THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT, REPRESENTATIVE JOHN KASICH, REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI AND ARCHBISHIOP THEODORE McCARRICK IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY AT HIPC DEBT RELIEF MEETING Cabinet Room
3:40 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Just before you all came in, I looked around this table and I said, I imagine this is the most amazing group of Americans who has gathered together here in this room since Theodore Roosevelt inaugurated it in 1902. And I thank them all for coming. I think it shows you the depth and breadth of commitment of congressional, religious and civic leaders to convince Congress to appropriate the entire $435 million that we pledged in debt relief to the world's poorest countries, and to authorize the International Monetary Fund to do its share, as well.
It's not often we have a chance to do something that economists tell us is the financial imperative, and religious leaders say is a moral imperative. It's not often that we find an issue that puts John Kasich and Maxine Waters on the same side, economists and evangelicals in the same room. All of us feel a common obligation to do the right thing.
In the most indebted countries, one in ten children dies before his or her first birthday; one in three is malnourished; the average adult has only three years of schooling. This is a terrible omen for our shared future on this planet, and it is wrong.
More than a year ago, religious leaders organized a very successful global campaign for debt relief. It touched many of us here today and generated strong bipartisan support in the Congress. The United States developed a plan with other creditor nations to triple debt relief available to the world's poorest nations, provided they agreed to put the savings from debt payments into health and education. Here are the results so far.
Last year, Bolivia saved $77 million and spent it on health and education. Uganda used its savings to double its primary school enrollment. Honduras now intends to offer every child nine years of schooling, instead of six. Mozambique is buying much needed medicines for government clinics, especially important there in light of the terrible floods they experienced.
Now, other nations are watching to see if the United States will do its part. If we don't, it's possible that some nations will do all the work that we should have done to qualify, or that they needed to do to qualify, but they won't get any relief at all.
Now, let me remind you, we are talking here about one-five-thousandth of our budget to lift the burden of debt around the world for years to come. We're talking about giving as many as 33 nations a chance for a new beginning, and about doing good works that our different faiths demand of us. This is a remarkable opportunity that we must seize now. And we must not let other issues divert us from it.
Again, I'm profoundly grateful to all of you for coming and to you, especially, Representative Kasich, for making sure that this is a broad bipartisan group. So I'd like to open the floor to you to say a few words.
REPRESENTATIVE KASICH: Thank you, Mr. President. You know, I've been involved in a lot of coalitions in the 18 years I've been here, but it has almost always been to fight against a common enemy. That seemed to be what united Republicans and Democrats and liberals and conservatives.
But, now, this is a coalition that is really designed to advance a wonderful common good, which is to take some of the bounty of the United States in the 21st century and say we've got to share it with some other people. You know, we just got done with the Olympics and we could tell that, when we won so many medals, we had to work extra hard to not build resentment in the minds of people in other parts of the world.
Now, with the economic and the military and political dominance we have, I think it's essential for the United States to share its bounty and open its heart to people who are the poorest of the poor. And, as you say, it is not a lot of money for us to have a very big impact in the world.
I want to thank Bono, who, basically, I called over there on Friday and told him it was Paul McCartney -- (laughter) -- and he took the call anyway. And Bono flew from Ireland to be here; he got to New York last night. He has been, without question, the most dedicated and driving force behind this whole initiative, from day one.
And I also want to thank Pat Robertson, who came here, who changed everything that he had. I called him on Friday and said I thought it was important that he be here with everyone else. And I want to thank my colleagues. And Maxine did a great job in the House advancing the issue. But, Mr. President, this man right here, Gene Sperling, has been unrelenting in his efforts to try to secure this.
So I hope we can get it done. And if we do, we will have made a meaningful contribution in this 21st century to the rest of the world.
THE PRESIDENT: Nancy.
REPRESENTATIVE PELOSI: Thank you very much, Mr. President. First, I want to thank you and commend the Clinton administration: Secretary Summers, Gene Sperling, also, for your leadership and your determination to make this happen. I'm pleased to work with Mr. Kasich, our chairman, Mr. Leach, and so many in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion. And it's also bilateral, I mean, many other countries -- multilateral -- many other countries of the world are participating.
We have a golden opportunity -- pun intended -- now to show the greatness of our country by being philanthropic, but in our own interest.
I have a special responsibility, Mr. Chairman, because, as the ranking on foreign operations, I have to fight this fight in our committee; Senator Leahy leads the charge. But, actually, we're hoping to have bipartisan agreement on this. But in my caucus we're blessed with a strong congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Asian Pacific American Caucus, members of Congress in a bipartisan way who understand the cultures, the needs, the possibilities of the southern hemisphere and other areas in the third world, who know how essential this money is. And it's not a great deal of money, as you said.
We had a three year plan; we're in the second year. How wonderful in this year of Jubilee, the year 2000, if we could finish it off.
I want to just mention Barney Frank, because he's representing some of us in Philadelphia on hate crimes, the event in Philadelphia, but he and Maxine has been mentioned, have been just great working in a bipartisan fashion on this issue.
We cannot fail. We cannot have the poorest people in the world held hostage to any deliberations that we have here that may have barriers for other reasons. We're almost there; we're not there on the money yet. We're trying to get rid of some of the onerous conditions. We are trying to have a compromise, so that whatever we decide on, with its strong bipartisan agreement will stand for a long time to come and we will understand what our responsibilities are as a great country.
