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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 23, 1999
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                      AND SECRETARY GENERAL SOLANA
                         IN EXCHANGE OF TOASTS
                             The East Room

8:30 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House and, again let me say, welcome to Washington and to the NATO Summit.

Some of you know that I am quite a fan of music. And I found a little-known bit of history related to the founding of NATO 50 years ago. When the original North Atlantic Treaty was signed, the United States Marine Band, which was in the auditorium playing for us today, was in the auditorium then, playing a group of songs from George Gershwin's famous opera, Porgy and Bess. The two songs they played were, "I Got Plenty of Nothing," and "It Ain't Necessarily So." Well, I think, after 50 years we can still appreciate Gershwin, but the songs were poorly timed, because NATO has had plenty of substance, and its word has been necessarily so.

In 1949, when we entered NATO, it signaled a radical departure in America's history, because we had been warned from the time of our first President, George Washington, against entangling alliances with other nations. But we learned the hard way, after World War I, that the warning was no longer valid in the 20th century.

In the last 50 years, all of us have become more and more involved with events beyond our borders because we have seen increasingly how they affect the lives of people within our borders; and how the values we espouse at home must be defended abroad. That is in large measure what we are trying to do in Kosovo -- to protect the innocent families, the children, and to stand for the values that we have stood for as an organization for 50 years now.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to our founders, to the generation of people after the second world war who constructed a world of freedom that stood against tyranny and eventually helped to end the Cold War. We can best pay that debt by standing up for those values today, including meeting our responsibilities to the children and the future of Southeastern Europe in the terrible suffering of Kosovo.

Mr. Secretary General, I want to say a special word of thanks to you for your steadfast leadership, for your continuing reminder to all of us that we must both do our duty and stay together as we do it. Tomorrow we will focus on Kosovo again, but we will also look to the larger issues of the 21st century. Again, I compliment you on your leadership and I thank all of our colleagues for their input.

We will look back on this summit, I think, and say, well, it wasn't one of those traditional meetings, where we got to have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs because we were so gravely concerned with the suffering of the people in the Balkans. But it was a profoundly important one because it reminded us of why we got started, what we have to do tomorrow, and what it is that gives our alliance meaning in this present day.

I'd like to ask all of you to join me in a toast to Secretary General and Mrs. Solana, and to NATO and its future. Thank you.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

Mr. Secretary General.

SECRETARY GENERAL SOLANA: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, dear friends. I don't have much to say after a long day of long speeches, full of meaning. But I would like to say at least three things, which are related to one word. The word is, thank you.

Thank you to you, Mr. President, for your hospitality, for your leadership, for your contribution to maintain this Alliance with all the movement and all the energy that it has. Probably without your commitment from the very beginning, Mr. President, the situation, the involvement that we all together have gone into Kosovo would have been much more difficult.

The second word of thanks is to all of you -- to the leaders of the different countries of the Alliance that have decided to go together not only to proclaim principles, but to defend principles. We have proclaimed principles on many, many occasions; now we're going beyond that -- proclaiming the principles and defending the principles.

And the third word of thank you has to be to the men and women in uniform, that some of them at this very time will be defending freedom, defending values, as we are having here this dinner. Let's remember them.

Mr. President, let me say a word about tomorrow. Tomorrow we are going to debate not only Kosovo, but also the future. And I would like to say a word from the bottom of my heart about how this organization has evolved, has adapted. As many of you know, I do not come from the world of diplomacy. In my previous incarnation I was a professor of -- physics, and I know very well that motion is a relative concept. You move in relation to something. And that which is true for natural sciences is also true for history, I think.

An organization has to move according to the time; it has to move faster than the backdrop. And let's suppose the backdrop is history. When history moves very fast, as has taken place in these years, the organization, if we want to be relevant, they have to move faster than history. Faster than the backdrop if they want to be relevant to the future.

I'd like to say that all of you have made this organization to adapt at the rhythm that probably none of the organizations that were born after the second World War have done. And that's why we are involved now in this conflict -- defending values, defending values. And we are going to prevail, because we have been prepared from the very beginning to take decisions rapidly, to adapt rapidly to the new circumstances.

To all of you who are the leaders of this Alliance, who have taken the responsibility, thank you very, very much -- on behalf, not only of your people, but on behalf of the people collectively considered of all the Alliance.

Thank you very much. I think we are going to live difficult moments, but we are going to win. No question about that. Good leaders like you, people like you -- there's no question that we will prevail. And the values that we're going to defend will be defended, and never again in the territory in Europe will something happen like the things that are happening now.

Mr. President, thank you very much. Let me ask you please to accompany me on a toast to all of you, the leaders of this Alliance. (Applause.)

END 8:40 P.M. EDT