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Last of secret Kennedy tapes released

By Lauren Keiper

BOSTON (Reuters) - The final 45 hours of White House recordings secretly taped during John F. Kennedy's time in office were released on Tuesday, offering researchers unique perspective into the last three months of his administration.

The recordings are part of a collection of more than 248 hours of taped meetings and 12 hours of phone conversations that have been reviewed and released by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum since 1993.

"The president's intelligence really comes across," said Maura Porter, declassification archivist with the presidential library who worked on the tapes for a decade.

Kennedy can be heard stumping experts with his questions in areas that were not necessarily his forte, she said.

The recorded conversations were made deliberately by the president, often captured in the Oval Office or Cabinet Room, but were kept secret from even Kennedy's top aides, the library said in a statement.

The latest batch to be released by the library span meetings during the last three months of Kennedy's presidency.

Conversations with top officials briefing Kennedy on Vietnam were among the most memorable, Porter said.

After hearing vastly different viewpoints from top advisers who had gone on a fact-finding mission to South Vietnam, Kennedy can be heard commenting: "You both went to the same country?"

Porter said the frustration palpable in Kennedy's voice during the conversation was insightful.

"To hear these two diametrically opposed viewpoints, it must have been very difficult to understand the steps the country should have been taking on Vietnam," she said.

"To listen to these initial steps being taken, I thought was historically very fascinating and frustrating," said Porter.

Listening to the tapes, the intonation in the president's voice, the ebb and flow of a conversation offer historians a unique view that cannot be captured in official meeting minutes, she said.

The tapes also include discussions about the 1964 campaign and a conversation on his schedule for the coming week just days before Kennedy was assassinated.

On the November 12, 1963 recordings, Kennedy can be heard asking how they will win over voters. "But what is it that we can make them decide that they want to vote for us, Democrats and Kennedy," he said, according to a written transcript of the tapes.

"What is it we have to sell them?" he asked.

Later, he said that if film of the convention was made in color it could have a big impact.

"Probably a million watching it in color and it would have an effect. I don't know how much more expensive it is. The color is so damn good. If you do it right," he said.

The last meeting taped was on November 20, 1963 where Kennedy can be heard commenting on a briefing book he would need to take with him to Texas.

He left for Dallas the next day and was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

The existence of the tapes was first announced in 1973 and the final set of recordings are now available for research use at the presidential library in Boston and online.

(Reporting By Lauren Keiper; editing by Paul Thomasch)

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