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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 1, 1996
                          PRESIDENT CHIRAC
                        IN EXCHANGE OF TOASTS

The State Dining Room

8:36 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. President Chirac, Mrs. Chirac, members of the French delegation, to our distinguished guests from France and the United States, Hillary and I are delighted to welcome a great friend of our country to America's house.

As President tonight I am thinking of the experience of one of my most illustrious predecessors, Thomas Jefferson. As every American knows, when Thomas Jefferson was Minister to France, he developed a fondness for everything French. When he returned home, his political opponents tried to turn the American people against him by accusing him of excessive Francophilia. (Laughter.) Patrick Henry struck the harshest blow. He denounced Jefferson, and I quote, for "abjuring his native victuals" in favor of French cuisine. (Laughter.) Somehow Jefferson overcame the attack and went on to become President. And, thank goodness, today Americans consider a good French meal to be a supreme treat, not high treason. (Laughter.) Still, I feel compelled to make full disclosure to our French guests -- our extraordinary White House chef, Walter Scheib, is an American. (Laughter.)

A decade before Thomas Jefferson went to France, France came to the aid of American people. Dozens of ships carrying cannon, rifles, mortars and clothing crossed the Atlantic to supply those who were fighting here for our independence. At Yorktown, General George Washington's troops were one-half French. And together with the French fleet, they decided our great revolutionary struggle in freedom's favor there. So it is not an exaggeration to say that the American people owe our liberty to France.

Today, freedom-loving people all over the world still look to France, not only for its strength, but for its values, the tolerance, the freedom, the progress. We see that in Bosnia where the heroism of France's soldiers and the determination of its President are helping peace to take hold.

We see it in Africa where France is battling poverty and disease to bring hope to millions. We see it in Europe where French leadership is transforming Jean Monnet's vision of an undivided continent finally into a reality.

And we see it in the struggle that is France is waging against the forces of destruction in the modern world, against the terrorism, the organized crime, the drug trafficking -- forces from which none of us are immune.

Mr. President, I am grateful to have you as our partner in facing all these common challenges. I have long admired your political tenacity, and I have a suggestion that in France they should begin to call you, "Le Comeback Kid." (Laughter and applause.) I also think all of my fellow Americans should know that, as far as I know, the President is the only foreign head of state who once worked behind the counter at a Howard Johnson's restaurant. (Laughter.)

I know the deep affection he developed for our nation lives on and that he still takes vacations in California. Today, he gave me some good advice -- he suggested that I should spend a little time out there in the next few months. (Laughter.)

Most of all, Mr. President, let me say I admire the course you have set for France and the strength and determination which you are bringing to pursuing that course. Our nations have a special responsibility to lead by example and by action. Under your leadership, France is meeting that responsibility. And the United States if very, very proud to be a partner on the verge of a new century with our very first ally.

And so let us all raise a glass to France, to its President and First Lady, and to our enduring alliance. Long live our two nations. (Applause.)

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

PRESIDENT CHIRAC: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, Mr. President, allow me to thank you, to thank you very much and from the bottom of my heart for your very friendly words. I admire always the speeches here in the United States because you have quite a genius to find what you call, I think, the opening jokes -- which we don't have in France. (Laughter.) And it's always a problem for me -- I am wondering what could I say to open? (Laughter.) Then I don't say anything -- and it works. (Laughter.)

I also wanted to tell you how moved I was this evening at the close -- not of my state visit to the United States, but of my visit to Washington. You know the close -- and you mentioned them -- the intimate ties I have with America. It all started when I saw for the first time Americans. They were soldiers. It was when they landed in Provence. After, when I was a young student, I frequented your universities; and that's a kind like Jefferson, in the other way, I learned all about the preparation of an American food which I love. And this was in Howard Johnson on Harvard Square -- (laughter) -- just in front of the Harvard University. Unfortunately, now it disappeared -- that's not my fault -- and it's a bank. (Laughter.)

I've been back very often, and it has always been the same wonderful experience. Now, I will do it in French, it will be easier for you when it is translated by somebody who can speak really English.

