President of the United States Remarks at Religious Leaders Breakfast (9/14/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

Immediate Release                        September 14, 2000

                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                             State Dining Room

9:57 A.M. EDT

     THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everyone.  I'm delighted to welcome you
to the White House.  This is the eighth, and final -- (laughter) -- for me,
White House Prayer Breakfast that we have at this time every year.

     I want to thank Secretary Glickman for joining us.  He's sort of a
symbol of our broad-based and ecumenical approach in this administration.
He's the first Jewish Secretary of Agriculture.  (Laughter.)  And he's
helping people to understand that Jewish farmer is not an oxymoron, so
that's good.  (Laughter.)

     I want to say I bring you greetings on behalf of Hillary, who called
me early this morning to ask what I was going to say.  (Laughter.)  And the
Vice President and Mrs. Gore.  As you know, the three of them are otherwise
occupied, but they need your prayers maybe even more than I do.

     I want to thank you, particularly those of you who have been here in
past years.  Each one of these breakfasts has been quite meaningful to me,
often for different reasons.  We've talked about personal journeys and the
journey of our nation, and often talked about particular challenges within
our borders -- very often due to problems of the spirit in our efforts to
create one America.  We've talked about that a lot.

     Today, because of the enormous good fortune that we as Americans have
enjoyed, I would like to talk just for a few moments about what our
responsibilities are to the rest of the world.  There is a huge debate
going on today all over the world about whether the two central revolutions
of our time -- the globalization of human societies and the explosion of
information technology, which are quite related -- whether these things
are, on balance, positive or, on balance, negative.

     When we had the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, the
streets were full of thousands of people who were saying in a very loud
voice, this whole deal is, on balance, negative.  Interestingly enough,
they were marching in solidarity, although often they had positions that
directly contradicted one another.  There were those who said this is on
balance negative because it will make the rich countries richer, and the
poor countries poorer.  And then there were those who said that this in on
balance negative because it will weaken the middle class in the developed
countries, because we don't require poor countries to lift their labor and
environmental standards.  And there were other various conflicts among

     But the point is there's a lot of ferment here, and a lot of people
who are, at the very least, highly ambivalent about whether the coming
together of the world in the new century is going to be a good or a bad

     Then there's the whole question of how the coming together of the
world and the way we make a living, and particularly the way we produce
energy to make a living, is contributing to changing the climate, which it
is.  There's more and more evidence that the world is warming at an
unsustainable rate, and the polar ice cap, if you've seen the latest
stories there, about how much it's melting, it's incontestable that
sometime in the next 50 years, we're going to begin to sustain severe,
adverse common consequences to the warming of the climate if we don't do
something to turn that around.

     And some people believe that there's no way to fix this, if we keep
trying to get richer and more global with our economy.  I don't happen to
agree with that, and I'm not going to talk about it today.  But there's a
big issue.  And very few people are in denial on climate change any more.
Virtually all the major oil companies now concede, for example, that it is
a serious problem, and that they have a responsibility to deal with it, and
if they don't, it could shape the way we are all -- or our grandchildren
are living, in ways that are quite different and, on balance, negative.

     Then there is the whole question of whether technology will offer more
benefits to the organized forces of destruction, than it does to the forces
of good over the next 30 years.

     I just came back from a remarkable trip to Colombia.  I went to
Cartagena with the Speaker of the House.  We only get publicity around here
for the partisan fights we have, but in an astonishing display of
bipartisanship, we passed something called Plan Colombia, which is designed
to help primarily the Colombians, but also all the nations on the borders,
reduce drug -- narcotics production, coca production primarily, steer
farmers into alternative ways of making a living, and develop an increase
in the capacity of the Colombian government to fight the narco traffickers,
and to keep drugs from coming into this country -- which are directly
responsible for the deaths of about 14,000 kids a year in America.

     And it was this really beautiful effort.  And then we got criticized
-- the Republicans and Democrats together, those of us that supported this,
because people said, oh, Clinton is going down there to make another
Vietnam, or we're trying to interfere in Colombia's politics, or be an
imperialist country.  And I told everybody there that I didn't want
anything out of Colombia except a decent life for the people there, with a
way to make a living on honorable circumstances that didn't put drugs into
the bodies of American children and children in Europe and Asia and
throughout the world.

