April 19, 2022

1956. News Conference with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru Discusses Foreign Policy
"Jawaharlal Nehru and V.K. Krishna Menon, United Nations, New York," December 21, 1956 (source)
On December 19, 1956, Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru did a press conference at the National Press Club during a visit to Washington DC. He had delivered a speech to the American people the night before.

Transcript printed in The New York Times, December 20, 1956:

Transcript of Nehru News Conference on World Policy and Outlook

Washington, Dec. 19 Following is the transcript issued by the Indian Embassy of the report of the news conference held today by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India:

WILLIAM MCGAFFIN, of The Knight papers — In your speech last night, sir, you said the talks you had had with the President will help you in many ways in your thinking. Sir, could you spell that out a bit? In what ways do you expect that these talks will help you?

A. — Well, it is not an easy question to answer. Primarily, by getting a much better understanding of American policy, and more especially of the President's background of thinking in regard to it, which is very important.

BILL DOWNS, of The Columbia Broadcasting System — Mr. Prime Minister, in your speech last night to the American people you said that the forces of peace are strong; the mind of humanity is awake. How do you apply this to the Soviet Union in light of the events in Hungary?

A. — Well, I applied it, that phrase, more especially to the events in Egypt and Hungary—that is, the reactions to those events in the minds of people, whether they are presented in the United Nations or elsewhere, whatever means of judging one had about public opinion. If you are referring to the minds of the people in the Soviet Union, obviously I have no sure indication. But I imagine that people in the Soviet Union are not very happy about events in Hungary, if I may put it mildly in that way.

Asked About Passive Resistance

DAVID P. SENTNER, of The Hearst Newspapers — Mr. Prime Minister, do you believe that the technique of Mahatma Gandhi of passive resistance could be used successfully by the Hungarian people?

A. — I can't give a reply about what might happen in Hungary or any particular place because I am not adequately acquainted with the background in the sense of when people apply technique they must, to some extent, be trained in it; they must, to some extent, understand it.

There is always a danger of superficially applying a technique and not adhering to it and thereby falling between two stools; but I do believe that that type of technique is not only effective but, if I may say so, in the long run more effective than other techniques, if people have understood it and can do it in an organized way.

RAYMOND P. BRANDT, of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch — Mr. Prime Minister, competent authorities have said that the Asiatic countries, notably India, Ceylon and Burma, will be more adversely affected by the closing of the Suez Canal than England. Will you work with the United States, France and Great Britain for the immediate clearing up of the canal regardless of what personnel and machinery is used?

A. — No, sir . . . . First of all, while it is true that the closing of the Suez Canal affects India in the sense that it sends up the prices of our exports and imports, and delays things coming, I don't think it would be true to say that it affects us more than the other countries you mentioned; but quite apart from that, the real question is not how much it affects us, but what steps should be taken to get back to normality there; and we are anxious, of course, that steps should be taken, subject always to the sovereignty of Egypt, and we don't want to ask for steps to be taken which offends that sovereignty in any way.

Plans No Visit to Nasser

CHALMERS M. ROBERTS, of The Washington Post — Mr. Prime Minister, as a result of your talks with the President, is it possible that you will stop in Cairo on your way home to discuss with Colonel Nasser [President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt] either the canal settlement issue or the Palestine problem?

A. — I am afraid that there is no chance of my stopping in Cairo on the way back, well, two reasons: One is, it is just a question—it is very difficult for me, practically speaking, to do so. I have to be back by a certain date in Delhi. If I had the chance I would gladly have stopped there.

Q. — Do you have any other plans for Indian participation with the United States to settle either of those two Middle East problems?

A. — No, we have no particular plans. We function, as you know, in the United Nations, and we function on the diplomatic plane where there are frequent consultations. We have no particular magic plan to do it.

JOHN L. STEELE, of Time-Life — Mr. Prime Minister, did you bring to President Eisenhower any message from Chou En-Lai [Premier of Communist China] and, or, if not, would you give us your appraisal of Chou which you may have given the President?

A. — These personal appraisals are rather embarrassing. I did not bring any particular message from Mr. Chou En-lai. But naturally, I have had talks with him and I told the President, gave him the gist of our talks in regard to some matters of common interest.

As many of you know, Mr. Chou En-lai is a rather remarkable man and impressive. He gave me the Chinese viewpoint in regard to certain problems of Asia and—well, I conveyed it to the President, not as a message from him, I mean, but in explaining what their thinking was.

