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National Press Club, October 30, 1998

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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 30, 1998


OCTOBER 30, 1998

Thank you for having me here.

It is in the nature of your job as journalists that you must spend much of your time pursuing the story of the day. Something similar happens at the National Security Council -- a crisis of the day, sometimes two or three crises of the day. But I know you also have a sense of what you want to accomplish with your journalism over the long term. Similarly, the foreign policy strategy of this President and his Administration is guided by a vision of the world we seek to build. We are determined not to let what is urgent crowd out what is important for the long-term security and prosperity of the American people.

Before I take your questions, let me talk about some of the events of the past few months and how our actions relate to our long-term goals. I want to focus on five areas: Europe, the Middle East, Asia, terrorism and the global financial situation.

First, Europe and, in particular Kosovo. In early 1994, President Clinton set out a bold vision of a continent democratic, undivided and at peace for the first time in history. When you consider the terrible carnage there in this century, and the dangerous Cold War stand-off we had less than a decade ago, it is remarkable how close we are to that vision today. Working hard with our European friends, the United States has led the way in expanding NATO and adapting the Alliance to a changed Europe. Our efforts have helped consolidate the gains of freedom, strengthen the NATO alliance itself, and make Europe more stable. And we have supported those in Russia who want to stay on the path of economic reform, democracy, and partnership with the West, even in the hardest times.

Others have pursued a very different agenda, men like Slobodan Milosevic, who have exploited divisions, repressed basic freedoms, and threatened stability in the Balkans. In Bosnia, we responded by brokering a peace agreement and creating the conditions for democracy. Now in Kosovo -- using aggressive diplomacy, firmly backed by NATO force -- we have created an opportunity to build a just and durable peace.

As the President said this week, there is hard road ahead. We cannot tolerate backsliding. But NATO's resolve has compelled Milosevic into very substantial compliance with the demands of the international community. Serb police and military units that were sent to Kosovo to repress ethnic Albanians have been pulled out. Tens of thousands of Kosovars, who just weeks ago faced the mortal peril of a winter without shelter, are returning home, aided by an influx of international relief workers.

Milosevic's efforts completely backfired. He sought to close the door to the aspirations of the Kosovar people; instead his actions opened the door to internationalize the Kosovo issue. Now the eyes of the world are not only on Kosovo, but in Kosovo, with thousands of civilian verifiers on the ground and NATO in the air to watch whether Milosevic stays in compliance. NATO has retained the authority and has the forces to act if necessary. We have effectively taken away Milosevic's military option and forced him to make unilateral concessions: to permit supervised elections, to allow the Kosovars their own police force, to restore the substantial autonomy they once had. Now we have the chance for real negotiations to resolve the situation peacefully.

Second, let me talk about the Middle East. More than any place else in the world, developments in the broad region that stretches from Algeria to Afghanistan, from Turkey to the Gulf, will decide the struggle between moderation and extremism, between global community and global conflict, between terrorism and its defeat. As we work to strengthen ties with friends there, we focus on a central reality: A breakdown of the peace process strengthens hard-liners and undermines stability. President Clinton has been absolutely determined to move the peace process forward, most recently at Wye River. We are under no illusions that the breakthrough at Wye makes a final settlement easy. There will be setbacks, and likely more violence. But now there is hope and a clear path to follow.

In places from Kosovo and Bosnia, to the Middle East and Northern Ireland, to the border between Peru and Ecuador, America often can be the decisive force for peace. We cannot and should not be everywhere or do everything. But we should and we must be ready to engage where important American interests and values are at stake and we can make a difference.

Third, let me mention Asia. From the beginning, the President offered a vision of the United States looking not only West but, as a Pacific power, to the East as well. He convened the first-of annual Asia-Pacific summit meetings -- anchoring the United States with Asia and Asia with the United States.

The cornerstone of our Asia policy remains our long-standing alliance with Japan. A healthy Japan is indispensable for the stability and prosperity of Asia, indeed the world. And the role China plays will have a profound impact on the new century -- for better or for worse. The President's trip to China in June advanced vital American interests, from seeking peace in Korea to reducing weapons proliferation to promoting cleaner technologies for our environment. And the President has not hesitated to speak frankly in this exchange, to say clearly that when it comes to human rights, China remains on the wrong side of history.

Our strategy of engagement has brought results, though there is still far to go. China continues to jail dissidents, even as it has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. But China is becoming more open, not just to commerce but to ideas. And our engagement is helping to empower the Chinese people as they seek more freedom. A strategy of confrontation, by contrast, would likely push China toward isolation, undermining our hopes for greater democracy and stability across Asia.

A fourth major challenge is one that knows no borders. From the start this Administration has recognized that the same forces of integration that have helped spread freedom and prosperity -- technology, global communications, freedom of travel -- also are being exploited by the forces of disintegration: criminals and terrorists and their state supporters.

We must be unrelenting in the fight against these enemies of democracy and peace -- and we are taking the necessary steps: better intelligence; stronger cooperation with others to find terrorists to bring them justice; better security; and, when appropriate, military action to damage terrorist infrastructures and their confidence that they can act with impunity.

The final issue I want to address now looms over everything else we do: The global financial crisis -- a crisis that threatens to crush the achievements of nations that have struggled to escape from poverty and authoritarianism.

Here, too, we have been pursuing a long-term strategy -- for shaping the world economy and our role in it. Over the past five years, we have reshaped the global trading system, creating growth and jobs by breaking down barriers to trade and investment to an unprecedented degree. One third of our new jobs since 1993 has come from expanding trade with other countries.

Now we face a global financial crisis and the United States again is taking the lead: focusing on the need to spur growth ... to provide a safety net for those suffering most ... to replenish the IMF so we can stop the contagion and restore confidence. And the President has launched a pointed discussion about how to reshape the global financial architecture to address the new challenges of the fast moving and rapidly changing marketplace.

But we have also sought to address the crisis in a broader context -- the fundamental link between economic reform and political freedom. Over the past ten years, with America's strong support, nations from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to the Americas to Africa have chosen democracy over authoritarianism, market economies over command economies.

Now, many of those countries are at a crossroads, as the tide of investment that lifted their lives swiftly recedes, leaving behind shattered lives. If we fail to help new democracies now facing hard times, the pendulum may well swing back, away from freedom and toward the iron hand. Desperate people look for simple solutions. They often come from leaders more interested in power than people.

The best way out of their economic difficulties is not less freedom but more. By and large, democratic countries hit by the economic crisis, like Korea and Thailand, have fared better --because difficult solutions have more legitimacy among the public when the people proposing them are responsible, democratically-elected leaders. Such leaders can guide the people toward what is necessary: ensuring fiscal responsibility; rooting out corruption and cronyism; safeguarding a free press and the free flow of information; upholding the rule of law; providing everyone with the education and skills needed in the global economy. In sum, to help weak economies, we must foster strong democracies that can sustain support for the hard decisions required by global change.

Clearly, America faces a full agenda in the world. And there is much more to do in the year ahead. Curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and holding Saddam Hussein to his commitments. Reducing the risk of nuclear war by bringing into force START II and ratifying the nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Strengthening our partnerships in the Americas and Africa. Paying our back dues to the United Nations, as we continue to reform and strengthen that body. Securing ample resources for the diplomacy that reduces the risks of war. And maintaining our military readiness so we are always prepared to protect our interests.

We will still spend plenty of time helping to put out fires. But we will seek every day to stay true to our enduring commitments, our sustaining values, our lasting conception of a better future. America must continue to lead in the world. Because people around the world look to us for leadership. And because it is necessary for the continued peace and prosperity of the American people.

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