     But the point I want to make is, there are a lot of people who believe
that with more open borders, greater access, smaller and smaller technology
-- you know, you now get a little hand-held computer with a keyboard that's
plastic, that fits inside of your hand, that has a screen that hooks you up
to the Internet -- and we know that, for example, terrorist networks in the
world very often have some of the most sophisticated uses of the Internet.
We know that if we get more and more open we may become more vulnerable to
people who develop small scale means of delivering chemical and biological
weapons.  And all these scenarios are real, by the way.  We've spent a lot
of money in the Defense Department trying to prepare for the adverse
consequences of terrorism, using chemical and biological weapons.

     So you've got that on one side.  You've got the people that say that
globalization of the economy is going to lead to increasing inequality and
oppression, and whatever happens is going to destroy the environment, and
if it doesn't, the organized forces of destruction will cross national
borders and wreck everything, anyway.  That's sort of what you might call
the modest dark side.

     And then you've got people like me that don't buy it.  That basically,
I think if you look at over the last 50 years, that over a 50-year period
the countries that were poor, that organized themselves properly and
rewarded work and had lawful systems and related well to the rest of the
world and traded more, grew much more rapidly.

     If you just look at the last 10 years, with the explosion of the
Internet, countries that are highly wired, even though they're poor, had
growth rates that were 6, 7 percent a year higher than they otherwise would
have been.  And so, finally, there is no alternative.  It's not like we're
all going to go back to huts and quit talking to each other.

     So if we believe that every person is a child of God, that everyone
counts, that everyone should have a certain level of decency in their lives
and a certain fair chance to make something, what are our obligations?  And
I just want to mention three things that are before us today that I think
are quite important.  And a lot of you in this room have been involved in
one or all three.

     The most important thing I'd like to talk about is debt relief.  There
are many countries that, either because of internal problems or abject
misgovernment, piled up a lot of debt that can't be repaid.  And now every
year they have to spend huge amounts of their national treasure just making
interest payments on the debt -- money they can't spend on the education of
their children, on the development of public health systems -- which, by
the way, are under huge stress around the world -- and on other things that
will give them a chance to take advantage of the new global economy in

     Now, there are people who don't favor this sweeping debt relief.  They
say that it rewards misconduct, that it creates what is known -- not in
your business, but in the economics business -- as a moral hazard.
(Laughter.)  In economic terms, moral hazard is created -- the idea is, if
you don't hold people liable for every penny of the mistakes they made, or
their predecessors made, then somehow you've created a mess in which
everybody will go around until the end of time borrowing money they have no
intention of paying back.

     And there's something to that, by the way.  It's not a trivial concern
to be dismissed.  The problem you have is that a lot of these countries
were grievously misgoverned, often by people who looted the national
treasury.  And when they get a good government, a new government, a clean
government, when they agree to new rules, when they hook themselves into
the International Monetary Fund, to the World Bank on the condition that
they'll change everything they've done, they still can never get out of
debt and can never educate their kids and make their people healthy, and
create a country that is attractive to investors to give people

     Which is why the Pope and so many other people urge that we use the
year 2000 as Jubilee Year to have a sweeping debt relief initiative.  And
there's a whole thing in the Judeo-Christian religion about how the Jubilee
is supposed to be used, every 50 years to forgive debts, to aid the poor,
to proclaim liberty to all, and there are trends -- there are similar
traditions in other faiths of the world, represented in this room.

     So for those of you who have been working on this, I want to thank
you.  What I would like to tell you is, I think that it is very much in the
interest of America to have big, large scale debt relief if the countries
that get the relief are committed to, and held accountable to, good
governance and using the money not to build up military power, but to
invest in the human needs of their people.  (Applause.)

     We worked very hard to develop a plan.  And a lot of you are involved
in other -- in developing countries throughout the world.  There are a lot
of people here, I know, that are involved in Africa, for example, where a
lot of the -- where many of the countries most in need are, but you also
see this in Asia and Latin America, which is a very important thing.