Q. — Can you give us the gist of that, sir?

A. — The gist of that—I would say that they have certain complaints, complaints in the sense of steps taken or not taken. They say—I am merely repeating—that we have gone several steps forward, but there has been no favorable reaction on the other side. Broadly speaking, that is the gist of their position. Now, you may have a different opinion; that is a different matter.

Backs an Open Suez

MRS. MAY CRAIG, of Maine newspapers — Mr. Prime Minister, would you agree to a Suez settlement which would allow Egypt to continue to bar Israeli ships?

A. — I shall answer that question slightly indirectly. That is to say, I think that the Suez Canal should be opened to all ships without exception.

Now, the question that has arisen there, that is, before these recent developments, was about Israeli ships being barred, and as to interpretation of the old Convention of 1888 or some such year. That is to say, I believe President Nasser said that "I accept that 1888 Convention completely," but his interpretation of that was that if he is at war with a country, then it does not apply.

Now, it is a question of interpretation of that, certain of that. I should imagine that some court, like the Supreme Court, the World Court, should be asked to interpret it, and whatever interpretation they give should be accepted. That is one way of it, so far as the past is concerned. So far as the future is concerned, we can sit down and have a new convention.

CHARLES W. ROBERTS, of Newsweek — Mr. Prime Minister, sir, last night you spoke of India's dedication to liberty, equality and dignity of man, and freedom of the human spirit. How do you reconcile this concern and dedication to freedom of the human spirit with India's refusal to condemn Russia's aggression in Poland—pardon me—in Hungary?

A. — There is no question of India refusing to condemn anything or not. If you are referring to one of the recent resolutions of the United Nations Assembly, you will remember that a resolution was put forward by India, and amendments were moved. Now, that resolution put forward for India expressed in fairly strong terms India's views about what had happened in Hungary.

The whole point was: are we going to satisfy ourselves by a strong denunciation or condemnation, or are we to have some constructive approach to the problem.

Now, India attempted to put forward a constructive approach which, in effect, was that the Secretary General of the U. N. should move in the matter himself on behalf of the U. N. to get things going. Otherwise, people sit apart from each other, condemn each other, and nothing is done.

The point was: Here is a very serious issue, we want to help Hungary, we want to do many things. Well, how are we going to do it? If we think that by condemnation it will resolve itself, well and good. But we thought that some other constructive approach—we expressed our disapproval of what had happened there in very strong terms. It is a question of the context and the wording and how you end up.

Israeli Relations Discussed

MILTON FRIEDMAN, of The Jewish Telegraphic Agency — Sir, do you believe the establishment by India of normal diplomatic relations with Israel would contribute towards the status of India, as an objective force working towards Middle Eastern peace?

A. — About a year or two after Israel came into existence we, that is the Government of India, recognized Israel. But it is true that we did not exchange diplomatic missions with Israel, and we have not done so yet.

Frankly, the reason was that we felt that we would be able to help in this matter more by not going a step further and having these—exchanging diplomatic missions. You know that our relations and contacts with the Arab nations are very considerable, and in this matter there is considerable passion, and we thought that was the better course.

Of course, we sympathize with many of the claims of the Arabs, their territory, in regard to refugees, and in regard to other matters. Anyhow, we felt that the only way to settle this matter is for those people to come together and settle it then. Now, after recent occurrences, it is infinitely more difficult for the present, at least—I'm not talking about the future.

EDWARD T. FOLLIARD, of The Washington Post and the Times Herald — Mr. Prime Minister, you have expressed the hope—you have expressed the hope that President Eisenhower will visit India. Do you think he will go over there, or did he give you any indication that he might or that he would like to?

A. — You don't want me to commit the President. This is the President's—I should be very happy if he comes. I hope he will come.

I. H. GORDON, of The International News Service — Mr. Prime Minister, why do you advocate membership in the United Nations for Red China? And, if Red China comes into the United Nations, what would you advocate doing with Nationalist China?

A. — So far as—well—legally and constitutionally speaking, there is only one China. What I mean is the mainland of China doesn't recognize the separate Formosa Government, and the Formosa Government doesn't recognize the other Government. They both claim to be one. It is not that either claims to be two. Each claims to be the real article, the other not. So the question two does not arise. Neither of these two claim to be two or want to be two, and I don't think that in the circumstances of today or in the context of history, it is likely that two can continue.

Obviously, the Formosan Government, at the most, is the Formosan Government. It is not China. Let me say, the map will show you it is not China, whatever else it is. It is Formosa, and to call it China is slightly stretching language.

