern. As you know, the report is not unanimous. There is some controversy about it. In addition, the standards that were set do not-- I don't think we would mislead the people there, that there is evidence on hand of a serious deterioration there. But, of course, it is a matter of concern to us that we not continue. But we are looking into it. But I would say that as of now that we do not believe that the health of the children involved has been adversely affected. But it does tell us--of course, these matters require further study--what it does tell us is that it is very desirable to get a test ban.
QUESTION: Mr. President, apparently there is some consideration being given to the United States and Soviet Russia collaborating on the moon shot. I wonder, in view of that, if there is any plan to have Soviet observers when the Apollo moon shot tests start at White Sands, New Mexico?
THE PRESIDENT: No. We have not had any success in reaching any agreement. The kind of agreement to really be meaningful would require a good deal of inspection on both sides, and there is no evidence as yet that the Soviet Union is prepared to accept that. All we have ever gotten was an agreement to exchange weather information. We haven't had anything more substantial.
QUESTION: Mr. President, do you see anything in the relationship of the Secretary of the Navy Korth to the TFX contract which would suggest a conflict of interest?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't. I have the highest regard for Mr. Korth, Mr. Gilpatric, Mr. McNamara, and it seems to me the matter has been looked into for many months and I think they have emerged in a very good position.
QUESTION: Ambassador George Kennan the other day said he thought the most promising area for further exploration in East-West negotiations was President de Gaulle's idea about controlling means of delivery rather than nuclear warheads. Does this Government have a position on that possible approach?
THE PRESIDENT: No. As I said, I think we would be interested to hear what General de Gaulle might propose, how you are going to control the system. Without inspection, we can detect atmospheric tests. The Soviet Union has been reluctant to have the kind of inspection which would permit us, which, after all, would be very limited inspection, to have underground tests detected. Is there any evidence that they would accept the kind of very detailed inspection that control of a delivery system would entail when it gives out no signal as a nuclear explosion does? But General de Gaulle has not indicated the details of his proposal. We would be very interested in it. We would be delighted to join with him in any meeting to discuss it. But we have not had it described, and I have not yet seen evidence that the Soviet Union would accept that kind of inspection. However, we will be very responsive if the proposal is put forward.
QUESTION: Going back to your earlier answer on Cuba, can you say what our estimate is of how many troops have been withdrawn?
THE PRESIDENT: No. It is difficult--as we can't call the roll--for us to say precisely. But based on the information we have about outward movements and inward movements, it is the judgment ref the intelligence community that there has been a reduction in the last 2-1/2 months.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in view of tide figures released yesterday by the Commerce Department on the balance of international payments--
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
QUESTION: -- does the Administration have any further measures it is going to recommend? It looks as though the deficit could be the largest since the war.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I don't think it will be. The second quarter was particularly difficult. Since then the indications are better. In addition, as you know, we have taken two important steps-- really three. One is the equalization tax. Two is the interest rates. And three are the reduction in military expenditures and tying our foreign aid expenditures here in the United States. So we think that is going to make an important difference. Quite obviously we will have to look at the effect of all of those proposals.
QUESTION: Do you see an end in sight when there will be a balance?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do, because I think that by one means or another we are going to bring it into balance. Quite obviously we would not accept it. But we are reluctant-- Quite obviously we are not going to devalue, because there is no necessity for it. It would be a defeating measure. So I eliminate that. It may not be necessary for us to proceed any further.
You can see already the effect of even the rather limited steps we have taken-- two effects; one, the effect in Canada and Japan of the equalization tax, which shows the deflationary effect of this kind of restriction, and, therefore, we were reluctant to do it.
Secondly, there was an article in the paper in the Times on Sunday about the effect of the Euro-dollar of our interest rate rise. So everything we do shakes the West--the monetary system--so we proceed with care. We are still in good shape. A good deal of this outflow represents assets abroad. The United States, while a good deal of money is going out, has also picked up a good many assets in Western Europe and all around the globe. While it means our position may not be as liquid as it might, it doesn't mean we are in a strong position in regard to our ultimate balance sheet.
QUESTION: Will that call for any action at the next meeting of the IMF?
THE PRESIDENT: Not that we have planned. But I think let's see what effect the interest rate increase has on the short-term flow. This tax can be important, and this cut-down on Defense and our foreign aid can be important, and there are other steps we may be able to take.
We feel that with the rising cost in Europe, that we are going to begin to come into balance. We are going to bring it into balance. The question is we would like to bring it into balance in a way that does not shake-- as I have said, we don't want to have a 1928 situation where you take an action to protect your problem here and you cause a far greater problem.
I think this situation can be brought under control. What we are now doing, I think, is an important step in that direction.
MR. MERRIMAN SMITH (UPI): Thank you, Mr. President.