|55. The President's News Conference|
March 25, 1948 |
THE PRESIDENT. I have a short statement I want to read to you to begin with. Then we will have questions, if you feel like it.
[1.] [Reading] "It is vital that the American people have a clear understanding of the position of the United States in the United Nations regarding Palestine."
This will be mimeographed and ready for you when you leave.
"This country vigorously supported the plan for partition with economic union recommended by the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine and by the General Assembly. We have explored every possibility consistent with the basic principles of the Charter for giving effect to that solution. Unfortunately, it has become clear that the partition plan cannot be carried out at this time by peaceful means. We could not undertake to impose this solution on the people of Palestine by the use of American troops, both on Charter grounds and as a matter of national policy.
"The United Kingdom has announced its firm intention to abandon its mandate in Palestine on May 15. Unless emergency action is taken, there will be no public authority in Palestine on that date capable of preserving law and order. Violence and bloodshed will descend upon the Holy Land. Large scale fighting among the people of that country will be the inevitable result. Such fighting would infect the entire Middle East and could lead to consequences of the gravest sort involving the peace of this Nation and of the world.
"These dangers are imminent. Responsible governments in the United Nations cannot face this prospect without acting promptly to prevent it. The United States has proposed to the Security Council a temporary United Nations trusteeship for Palestine to provide a government to keep the peace. Such trusteeship was proposed only after we had exhausted every effort to find a way to carry out partition by peaceful means. Trusteeship is not proposed as a substitute for the partition plan but as an effort to fill the vacuum soon to be created by the termination of the mandate on May 15. The trusteeship does not prejudice the character of the final political settlement. It would establish the conditions of order which are essential to a peaceful solution.
"If we are to avert tragedy in Palestine, an immediate truce must be reached between the Arabs and Jews of that country. I am instructing Ambassador Austin to urge upon the Security Council in the strongest terms that representatives of the Arabs and Jews be called at once to the Council table to arrange such a truce.
"The United States is prepared to lend every appropriate assistance to the United Nations in preventing bloodshed and in reaching a peaceful settlement. If the United Nations agrees to a temporary trusteeship, we must take our share of the necessary responsibility. Our regard for the United Nations, for the peace of the world, and for our own self-interest, does not permit us to do less.
"With such a truce and such a trusteeship, a peaceful settlement is yet possible, and without them open warfare is just over the horizon. American policy in this emergency period is based squarely upon the recognition of this inescapable fact."
Q. Mr. President, does the responsibility to back up the U.N. trusteeship plan include the use of troops, even if--
THE PRESIDENT. Our policy is to back up the United Nations in the trusteeship by every means necessary.
Q. Mr. President, does that mean that American troops would be used?
THE PRESIDENT. Not necessarily.
Q. Mr. President, since you have several times urged conditional immigration into Palestine, do you still favor that?
THE PRESIDENT. My position hasn't changed with regard to immigration in Palestine.
Q. That might be carried out after the mandate has expired?
THE PRESIDENT. The first thing to do is to restore peace in the Holy Land, try to see if we can't arrange a settlement that will stop the bloodshed. I don't want to see people killed any more. We have had enough of it in the past 10 years.
Q. To clarify myself in my own thinking, you have asked Senator Austin to ask the U.N. to call the Jewish and Arab representatives to a truce conference?
THE PRESIDENT. That's right. That's right. That's correct.
Q. Mr. President, in Mr. Austin's last statement, one of the major factors for the change in partition was the fact that it would have to be imposed by force. Do you believe that the trusteeship--
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think that the trusteeship will necessarily have to be enforced by force. We could not leave a vacuum on that situation over there, you understand. When the British pull out, there is no government. These people immediately start killing each other, and there must be some way to keep the peace, and keep utilities and communications and everything like that going, because Palestine is a unit, and unless it is economically bound together it cannot exist.
Q. Mr. President, is there an alternative step, in case the truce--
THE PRESIDENT. We will have to see if we can get the truce before we do anything else. That's what we are working on now.
Q. Mr. President, who would be the trustee?
THE PRESIDENT. The United Nations would be the trustee.
