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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 22, 2000
                      REMARKS BY PRESIDENT CLINTON
                        IN AN EXCHANGE OF TOASTS

                         The State Dining Room

9:40 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Good evening. Welcome to the White House. And let me say a special word of welcome to President and Mrs. Mbeki, and the South African delegation.

In 1966, Robert Kennedy began a famous speech to the students at Cape Town by describing his deep interest in a land settled by the Dutch in the mid 17th century, then taken over by the British before finally becoming independent; a land with complicated and cruel racial problems dating back centuries; a land of untamed frontiers alongside a proud history of entrepreneurial achievement. He said, "I refer, of course, to the United States of America." (Laughter.)

Obviously, in 1966, and in 2000, a great deal unites South Africa and the United States. We share a fundamental sense, dating back to our earliest struggles, continuing through our most recent ones that nationhood is more than an inheritance, it is a living gift to be protected, defended, and redefined every day.

Few nations have worked harder at nationhood or achieved more impressive results than South Africa. Few leaders have given more of themselves to the struggle than Thabo Mbeki. His mother says that even when he was a small child he used to get terribly excited whenever news broadcasts came over the radio If only we could replicate that today. (Laughter.)

When his father was in prison, alongside Nelson Mandela, in the early 1960s, Thabo Mbeki carried on the struggle from England. At the tender age of 21, he delivered a powerful appeal for his father's life in which he mentioned, as an aside, the fact that his father's birthday was the 4th of July, 1910. Even though the United States was not exactly supporting the ANC in 1964, he saw that day, nevertheless, as a symbol of freedom and all the more reason his father should not lose his life for affirming the simple truth that all people are created equal.

Fortunately, Thabo Mbeki won that campaign, as he has won so many since. And South Africa's resurgence has given the entire world something to feel proud of. Today, we talk about how best to deliver on its promise; how to deepen the friendship between our nations.

I have already thanked President Mbeki for his strong support for peacekeeping, and his ongoing leadership throughout the continent. I pledged to him that we would work harder to hasten the return of peace in troubled parts of Africa, and that we would do more to build the prosperity needed to make conflict and disease less likely.

So many people who are here tonight, Mr. President, Mrs. Mbeki, contributed to the landmark legislation I signed last week to expand our trade with Africa and the Caribbean. Now we need to keep the momentum going -- to support the Africans who are working and fighting for peace; to relieve the debt of the poorest nations, so they can devote their resources to basic human needs; to find cures and treatments and preventive strategies for the diseases ravaging the continent.

With echoes of John Donne, President Mbeki once said we have to address the problems of other peoples, because "each one of us is a particle of the complete whole." A South African poet, Mongane Wally Sarote, recently wrote a poem entitled, "Come Hope With Me." As you might imagine, I sort of liked it. (Laughter.) In the poem, he urges people never to forget, "life is a promise, and that promise is us."

Tonight, I ask you to join me in a toast to President and Mrs. Mbeki, to the people of South Africa, and the promise of South Africa -- the promise that will always join our two peoples.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

Mr. President? (Applause.)

PRESIDENT MBEKI: Mr. President and Mrs. Clinton; Vice President and Mrs. Gore; and friends. It is always a great pleasure for us to visit the United States, because we know that here we have millions of friends, such as those present here today who wish us well and are always prepared to share our failures and our successes with us.

Let me take this opportunity, Mr. President, to express our gratitude and appreciation to yourself, to the rest of the leadership of the United States government, and indeed, to everybody here, to the American people at large, for the very, very warm reception and welcome with which we've been received since we arrived yesterday. I would not say, Mr. President, that we were surprised, but nevertheless, it's still very pleasant. Thank you very much.

The friendship between our countries, Mr. President, as you know -- and thanks a great deal to what you and the Vice President have been doing -- that friendship is getting closer and closer all the time. It surely must be informed also by the fact that we are -- our societies are based on some fundamental principles of democracy, of nonracialism, of nonsexism, of respect for human rights, and that these things, even though we've still got to continue struggles for the full realization of those principles, that those things define us as belonging on one side.

We are very, very pleased, Mr. President, that as we carry out our own efforts, we have such strong support as we have from yourself and from the people of this country.

I followed a lot of your remarks, Mr. President, as you've raised questions about poverty and deprivation and disease around the world, as spoken against war, against conflict, and the need to find peaceful resolutions to these various questions. You may remember that when you spoke at the General Assembly last year, after you had spoken we met, and I said I was very, very moved by the comments you made, where you were clearly saying that the levels of poverty and suffering around the world were unacceptable and something needed to be done about that.

And in that context, Mr. President, I must also express our appreciation for the increased focus on Africa that you have paid -- and I think that's provided a good lead, generally, for this country. It is certainly inspiring to us as Africans. And you have mentioned the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, and we're very pleased, indeed, that that has been signed.

There are many things that have to be done to make sure that its principles, Mr. President, of which I've been speaking, spread elsewhere -- because I think, indeed, where somebody else suffers, I think all of us are diminished and, therefore, cannot -- cannot -- stand aside.

As you walk the last mile of your presidency, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and the rest of your family good health. And I'd like to thank you, Mr. President, both you and Mrs. Clinton, personally, and on behalf of all our people, for the sincerity of the friendship for our people that you have shown during your term of office. And I'm quite certain that the relations between our two peoples have grown significantly during your term of office, certainly to our benefit.

I would, therefore, like to propose a toast to President and Mrs. Clinton, and to the strengthening of the ties of friendship that bind our two countries and peoples.

To the President, and to our friendship.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

END 9:50 P.M. EDT