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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 5, 1998
                            TOAST REMARKS
                        The State Dining Room

9:11 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening and welcome to the White House. To Prime Minister and Mrs. Blair, members of the British delegation, to all our distinguished guests, let me say that the bad news is you have to listen to two brief toasts; the good news is it comes at the beginning of the dinner. We are delighted to have all of you here.

Tonight, in honor of the Prime Minister's visit, I would like to go over some of the highlights of the so-called special relationship between the United States and Great Britain. It began rather early in our history, this special relationship. (Laughter.) In 1785 Thomas Jefferson, soon to be our first Secretary of State, insisted that the United Kingdom was an evil empire whose time was running out. (Laughter.) "The sun of her glory is fast descending to the horizon," he said, with uncharacteristic myopia.

In 1814 marauding English soldiers gave new meaning to the term "global warming" when they torched the White House where we sit tonight -- (laughter) -- along with much of the surrounding countryside. My predecessor James Madison was lucky to escape with a very few belongings -- and a chastened view of our defense capabilities.

But, Mr. Prime Minister, we are a forgiving people. And we learned a valuable lesson on that night in 1814 -- from now on let's get these guys on our side. That's been the core of our foreign policy ever since. (Laughter.)

When we think over the challenges of the 20th century, it's extraordinary what our two nations have been through together; decade after decade, staring down the darkest threats in the history of human kind. We would not have survived this turbulent century without the grand alliance joining our peoples. Through common values and a common language, we have forged an uncommon friendship.

Let me take this opportunity to announce that in honor of your visit, the place where you and Cherie are staying will now be forever known as Blair House. (Laughter and applause.)

Tonight, we look forward to a new millenium and a 21st century alliance for peace, prosperity, and progress. We have a rare chance to bring fruition to a century's worth of partnership. We can define the new century before it begins, escaping the 20th century's darkest moments and seizing the new century's most brilliant possibilities. We can stand together against tyrants. We can help peace flourish from Bosnia to Northern Ireland to the Middle East. We can continue to open our minds, our hearts, our societies to new ideas and new possibilities.

Mr. Prime Minister, you are breathing new life into politics and restoring faith in ancient principles of liberty so dear to every citizen of your realm. Throughout our history, our peoples have reinforced each other in the living classroom of democracy. It is difficult to imagine Jefferson, for example, without John Locke before him; difficult to imagine Lincoln without knowing that he read Shakespeare and Bunyan on the frontier.

In the new century, we must continue together undaunted. In the words of the Anglo-American poet, W. H. Auden: never beleaguered by negation, always showing an affirming flame. One of our most stubbornly affirmative Presidents, Harry Truman, felt that way. It's a rather closely guarded secret that this hard-nosed Missourian was shamelessly devoted to 19th century English sentimental poetry.

When he graduated from high school in 1901, at the dawn of the new century, Harry Truman copied his favorite poem onto a piece of paper. Throughout his life, he kept it with him, which required him to recopy it at least twenty times. Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" may seem an unusual choice, but the poem resonated with Truman's optimistic vision of the future, a future that then, as now, was limitless.

With a new century beginning, "Locksley Hall" still holds the promise of a better life for those of us glimpsing the new world just over the horizon. "For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see, saw the vision of the world and all the wonder that could be." We must realize the promise of that poem.

Our alliance is strong. Our personal friendship is strong. It is a pleasure and an honor for Hillary and for me to reciprocate the hospitality that you, Mr. Prime Minister and Cherie, showed to us last May. And so I ask you all, ladies and gentlemen, to join me in raising a glass to my good friend, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, to Cherie, and all the people who are here with them, who represent the best promise of our tomorrows.

(A toast is offered.)

Thank you. (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Mr. President and ladies and gentlemen -- Bill, thank you for that wonderful introduction and I look very much forward to going to Camp Blair tomorrow night. (Laughter.) We've had a marvelous time here and just a wonderful and warm welcome, and I would like, if I might, to begin by paying tribute to your President -- to his determination, to his statesmanship, and to his courage. Bill, I am pleased to call you a good colleague, and I am proud to call you a good friend.

And as I saw that high school earlier today, when I witnessed the enthusiasm of those young people as they greeted you, I know I am not alone in supporting you; I know the American people support you, too. (Applause.)

Can I also pay tribute to the First Lady as well, who is admired the world over, as we saw indeed in Britain last September at the funeral of Princess Diana, which was a difficult and hard time for us, how she represented America with such dignity and grace. And within the past few days, the whole world has seen those qualities of dignity and grace again. Thank you for all that you have done. (Applause.)