Impressions on Policy

RICHARD L. WILSON, of Cowles Newspapers — Mr. Prime Minister, have your discussions with President Eisenhower led you to believe that the United States has a new policy toward neutralist nations which, basically, is more acceptable to India?

A. — That is a difficult question for me to answer because you are wanting me to tell you what American policy is, what is United States policy.

What I say is this: That I gathered the impression that the policy of the United States—I am not referring to any basic change—but it is a flexible policy adapting itself to circumstances. How it will adapt itself I can't say, but it is not as rigid as I thought.

SARAH McCLENDON, of The El Paso (Tex.) Times — Mr. Prime Minister, sir, you are familiar with our program whereby we sell our surplus commodities to the foreign Governments in exchange for their local currencies, and then we loan part of this local currency back to you. I wonder if you find this program helpful or harmful?

A. — Well, That is kind of a broad question, which I can't answer broadly. But in so far as it has happened in India, it has been helpful, very helpful to us. Recently there was a wheat deal, which was very helpful to us.

JOHN M. HIGHTOWER, of The Associated Press — Mr. Prime Minister, do you find that the policy of the United States with respect to Red China is less rigid than you thought?

A. — No, I am afraid I can't answer that question because I really cannot say "yes" or "no" to that.

PAUL A. SHINKMAN of Washington radio stations — Mr. Prime Minister, you said in your address to the American people last night that your economic program in India calls for purposeful planning and the willing and active cooperation of your own people. Are we to understand from that that you don't require also material support from outside, for example, from this country?

A. — We have to face such a tremendous problem—the problem may be divided up into two parts. One is the major part, really, what we have to do in our own country, and the resources we have to raise in our own country, which inevitably must fall on the people.

The other is when you industrialize, you have to get machinery from abroad, which involves foreign exchange and the like, which, whatever the effect on the people, of the countries accept unless they export and get things in exchange.

However, a brief answer to your question is that foreign help in this matter can be and is of great assistance, even though the quantum of foreign help, compared to what the country does, is small. The real burden falls infinitely more on the people of the country, but even the relatively small help that comes is of vital importance. It can make a difference; therefore, it is very welcome.

The Kashmir Question

A. D. ROTHMAN, of The Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald — Mr. Prime Minister, in view of the fact that India has constantly stressed its belief in the self-determination of nations, there is a considerable feeling that there is inconsistency between that point of view and India's actions in relation to holding a referendum in Kashmir. Can you clarify that for us?

A. — Well, I will answer your question briefly, but you don't expect me to clarify a question which has rather baffled people for the last eight years. The papers on that question run into about that number of volume (gesturing) . . .

You must remember the beginnings of the Kashmir trouble. The beginnings were unabashed aggression, armed aggression on Kashmir, and unless you keep that in view, you won't understand the rest of it. We talk about aggression a great deal. There is no doubt that that was aggression, and there is no doubt that the United Nations Commission that went there acknowledged the fact, too.

It must follow from that—you talk about a plebiscite or a referendum. The first thing laid down by the United Nations Commission was that Pakistan armies should withdraw, and the aggression should cease.

Well, it is eight years, and they haven't withdrawn yet. Nothing else follows unless that is done. As a matter of fact, in Kashmir there have been elections, there is an elected Assembly, there are going to be elections on an adult basis in about three months' time, and I really would invite any of you gentlemen who care to, go and have a look around there, and then form an opinion.

MR. McGAFFIN — Mr. Prime Minister, could we go back for a minute to your answer about the United States policy being not as rigid as you thought it was? Could you give us some instances of that sir, not as rigid in the question of Asian neutralism, perhaps?

A. — I can't give you instances because I am giving impressions of approaches. I may not have got a correct impression, quite possibly, because it is not that any particular—in regard to any particular subject we discussed, and I found as change there, but the general approach to these problems seems to me to be governed by an appreciation of a changing world, and trying to fit in with these changing conditions.

JOSEPH CHIANG, of The Chinese News Service — In regard to the questions of China, sir, as you know, the United Nations, the American Governments and other free nations of the world recognize the Chinese National Government in Formosa. Do you think they are wrong?

A. — Surely you do not expect me to be rude to anybody. The fact that we do not recognize it, or we recognize the government on the mainland should indicate our views on the subject.

On Soviet and Moral Force

EDWARD P. MORGAN, of The American Broadcasting Company — Mr. Prime Minister, India is held up as an exponent of moral force in the world. How does the Soviet Union fit into your definition of moral force, and whether it fits or not, do you judge that the present policies of the Soviet Union add up to a force for good in the world?