And, again, I want to commend you, Mr. President, and your administration for your leadership on this. It is the Gospel of Matthew, but it's Old and New Testament, it's every faith. Cardinal law has been active in this, almost as much as Bono. Bono has been a hero in all of this, and he's made us heroes to our families with his wonderful knowledge of this issue.
So, again, thank you, Mr. President, and I thank my colleagues. And most of all, thank the religious community for stepping up on this, because you have made all the difference in the world. Thank you.
ARCHBISHOP McCARRICK: Mr. President, on a day when all of us in government and in religion are pained and troubled about violence in the Holy Land and so many other places in the world, our thoughts turn now to another kind of violence -- the endemic violence against human dignity that is caused by oppressive poverty. We believe that this violence can be alleviated in the poorest countries of the world through debt relief, and generous debt relief.
We're deeply grateful to you, Mr. President, for your unwavering commitment to this goal. And we're grateful also to the members of Congress, notably through many -- through the leadership of many who are present here today from both Houses and from both sides of the aisle, who have helped to fashion legislation which seeks to accomplish what would fittingly be one of the great achievements in the Jubilee Year of this new millennium.
You already know how united and dedicated the religious leadership of our country has been in support of this effort. We believe it's the right thing to do, and we believe that this is the right time to do it. We in the Catholic community have been inspired by the leadership of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who has eloquently and repeatedly called for urgent action to relieve the heavy burden of debt which is afflicting so many of the poorest nations in the world.
The religious leaders present representing different faith communities join in a common call to this great nation of ours to play a leading role in making a difference today in raising the burden of poverty from our brothers and sisters in countries around the world and giving them new hope and a new beginning.
Mr. President, you called attention to the specifics and, of course, we were pleased this summer when the House, with significant bipartisan support, voted $225 million for poor country debt relief. Nevertheless, as you mentioned, this falls significantly short of the $435 million required of the United States to meet its fair share of the debt relief program which was approved in Cologne, at the G-8 meeting, the G-8 summit.
We ask Congress also to authorize the IMF to use all the earnings from the investment of gold sale profits for debt relief. Otherwise, we're told, the IMF will fall short of the funds for making the debt relief commitments. It appears, however, that this authorization may be held up over issues concerning reform of the IMF. Of course, I understand the desire for further IMF reform, but I would urge that this issue be de-linked from debt relief funding. It would be tragic if the effort to resolve complex issues about the role and policies of the IMF became a cause for delay in granting debt relief to the poorest of the poor.
We urge the Congress and the administration to continue to work together in these coming days to achieve full funding for debt relief. It's our fervent prayer that a few years from now we'll be able to look back at this Jubilee Year and say that the United States made it a year of hope for millions of poor people throughout the world. So I thank you, Mr. President.
Q Thank you. I'd just like to make one more point that I think none of us made, but it's worth making. And, again, I want to say this is an amazing group. Rabbi, we thank you for coming. Reverend Robertson and all the members of Congress. Bono, thanks for coming back from Ireland.
There is another point that should be made here. Some of the people who have not supported us have said, well, so many countries have problems of their own making, they've got to solve their own problems. The unique thing about this debt relief initiative is that the money has to go to meet the human needs of the people. It cannot go to pad the government, it cannot go to pad private pockets, it cannot go to build military arsenals. It can only go to meet long-term human needs.
So that if we can do this, one of the best long-term benefits will be we will be providing a breathtaking incentive for good governance in these countries, which will enable them to do things for their own people that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. So that's another reason that I am profoundly grateful to all of you for this.
Now, we'll take a couple of questions and we've got to --
Q Mr. President, two questions. First, over the weekend, did you personally see the videotape of the 12 year old Palestinian boy who was shot over the weekend and have you got a reaction to it? And, secondly, sir, what assurances have you received in the last 24 hours from either Prime Minister Barak or Chairman Arafat that they are doing all that they can to bring a cessation to the violence?
THE PRESIDENT: The answer to your first question is, I did see it.
Q Your reaction, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: The first time I saw it I didn't know what the result was, and I kept wondering if there was something else that the father could do to shield the child. I mean, I was literally watching as if it were someone I knew. It was a heartbreaking thing to see a child like that caught in the cross fire.
I've talked to Chairman Arafat. I've talked to Prime Minister Barak. We've had virtually constant contact with them. I am convinced that they must do everything in their power to stop the violence and I think they are now trying. And we're going to do everything we can. We have -- as you know from the statement I put out yesterday, we've offered some ideas and we've been working on this all day. So we'll just have to see if we make some more progress tomorrow morning over there. I think it will be better tomorrow. I hope it will.
Q On the debt relief issue, the hold-up seems to be Senators Gramm and McConnell. What can you offer them to get this moving?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know what else we can offer them but the evidence. I think if we just keep working at it, we might get there. We have such a good, broad bipartisan group here that I think in the end that we'll be able to work it out with them. And we're certainly working on it.
Q Mr. President, in your talks with the Israelis and Palestinians, do you get the impression that the recent violence is helping them move along towards wanting to reach an agreement? Or is it hurting things?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, in the short run it's hurting them, because they can't do anything on the peace process until people stop dying, and the violence stops. But when the smoke clears here, it might actually be a spur to both sides as a sober reminder to what the alternative to peace could be. So we have to hope and pray that will be the result.
Thank you all very much.
END 3:55 P.M. EDT