As I say, we have been greatly touched by our wonderful welcome, but just in case we thought we should -- or might get above ourselves, I was intrigued to come across the following letter in the White House when I was with my staff earlier today. It's a very interesting thing that apparently happens for all visiting dignitaries. It's called a pronunciation sheet. (Laughter). It's for the names of those that are difficult for people to pronounce. And as head of that pronunciation sheet, The Official Visit to Washington, D.C., of the Right Honorable Tony Blair, Prime Minister.

And then it's got a number of little boxes where you got to answer things. It's got members of the official British delegation -- the honorable Tony Blair, Prime Minister: pronunciation Blair. (Laughter). Form of address, Mr. Prime Minister. Then, it's got the box marked English speaking, answer yes. (Laughter).

Well, we've come a long way, I know. We're getting the hang of your language as well. (Laughter). I mean, I know, look, we've only been in nine months -- this is the thing. I don't know -- some of you may have heard that the British minister that shortly after the election went to this great rally and said that the policies that the Conservative administration for 18 years have brought us, our country, to the edge of a precipice and now is the time for a giant step forward. (Laughter). You know, we've been trying to recover from that ever since.

But one thing, since we got our colleagues from the media here, I must defend them against the accusation that they've only been interested in trivia, because the very first question I got when I was on the news programs this morning here in America was, "Will you be raising with the President the four originals stuffed models of A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, and Tigger. (Laughter). Not yet, we haven't -- no -- but we'll get 'round to that in time. I would just like to say -- yes, seriously, that's what they asked. (Laughter.) And the British ones as well.

Mr. President, you talked about the relationship between our two countries over a period of time. And you talked, of course, about how we'd stood together through the two world wars of this century. And I know, in fact, that it was with Winston Churchill that the whole idea arose of visiting dignitaries coming and staying in Blair House. That is apparently because Churchill came to stay for a day and ended up staying a month. (Laughter.) So I think Eleanor Roosevelt said that after that in the White House they should move across the road to Blair House. (Laughter.)

Churchill, who was one of the great Englishmen of this century, who -- I just came across something that was written about him the other day when there was a very -- Churchill was a very sort of strong character, as you know, and there was a young guy who had just come into Churchill's government -- this was in wartime Britain as part of the coalition -- and came bouncing into Churchill because he'd been prevented from going in the House of Commons by the Sergeant at Arms. And he comes in to Churchill and he says, Mr. Prime Minister, it's absolutely disgraceful, I've been stopped by the Sergeant at Arms of going into the House of Commons. He said, I don't think they knew who I was. And Churchill turned to him and said, and who were you? (Laughter.)

Those great days of America and Britain standing together, they will be remembered and recalled through a whole period of time. And one thing I wanted to share with you this evening was what was written in the great biography of Churchill by Martin Gilbert, when he described the circumstances in the 2nd world war, when Britain desperately needed the help of America, and when it wasn't certain that that help would be given in the way that we wished, when there was a little turbulence in Congress over whether it should happen or not, when people were discussing the best way forward to help.

And Harry Hopkins, who was the emissary of the American President, Roosevelt, went to see and to stay with Churchill. And he went 'round Britain, and on the last evening before he left to go back to America to take home a message to America, he gave a speech to the dinner. And sitting next to Churchill, he said, I suppose you wish to know what I'm going to say to President Roosevelt on my return. And then Harry Hopkins said he would quoting a verse from the Bible: Wither thou goest I will go, and whither thou lodgest I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

And Hopkins paused, and then he said, "Even to the end," and Churchill wept. And that was right at the most difficult, hardest, most poignant moment of our relations this century.

And so it's easy to see why, for anyone from Britain proud enough to be British Prime Minister, who comes here, we feel that sense of our common history. But what binds us together, you know, is more than our history. And it's greater than our language. And it's deeper than our mutual self-interest.

It is a genuine, shared understanding of what drives and motivates the human spirit; the striving to do and to be better; the great values of freedom and progress and justice that are the values that have motivated the best in my country throughout the ages and motivate the best in America today.

And when we look around our world and we see that crises are no longer confined to one nation -- a national crisis becomes an international crisis, when we see that global economic change drives through forces of difficulty for people that they've never contemplated before, and when we see the social change that comes in the wake of that economic change, then those shared values are more important than ever before.

And that shared understanding more vital to our future than ever before because there are no problems that are solved simply by nations alone today. There are problems that face us all and must be solved by us as nations together. So our relationship -- the relationship between Britain and America -- yes, it is a relationship founded on a magnificent past, but it is a relationship today every bit as important for our future.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to be here in the United States of America. I am proud to offer you the good wishes of my country men and women back home. And it gives me an enormous pleasure to propose a toast to the President of the United States and to the First Lady.

(A toast was offered.)


END 9:27 P.M. EST