     We developed a plan with other creditor nations to triple the debt
relief available to the world's poorest nations, provided they agreed to
take the savings from the debt payments and put it into health and
education.  The United States, I announced last year that we would
completely write-off the bilateral debt owed to us by countries that
qualify for this plan -- that is, they've got to be too poor to pay the
money back, and well enough governed to assure that they'll take the
savings and put it into health and education.

     That's as many as 33 nations right now.  I'll just tell you, in the
last year, Bolivia -- an amazing story, by the way -- the poorest country
in the Andes, has done the most to get rid of drug production.  The poorest
country has done the most to get rid of drug production.  Astonishing
story.  That ought to be worth it to us, to give them debt relief, complete
debt relief.

     But they saved $77 million that they spent entirely on health
education and other social needs.  Uganda, one of the two countries in
Africa that has dramatically reduced the AIDS rate, has used its savings to
double primary school enrollment.  Honduras has qualified but not received
their money yet, they intend to offer every one of the children in the
country nine years of education instead of six.  Mozambique, a country
which last year, until the floods, had the first or second highest growth
rate in the world, after having been devastated by internal conflict just a
few years ago, because of the flood is going to use a lot of their money to
buy medicine for government fundings, because they've got a lot of serious
health problems that are attendant on the fact that the country was
practically washed away.

     Ten nations so far have qualified for the debt relief; 10 more I think
will do so by the end of this year.  We've got to make sure the money is
there for them.  Last year, I got -- the Congress was supported on a
bipartisan basis the money for America to forgive our bilateral debt
relief.  And we have to come up with money that -- for example, if somebody
owes a billion dollars, even though we know they won't pay, because they
can't, it gets budgeted at some figure.  And we actually have to put that
money in the budget before we can forgive it.

     But the Congress did not appropriate the funds for the highly indebted
poor countries initiative to forgive their multilateral debt relief.  Most
countries owe more money to the International Monetary Fund than they do to
America or France or Germany or Britain -- or Japan or anybody else.

     So if we want this to work, we have got to pass legislation this year
to pay our fair share of this international debt relief initiative.  Now we
have members of both parties from dramatically different backgrounds
supporting this.  It's really quite moving to see, because a lot of times
this is the only thing these people have ever agreed on, it's really

     You know, we have a lot of Democrats who represent inner city
districts with people who have roots in these countries -- allied for the
first time in their entire career with conservative, Republican,
evangelical Christians who believe they have a moral responsibility to do
this, because it's ordained.  And then all kinds of other people in the
Congress.  But it's given us a coalition that I would give anything to see
formed around other issues, and issues here at home -- anything.  And it
could really -- if we can actually pull it off, it can change the nature of
the whole political debate in America because of something they did
together that they all believe so deeply in.

     What's the problem?  The problem is there is competition for this
money and some people would rather spend it on something else, where there
are more immediate political benefits.  None of these people have any votes
we're helping.  And some people do buy the moral hazard argument.

     But I'm just telling you, I've been in these countries and I know what
many of their governments were like five years ago, 10 years ago, and I
just don't think it washes.  If you want people to organize themselves
well, run themselves well and build a future, we've got to do this.  And I
think it is a moral issue.

     How can we sit here on the biggest mountain of wealth we have ever
accumulated, that any nation in all of human history has ever accumulated,
and we're not just throwing money away; we're only giving this money to
people who not only promise to, but prove they are able to take all the
savings and invest it in the human needs of their people.

     So I would just say, anything that any of you can do -- Bolivia is
waiting for more money that they haven't gotten.  Honduras is waiting for
money that they haven't gotten.  They're going to spend this money to send
kids to school for nine years, instead of six.  This is not a complicated

     And I would just implore you, anything you can do to urge members of
both parties to make this a high priority.  Let me remind you, we've got a
budget worth nearly $2 trillion, and this money is for two years.  So we're
talking about $210 million in one year and $225 million in the second year
to lift the burden off poor people around the world only if they earn it,
in effect.  So I would just ask you all, please help us with that.

     And let me just mention two other things very briefly.  The public
health crisis in a lot of these countries is threatening to take out all
the gains of good government, and even debt relief.  There are African
countries with AIDS infection rates in the military of 30 percent or more.
A quarter of all the world's people every year who die, die from AIDS,
malaria and TB, those three things.  A phenomenal number of people die from
malaria, in part, because there are no public health infrastructures in a
lot of these places.

