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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 24, 1997
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                        AT SWEARING-IN CEREMONY

The Oval Office

10:10 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Mr. Vice President, Secretary-about-to-be Cohen, Janet, Secretary Perry, Deputy Secretary White, General Shalikashvili, General Ralston, Senator Inouye, Senator Levin, Senator McCain, Senator Stevens, Senator Thurmond, Senator Collins, Senator Snowe. I'm delighted today to be here along with all of you for Senator Cohen's swearing-in.

I want to congratulate him on the swift confirmation of his nomination. It says a great deal about this extraordinary man that his Senate colleagues paid him the tribute of a unanimous vote of approval. In so doing, the Senate sent a strong signal of its intention to work in a constructive and bipartisan spirit to preserve and enhance our national security.

Bill Cohen is the embodiment of that spirit. Throughout his years as a Senator and a Congressman, he's reached across the divisions of part to strengthen our defenses, shaping the START I arms control treaty, helping reorganize the Department of Defense, guiding the most important deliberations about our Armed Forces. He has never forgotten, as he said so eloquently in his testimony on Wednesday, that at the end of every debate stand our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, who look to us for leadership, not political strife.

As we move forward to face the challenges of the next century, America's leadership in the world will depend upon that understanding, just as it did in World War II and the Cold War. We know that to seize all the possibilities of this moment, and to keep the United States the greatest force for peace and freedom, for security and prosperity, we must continue to have the best-trained, best-equipped, best-prepared troops on Earth, because at the heart of America's power is our military strength and will.

Whether they are deterring a dangerous tyrant in the Persian Gulf, helping the people of Bosnia build peace in their shattered land, defending democracy in the Cold War's last frontier on the Korean Peninsula, or standing watch for liberty here at home, our Armed Forces maintain America's status as the indispensable nation.

In Bill Cohen, our military will have a Secretary of Defense with the vision, judgment and dedication that our era demands. He has served the people of Maine with tremendous distinction. And now I'm pleased that all Americans will benefit from his leadership and his wisdom.

On their behalf, I now ask the Vice President to swear William Cohen into his new office.

(William Cohen is sworn in as Secretary of Defense.)

SECRETARY COHEN: President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Secretary Perry, General Shalikashvili, Deputy Secretary White, my colleagues from the Senate, and dear friends, and most especially, my wife, Janet -- thank you all very much for being here today.

It's a great honor, Mr. President. I thank you for the trust that you've placed in me. We share a conviction that America can best defend her national security interests abroad by uniting behind a bipartisan security policy at home. And your decision to reach across party lines for this appointment respects the desires of the American people for an approach to public policy that is free of political rancor.

Nowhere is this more true than the arena of national defense, where everyone looks to us, all of our men and women look to us for leadership. This has been a principle I've sought to uphold throughout my career. And I look forward to serving you on a bipartisan team that will lead our nation into a new century with clarity of purpose and confidence in action.

Protecting and promoting America's global interests require both wise policies and the military strength to back up those policies. We have today the finest military this nation has ever seen, the finest the world has ever seen. We must ensure that our successors, who will inherit the legacy of our decisions, can say the same. And, therefore, we must continue to attract and retain the highest quality men and women to serve in our Armed Forces, which means we must do right by them when it comes to pay, housing, health care and other benefits for them and their families. We must ensure that our forces are ready to respond to crises whenever and wherever necessary. And we must buy and develop the weaponry that's necessary to ensure our forces have the technological edge to win quickly and decisively.

We cannot become the world's policemen, but neither, Mr. President, my colleagues, can we ever afford to become a prisoner of world events. American leadership remains essential to defend our global interests and to maintain our nation's indispensable role as the world's greatest force for peace, prosperity and freedom. And I'm fully conscious of the heavy responsibilities that come with this assignment. The American people have entrusted us with the care of the nation's greatest treasure -- the lives of our young men and women. And I pledge to you and to the American people to do my very best to merit this most solemn trust.

And I'd like to close by paying a special tribute to Secretary Bill Perry. He led us through the adjustments of the post-Cold War era. His integrity, intelligence and sound judgement and personal commitment to the troops made him a leader who has been both effective and beloved. He's left a solid foundation on which to build as we move into the next century.

So, Mr. President, thank you once again for this honor. I'm grateful for the confidence you've place in me. I look forward to working on your team. (Applause.)

Q What will be your top priority at the Pentagon? Are you going to hit the deck running? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY COHEN: I intend to hit it running. My first -- I have a full day starting immediately after this ceremony. I'm going to be paying a final visit with Secretary Perry. I'm going to be meeting with General Shalikashvili and Deputy Secretary White to discuss matters this afternoon. I'm sending messages to all of our troops today, along with the commanders of the regional commands. I'll be meeting later this afternoon with all of the service chiefs and secretaries, and then beginning some budget deliberations and briefings, starting at 5:30 p.m. this afternoon with John Hamre.

So I have a fairly full schedule today. And we'll look forward to starting this process of trying to retain and attract the best qualified people in our military, to make sure that we provide them with the best equipment, training, and that we seek to modernize our forces for the future.

So all of that is very high on my agenda.

Q Are you going to ask for more money? (Laughter.)

SECRETARY COHEN: I'm going to do my best to see to it that we have the best military that the world has ever seen.

THE PRESIDENT: Everybody else does. (Laughter).

SECRETARY COHEN: I see Senator Stevens over to my right, and I'm sure that I'll be calling upon him for assistance as we go through the budgetary process.

Q What is the budget for defense -- a secret?

THE PRESIDENT: We're releasing it in a few days.

Thank you all very much.

END 10:21 A.M. EST