A. — Well, first of all, I disclaim entirely any—well, any claim to moral force for India as a country.

I do think that our leader, Mr. Gandhi was an exponent, and a very powerful one, of moral force, and he has influenced India greatly in the right direction, and we tried, to some extent, to follow what he said. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed in a small measure. That is, I do not wish anyone to imagine that we in India think ourselves more moral, more higher or better in any way than others. We do think that our leader set us a very fine example, and we try to keep it in mind, to the best of our ability.

About the Soviet Union, as about any country, including India, I think you will find that there is a great deal of good and bad, both. The proportions may vary. I don't know if you want me to discuss communism as such, or the application of it. Those are big questions; obviously there are many things in the Soviet Union in the past and in the present with which I do not agree.

Many things have happened, but I have found, taking the present conditions as they are today, the people of the Soviet Union are an extraordinarily friendly people, hospitable people, and passionately desirous of peace.

I believe also that many recent tendencies in the Soviet Union have been in the right direction of liberalization, democratization, and I should like those tendencies to function in an increasing measure. I believe they will function.

I don't think it is possible, because of a variety of reasons, for them to be stopped or for the Soviet Union to go back to conditions, say a few years back, before those tendencies came into evidence.

Now, what the future will show I don't know.

Questioned on Stalinism

Q. — Are you saying by that, sir, that you believe that is it your own judgment that the so-called Stalinist element of the Russian Government is defeated?

A. — Did you say defeated?

Q. — Yes, that is what I said.

A. — Well, I would put it this way: That the post-Stalin policy cannot, I think, be suppressed or made to revert to the pre-Stalin—to the previous policy, I don't think—it may, it may be delayed. It may be obstructed occasionally, because that policy is not a question really of a few people at the top merely thinking so, but something representing broad opinions and developments.

For instance, take the Russian people as a whole. During the last generation or so, a people which were largely illiterate have become very literate. They read tremendously. It makes a difference to a whole people if they are reading a great deal, even if the literature they read is limited. It makes them think; it broadens them.

Then they have become technically minded. They are all working machines now. The old muzhik [peasant] is there no longer. At present he works a tractor.

All these have made a difference, and these differences ultimately show themselves in political organization and other matters or political views—they affect them.

So I don't think—I think the changes are fundamental, the changes toward democratization and liberalization.

CHALMERS ROBERTS — Mr. Prime Minister, do you think it possible—and you are a student of Marxism from away back—do you think it is possible that those changes or that liberalization can go in a Communist country to the extent of its becoming democratic in the sense you spoke of last night about India and the United States?

A. — If you refer, by democratic you mean, some kind of parliamentary system of government, well, I don't think so. I don't think anybody in Russia has experienced, has had in the past, experience of it or thinks of democracy in terms of parliamentary government.

After all, parliamentary government is—even today does not extend to too many countries in the world. But I should imagine that other forms of democratic expression, that is, the people's will prevailing, which will almost inevitably take shape.

You ask me about Marxism. I am no authority on Marxism, but I should like people to remember always Marx, who was a very big man, lived in Western Europe, in the early nineteenth century.

Now, surely conditions have changed in the last hundred years, and any argument based on what happened in England in the early nineteenth century is not applicable today; and any persons holding on to that argument, well, are not living in the present. They are living in the past, and have—and in so far as they have closed minds, they don't go ahead in their thinking or in their actions.

MR. GORDON — Mr. Prime Minister, how would you propose that the world today take an initial step toward disarmament, and what should that step be?

A. — Well, that is rather an intricate question. But disarmament, I take it, means lessening of the arms possessed or the armies, reduction of the armies, lessening of the armies, restrictions on the use of atomic warfare—all these are various steps.

But behind all that is the necessity to create a certain confidence that no party will misuse that. That is the important thing really and, therefore, I suppose it is essential that arrangements should be made for some kind of checking and inspection to satisfy one's self that the agreement is not broken.

I can hardly discuss the details of it, but I do feel that after this long disarmament, the two main parties concerned are remarkably near each other; actually, factually what was put forward is not very different, and can easily be ironed out.

There is, of course, the background of lack of confidence. That is the real thing, not the proposals.

RUGGERO ORLANDO, of Italian Radio and Television — Mr. Prime Minister, do you consider Russia and China a single bloc?