     So the second thing I want to ask for your help on is, we want to
double, or increase by $100 million -- it's about a 50 percent increase --
our efforts to help countries fight AIDS.  We want to increase,
dramatically, our contributions to the global alliance for vaccines that
helps countries who are poor, afford the medicine there.

     I just got back from Nigeria, and the President of Nigeria, who was a
military leader in prison because he stood up for democracy and against a
corrupt government that was there before, dealt with all these taboos that
have gripped Africa and kept Africa from dealing with AIDS in an
astonishing way.  We went into an auditorium, and he and I stood on a stage
with a 16 year old girl who was an AIDS peer educator, and a young man in
his mid 20s -- this is an amazing story -- or maybe he's in his early 30s
now, he and his wife are both HIV positive.  He fell in love with a young
woman who is HIV positive.

     Her parents didn't want them to get married, his parents didn't want
them to get married; they were devout Christians; their minister didn't
want them to get married.  And he finally convinced the pastor that he
would never love anyone else, and the pastor gave his ascent to their
getting married.  Within four months of their getting married he was HIV
positive.  She got pregnant.   He had to quit his job to go around and
scrounge up, because his job didn't give him enough money to buy the drugs
that would free their child of being HIV positive.  So he finally was --
let go of his job, excuse me, because he was HIV positive, and they were
still afraid and prejudice.  So with no money he found a way to get the
drugs to his wife, and they had a child who was born free of the virus.

     So we were sitting there with hundreds of people in Nigeria, and the
President is talking about this.  So this guy comes up, and he tells this
story, and about what a blessing God has been in his life, and how much he
appreciates his pastor for marrying them, and how much he appreciates their
families for sticking with them.  And then the President of the country
called his wife up out of the stands, and he embraced her in front of
hundreds of people.  Now, this is a big deal on a continent where most
people have acted like, you know, you might as well have small pox and you
were giving it out by talking to people.  This is a huge deal.  And the
President got up and said, we have to fight the disease, not the people who
have it.  Our enemy are not the people with it; we have to fight the
disease.  It was an amazing thing.  (Applause.)

     Now, I think these people ought to be helped, so we -- but it's $100
million I want to come up with for that, and I forget how much we're given
to the Vaccine Alliance.  And in addition to that, I have asked the
Congress, after meeting with a lot of our big drug research companies --
not just the big pharmaceutical companies, but a lot of them that do
biomedical research -- to give us a billion dollar tax credit to encourage
companies to develop vaccines for AIDS, malaria and TB, because we have to
do that, because they don't see any front-end benefit in it.  And they have
to -- they can't justify the massive amounts of money that are needed to
develop these vaccines, because they know that most of the people that need
them can't afford to buy them.

     So if they develop them, we'll figure out how to get the money to get
them out there.  But first we've got to have them developed.  So I've
proposed a tax credit, more money to help buy the medicines that are out
there now, and a hundred million more dollars directly to help these
countries to fight AIDS.  I want to ask you to help me get that money.  It
ought to be an American obligation.  This is a serious global problem.

     The last thing I want to say is that there was a remarkable meeting in
Senegal not very long ago, where essentially an alliance of the world's
developing and developed countries made a commitment to try to make basic
education available to every child in the world within 15 years.  And one
of the reasons that kids don't go is they're not sure it makes sense, or
their parents -- there are even countries -- in the poorest countries where
the parents, no matter how poor they are, have to pay some money for their
kids to go to school.  Lots of problems.

     So Senator George McGovern, who is our Ambassador to the World Food
Organization in Rome, and Senator Bob Dole came to me with Congressman Jim
McGovern -- no relation -- from Massachusetts.  And these three people from
different worlds asked me to support an initiative to try to get to the
point where the wealthier countries in the world could offer every poor
child in the world a nutritious meal in school if they'd show up to school.

     And they reasoned that -- even though there are lots of other issues,
and by the way, I won't go into all that, we've got to do a lot more to
help these schools in these developing countries -- but they reasoned that
if we could do that, there would be a dramatic enrollment, especially among
young girls, who are often kept at home because their parents see no
economic benefit, and in fact a burden, to having their daughters go to
school.  But there are a lot of young boys that aren't in school in
countries, too.

