THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER
The Cross Halls of the Residence
2:50 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: We are truly about to make a new beginning. Yesterday at the wonderful welcome home that Hillary and Al and Tipper and I had at the White House I saw a remarkable sight -- Warren Christopher was wearing a t-shirt. (Laughter.) He did have it on underneath his Saville Row suit. Nonetheless, it was there. This is the same Warren Christopher, I would remind you all, who made People Magazine's "best dressed" list; the only man ever to eat presidential M&Ms with a knife and fork. (Laughter.)
Yesterday Secretary Christopher gave new meaning to my conviction that we are entering an age of new and remarkable possibility. Today it is with great regret at his departure, but deep gratitude for his service to our administration and to our country, that I have accepted Warren Christopher's decision to step down as Secretary of State.
He has left the mark of his hand on history -- not in some theoretical, intangible fashion, but in concrete ways that have made a real difference in the lives of the American people and people around the world. He has served three previous Democratic administration, as a trade negotiator, a deputy attorney general, a deputy Secretary of State when he brought home our hostages from Iran. These past four years I have been proud and privileged to have him by my side as Secretary of State.
Today, if the children of the Middle East can imagine a future of cooperation, not conflict; if Bosnia's killing fields are once again playing fields; if the people of Haiti now live in democracy instead of under dictators, in no small measure, it is because of Warren Christopher. The cause of peace and freedom and decency have never had a more tireless or tenacious advocate.
Those of us who have worked with Chris know that his quiet dignity masks a steely determination. Let me cite just one example.
History will record that Bosnia's peace was secured at Dayton. It will also recall that, literally, until the last minute the outcome was in doubt. Our negotiators had their bags packed and were ready to head home without an agreement. But Chris refused to give up. And the force of his will finally convinced the Balkan leaders to give into the logic of peace.
For all Secretary Christopher's skill at diffusing crises, I believe his lasting legacy was built behind the headlines, laying the foundations for our future. Under his leadership we've taken on new threats like terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and environment degradation. We're seizing the opportunities to make the 21st century more secure and prosperous for every American -- working toward a Europe that is undivided, democratic, and at peace; building a new partnership with a strong and open Russia; meeting the challenges of change in Asia with strength and steadiness; opening more markets abroad and helping American businesses to take advantage of these new opportunities.
Perhaps most important, Warren Christopher's life provides powerful proof that America has a unique responsibility and a unique privilege to lead. He has helped the American people to understand that we cannot lead on the cheap; it takes time, energy and resources. And as we go forward, I pledge to protect and preserve the resources for our diplomacy that Warren Christopher has put to such good use.
Finally, let me say, as all of you know, I owe Warren Christopher a debt that extends far beyond the broad range of his responsibilities. Few individuals did more to shape my first administration. He chaired our vice presidential search committee, and I'd say he came up with a pretty good recommendation. (Laughter.) The American people have him to thank for my selection of Al Gore and the subsequent development of the most unique partnership in the history of the presidency and the vice presidency. And I think it is clear that the Vice President has been the most influential and constructive force ever to occupy the vice presidency's office.
Warren Christopher directed the 1992 transition, in particular, in building a Cabinet team that helped to put America on track as we enter the 21st century; one which a scholar of the presidency wrote me and said was the most loyal Cabinet since Thomas Jefferson's first administration.
These past four years, time and again I have reached out to my friend for his counsel, his judgment, and his support. It is no exaggeration to say that Warren Christopher has literally been America's elder statesman. It's also no exaggeration today that he retains the energy, the vigor and the capacity of a person half his age.
I thank Secretary Christopher for agreeing to stay on until we select a successor. I will consult closely with him in that process. In the weeks ahead I may have a hard time finding him, however. The Secretary is continuing to do the vital business of our nation, participating next week in the Cairo Conference, traveling to China and throughout Asia, moving on to Europe to work on Bosnia and adapting NATO to the future.
Secretary Christopher already has set a four-year record as America's most traveled diplomat in chief. If you could earn frequent flyer miles for government travel, we would owe him at least a round trip on the space shuttle. (Laughter.) And the Vice President says that with the travel he's already logged in, he could go to the Moon and back, and back to the Moon again. I want him to travel a few more miles, so he will finish on the right planet. (Laughter.)
Through dignity, determination, hard work and skill; through an unbelievable, powerful collection and combination of his intellect, his integrity, and his good heart, Warren Christopher has earned our nation's admiration and a debt that can never be fully repaid. From the bottom of my heart, I thank him for his service to the nation and his unique friendship to the President.
Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Mr. President, it would just be absolutely impossible for me to express fully my gratitude to you for entrusting this post to me at this extraordinary moment in history. I'm grateful for the unfailing and unstinting support that you've given me in moments of high success and at the difficult times as well. I also want to thank you and Hillary for the many kindnesses that you've extended to Marie and to me and our family.
I also want to express appreciation to you, Mr. Vice President, for being here today, as you've always been for me, and want to pay tribute to the remarkable role, as the President said, that you've played in shaping and carrying out our nation's foreign policy.
Being Secretary of State is to take part in history's relay race. It's been a great privilege for me to have an opportunity to run this challenging leg over the last four years. I've done so with the sure sense that we've begun to shape American foreign policy for the 21st century.
Mr. President, the world looks to the United States for leadership and you have responded magnificently. Thanks to your leadership, America is more secure, more prosperous and our values are most ascendant than they were when we took office four years ago.
No Secretary of State could ever have had stronger support than I've had from the President and the Vice President, or from my colleagues in the National Security Council, many of whom I'm proud and pleased are here today. I've also been tremendously honored by the opportunity to work with so many talented members of the State Department, many of whom I see down here today, including the dedicated men and women of the Foreign Service and the civil service as well.
On a personal note, of course, I am especially grateful to my wife, Marie, who has supported me with love and fresh orange juice every morning -- (laughter) -- through four adventures in Washington and through, next month, 40 years of happy marriage.
I'm, of course, also very grateful to the American people. It is their values and their aspirations that I've sought to uphold as I've traveled around the world these last four years. I'm convinced that especially as this time of change in the world -- this time of challenge and change -- the American people expect our nation to maintain a strong and principled global leadership. They can be assured that I will be doing that, maintaining our active engagement, as I travel to the Middle East, Europe and Asia over the next several weeks before the time of transition actually takes place.
I've been very generously blessed by Providence and I will leave office with a deep sense of gratitude and humility. I also leave with great confidence, Mr. President, that you are laying the foundation for the next American century.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, how will you go about choosing a successor? What's your plan for doing that?
THE PRESIDENT: Don't sit down now. It won't take long for me to answer this question. (Laughter.)
Let me say to all of you here in the press, I intend to have a press conference tomorrow afternoon and I'll be more than happy to answer all of your questions in greater detail.
But I will go about selecting a successor, first of all, by soliciting the Secretary of State's advice and the advice of others on our National Security team and others beyond that with whom I have worked and whom I trust. And I'm sure I'll get some unsolicited advice as we go along, and that's a good thing. I believe that the Secretary will be difficult to replace, but I think there will be worthy Americans who can contribute, who are willing to serve. And with all these places where we have vacancies, I want to cast a wide net.
And I think the American people sent us another message on Tuesday. They want us to work together. They like it when we try to have principled compromise. And they want us to create a vital center -- that is, not one that just splits the difference, but one that moves the country forward in an aggressive way, Republicans and Democrats and independents alike. And I will be looking, in all these personnel decisions that I have to make, across a broad span of American people to try to get the best people to create that vital center and take this country into the 21st century.
And I'll see you all tomorrow and look forward to answering your questions. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 3:02 P.M. EST