WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 1963 (UPI)-President Kennedy said Thursday that the United States never planned to provide air cover for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. He also told a news conference that continuous air surveillance of the island has shown no threatening inflow of arms to the Fidel Castro regime from the Soviet Union.
The question of whether the anti-Castro invaders were promised U. S. air cover by the Administration boiled into controversy this week when the President's brother, Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy, said that no such pledge had ever been made.
Republicans, led by Sen. Barry F. Goldwater of Arizona have demanded investigations to ascertain the facts surrounding the invasion fiasco.
Anti-Castro refugee leaders, including Antonio de Varona, vice president of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, and Cubans who took part in the invasion charged that the air cover was promised but then withdrawn.
In addition, Jack W. Gore, editor and publisher of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., News reported Thursday that a month after the invasion, Kennedy told an off-the-record White House luncheon group that air cover had been available but the President had decided against using it.
The President, asked to set the situation straight, acknowledged that an air strike on behalf of the invaders had been postponed from morning to afternoon. But he said these "were flown by pilots...based not in the United States, not American planes."
He conceded that the invasion forces "were under the impression" that the B26 bombers were available and "would give them protection on the beach."
"That did not work out," the chief executive admitted. "That was one of the failures."
He observed that jets sent up against the B26s were "very effective and, therefore...the brigade was not able to maintain air supremacy on the beach."
The President twice stressed, however, the air cover planes were "not from the United States."
Kennedy insisted the statement made by the attorney general, that no U. S. air cover had been planned, was correct.
"Obviously," he said, "If you are going to have United States cover, you might as well have a complete United States commitment, which would have meant a full-fledged invasion by the United States in April, 1961."
Kennedy told the news conference that much of the confusion stems from the use of the word "air cover."
He differentiated between United States air cover "as proposed to air cover which was attached to the (invasion) brigade, some of which flew from various parts of this continent, not from the United States."
Of Gore's account of his luncheon remarks, the President said there was "no such conversation of the kind...that has been read to me."
He commented: "The problem of air cover and one of the reasons that the invasion failed may have well been discussed, but only in the terms that I have described because what I have described are the facts."
Concerning reports that the Soviet Union has intensified its arms in Cuba, the President reported that surveillance showed that since settlement of the missile crisis, only one Russian ship that might have carried arms had arrived. Kennedy acknowledged that there probably still are between 16,000 and 17,000 Russians in Cuba operating small missile sites and other technical equipment.