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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 2, 1996
                      REMARKS BY PRESIDENT CLINTON
                        IN AN EXCHANGE OF TOASTS
                             The East Room                

8:37 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Good evening. President Scalfaro, Mariana Scalfaro, members of the Italian delegation, distinguished guests: Hillary and I are delighted to welcome President Scalfaro to the White House. We were so warmly received by him in both Rome and Naples in 1994.

President Scalfaro's long public career and his life-long devotion to the people of Italy mark him as one of the great democrats of our era. He has always been a great friend of the United States. And during the tremendous changes that have affected Italy and all Western democracies since the end of the Cold War, he has been a clear voice for civility and decency in public life.

Today we had a serious talk about the issues we are working on together, but tonight it is fitting that we celebrate the extraordinary friendship between Italy and the United States and between the people of Italy and the people of the United States.

And tonight, Mr. President, on behalf of all the American people, we thank Italy for the greatest of all its gifts to us -- its people. For America has been enriched beyond measure by Italian Americans. In this century we have been treated to supreme grace on our sporting fields by athletes from Joe Dimaggio to Joe Montana. In the fine arts we've been blessed with the exuberance of Italians in music from Toscanini to Sinatra to John Bon Jovi. (Laughter.) We have seen the path-breaking innovation of Frank Stella in painting, and we have seen Italian after Italian after Italian grace the silver spring, from Frank Capra to this year's best actor, Nicholas Cage.

We have, as everyone knows, benefitted from contributions to our public life, from the legendary enormously from contributions to our public life from the legendary Fiorello LaGuardia to Senator John Pastore, Judge John Sirica, Governor Cuomo, Geraldine Ferraro, the many Italian American mayors here tonight, the many Italian Americans now serving in Congress, and to the Italian Americans who serve on the court, beginning with the Supreme Court Justice, who has also joined us this evening.

Of course, there are millions more. The Italian Americans who built our businesses and our farms, who are the backbone of our communities. They deserve so much of the credit for America's strength and greatness.

Many believe the remarkable story of Italians in America began with the immigration at the early part of this century. But, in fact, the pattern was set long before that by an Italian named Henry de Tonty; born Enrico Tonty in Gaeta. A renowned soldier, sometime diplomat, fearless adventurer, Tonty was the most trusted deputy of the great French explorer, La Salle. You could say he was La Salle's Leon Panetta. (Laughter.)

He had an incredible string of accomplishments. He was the first European to build a ship on our Great Lakes. He and LaSalle together explored the Mississippi River. He brought settlers and traders to the great State of Illinois. And historians credit him with being the true father of that state.

This remarkable Italian came to my attention because in 1686 he founded a settlement about midway between Illinois and the Gulf of Mexico on the Mississippi River. The town became known as Arkansas Post -- the very first settlement in my home state.

La Salle said that Tonty's energy and resolve made him -- and I quote -- "equal to anything." In their long and rich history, Italian Americans have proved themselves equal to anything. And so the extraordinary friendship between the United States and Italy has also proved equal to anything.

The extraordinary friendship between the United States and Italy, rooted in our common love of liberty and democracy, our shared energy and resolve, will help us rise to the challenges of the 21st century and will ensure that we will always be the closest of allies, the best of friends.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, let us raise a glass to the partnership between our nations, to the Italian American community, to the President of Italy and his daughter. Viva l'Italia, and God bless America.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

PRESIDENT SCALFARO: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, dear President Clinton, and thank you, Mrs. Clinton, both in my and my daughter Mariana's name, in the name of all the Italian delegation that is accompanying me for the meetings we had today that were so warm, almost affectionate.

Mr. President, today you said what was good about Italy and Italians. What can I tell you except thank you, thank you very much. Anywhere these Italian Americans are, I think I am representing them. But I'm not representing them solely because I'm the President of Italy, but also for another important reason. The Scalfaro family is Calabrisi from Catanzaro, but my father was born in Naples and his mother was Neapolitan. And my mother's from Piedmont, and my grandmother had studied in Savoy when Savoy belonged to France. So I'm really the son of the unity of Italy. (Laughter.)

So my thank-you really comes from my blood because the friendship between Italy and the United States is a tie that is a blood tie and of enormous richness. If Italians were able to come and rise to the top it's because America is the land of liberty.

Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for this day. It happens when you get old -- (laughter) -- but I've really felt a great joy. But when I first saw the birth of this friendship, I was 26 years old and I was just starting to attend the Italian Constitutional Convention. Now I'm 77 years old, but thanks to you, I felt again the enthusiasm that I felt back then -- a great joy, a faith for this great friendship between the Italian and the American people.

And so I toast to you, Mr. President and Mrs. Clinton, and I toast to peace. I toast to what the United States has done for peace throughout its history -- the price that America has paid for peace.

I apologize if I go back with a memory of mine. Today, I was at Arlington Memorial Cemetery to pray and to think back. Military cemeteries have something that touches me deep in my heart -- soldiers that are lined up by rank as they were lined up in files when they were going to war. I stopped in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It says he is unknown to everybody but to God. They told me that the choice of the person buried there was done by a sergeant who was very highly decorated.

When in my country we did the same thing after World War I, the choice of the casket was done by a mother who did not see her son return. One of those mothers that the state tells, your son is not going to be coming back, and the state, the government tells them, you gave me a son and I don't know what has become of him. And this is the most terrible answer one can get. And from that cemetery comes a cry, a cry for peace.

Mr. President, you hear that voice every day when you carry out your policies, even if it take some risks. We feel that peace is a natural right of man. And men who violate it should pay. The United States and Italy are allied together for their great love of peace.

The greatest obstacles to peace are opposed by those who have a greater fear of peace than normal people have of war. But peace has but one common root, and it can be strange on a politician's lips, but this root is called love. It's called brotherhood. It's called friendship. And this is the relationship we have between you and our people, between me and your people.

But to want peace, we have to be aware of the enormous limits that there are to what we can do. And whatever our religious faith, we have to have the courage to look up above us. If we will be humble and if we are capable of loving, we are certainly going to win the great battle for peace. Millions of men and women are asking us for this. Innocent children throughout the world, victims of violence and war are asking this.

Before this request from the innocents throughout the world we must feel that it's an honor to dedicate our life to this, and this solemn vow that ties Italy and the United States. I toast to your good fortune, Mr. President, to your battle for peace, to friendship and for peace with Italy and the United States together.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

END 9:00 P.M. EST