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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 6, 1998
                        AND PRIME MINISTER PRODI

The East Room

8:30 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good evening and welcome to the White House, Mr. Prime Minister, Mrs. Prodi, distinguished members of the Italian delegation, my fellow Americans.

Mr. Prime Minister, today we accomplished a great deal. Tonight we celebrate the ties that bind us.

Those ties begin with the discoveries of Columbus and Vespucci, whose busts adorn the Blue Room next door. When the founders created the American republic, they looked to Rome for inspiration. George Washington was likened to Cincinnatus, the Roman hero who abandoned his plow to rescue his country by popular demand. I might say, they were the last two people to head our countries only by popular demand. (Laughter.)

Poets and philosophers of the Roman Republic were read and rejuvenated as our new republic looked to the past to plan our future. In the writings of ancient Roman thinkers like Cicero and Cato, America's founders saw the promise of democratic representative government. Every aspect of our new republic paid tribute to the simple grandeur of Rome. From our architecture to words like "Senate" and "Capitol." Indeed, after our Constitution convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked what our founders had produced. His simple reply was, "A republic, sir, if you can keep it."

Towns sprang up with the names from the ancient Mediterranean world -- names like Utica, Troy, or the Vice President's hometown, Carthage. Artists portrayed America's leaders wearing togas, as the bust of George Washington in the hall demonstrates. Thankfully, that is a tradition we have left to the 19th century. (Laughter.)

In the 19th and 20th centuries, our republic turned into a bustling nation, thanks in no small measure to Italian Americans. Ancient Rome was replaced by young Italy in the American imagination. And democracy was given new life by heroes like Mazzini and Garibaldi.

America's growing cities attracted millions of Italians, eager to build a new life in a new world. They worked hard. They prospered. Today American Italians, or Italian Americans, are leaders in every enterprise conducted in our nation. And as we all know, it is impossible to walk more than a few blocks in any American city without hearing the words "caffe latte." (Laughter.)

The people here in this room tonight are the link between our two countries, between two cultures that have nourished each other since America was just an idea. From our highest courts to our finest tables, from our playing fields to our silver screen, from one side of the aisle in Congress to the other, Italian Americans have graced our nation with their intellect, their industry, their goodwill, and above all, a contagious love of life.

Mr. Prime Minister, you have accomplished so much in your time in office. You have presided over a string of economic successes. And Americans especially admire your perseverance in leading Italy toward European Monetary Union. Without Italy, Europe is not Europe. And without Europe, the world would be a poorer, less free, and much duller place.

Italy has been a force for peace and security in its region, on the continent, around the world -- in Albania, in Bosnia, and in Kosovo, where we're working hard together to bring about a peaceful resolution. America is proud to know you as a partner and an ally, and we are grateful for your provision of our military bases, sent to help maintain Europe's hard-won peace.

Mr. Prime Minister, we take pride in our strong friendship. We know it will continue to grow stronger as we enter the new millennium, a world that brings us, once again, back to Rome. For just as Pax Romana spread far and wide through the ancient world, we hope and work for the peace of a new millennium that will allow more people than ever before to live their dreams in security.

If we can achieve a piece of the millennium, then the ancient dream of Columbus to explore new places can be lived by more people than ever -- new places in outer space, in biotechnology and medical research, in the hearts and minds of people around the world who still look to Italy and America for confirmation that a good society can be created from many parts.

"E pluribus unum," the motto of the United States, a principle cherished by Italians and Americans: Out of many, one. Mr. Prime Minister, let us make it so.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to join me in a toast to the Prime Minister and Mrs. Prodi and the people of Italy. (Applause.)

(A toast is offered.)

PRIME MINISTER PRODI: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, ladies and gentlemen, a visit to Washington by the Prime Minister of Italy is always a great honor and a welcome opportunity to consolidate and strengthen the special friendship between our two peoples and, above all, between our two countries and peoples.

Our relationship is deep rooted and steadfast. For more than half a century, it has been a success story in foreign policy and a wealthy source of democratic ideals, of shared, dynamic entrepreneurship, which our civil societies can enjoy. Italians have gained much from this, and I hope that Americans have gained no less. This, I hope, and I believe -- I believe this because Mr. President, otherwise, there would be no other explanation for the warmth and friendship with which I have been received today and which go well beyond the protocol and the formalities of official visits.

Italy and the United States are like two old friends who have been through difficult times and happier times. And we know that we can count on each other in the future.

This is not my first visit here, but today's visit will remain especially memorable for me because I was able to see firsthand how deep our understanding is between our two countries in facing international challenges and just how well we have learned to work together. This is not a happy coincidence; it is, rather, the result of a long and tested relationship, patiently built over decades, and which has shown us that it can grow in a radically different international environment which has changed since the end of the Cold War.

Today this friendship is even more vital than ever. This is shown by deeds -- in renewing and relaunching, together with other partners, NATO and other Euro-Atlantic institutions; in launching new projects for transatlantic solidarity; in committing for the integration of Central European Europe and of Russia; in the initiatives that Americans and Europeans have taken and continued to take to bring peace and stability to the Balkans.

When military action was necessary in order to maintain peace in Bosnia, Albania, and Macedonia, neither the U.S. nor Italy pulled back despite the risk to our soldiers.

The relationship between our two countries is not an isolated friendship but part of a broader solidarity between Europe and America, which has made all the difference between the first and the second half of the 20th century. For this reason, Mr. President, Italy believes and enthusiastically supports the vision of a Euro-Atlantic partnership for the 21st century.

This is the goal that we must set for ourselves and where we must channel our efforts together with all of our allies of goodwill. This to me seems a common conclusion that we can draw following our discussions today. In the second half of this century, we have made much progress. The results are apparent to all and are reflected in peace, in economic growth, and unprecedented wealth attained by our countries and by the Atlantic community.

Today, our goal is more ambitious: to intensify the bonds -- the political bonds, the security, economic, and cultural bonds -- and to broaden their impact to those who could not benefit from these earlier.

We have taken the first steps in both directions -- the European Monetary Union and the enlargement of the Atlantic alliance, soon to be followed by that of the European Union. These are goals that we can and should be very proud of -- we as leaders, but also for everyone.

New challenges and goals lie ahead. Americans and Europeans must get there together, and Italy wants to be the first in line in building the renewed Atlantic partnership. We know that in the road ahead the United States will be on our side.

And for this reason I ask everyone to raise their glasses and to toast to the President, Mrs. Clinton, to the American people, and to the friendship between the United States of America and the Republic of Italy.

(A toast is offered.)

END 8:55 P.M. EDT