Thursday, September 9, 2010

JFK Library releases tapes

Senior Republican helps president with nuclear treaty (circa 1963)

For Immediate Release: September 9, 2010
Further information: Rachel Day (617) 514-1662,

BOSTON–The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum announced today that it has declassified and made available for research presidential recordings of two meetings between President Kennedy and three of the US Senate’s most influential ranking members: Senators Mike Mansfield, Everett Dirksen and Henry “Scoop” Jackson. The subject of these meetings was the upcoming Senate debate and vote on the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  
Although the Treaty was signed in Moscow on August 5, 1963, by U.S. Secretary Dean Rusk, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, and British Foreign Secretary Lord Home, the Treaty awaited approval by the US Senate. The Senate debate on the Treaty was expected to be intense.   From August until late September, President Kennedy had the difficult task of easing the fears of the American public and of a divided Senate to gain the necessary support for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
The two meetings released today offer an exceptional examination into President Kennedy’s political, public relations and decision-making processes as he attempts to convince those “on the fence” to vote for the Treaty and also to finesse those already on board.  
Early in the day on September 9, 1963, Senators Dirksen and Mansfield, supporters of the Treaty, meet with the President to discuss the great apprehension that exists in the Senate about the Treaty.  As supporters of the Treaty, Senator Dirksen and Mansfield arrive with an idea to help lessen some of the uncertainties of their colleagues.  Senator Dirksen comments:
“So I talked to Mike about it, I said Mike, I think we ought to go talk to the President, just lay this out, and put our finger on what the real problem is – it is that overriding fear.  And see whether or not we could get a letter that will touch upon those points…now if you don’t mind, and this is a little presumption on my part, but I laid out the letter.”  (at 2:43 on tape)   [See attached overview transcript.]
“That the one thing that impressed me was the overriding fear and misgiving about what we were going to do in the future and whether we were doing to be disadvantaged by the Soviets in the nuclear field.” (at 18:50 on tape) 
The three men proceeded to review the letter point by point.  The President agrees and the verbatim letter was sent by the President to Senators Mansfield and Dirksen the following day.  [Click here for PDF of letter].  The letter of assurances “from” the President helped influence many of the undecided Senators to later cast a vote in the Treaty’s favor.  It was a successfully planned public relations move.
In the evening of September 9, 1963, the President met with Senator Jackson, who has not yet given his support, President Kennedy states:
“All I want to say, Scoop, is I think you can make a  hell of a difference in this debate and, I think, having gone this far and having signed this, if we get beaten on it, we’ll find ourselves in a much worse position than if we hadn’t brought it up…I’ve never thought that this treaty was for good or for long.  I think that as a political effort at this time – we wouldn’t be testing anyway until 1964 – over the next 18 months, it will be of some significance to us.”   (at 9:11 on tape) [See attached overview transcript.]
The significance of the Treaty to the President is shown in these meetings as a complicated mix of politics, policy, and public relations. In his book Kennedy, Special Counsel to the President Theodore Sorensen wrote, “Kennedy regarded the Test Ban Treaty itself, however, as more of a beginning than a culmination.  It was an important beginning … While testing by France and Red China or the development of other weapons might someday outmode this gain, the genie was at least temporarily back in the bottle.”
The Dirksen-Mansfield meeting is deliberate in its political purpose, while the Jackson meeting is similar to a debate. “In these meetings we see President Kennedy building a legislative strategy with Congressional leaders who held strikingly different viewpoints concerning U.S. foreign policy to ensure the ratification of one of his priority initiatives, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,” said Kennedy Library Archivist Maura Porter. “Senators Dirksen and Mansfield had arrived at the meeting with a plan to increase support - a public letter which addresses some lingering questions on whether the Treaty weakened the US position.  With Senator Jackson, who was known as being a Cold War, anti-Communist Democrat, the President and he sat together and discussed a variety of the issues of the day in an informal give and take which is both rare and fascinating.”
In response to Senator Jackson’s concern that the American people’s opinion of the Treaty might be that the treaty does not protect America, the President responds: 
"I think you may learn when you sit here that there’s a hell of a vested interest in proving any Democratic President to be wrong or soft on Communism." (at 15:55 on tape)
Jackson later states: 
"As long as we protect the deterrent – and make it clear continuously that these safeguards are going to be implemented, but it’s more than that, it’s a state of mind that is going to be left with the public, an attitude whether we have the will to make a real effort to continue to protect ourselves.”  (at 17:57 on tape)
Senator Jackson and the President deliberate not only the Test Ban Treaty but also South Vietnam in some detail. 
Jackson:  We still may have to do – intervene in Laos and they’ll completely outflank South Vietnam.  You have to hold the area along the Mekong  - about 2/3 of Laos
President Kennedy:  Hell of a place to intervene.
Jackson:  I know, but if they play it smart, where the hell are we?  Pouring over $1 million a day into South Vietnam…I don’t think it’s over (in Laos)
President Kennedy:  I think it is.  (at 8:03 on tape)
After the back and forth, Jackson leaves the meeting saying that he will decide the following day how he will vote on the Treaty. In the end, he voted for ratification. The Senate approved the Limited Nuclear Test Ban on September 23, 1963, by an 80-19 margin.  President Kennedy signed the ratified Treaty on October 7, 1963.
Audio files of these discussions are available to the media in mp3 format on request.  They, and other historical resources related to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, may also be accessed on the Kennedy Library website at the following links:
Today’s complete release incorporates the two nuclear test ban discussions from tape number 109.  This release totals 54 minutes of recordings of which 1:27 remain classified.  Approximately 30 hours of meeting tapes remain to be reviewed for declassification prior to release. Processing of the presidential recordings will continue to be conducted in the chronological order of the tapes.
The first items from the presidential recordings were opened to public research in June of 1983. Over the past 20 years, the Library staff has reviewed and opened all of the telephone conversations and a large portion of the meeting tapes. The latter are predominantly meetings with President Kennedy in either the Oval Office or the Cabinet Room. While the recordings were deliberate in the sense that it required manual operation to start and stop the recording, it was not, based on the material recorded, used with daily regularity nor was there a set pattern for its operation. The tapes represent raw historical material. The sound quality of the recordings varies widely.  Although most of the recorded conversation is understandable, the tapes include passages of extremely poor sound quality with considerable background noise and periods where the identity of the speakers is unclear.   Kennedy Library Archivist Maura Porter is available to answer questions from the media concerning this newly released tape or the Kennedy Library Presidential tapes in general.  She can be reached through Rachel Day, Director of Communications.
Today’s release of White House meetings is available for research use in the Library’s Research Room. The hours of operation are Monday – Friday from 8:30 am - 4:30 pm and appointments may be made by calling (617) 514-1629. The recordings and finding guide are available for purchase at the John F. Kennedy Library, Columbia Point, Boston, MA 02125, or by calling the Audiovisual Department (617) 514-1622. Members of the media are cautioned against making historical conclusions based on the sound clips and transcript alone. They are provided as a professional courtesy to facilitate the reporting of the release of these presidential recordings.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The Kennedy Presidential Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through educational and community programs, a greater appreciation and understanding of American politics, history, and culture, the process of governing and the importance of public service. More information is available at

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