Vietnam War: The Documents - 23

Kennedy's Last Press Conference — November 14, 1963.

In Kennedy's last press conference, the issue of Vietnam got considerable attention. The President made it clear that his key objective was to bring Americans home, but also to maintain South Vietnam as a "free and independent country." He expressed the hope that the recent coup would lead to "an increased effort in the war."

Conspiracists point to Kennedy's "plan to bring 1,000 Americans home before the end of 1963" as proof that he had firm plans for a total withdrawal, but here he seems less than firm even on that modest reduction.

Q. Mr. President, there have been published reports that General Harkins may have lost his usefulness in Viet-Nam because of his identification with the Diem regime and lack of contacts with the new generals running the country. Would you care to comment on that?
THE PRESIDENT. I think it is wholly untrue. I have complete confidence in him. He was just doing his job. I think he said in the interview yesterday he had seen Mr. Nhu, I think, only three times. He had seen President Diem in a number of occasions. That was his job, that is what he was sent for-to work with the government in power-that is what he will do with the new government. I have great confidence in General Harkins. There may be some who would like to see General Harkins go, but I plan to keep him there.
Q. Following up that, sir, would you give us your appraisal of the situation in South Viet-Nam now, since the coup, and the purposes for the Honolulu conference?
THE PRESIDENT. Because we do have a new situation there, and a new government, we hope, an increased effort in the war. The purpose of the meeting in Honolulu — Ambassador Lodge will be there, General Harkins will be there, Secretary McNamara and others, and then, as you know, later Ambassador Lodge will come here — is to attempt to assess the situation: what American policy should be, and what our aid policy should be, how we can intensify the struggle, how we can bring Americans out of there.

Now that is our object, to bring Americans home, permit the South Vietnamese to maintain themselves as a free and independent country, and permit democratic forces within the country to operate — which they can, of course, much more freely when the assault from the inside, and which is manipulated from the north, is ended. So the purpose of the meeting in Honolulu is how to pursue these objectives.

Q. Mr. President, Madam Nhu has now left the United States, but indicated that she intends to return. Will we renew her tourist visa?


Q. And if she asks for it, will we give her permanent residence-
THE PRESIDENT. I think we'd certainly permit her to return to the United States, if she wishes to do so.
Q. Mr. President, in view of the changed situation in South Viet-Nam, do you still expect to bring back 1,000 troops before the end of the year, or has that figure been raised or lowered?

THE PRESIDENT. No, we are going to bring back several hundred before the end of the year. But I think on the question of the exact number, I thought we would wait until the meeting of November 20th.

SOURCE: Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 846. Thanks to Tony Marsh for suggesting this source.

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