We know each other well, Mr. President, because we've met each other often. But this State Visit, I wanted this to be an opportunity of making the ties between our two countries even closer. And in the continuity of two centuries of history, a history which saw twice during this century the American people fight for France, fight for Europe, and for the idea which is so close to our hearts and that we share the greatest, the most beautiful idea of all -- liberty, and the sacrifice accepted by the American people -- as the President will say in a moment --

(PRESIDENT CHIRAC: Just a minute. (Laughter.) I understand that everybody wants to start to eat, but I didn't say it again. (Applause.))

PRESIDENT CHIRAC: The sacrifice that the American people accepted to make and that is true of the daughters and sons of America, we will not forget.

And, Mr. President, you were able to see for yourself the strength and the vitality of these memories in the hearts of the French people when you came to Normandy and Paris for the 50th anniversary of the landing. And, surely, one can say that liberty is, as it were, the web upon which our friendship is woven.

Now, Mr. President, you may not know this but when Lafayette came back to France from America, he hung above his desk two identical picture frames. And in one of them, there was the Constitution of the United States. But in the other one, there was nothing. It was empty. And when people said, now, why is this? Lafayette would say, wait and you will see. And the explanation came in 1791 when France, in her turn, gave herself a Constitution. And so our two Constitutions were there, side by side, hung over Lafayette's desk, just as our two countries find each other side by side today to defend the ideas to which we attach the same great importance.

Now, some people say that we are two peoples separated by common values. To some extent this is a true image. And, as General de Gaulle said 30 years ago, are you sure that the best ally of the United States is not the ally that sometimes is capable of saying no? But we know that in difficult times, real problems, we can count on each other. And we know that when something vital, some essential values are at stake, we know how to move forward together, and to assume together the responsibilities placed on our shoulders by history, by our capacity to play a role on a worldwide scale, and our determination to build peace in that world.

Now, peace for France means, first of all -- and this is only natural -- stability and security in Europe. And it is this new defense architecture that we must design together. It is our alliance that we must transform, renovate and consolidate, an alliance which should take into account the weight of Europe and the fact that Europe has a calling to take its own destiny in its hands and to shoulder fully its own share of our common responsibilities.

Peace today is also our joint action in Bosnia. And, Mr. President, I would like to pay a very special tribute to your personal commitment, to your political courage, and to your vision of the role that the United States would play in the world.

But peace is also the efforts that we, the rich countries, must make in order to come to the help of the countries which are poorer. Peace is development. It is the path along which so many countries of the South are now traveling. It is a difficult path towards democracy, towards economic progress, towards better quality of life for billions of men and women who need us.

I was saying this morning to the members of Congress that I know full well the strength everywhere of the temptation to withdraw into oneself. And I know that that's a very powerful temptation today, at a time when the danger of confrontation is, in fact, fading. And I know the strength of the temptation to devote all one's energies to oneself, to one's own difficulties; and in so doing, to turn away from the future of the others.

But the future of others, of the rest of the world, is also our future. Their destiny is our destiny. And is it in line with our tradition, with the honor of our great nations that we should not discharge our responsibilities towards them? Mr. President, I know how very much you, yourself, attach importance to what is at stake in development. I know the importance that you attach to this appeal that comes to us, from all those and to you, from all those who in the world believe in America.

What is at stake is our very values, the interests of our countries and of our peoples: peace in the world, a lasting peace based on justice, a peace which would exclude no one, a peace which would be in line with the conception of humanity and mankind that we share.

Mr. President, tomorrow is so clouded in uncertainty, so fraught with danger; but tomorrow is so rich in promise and hope. Let us move boldly into the future together and united. It is with this thought, this confidence in our shared future that I propose a toast to President Bill Clinton, President of the United States of America; to Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton; to all the happiness and good health that I wish you for yourselves and your loved ones. I also raise my glass to the happiness and prosperity of the United States of America and to the great American people, our oldest ally, our ally of always. Long live the United States. Long live France. Long live the friendship between France and America. (Applause.)

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

END 9:04 P.M. EST