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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 16, 1998
                          AT OFFICIAL DINNER

                            The East Room             

8:53 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, President Havel, Mrs. Havlova, friends from the Czech Republic, my fellow Americans. Welcome to the White House, Mr. President.

As a playwright, you could hardly have written a more dramatic scenario than the one you have in fact lived over the last 10 years. Your presidency has reminded people around the world that words do matter; that creativity has a place in politics; that a nation's strength is measured not by its ability to control people, but rather by the opposite -- its success in moving and empowering them.

As you showed us in the press conference today, you have never lost the honesty, spontaneity, the contagious friendliness of your writing. I feel quite certain no other head of state would have appointed Frank Zappa as a cultural ambassador. (Laughter.) Or taken our favorite Czech-American, Madeleine Albright, out on the town in New York to hear some good music. Or given the President of the United States a personally inscribed tenor saxophone and forced him to play it. (Laughter.)

Since you became President, you have brought back democracy and civil society. You have led the Czech Republic to a place of prominence in the new Europe, and we look forward to your becoming a member of NATO.

Together we have been partners in Bosnia and in other Balkan trouble spots, working to repair the ravages of intolerance and injustice. And together we will be partners to build a peaceful, prosperous, and free Europe in the 21st century.

We value our ties to the Czech people. The first Czechs arrived in the New World in the 17th century, and many more came in the wake of the revolution of 1848. Dvorak composed his magnificent, "New World Symphony," borrowing the rhythms he heard during his travels across the United States, especially from African-American folk music. The flag of the Czech Republic was designed and first flown in New York to honor a visit by the great patriot Tomas Masaryk.

From athletes to artists, from actors to astronauts, from secretaries to Secretaries of State, Czech-Americans, many of whom are here tonight, have lent their gifts to our grateful nation.

We shared the world's sadness when Czechoslovakia lost its freedom 50 years ago. We felt a similar sense of loss when the Prague Spring was followed by Soviet invasion in 1968. But you and your comrades, Mr. President, taught us again that all seasons are cyclical, that spring always returns. In 1989, your Velvet Revolution rejuvenated the entire world.

There is an old Czech-American saying that too much wisdom does not produce courage. That's a nice way of saying, I think, that too much time spent in books may keep people too much away from the active world. Mr. President, you have lived a life of the mind and a life of action. You have shown us wisdom and courage. You have made us believe that we can not only dream our dreams, but redeem them.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to join me in a toast to the President of the Czech Republic, to Mrs. Havlova and to the people of the Czech Republic.

(A toast was offered.) (Applause.)

PRESIDENT HAVEL: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, ladies and gentlemen, it is my turn now to reciprocate the wise words of our host.

I still cherish my memories of one of our recent visits to the United States when we had the honor to meet with the President and Mrs. Clinton during the celebration of the birthday -- I will not say which birthday of my friend Madeleine Albright. (Laughter.)

Then, as always, I could see for myself that values like freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law are not mere words to you, but notions deeply ingrained in your hearts. At the time of that meeting in Georgetown, it was not yet quite clear which nations would be invited to join the North Atlantic Alliance in the first wave of the enlargement process. To my gratification, the NATO summit in Madrid confirmed that my country, the Czech Republic, was to be one of them.

Let me, therefore, take this opportunity to thank the American nation for its support for NATO enlargement.

I am happy to do so in the presence of President and Mrs. Clinton. I am aware that the first wave of enlargement would take a much longer time had it not been for the bold decision-making of the President and the hard work of his administration. Who knows when it would have started without that?

Tomorrow I will have an opportunity to express my gratitude for wise decisions, also, in the U.S. Senate. And tomorrow, also, in the afternoon, I shall meet in the Library of Congress with many people who contributed in a fundamental way to the victory of freedom in our part of the world, and I will confer state decorations on some of these men and women.

None of them, however, will be awarded such a high decoration as the one to be soon bestowed upon yourself, Mr. President. This is a decoration that is bestowed not simply on people of great merit, but solely on heads of state. In fact, I am not a holder of the decoration myself; it has just been bestowed upon me temporarily during my tenure of office. (Laughter.)

But let me also acknowledge others who are perhaps less known, but certainly not less respectable, and who have also substantially contributed to the creation of an order of security and peace in Europe, such as the NATO Observation Group, the New Atlantic Initiative, the American Jewish Committee, and others.

Let me also express my thanks to my dear friend Madeleine Albright, and to say a few words about her. As many of you know, Madeleine comes from Prague. She had to leave her original home because her native country was deprived of its freedom. And this background became one of the sources of the strong commitment to the cause of freedom which she now demonstrates as Secretary of State of the United States. Her task is certainly not an easy one, because forces hostile to democracy throughout the world never rest, as we could witness again recently in Kenya and Tanzania.

I believe that Madeleine has proved a number of times that she is one of the greatest diplomats of our time, and saying this, I am not referring solely to her fine feeling for European affairs. Madeleine, like myself, is convinced about the irreplaceable role of America in the world of today. The solution of today's world problems requires leadership and responsibility on the part of the United States, both at present and in the future.

Mr. President, the world needs you.

It has been a great honor for me to address you today with these brief remarks and to spend this evening in your midst. I see many familiar faces here and their presence reaffirms to me that the Czech Republic has many friends in America. I am looking forward to the October visit of my dear friend Hillary to Prague, where she will be one of the main speakers at the FORUM 2000 conference, a gathering dedicated to the pressing questions facing humankind on the verge of the millennium.

I congratulate President Clinton on the conferment of the Order of the White Lion, which will take place shortly. And I propose a toast to our two countries remaining good partners and allies. I toast our success, our future cooperation, and the good health of the President and the First Lady.

(A toast was offered.) (Applause.)

(The Order of the White Lion was conferred upon the President.) (Applause.)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: You know, if I put all this on -- (laughter) -- I may feel like royalty.

Mr. President, I first saw Prague in the second week of January in 1970. I was a young student of no visible means and fairly poor prospects. I remember that I went to Prague with a pair of rawhide boots and a Navy pea jacket I bought in an Army-Navy surplus store. But I learned something there that is as vivid to me today as it was then.

When all of you were at a moment of despair, I saw in the young students I met there a love for freedom that you gave life to again. And whenever I look at this award, I will know that it's too grand for me to wear, but I will be very glad that we could do something in the United States, through NATO, to help ensure that that freedom will never, ever be lost again.

Thank you, sir. (Applause.)

END 9:14 P.M. EDT