Q. Mr. President, is there any estimate of how long it might be necessary to have a trusteeship?
THE PRESIDENT. No. That depends altogether on how the matter works out--after the trusteeship gets going.
Q. You are still, sir, in favor of partition at some future date?
THE PRESIDENT. That is what I am trying to say here as plainly as I can.
Q. Just to clear up another point, sir, you would draw a distinction between putting in troops to enforce partition and putting in troops to support the trusteeship, is that it, sir?
THE PRESIDENT. The United Nations would have to handle that matter. We support the United Nations to the limit. That doesn't necessarily mean that we would have to put American troops in there.
Q. Mr. President, in the event that the trusteeship plan is adopted, what would be the status of any free Palestine government erected by the Jewish people? They say they are going ahead and set up a government to function beginning May 16th.
THE PRESIDENT. I am hoping that they will--that the truce will cause a peaceful settlement, and that that will not happen.
Q. Mr. President, to make it absolutely clear, if the United Nations adopts the trusteeship plan and then decides troops are necessary to enforce it, would troops back that up?
THE PRESIDENT. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.
Q. Mr. President, considerable criticism seems to go back to United States support of partition in the first place. Could not the difficulties have been foreseen at that time?
THE PRESIDENT. Did I ever tell you that any schoolboy's hindsight is worth all the President's foresight? [Laughter] That is just as true now as it was then.
Q. Would the United States accept the trusteeship if the United Nations assigned it to them?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't think the United States would be called upon to accept the trusteeship. It will be a United Nations trusteeship, run by the United Nations itself.
Q. Does that mean another two or three power arrangement?
THE PRESIDENT. That matter will have to be worked out in the United Nations. I can't give you the details because I am not speaking for the United Nations. I am speaking for the United States.
Q. Mr. President, have your studies of the situation so far suggested that a truce at this time would be a practical possibility?
THE PRESIDENT. It is a practical possibility, yes. Wouldn't be advocating it, if it were not.
Q. Mr. President, do we have any alternative if the other countries refuse to accept the trusteeship plan?
THE PRESIDENT. I can't answer that question. We will have to wait and see how this works out, because the only other alternative seems to be to slaughter a lot of people. That is what I am trying to prevent have been trying to prevent all along.
Q. Mr. President, is there any truth to the reports appearing in the British press that the United States has asked that Britain continue in Palestine--
THE PRESIDENT. Of course, we didn't want Britain to leave Palestine in the present conditions. Britain was supposed to stay there until August 15. They suddenly took a notion to pull out. I don't know why. I don't run the British Government, either. [Laughter]
Q. Mr. President, in case the United Nations accepts the trusteeship, would the United States accept a place on that trusteeship?
THE PRESIDENT. We will cross that bridge when we get to it.
[2.] Q. Sir, to change the subject--
THE PRESIDENT. Good! [Laughter] Let's hear what the subject is changed to.
Q. There is a lot of commotion on the Hill, principally the Republicans, on exports to Russia. Can you say why we continue to export to Russia?
THE PRESIDENT. The Commerce Department is handling that situation. Most of these things were bought by Russia about 2 years ago or more, and Russia is, at the present time, a friendly nation and has been buying goods from us right along. The Commerce Department can give you all the details of what the situation is.
[3.] Q. Mr. President, any comment on the tax bill?
THE PRESIDENT. I will comment on the tax bill when it gets to my desk. It is going the usual rounds now.
[4.] Q. Mr. President, has the Justice Department or any of your offices under the White House brought to your attention the Ingram case in Georgia--the death sentence of a mother of eight and two of her boys age 15 and 16
THE PRESIDENT. That's the first I've heard of it. I don't know anything about it.
[5.] Q. Mr. President, do you favor the Air Force plan for expansion?
THE PRESIDENT. I am getting up a program for the Congress on defense which I will send down shortly, and I will let you know just exactly how I stand on it.
Q. Mr. President, do you have any estimate yet on the cost of that program?
THE PRESIDENT. No. The estimate hasn't reached me yet.
