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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 23, 2000
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                        AT ARRIVAL CEREMONY FOR

                             The South Lawn

10:22 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Your Majesties, members of the Spanish delegation, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the people of the United States, I am delighted to welcome the King and Queen of Spain back to America.

A quarter century ago, the very first trip King Juan Carlos made overseas after his proclamation as King was to the United States. Your Majesty, we are honored that you have decided to celebrate the anniversary of that journey and the friendship between our nations by making America your first stop overseas in the new century.

In the life of every democracy there are defining moments that stand above the rest -- Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg; Lech Walesa raising a fist in a Polish shipyard; students standing with sledgehammers atop the Berlin Wall; Nelson Mandela taking the oath of office as President of South Africa. Nineteen years ago, on this very day, Spain had one of those moments. In the early evening hours of February 23, 1981, 200 armed militia in Madrid stormed the Parliament in a coup. They fired automatic weapons. They took every major elected figure in Spain hostage. Many feared Spain's two-year-old experiment with democracy was over.

But when angry generals urged King Juan Carlos to join their rebellion, he replied defiantly, "Your coup will succeed over my dead body." He rallied the people of Spain. He appealed to the military sense of honor. He stood strong, and less than 24 hours after it began, the coup was over.

Freedom was secure in Spain. And less than a decade later, when freedom was reborn in Eastern Europe, the newest democracies could look to Spain as their example. When the task of building an undivided, democratic, peaceful Europe is completed, all friends of freedom will owe a very great debt to King Juan Carlos.

Your Majesty, for more than five centuries now, our two nations have been united by a common history. Today, we also are united by common values and common responsibilities. In Kosovo, Spanish pilots, soldiers and police have performed with great bravery, and in April a Spanish commander will assume the command of KFOR. In Latin America we have stood together, supporting hurricane victims in Honduras and Guatemala, and flood victims in Venezuela, promoting a better life for the people of Colombia; advancing the cause of human rights in Cuba.

Your Majesty, on this lawn almost a quarter-century ago, you said that your greatest wish then was that your visit -- and I quote -- "would contribute to reinforcing the bonds of friendship between us, for the good of our two countries and all those who aspire to attain the same ideals of faith, freedom and justice." Your Majesty, your visit then, and all your work since, have strengthened our bonds of friendship. As you continue to lead your nation, and to stand against the forces of terror and the enemies of peace and freedom, may your words be our hope and our guide as we walk together in this new century.

Again, we thank you for the honor of your visit, and we welcome you warmly -- your friends in the United States. (Applause.)

KING JUAN CARLOS: Mr. President, allow me in this, my first public statement on American soil, to express my shock and utmost rejection, which is shared by all Spaniards, for the murder yesterday by the terrorist organization of the spokesman of the Socialist Party in the Basque Parliament, and a member of his escort.

This new and heinous crime clearly shows an absolute contempt for human rights, and for the most precious of them all -- the right to live -- by those who try to impose their totalitarian ideas by force, and to combat freedom, peace, liberty and the peaceful coexistence and democracy of the Basque people and of all the people of Spain.

Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to thank you for your warm welcome, and to underscore how deeply satisfied the Queen and I are to be back again in the United States, a country we know well and greatly admire.

I first visited this country as King of Spain nearly 24 years ago. Then, the circumstances were very different from today, and I had the opportunity to announce the ambitious projects of reform, and the major political, economic and social changes Spain was about to undergo. Then, as today, and on the numerous occasions on which I've had the opportunity to visit this great country, I experienced the warm hospitality that characterizes the American people, and the cordial relationship that the passage of time has only enriched and enhanced.

Many changes have taken place over these past years. Spain has been transformed into an economically and socially advanced country, deeply integrated in Europe, with an increasingly prominent role in international affairs, and willing to take on increasing responsibilities in this sphere.

For its part, the United States has unquestionably become the world's number one political, economic, and military power. And under your leadership, Mr. President, it has in recent years enjoyed a period of unprecedented prosperity.

The world as we knew it then has disappeared and, although we no longer live under the shadow of the Cold War, new challenges have emerged that require urgent solutions. These solutions will be much more complete and effective if we Europeans and Americans undertake to seek them jointly. This is why Spain considers that relations between Europe and the United States of America are of vital importance.

As members of the European Union, we fully support and contribute in shaping the transatlantic dialogue, as it is called, firmly convinced that we Europeans and Americans must coordinate our action in order to address the global problems that affect us. As full members of the Atlantic Alliance, we form part of the defense and security system that seeks to guarantee peace and stability in its geographical area, and preserve the indispensable transatlantic security link.

Our bilateral relations have been built upon all these elements and thrive on our common history and shared values and interests. These relations are reinforced when we jointly try to respond to the major challenges we face, and to the extraordinary opportunities that lie ahead in this global world of the 21st century. The possibilities of collaboration are almost endless in areas such as culture, education, scientific and technological research, industry and trade.

Mr. President, looking at our flags flying here reminds me of the fact that over the course of the 487 years that have elapsed since Ponce de Leon first sighted the coast of Florida, the Spanish flag has been flown in different states, for varying lengths of time, for over three centuries. The influence of this Spanish presence can be seen in many parts of this country. This is a fact that fills us with deep satisfaction and pride, and should be known and recognized. We should also remember that Spain and the United States were together when this great nation came into being.

Today, at the dawn of the second millennium, our two countries must continue together in order to promote the values of justice, democracy and freedom throughout the world, as well as the economic, cultural, scientific and technological advances obtained.

The Spanish Renaissance philosopher, Luis Vives, once said, "no riches are as sure as a sure friend." We will continue our efforts to ensure that the deep friendship between Spain and the United States continues to develop and grow stronger, because in so doing we will also be contributing to the well-being and prosperity of our two nations. (Applause.)

END 10:45 A.M. EST