A. — No, sir, not at all. I think they are very different from a single bloc.

R. H. SHACKLEFORD, of The Scripps-Howard Newspaper Alliance — Mr. Prime Minister, last night you said colonialism in any form or anywhere was abhorrent to India. Do you consider the Soviet Union a colonial power, that is, a nation which imposes its will upon other nations, such as in Eastern Europe?

A. — Well, it depends on what meaning you attach to words in the English language. The word "colonial" has a certain meaning, which I do not think applies in that context; but it does apply in other contexts. That is, if you say the Soviet Union dominates over another country, it is perfectly correct, of course—and it is a bad thing, I agree with you. Just—you may use the word "colonial" in a restricted way or in a wider way, whichever way you like, but the point is that, apart from words, that the Soviet Union, as it has been seen quite clearly in the case of Hungary, has exercised a dominating influence and power there.

Long-term Loans Cited

FREDERICK KUH, of The Chicago Sun-Times — Mr. Prime Minister, can you say in what form can we cooperate with India's second Five-Year Plan a little more fully?

A. — Well, in the main it is in certain forms of aid and in the form chiefly of loans, long-term loans, which India can pay back gradually later.

MILTON R. BERLINER, of The Washington Daily News — Mr. Prime Minister, would you say that the United States policy today is more sympathetic than it has ever been to India's nonalignment policy?

A. — I should imagine there is more understanding of it and, if I may say so, well, perhaps, a little appreciation of it.

MR. STEELE — Mr. Prime Minister, some of us are slightly puzzled as to what two gentlemen meeting for twelve hours straight on a rather muddy Gettysburg farm could think to talk about. I wonder if you could at least tell us the topics you discussed with the president.

A. — You see, in India we are supposed to be a people given to contemplation and leisurely talks. Perhaps some of that affected the President, too, that day.

Q. — Can you enlighten us as to the topics that you did discuss, sir, not as to the substance of them?

A. — No, but there are a large variety of topics. I really wouldn't even suddenly remember all of them—unless I have to think. Various things came into our minds. We discussed the past, we discussed the present, we even had a peep into the future.

RICHARD HARKNESS, of The National Broadcasting Company — Mr. Prime Minister, will you tell us, sir, if the speeches and votes of Mr. Krishna Menon [Mr. Nehru's foreign policy adviser] at the United Nations express properly and precisely the foreign policy of you and your Government?

A. — Mr. Krishna Menon and his delegation naturally keep in the closest touch with the Government of India, and they know exactly what the background of the Government of India's mind is on the subject.

Naturally, as from day to day things happen, the delegation has to decide, they can't confer every minute; and their broad—their decisions have been in accordance with our policy.

I do not know to what particular thing you refer. Speeches—well, whether things are expressed more strongly, unless I see it I cannot say anything. I think there has been, perhaps, some misunderstanding about every vote or about a phrase or a speech here and there, because it has been considered apart from the context. If the context to see it would appear to have a somewhat wider and different meaning.

LILLIAN LEVY, of The National Jewish Post — Mr. Prime Minister, in your considered judgment, sir, how can India help resolve the difficulties, the differences and difficulties, between Israel and her Arab neighbors, particularly Egypt, and thus contribute to the stability in the vital area of the Middle East?

A. — This question has become so very much more difficult after recent occurrences, that is, after the Israelite invasion of Egypt, that I honestly do not know what one can do at the present. I have, of course—I hope and believe that something may be done in the future, but just at the present moment, the question hardly arises or can hardly be considered in a normal way.

Pressed on Prisoners

SPENCER DAVIS, of The Associated Press — Mr. Prime Minister, can you say what prospects there are for the release of the ten American prisoners who are still being held in Communist China?

A. — Well, I should very much like them to be released. I hope they will be released some time, but I have not—it would not be right for me or fair for me to say anything more because I am not responsible. How can I commit anybody?

Q. — Sir, in the context of India being a bridge between the United States and Communist China, and your—

A. — I know that. But I find any statement made may be embarrassing because I can say anything I am going to do, but for me to talk about any other Government is not only embarrassing to me but to other Governments, and it may not be true, so I get into a false position.

WARREN ROGERS JR., of The Associated Press — Mr. Prime Minister, do you plan to take up this question of the Americans in China with Chou En-lai?

A. — Well, obviously, we have discussed this with him, and we will discuss it with him.

FRANK HOLEMAN, President of The National Press Club — I am sorry that is all the time we have for questions this morning. I want to thank you again, Mr. Prime Minister, and present the National Press Club Certificate of Appreciation for appearing here and making news wherever you go.