Q. Is it likely to affect the tax reduction situation?
THE PRESIDENT. I can't answer that.
[6.] Q. Mr. President, has the decision been reached yet as to whether to proclaim or make effective a reciprocal trade agreement with the Czechs?
THE PRESIDENT. That matter is being considered by the State Department now. You see, that trade agreement covers 15 or 20-maybe 30 nations.
[7.] Q. Mr. President, your speech to Congress was interpreted in the European press as giving a guarantee to the United Nations of the Western European union. Is that correct?
THE PRESIDENT. The speech speaks for itself. If you read it, it is very clear. There were no weasel words in it.
[8.] Q. Mr. President, efforts are being made to revive the Quoddy power project, which I believe you discussed with Congresswoman Smith of Maine?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I did. I have always been for it. I am still for it.
[9.] Q. Mr. President, do you plan any appeal to the miners to return to work? 1
THE PRESIDENT. I am pursuing the legal steps set out in the law in the mine strike now. We first had the chief conciliator call in the principals. They could not reach an agreement. I have appointed the board which the law provides, and when the board makes the report I will take whatever further steps are necessary under the law.
1 On March 15, 200,000 coal miners went on strike in support of the United Mine Workers oldage pension demands.
Q. Do you anticipate, sir, that we will hear before that board--before April 5th?
THE PRESIDENT. That board will report promptly just as soon as it is ready.
[10.] Q. Mr. President, are you likely to ask for daylight saving to conserve fuel in this--
THE PRESIDENT. No, I hadn't thought about it. I think daylight saving is a lot of "honey" in most of the places. lust upsets the calendar across the country. We built those time zones across the country so that the time could be changed in an office so people could use it intelligently. In the days gone by there were differences of 15 minutes in cities 10 miles apart. We now get an hour's difference in cities that adjoin each other. If there is a daylight saving program, it should be a national program, not a local one. I would be in favor of a national one.
[11.] Q. Mr. President, do you have any comment on the reported rising revolt of the Democratic ranks?
THE PRESIDENT. No, I haven't any comment to make on it. It doesn't disturb me, if that's what you are interested in.
Q. Mr. President, do you think the Democrats walking out now will walk back before November?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, let's wait for November and see. I am going to give them a chance to walk back.
Q. You are reported as saying you are still cheerful about Democratic hopes in the election?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. The Democrats will win in November. I am making a prophecy.
Q. You have been reported by people on the Hill as saying that you intend to go through to the end, regardless of this revolt?
THE PRESIDENT. I was correctly reported on that. That's the truth.
[12.] Q. Was the Star editorial correct in saying that you would rather be right than President?
THE PRESIDENT. Well, you Would have to draw your own conclusions. That was a cartoon, not an editorial.1 [Laughter] I have the original of that cartoon, that's how much I think of it.
1 The editorial entitled "He'd Rather Be Right--" appeared in the Washington Evening Star of March 24, 1948. On March 14 there had appeared in the same paper a cartoon by Jim Berryman. In the cartoon the President says, "I'll stand pat!" and a figure labeled Democracy asks, "Then you'd rather be right than be President?"
Q. This was the editorial last night.
THE PRESIDENT. I didn't read it. I'm sorry.
 Q. Mr. President, sometime ago the Colombian Government invited you to visit their country during the Inter-American Conference. Have you made any decision on that?
THE PRESIDENT. I can't go. I'm sorry.
Q. Can't go.
THE PRESIDENT. No. I have to stay here at this desk with the job.
[14.] Q. Mr. President, have you approached Will Clayton on--
THE PRESIDENT. N0, I have not. No, I have not.
 Q. Mr. President, there is talk of a new military program involving additional billions of dollars. Could you comment on that?
THE PRESIDENT. I will give you the answer to that as soon as it is ready. I don't want to comment on it because it isn't ready yet, and nobody knows anything about what I am going to recommend. I will let you know as soon as I am ready to make a recommendation.
Reporter: Thank you, Mr. President.
NOTE: President Truman's one hundred and fortieth news conference was held in his office at the White House at 10:37 a.m. on Thursday, March 25, 1948.
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project. John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.