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President Clinton Welcomes Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel To The White House

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 16, 1998


The South Grounds

9:52 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: President Havel, Mrs. Havlova, membersof the Czech delegation, my fellow Americans: Mr. President, it is ajoy to welcome you to the United States and to the White House. Yourremarkable life embodies a great lesson, that people who love theircountry can change it, even against tremendous odds; that words canbe powerful instruments of change; and that, together, words anddeeds can be the pillars of freedom.

Ten years ago, the world was a very different place.Like half of Europe, Czechoslovakia lay shrouded beneath a failedideology. Human hopes were suppressed. Debate was stifled. And youspent years in jail for standing up and speaking out for liberty andhuman rights.

Today we celebrate the dramatic movement out of thatvery different, darker world, toward freedom and self-determination.We celebrate ideas, not ideologies. From South Africa to South Koreato South America, societies are redefining themselves, removingbarriers to the imagination, struggling to find a new balance in anew world, cultivating the limitless resources of their people.

This is a universal phenomenon . Neither American,nor European, but instead universal. Nonetheless, it owes a verygreat deal in our time to the inspiration provided by a single man,Vaclav Havel, who for years spoke when it mattered and often atenormous personal cost.

Now we are poised to build a world of the new century.More people than ever are free to pursue their own destiny. And weare grateful for the unprecedented achievement of this century we areabout to leave. We are also aware, however, that far too much of the20th century saw division and dislocation and destruction, andnowhere more so than in the heart of Europe.

In the last decade, Europeans have gone far towardrepairing the damage wrought by a century of war -- rebuilding oldrelationships, unifying the hopes and dreams of people who werearbitrarily separated for far too long. No President, no person, hasdone better work toward this end than President Havel.

Since assuming office, Mr. President, you have provideda voice of dazzling eloquence to the debate over Europe's future andthe future of the world, a voice of both humility and great power.You have addressed issues large and small, regional and global,material and spiritual -- but always in the most human way. You havearticulated a politics of hope, reminding us that all nations form acommunity on our small planet. You have spoken forcefully about ourcollective obligation to the future. And for our children's sake, wemust do all we can to back up your vision with real deeds.

Since 1989, the Czech people have taken enormous stridesto build that better world. You have made concrete contributions tothe search for peace in Bosnia and Kosovo. In Bosnia, your soldiersstand shoulder to shoulder with ours. You have strengthenedcooperation with your neighbors. You have taken steps to heal pastwounds with Germany and Russia. You are providing humanitarianassistance to Chernobyl victims in Ukraine, and sharing with otherstates the lessons you have learned in building a vibrant free marketdemocracy. You have stood with the community of nations againstmilitary aggression in the Gulf, sent peacekeepers to Africa and theformer Soviet Union, and promoted efforts to control theproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Soon you will be members of the most successful militaryalliance in history, NATO. Of course, many challenges remain --economic and political reform is a bumpy road; it does not happenovernight, and there are many new challenges to this new century weare about to enter. But together, we are building a strongerfoundation for peace and prosperity.

I want to especially commend you now for looking towardthe new millennium; for taking some time in each of these yearsleading up to the millennium to think about the future and plan forit in your Forum 2000 program, which you have invited the First Ladyto participate in in the next couple of weeks.

Mr. President, at the end of your historic speech toCongress in 1990, you remembered that the people who founded Americawere bold in word and deed. Today there is not a leader on Earthwhose words and deeds have meant more to the cause of freedom thanyour own. They will live forever in the hearts and minds of peoplewho care about human dignity and the power of the imagination toshape the soul and the future.

On behalf of all Americans, I am deeply honored towelcome you back to the White House. Thank you very much.(Applause.)

PRESIDENT HAVEL: Mr. President, dear Hillary, thank youfor your invitation. I have arrived in the United States at a timewhen all of Central Europe is remembering the 80th anniversary of thefall of the Hapsburg monarchy, and self-liberation of its nations. Asignificant role was played in the process by the support of theUnited States and, personally, by that of President Wilson.

America, though geographically distant, stood up for theideals of freedom and democracy in our region. I cannot fail tomention the fact that President Wilson had a distinguished partner inthis quest in the person of our first President, Thomas GarrigueMasaryk. Unfortunately, the hopes of that time were reduced to dust.Europe was overrun by the tempest of fascism, Nazism, nationalchauvinism and, finally, communism. I consider it one of the trulygreat experiences of my life that I've arrived in America at a timewhen I may acknowledge the work which virtually assures that thehopes of 1918 will at last be fulfilled. You certainly know that Iam referring to American support, as well as to your personalsupport, Mr. President, for the enlargement of the North AtlanticTreaty Organization.

There is no doubt in my mind that it was your personalleadership that made this historic development possible. I perceivethe alliance with American presence in Europe as one of the mostimportant guarantees of our democratic development. At the sametime, I firmly believe that the enlargement process will not end atthe Polish, Czech and Hungarian borders.

Mr. President, finally, I am delighted to have arrivedin your country at a time which I honestly believe to becharacterized by the best relations to this point in history betweenyour large and powerful nation and our state, in the very center ofEurope. I am delighted to have arrived in your country at a timewhen we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights, which was also born on American soil.

Mr. President, I am delighted to have arrived in thislarge, diverse, and interesting land. I'm also pleased to affirm infront of everybody that my wife and I consider you, Mr. President,and the First Lady, as our great friends. 10

Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

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