View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 9, 1998
                      REMARKS BY PRESIDENT CLINTON
                        IN AN EXCHANGE OF TOASTS

The East Room

8:50 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Good evening. President Kim, Mrs. Kim, members of the Korean delegation, distinguished guests, Hillary and I welcome you to the White House.

On our two trips to Korea, we experienced the great kindness of the Korean people. We hope you have experienced that same feeling from the American people.

As you can see from looking around this room, the American people include more than one million Korean Americans who make very strong contributions to the United States, but never forget their brothers and sisters half a world away.

Mr. President, I hope you consider America your second home. I recall very well the day in 1992 we first met on the steps of the City Hall in Los Angeles, where we also met with citizens who were starting to rebuild their community after intense racial strife.

You spent much of your period of exile in our country and you have many great friends here, some of whom are with us tonight. They have stood by you through times of trouble and, in turn, you have been a real inspiration to them.

In one of the many letters to your family from your prison cell you recalled an old adage: "Even if the heavens were to crash down, there is a hole through which to rise up. And even if taken in a tiger's teeth, there is a way to survive".

Mr. President, the story of your way is almost unbelievable. Raised on an island with no paved roads or electricity, you were captured by the North Koreans in the war and nearly executed; elected to the national assembly only days before the assembly was disbanded by a coup; denied the Presidency in 1971 after voter intimidation and fraud by the ruling party; injured when a 14-ton truck tried to ram your car; kidnapped, taken to sea, prepared for drowning by government agents; sentenced to death again in 1991 after a six minute trail. Through it all, you never lost hope that democracy and human rights could rise up in your beloved land.

Now you are at the center of that democracy, working to make the dreams of your people a reality. You are an inspiration, not only to your fellow Koreans, but to people all around the world who seek freedom and a better life. Tonight, we celebrate your triumphs and the triumph of democracy in so many nations that once were ruled by the iron hand of dictatorship. We also remember with gratitude those who bravely struggled for freedom, but gave their lives before their dreams were realized. And we honor those around the world who still struggle to free their countries from tyranny. Their struggles -- and yours, Mr. President -- remind us that we must never take freedom for granted.

As Abraham Lincoln, whose life and words you have studied, once said, "The fight must go on. The cause of liberty must not be surrendered at the end of one, or even 100, defeats." Mr. President, you remind us that at the end of all the defeats and all the trials there is victory for the human spirit.

Therefore, it is a great honor for me to ask all of you to join in a toast to President Kim, Mrs. Kim, the people of the Republic of Korea, the deep friendship between our nations, and the brilliant future for Korea that you will build.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

PRESIDENT KIM: I'm so deeply grateful to President and Mrs. Clinton for inviting my wife and me here today and for hosting such a magnificent dinner for our Korean delegation. Mr. President, I am also grateful to you, your administration, the U.S. Congress and the American people for your warm encouragement and active support since my election.

Over the years, I escaped five attempts on my life -- one attempt by communists, the other four by military dictators. Living 40 years under surveillance, I spent six years in prison and over ten years in exile or under house arrest. But such trials signify more than my personal history, they represent the Korean people's long struggle for democracy. Especially, I would like to emphasize the fact that whenever my life was in danger, America helped to save me directly or indirectly through its extraordinary efforts. Moreover, throughout our 40 years of struggle for democratization of Korea, many Americans have consistently given us support and encouragement.

The Republic of Korea has accomplished the first peaceful transition of power from a ruling to an -- party in its history, and many democracy-loving nations, including the United States, congratulate us and express their joy.

I chose the United States for my first state visit not only because America saved my life more than once, nor simply because of our two nations' special partnership in promoting democratic ideas. More importantly, I came here because I felt an urgency to meet with you, a man of brilliant leadership, and discuss issues of mutual interest.

Mr. President, I have always held a deep respect for you and your leadership that has elevated America to a nation with the greatest global influence in human history. I also respect your courageous efforts to forge a new, expanded relationship with Northeast Asia. And during this visit I want our existing partnership to grow even stronger, expanding beyond our traditional cooperation in security and economics. We need to promote unceasing mutual cooperation as Korea attempts to nurture both democracy and a free market economy.

In addition, such cooperation is essential for us as Korea tries to overcome the most serious economic crisis in its history. We Koreans are a resilient people and will surely succeed. And we'll always appreciate your nation's support.

Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, distinguished guests, in terms of security, the Republic of Korea and the United States must maintain an unwavering alliance. But I also believe we should pursue an active engagement policy toward North Korea to promote openness, peace and stability. We should consort closely in pursuing inter-Korean and four-party talks and formulate more flexible policy toward North Korea. Our two nations' partnership in this effort will greatly contribute to peace in Asia and in the world.

Distinguished guests, around the world the United States is tackling threats to peace and prosperity that include regional conflict, terrorism, drug trafficking, weapons of mass destruction and human rights abuses. The Republic of Korea profoundly respects all these efforts and eagerly wishes to work with you. There is no doubt to share ideas of democracy and free market economy will further bind our two nations together and will be the driving force for carrying Korea into the next century. I'm quite confident that after our talk today we can count on President Clinton's strong leadership to play a key role in attaining this goal.

Now, let me propose a toast to the health of the President and Mrs. Clinton, and to a prosperous and lasting friendship between our two peoples. Thank you very much. Cheers.

(A toast is offered.)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you. (Applause.)

END 9:10 P.M.