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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 11, 1999
                     REMARKS BY PRESIDENT CLINTON 
                        IN EXCHANGE OF TOASTS

The State Floor

8:33 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Good evening. Welcome to the White House, and to this wonderful dinner. As you can see, we had so many people who wanted to be here, who love Argentina and respect you, Mr. President, that we're in more than one room tonight. But we're all happy to be here, and Hillary and I welcome you all.

Mr. President, we hope that we have, in some small way, repaid the hospitality showed us during our unforgettable visit to Argentina in October 1997. At our dinner in Buenos Aires, I cited the memory of Domingo Sarmiento, who loved the United States, but who complained that we ate our meals far too fast -- often in five minutes or less. (Laughter.) Tonight, I hope our guests from Argentina will see that we value constructive criticism -- (laughter.) This will be a long, leisurely meal. (Laughter.)

The friendship between our two peoples reaches back to our earliest days as sister republics. In fact, our first envoy to Buenos Aires was sent well before there was a nation called Argentina. In 1810, as Joel Poinsett was leaving to take up his post in Argentina, he was instructed by the State Department to "promote the most friendly relations" between us, and remember that all nations lie under -- and I quote -- "a common obligation to maintain that system of peace, justice and goodwill which is the only source of happiness for nations."

Mr. President, those words are still a good description of our warm, rich, friendly relations. We share aspirations old and new, to deepen democracy, to strengthen justice, to educate our children, to preserve and enhance what we have inherited from our descendants, and to give other people a chance to live as peacefully and as prosperously as possible at the dawn of this new century.

Now, there are certain disputes we will never resolve -- like which country has the better beef. (Laughter.) Or whose cooks have better mastered the ancient art of barbecue. (Laughter.) But as we approach the 200th anniversary of our official relationship, our friendship has never been stronger. We have a common enthusiasm for the future and a common parallel in our history -- two nations generously blessed; blessed by nature, blessed by hardworking immigrants eager to build a better life.

Mr. President, I know how much this legacy means to you personally. It says a great deal about Argentina that a child of Syrian immigrants would grow up to be its President. It is remarkable to consider how far you have come and how far the nation has come under your leadership in the last nine years.

Over the last decade, the world has undergone a remarkable transformation. Nowhere has it been more dramatic or complete than in the Americas, where Argentina has led by its example at home and its commitment abroad to freedom and democracy, to peace and prosperity. A great deal of the credit for South America's achievements and for its promise belongs with the man we honor this evening.

Borges once wrote a poem about our great 18th century theologian, Jonathan Edwards. It included this line: "Today is tomorrow and yesterday." Tonight, let us remember the best days of our past and plan even better days yet to come. But first, let us enjoy an unhurried dinner together.

I ask you to join me in a toast to the President and to the people of Argentina.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

PRESIDENT MENEM: Mr. President of the United States of America, my dear friend, Bill Clinton; charming Mrs. Clinton; government officials of the United States government; Argentine government officials; ladies and gentlemen. I believe this microphone was prepared for somebody that was taller than myself. (Laughter.)

I thank you very much, my friend, Mr. President, for this invitation. And I would also like to thank you for this occasion of mentioning several things that are very much related to the excellent relationship between our two countries. Tonight, apart from this dinner party, I would also have the privilege of sharing with you a moment of celebration. After 10 years of my government, we are finishing a decade of excellent relations between the United States and Argentina.

But this relationship is not the result of acts of government only, nor the result of only bonds of friendship. Of course, the bonds of friendship between the Presidents is very deep, but as deep are the bonds of friendship that bring together the people of Argentina and the people of America. And I am sure that on the basis of that friendship, we will be able to create a partnership, an association, an alliance that will prepare us even for a better future.

To show you one of the events that has marked this excellent relationship, I would like tonight to celebrate the initiative of a group of Americans that have created the Academy of Tango. And I would like also to take advantage of this moment to congratulate the chairman of this Academy, the excellent actor and now, excellent dancer, Mr. Robert Duval. (Applause.)

I thank you, my friend, Mr. President, for the fact that you have promised a long dinner and a long party so that I won't be able to go back to my country complaining as Sarmiento did. (Laughter.) Because we in Argentina are used to solving everything over a meal. It is a working breakfast, a working luncheon, a working afternoon, or a working dinner. And of course, this always takes long. And we also have tango and football -- or soccer, as it is called here in the United States.

Mr. President, I would like publicly to show you my full solidarity at this time. And I say this from the bottom of my heart and based on my inner-most feelings. I hope that the American citizens will come to recognize that they are not the only ones who need you still here and your leadership. (Applause.) Your leadership is needed, Mr. President, all over the world.

I want you to know that I feel proud of the fact that I have brought Argentina again to a position that is important in the world. And before closing, I would like to propose a toast for the President of the United States of America, for the American people; of course, as well, for the republic of Argentina and the people of Argentina.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

END 8:50 P.M. EST