March 21, 1962 – On this day, President Kennedy held his 28th Press conference since taking off in January of 1961. He discusses the Space program, Cuba, the United Nations and the NATO alliance. Here’s a text excerpt of the complete conference:
PRESIDENT KENNEDY: “ I have one announcement. I’ve received this morning Chairman Khrushchev’s reply to my letter of March 7 on outer space cooperation.1 I am gratified that this reply indicates that there are a number of areas of common interest. The next step clearly is for the United States representative on the U.N. Outer Space Committee, Ambassador Francis Plimpton, to meet in New York with the Soviet representative to make arrangements for an early discussion of the specific ideas of the Soviet Union and the United States. I have designated Dr. Hugh Dryden, Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to take the lead for the United States at this time in subsequent technical talks with Soviet representatives.
The United States is deeply committed to making all possible efforts to carry forward the exploration and use of space in a spirit of cooperation and for the benefit of all mankind. I am hopeful that there will be in this area prospects for practical cooperation.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in Geneva in the talks that are going on now, the Russians have expressed the feeling that any onsite inspection in connection with an atomic test ban treaty would be an invitation to espionage and even be insulting. The British, on the other hand, have spoken in the last 24 hours of settling for an absolute minimum of verification.
I wonder what you consider an acceptable minimum of verification. In other words, would the United States accept any sort of inspection system that did not embrace the right of international inspection teams to be on Soviet soil as well as U.S. soil?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think it’s much better to permit the Secretary of State, Arthur Dean, and Mr. Foster, who are carrying the lead for the United States, to conduct the negotiations. We have–it’s possible to pick up a number of disturbances from observation posts outside the Soviet Union. But, of course, the great difficulty is that you cannot distinguish by seismic means alone, at this range, between an earthquake and a possible nuclear explosion. And it is for that reason that we have felt that there must be onsite inspection and the ability to make that determination if a suspicious event should occur. It does seem to be a very basic difference between the Soviet Union and the United States because they have suggested that they would not be prepared, even if the devices were located off the territory of the Soviet Union, they would not be prepared to permit an inspection team to come on to make the precise determination as to the location and kind of disturbance which had taken place. So there is a disagreement between the Soviet Union and ourselves. I think that on the details of the discussion in the negotiations, we have sent very able men to represent us and I think they will represent the interests of the United States in this matter.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Senator Jackson says that this administration and the last have been putting too much stock in the United Nations and that a strong Atlantic Community offers the best avenue to peace. What is your view on this?
THE PRESIDENT. I see nothing contradictory in a strong Atlantic Community and the United Nations. Nor is there anything contradictory in a strong Organization of American States and the United Nations. In fact, the United Nations, when it was written in 1945, gave room for these regional organizations, of which there are a great many and of which the United States is a member. I support the United Nations very strongly and I think the American people do, not because its power is unlimited and not because we commit our policy to the United Nations so much as’ because we believe that it serves the interests of the United States and the interests of the United States are in an association of free people working together to maintain the peace.
Now, I would be very unhappy if the United Nations were weakened or eliminated. You would have a great increase in the chances of a direct concentration in some place like the Congo between the great powers. It might involve the United States directly and perhaps the Soviet Union on the other side. The United Nations serves as a means of channeling these matters, on which we disagree so basically, in a peaceful way. But that doesn’t suggest that we have to choose between the Atlantic Community and the United Nations. We believe in the Atlantic Community; we are committed to strengthening it. We are attempting, for example, to do that in a number of ways-and in fact, our association is constantly growing more intimate. And we also support the United Nations. Senator Jackson is a very valuable Senator who’s done very effective work and anything he says deserves a good deal of attention. I do want to point out that on this matter, certainly, there’s no disagreement between us.
QUESTION: There have been reports from Geneva, sir, that for all practical purposes the discussions there are deadlocked, not only in the field of disarmament but on such other topics as discussions with the Soviets concerning Berlin. Do you subscribe to that, sir, or do you think there is additional hope for further talks?
THE PRESIDENT. Oh, I think the talks should go on. The conference has only been in session for–I’m not prepared to abandon it in any degree, and I think it would be a mistake for us to feel that its prospects are finished.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in connection with your remarks about the United Nations, we have recently read criticism of the U.N. bond issue proposal and about the bill that has come out of the Senate foreign Relations Committee. Would you comment on these matters, too, please?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, there has been an alternate suggestion put forward for meeting the financial crisis of the United Nations. I think most people are aware that the United Nations faces a very serious financial crisis–that unless it receives assistance by one means or another, that the operation in the Congo, upon which so much depends, will end and we will have a very difficult and ‘perhaps chaotic situation which will, I think, be far more costly to us in the long run and far more hazardous. So we have to come to the assistance.
The second problem, of course, is that we have been meeting our assessments and we’ve been paying over 50 percent of the special assessments which were developed as a result of the Congo operation and as a result of the operation in the Middle East to keep the peace. Now, it seemed to us, and to the General Assembly–and I think this is an important point–it may be possible to suggest other plans but this is the one that the General Assembly has adopted.
The General Assembly puts forward this proposal which will make it compulsory in the future, and this will be ,particularly true when the World Court renders its opinion, and our judgment is they’ll render an opinion that these special operations must be paid as regular assessments, otherwise the country involved will lose its voting power.
Now, this is the plan the United Nations has adopted and we have committed ourselves and we hope the Congress will support this effort. We said we would buy $100 million worth of bonds. “The foreign Relations Committee stated we would buy $25 million worth of bonds and up to $100 million if the other countries met their quota.
Now, so far over $50 million has been pledged by other countries. Senator Aiken and Senator Hickenlooper–Senator Hickenlooper was a member, I think, of a delegation to the U.N., Senator Aiken has been a long time supporter. This is not a hostility to the U.N. on their part. They feel that this plan is preferable. But in my judgment it would mean that the United Nations would be faced with attempting to pay back $100 million in 3 years. I don’t think that there is any evidence that they can do it. It would have to be submitted to the General Assembly to be voted upon after they voted upon a different plan. The smaller nations definitely could not contribute to it, and in my judgment it would be back in our lap at the end of 3 years.
Now, the General Assembly has moved. We are moving on a plan which I think offers a hope of success. As I say, already a number of countries have met their responsibility. We hope they’ll go higher to the $100 million. I think we ought to go ahead and I’m hopeful the Senate and the House will, because in my judgment failure to go ahead in this ground is going to mean a collapse of this special effort, and then what’s going to happen in the Congo and the Middle East? I think it would be a great mistake, and I’m hopeful that the Senate will consider it very carefully.
In my judgment, every survey shows that 80 to 85 percent of the American people realize the importance of the United Nations. And this is vital to the life of the United Nations, this issue.”
Here is that complete press conference, as broadcast live on March 21, 1962.