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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 28, 1994
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                       The Library of Congress  
                           Washington, D.C. 

10:28 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. President and Mrs. Yeltsin, Mr. Speaker, Senator Stevens, distinguished members of Congress and other guests: I'd like to say a special word of commendation to Dr. Billington. I don't have an informed opinion about his Russian, but his English was impeccable this morning. (Laughter and applause.)

I'm honored to be joined by the President of the Russian Federation in opening the exhibit on the 200th anniversary of the Russian Orthodox Church in North America. We gather in a new era of cooperation between our countries, but this exhibit reminds us that the ties between our people are old and deep.

Two centuries ago, eight Russian priests arrived in North America to minister to Russian traders and the native peoples of Alaska. Together they forged a partnership, a new Russian and native American community that eventually would stretch down the Pacific coast. Though born on different continents, they were all resourceful, brave and faithful people.

A century later, another Russian came to Alaska -- Archbishop Tikohn. He soon presided over all the new Russian communities that had grown throughout the entire United States. He oversaw the completion of St. Nicholas Cathedral in New York City, and returned to his mother country to become the first patriarch of Russia since the time of Peter the Great.

In the years since, countless Russian immigrants to America have formed churches and cultural associations in many of our great cities and farming communities. They have strengthened American industry, education, science, and most notably, the arts -- literature, music and dance. As this exhibit shows, our nation's history has long been enriched by the Russian people -- their fortitude, their culture and their faith.

President Yeltsin, this library is a fitting place for this exhibition, for the Library of Congress first grew out of the personal library of our third President, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and one of our first champions of religious tolerance and freedom. Today, the spirit of respect and understanding thrives in the exchange programs offered to the brilliant minds of young people from Russia and the United States. And we are joined here today by 30 of those students who have benefitted from the exchange programs that our two governments support so strongly.

I'd like to recognize especially the efforts of our USIA Director Joe Duffey and Senator Bill Bradley, who have worked so hard to make these exchanges a reality. Thomas Jefferson would be proud of them both. (Applause.)

As we remember the ties between Russia and America of two centuries ago, let us welcome our new ties and the new spirit of cooperation and a new century of partnership that lies ahead, remembering that much of it began on one of the most important principles of our entire existence in America -- the principle of religious liberty. When our founders fought for the freedom of this country, they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor for the right of every American to worship as he or she chooses.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT YELTSIN: Mr. President Clinton; Speaker Foley. Speaking as a man, not as President, I would like to say that I admire what I have seen here in this Congress Library. I believe that this library belongs to a great nation. It is actually the treasure house of this great nation.

We celebrated the -- of Columbus discovery of America very recently. But the credit for the discovery and exploration of America on the eastern, that is, Asian end, should go to Russia. We take pride in the expeditions conducted by famous Russian people -- sailors like Bering and Chirikov to the western part of the United States. They were followed by military officers, farmers, fishermen and other common people. They helped to explore and develop the riches of America.

Our fellow countrymen brought their farming techniques to this remote continent. They plied their trades, and did trading. The clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church played a great enlightening role, teaching the indigenous people how to read and write, and bringing them fruits of culture and the Orthodox faith.

And the history of what I would call the Russian part of America is a history we both share. And I would like to express my and I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation speaking on behalf of Russian citizens to the federal government for the good care taken of our common legacy and graphic proof is this beautiful exposition.

There were some extremist radicals active in my country, people of very poor training I think, and of very low origins -- they demand Alaska back for Russia. (Laughter.) But I don't think this is serious stuff -- I mean, their talk. Alaska is part and parcel of the United States. And we only pride ourselves on the contribution we made at the early stage of Alaska development.

And I would like to say thanks to the sponsors of this exposition and Dr. Billington, to all American and Russian experts who have collected these invaluable documents and evidence shedding light on the origins of our bilateral relations. I think that without knowledge of our common history, we hold no good future. We will not be able to build a good and sound partnership.

Over 100 years have passed since the time the American flag was hoisted over Alaska. But I know about the warm feelings that local residents have for Russia. And, over the last two to three years, I saw for myself how the Americans tried to stay closer to the Russians, and how Russians tried to stay closer to Americans. And I think we -- that is, the Russians and the Americans -- may rejoice at the good relations that we are now maintaining; that we are cooperating; that our relations are based on honesty, decency, humanity. And I think this is equally true for the Russians and for the Americans.

There are people in my country, though few people, who say that our relationship with the United States is transient and that an era of confrontation will return. But I would like to tell you that we've never fought the United States, and I believe, and I can say as President of Russia that we will never fight the United States in the future. (Applause.) Instead, we would focus on building a world of decency and welfare for both of us.

Thank you. (Applause.)

END10:51 A.M. EDT