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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 3, 1999
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                         IN EXCHANGE OF TOASTS


9:05 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, Prime Minister and Mrs. Obuchi, members of the Japanese delegation, and all our distinguished guests. It's a great pleasure for Hillary and for me to return the hospitality that the Prime Minister extended to me when I visited Japan last November.

In 1963, as a high school student, I first came to this house. There I heard President Kennedy challenge a group of us to make the world a better place. A year earlier, a young Japanese graduate student walked straight into the office of Attorney General Robert Kennedy and asked for a meeting. He left a letter, saying he was deeply impressed by a speech Kennedy had given at Waseda University.

Keizo Obuchi apparently made his own impression, because a week later he got his meeting with Robert Kennedy. He has said often since then that that meeting helped kindle within him a desire for public service. I understand, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Attorney General's graciousness also impressed you. We see it today reflected in your own decency and generosity.

I treasure the Bonsai tree you gave me last year, a tree you tended yourself. I was honored when you presented me with sake that came from His Majesty the Emperor. And you were kind enough to write this warning: Be careful, because overall, sake will result in dancing and singing. (Laughter.)

Well, many people were dancing and singing with or without sake, when this year the young Japanese filmmaker, Keiko Ibi, won and Academy Award for her film on the lives of elderly New Yorkers. Her acceptance speech pointed to the possibilities for understanding and friendship between people of different cultures.

That spirit is more important than ever today, as the world community works to end the ethnic and religious cleansing in Kosovo. I am grateful to Japan for supporting NATO's efforts, and for its aid to refugees in frontline states -- part of Japan's broader commitment to relieve human suffering and support peace and freedom around the world. You have helped survivors of Central America's hurricanes; supported the peace process in the Middle East; promoted democracy in Indonesia and stability on the Korean Peninsula; ratifying the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; fighting deadly disease in Africa; protecting endangered forests and oceans. Japan truly is a world leader for all that is best in humanity.

The whole world looks to Japan -- and to you, Mr. Prime Minister -- for that kind of leadership. And we are pulling for you and working with you for economic policies to lift the lives of Japan's citizens, as well as the people in your region.

We share the same dreams for a better future. We are united in an alliance of fundamental importance to peace and freedom. As I said to you in Tokyo, all is possible when our countries join hands.

I ask all of you to join me in a toast to the Prime Minister, to Mrs. Obuchi, and to the people of Japan.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER OBUCHI: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Japanese delegation, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to you for hosting such a wonderful dinner this evening.

Before coming to this dinner, I went to Arlington National Cemetery to pay my respect to the unknown soldiers. I offered a most sincere and pious prayer to the souls of noble Americans who made ultimate sacrifice for their country. I also paid my respect to the late President John F. Kennedy, bowing at his grave site, and to late Attorney General Robert Kennedy, presenting a wreath of flowers at his grave.

The late Robert Kennedy graciously granted me a brief meeting, although I was a student then, when I visited the United States in July 1963 -- an occasion which had major impact on my launching a political career, myself. Mr. President, I understand that your meeting with President John F. Kennedy, also when you were a student, determined the subsequent course of your life and career. I can only wonder at the inexplicable manner in which the destiny plays out itself. Our encounters with the Kennedy brothers have drawn us together in our present responsibilities. And I'm very happy to see Mrs. Robert Kennedy at my table, and I'm just very glad to see her here tonight. (Applause.)

It is significant that this official visit to the United States, the first by a Japanese Prime Minister in 12 years, comes as we approach the year 2000, marking the beginning of a major new era. We are deeply moved by the extremely warm welcome we have received from President and Mrs. Clinton, and from the government and people of the United States.

Before coming to Washington, D.C., we visited Los Angeles and Chicago, and received a wonderful welcome from the people there. For this, I would like to once again express my deepest gratitude.

My visit to the United States has been a tremendous success. The only and most serious concern of my delegation and myself was whether my ceremonial first pitch at the Chicago Cubs game would reach home plate. (Laughter.) My ball was nailed into Sammy Sosa's mitt, without hitting the ground. (Laughter.) It was a nice pitch that even a home run slugger cannot hit. (Laughter and applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, this is in fact the second time I have been invited to attend a dinner at the White House. In May 1979, I was invited by President Carter as head of Diet members accompanying then-Prime Minister Ohira on his visit to the United States. That evening, sitting together with the actor Peter Falk at one of the round tables on the second floor balcony, I dreamed that one day I might be invited to a White House dinner as the guest of honor.

Now I can only thank God for turning this dream into a reality 20 years later, and of course, I sincerely appreciate President Clinton's gracious invitation. (Applause.)

Tonight some of the members of the Japanese Diet who are regularly competing in good rivalry with each other are also kindly invited. Some of them, I think, should be expecting to be invited to the White House as a guest of honor. (Laughter and applause.)

The first time I visited Washington was in July, 1963, some 36 years ago. Since I was then a student with little money, I stayed at the cheapest place in Washington, the YMCA -- (laughter) -- at $1.50 per night. (Laughter.)

Well, this time, no chance. (Laughter and applause.) This time, however, I am staying at a place more luxurious than any hotel in Washington -- the President's guest house, Blair House, where you cannot actually invite yourself, even how much money you pay, you have to actually be invited. (Laughter). I am very grateful to your heartfelt considerations, Mr. President.

Mr. President, ever since the appearance of the four American black ships off the coast of Uraga, Japan, in 1853, Japan-U.S. relations have seen sunny, cloudy and some stormy days. Our predecessors have enhanced the friendship and cooperation between our two countries for the last 140 years, respecting differences in our history, culture and language. I can say with utmost confidence that, due to these great efforts, our bilateral relationship is in the best shape ever.

It is, of course, important what Japan and the United States expect from each other. But I believe that there is now a growing need for our two countries to jointly pursue what we can achieve for the world by collaborating with each other as close partners who share the same fundamental values of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.

During this visit, I have presented the President with a work of art which depicts Mount Fuji. It was painted by my old friend, artist Horin Fukuoji. The reason I selected Mount Fuji is that the two Japanese kanji for Fuji convey the meaning economic wealth and spiritual morality. In this way, Mount Fuji aptly represents my vision of Japan, which is a nation of wealth and virtue. Through this work of art, I wanted to convey to President Clinton both my deep respect for the United States, which leads the world both in wealth and morality, as well as my firm determination to bring a Japan worthy of Mount Fuji.

Attending today's dinner is Dr. Chiaki Mukai, who flew on the space shuttle Discovery with American astronauts last year as part of Japan-U.S. cooperation in space exploration. (Applause.) In a competition to complete the second half of a traditional Japanese poem, tanka, composed by Dr. Mukai, which reads, "turn space somersaults / as many as you like / that is weightlessness," an amazing response of over 140,000 entries were received.

One of these, which was written by the President, reads, "all is possible when our countries join hands." This wonderful statement truly evokes the spirit of Japan-U.S. cooperation, and my wife has made it into Japanese calligraphy, which was presented earlier to the President.

Mr. President, I have attempted to follow your example by composing my own line: "let us work together toward an affluent globe."

Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, in closing, I would like to propose a toast to the health of President and Mrs. Clinton, to the continued prosperity of the United States, and to the further enhancement of the Japan-U.S. partnership well into the 21st century.


(A toast is offered.)

PRIME MINISTER OBUCHI: Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 9:25 P.M. EDT