For Immediate Release: August 3, 2007
Further information: Brent R. Carney (617) 514-1662, [email protected]
Maura Porter (617) 514-1634

Boston, MA -- In the week that marks the 44th anniversary of the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum announced that it has declassified a tape recording of a White House meeting at which President Kennedy discusses the opposition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the treaty and the upcoming debate in Congress.  The pact was signed in Moscow on August 5, 1963 by the United States, the United Kingdom and the USSR.  The recording will be made available to researchers for the first time on Monday, August 6, 2007.

On July 9, 1963, the President met privately in the Oval Office with Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Maxwell Taylor.  This meeting took place immediately after a larger National Security Council meeting on the test ban negotiations, specifically Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Averell Harriman's upcoming mission to Moscow.  General Taylor expressed to the President the opinion of several members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who were privately critiquing the idea of a test ban and about the possibility that they may state these opinions publicly to Congress.  The President, although open to debate on the subject, is concerned about the timing of any formal, public evaluation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the test ban issue:

 I don't care who comes up and testifies - it ought to be wide open. That's the time you gotta say it and we haven't presented our case -- then I can say this is why I am for it and that's the way - then the Chiefs can speak about the military disadvantages and advantages. Proliferation is certainly a danger to us... I am afraid that if the Chiefs ever met that there are (risks) having position against even an atmospheric test ban, at a very time, which would will leak out, at a very time when Harriman (is in Moscow) ...So even though they've all taken a separate position, which seems to me somewhat better off than we are that 'the Joint Chiefs of Staff have met and said this is a threat' - God we would be in a terrible shape.

July 26, 1963, President Kennedy gave a radio and television address to the American people on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  In this speech, the President proclaimed:  

 "But now, for the first time in many years, the path of peace may be open. No one can be certain what the future will bring. No one can say whether the time has come for an easing of the struggle. But history and our own conscience will judge us harsher if we do not now make every effort to test our hopes by action, and this is the place to begin. According to the ancient Chinese proverb, 'A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step'. My fellow Americans, let us take that first step. Let us, if we can, step back from the shadows of war and seek out the way of peace. And if that journey is a thousand miles, or even more, let history record that we, in this land, at this time, took the first step."

The treaty pact was signed in Moscow on August 5, 1963 by US Secretary of State Dean Rusk, British Foreign Secretary Lord Home and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.  In a joint communiqué released after the treaty pact was signed, the three signatory nations stated, "that this treaty is an important initial step toward the lessening of international tension and the strengthening of peace."  

The Test Ban Treaty was debated and ratified in the Senate and the U.S. instrument of ratification was then signed by President Kennedy in the Treaty Room of the White House on October 7, 1963.  The treaty entered into force on October 10, 1963.

Researchers should be aware that the full length of this recording (tape #96) runs 197 minutes.  The other meetings on the tape include additional discussions on the test ban, Vietnam, civil rights, and the railroad works dispute. (Please note that the recordings of the meetings on civil rights were previously opened for public use in 1984 and the recordings on the railroad works dispute were opened in 1985.)

Assignment and News Editors Please Note: The Kennedy Library and Museum will provide members of the media with a CD which includes the highlighted clips and one additional test ban treaty excerpt; a separate description of the three excepts will also be included.  The CD runs 3:44.  The entire 197-minute tape will also be made available on request.

Approximately 80 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.  Additional tapes will be opened in the near future.

The first items from the presidential recordings were opened to public research in June of 1983. Over the past 18 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 often include passages of extremely poor sound quality with considerable background noise and periods where the identity of the speakers is unclear.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library's Archives include 48 million pages of documents from the collections of 340 individuals, organizations, or government agencies; oral history interviews with 1,300 people; and more than 30,000 books.  The Audiovisual Archives administers collections of more than 400,000 still photographs, 7,550,000 feet of motion picture film, 1,200 hours of video recordings, over 9,000 hours of audio recordings and 500 original editorial cartoons.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and the Kennedy Library Foundation seek to promote, through scholarship, 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.

The Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with the exceptions of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.  The Research Room is open 8:30 am -- 4:30 pm each weekday, and is closed on weekends and federal holidays.  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) 514-1614.

The Library is located in the Dorchester section of Boston, off Morrissey Boulevard, next to the campus of the University of Massachusetts/Boston. Parking is free. There is free shuttle-service from the JFK/UMass T Stop on the Red Line. The Museum is fully handicapped accessible. For more information, call (866) JFK-1960.

 



Source: JFK Library