     So we, thanks to Dan Glickman, got $300 million up, and we are doing a
test run.  And we're going around to countries that want to do this.  And
with $300 million -- listen to this -- we can feed 9 million school
children for a year in school.  But you don't get fed unless you come to

     Now, for somewhere between $3 billion and $4 billion, we could give a
-- if we can get the rest of the world to help us do this, we could give a
nutritious meal, either breakfast or lunch, to every school-aged child in
every really poor country in the entire world for a year.

     Now, you don't have to do anything about that now; I just want you to
know about it, because we have to go figure out how to do this.  And let me
tell you why.  Dan has got to figure out, how is this stuff going to be
delivered to remote areas; or is it going to be in dried packages then
hydrated and heated.  How are we going to do this without messing up the
local farm economies.
The last thing we want to do is destabilize already fragile farmers.  There
are practical things.  But we have many countries that are interested in

     When I was in Colombia on the drug thing, the President's wife asked
me about this program.  She said, can we be part of that, or are we too
well off?  You know, she said, we're not really all that rich, with all
these narco traffickers taking the money.  We were talking about it.

     But the point I want to say is, we have reaped great benefits from the
information revolution and the globalization of the economy.  We,
therefore, have great responsibilities.  We have responsibilities to put a
human face on the global economy.  That's why I think we're right to
advocate higher environmental and labor standards, try to make sure
everybody benefits.

     We have a responsibility to lead the way on climate change, not be
stuck in denial, because we're still the number one producer of greenhouse
gases -- although shortly, unless we help them find a different way to get
rich, China and India will be, just because they've got more folks.

     And in the short run, we have a very heavy responsibility, I believe,
to broaden and simplify this debt relief initiative; to lead the assault on
the global diseases of AIDS, TB and malaria that take out a quarter of the
people who die, most of them very prematurely before their time every year;
and to do more to universalize education so that everybody, everywhere,
will be able to take advantage of what we're coming to take for granted.

     Now, we've had a lot of wonderful talks over the last eight years, but
I think that I do not believe that a nation, any more than a church, a
synagogue, a mosque, a particular religious faith, can confine its
compassion and concern and commitment only within its borders, especially
if you happen to be in the most fortunate country in the world.  And I
can't figure out for you what you think about whether these sweeping
historical trends are, on balance, good or bad.  But it seems to me if you
believe that people are, on balance, good or bad or capable of good, we can
make these trends work for good.

     And I'll just close with this.  There is a fascinating book out that I
just read by a man named Robert Wright, called "Nonzero."  He wrote an
earlier book called "he Moral Animal," which some of you may have read.
This whole book is about, is all this stuff that is happening in science
and technology, on balance, good or bad, and are the dark scenarios going
to prevail, or is there some other way?

     The argument of the book, from which it gets its title, is basically
an attempt to historically validate something Martin Luther Kind once said,
"The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."  It's pretty
hard to make that case, arguably, when you look at what happened with World
War I, with Nazi Germany and World War II, with the highly sophisticated
oppressive systems of communism.  But that's the argument of this book,
that the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.

     The argument is that the more complex societies grow, and the more
interconnected we all get, the more interdependent we become, the more we
have to look for nonzero sum solutions.  That is, solutions in which we all
win, instead of solutions in which I win at your expense.

     It's not a naive book.  He says, hey look, there's still going to be
an election for President.  One person wins, one person looses.  There's
still going to be choices for who wins the company or who gets the pulpit.
(Laugher.)  There will be choices.  It's not a naive book.  But he says
that, on balance, great organizations and great societies will have to
increasingly look for ways for everyone to win, in an atmosphere of
principle compromise, based on shared values, maximizing the tools at hand.
Otherwise, you can't continue -- societies cannot continue to grow both
more complex and more interdependent.

     So I leave you with that thought, and whatever it might mean for you,
in trying to reconcile your faith with the realities of modern life.  And,
again I say, as Americans, we have, I think, a truly unique opportunity and
a very profound responsibility to do something now on debt relief, disease
and education beyond our borders.

     Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

                         END                    10:25 A.M. EDT

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