T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E

President Clinton and President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic Participate in Joint Press Conference

Help Site Map Text Only

The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 16, 1998


Dean Acheson Auditorium
State Department

3:13 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you very much. Please be seated.

Ladies and gentlemen, last June in Washington, I had theopportunity tospeak of a remarkable trio of leaders, each a champion of freedom, eachimprisoned by authoritarian rulers, each now, after decades of struggle,thePresident of his nation. Last June, I was hosting President Kim Dae JungofKorea. Next week, Nelson Mandela of South Africa will be here. And ofcourse,today, I am very proud to stand with President Vaclav Havel of the CzechRepublic.

In the Prague spring of 1968, a celebrated young playwright boldlycalled for an end to one-party rule before Soviet tanks crushed thepeople'shopes. Vaclav Havel's plays were banned. He lost his job, but he carriedon.

In 1977, he spearheaded the Charter 77 human rights movement, andforhis activism then he faced more than a decade of harassment, interrogation, andincarceration. Still he carried on. And in 1989, he was at the forefrontofthe Velvet Revolution that, at last, brought freedom to the Czech and totheSlovak people. There was exhilaration all around the world when he spokeasPresident on the first day of January 1990 and declared, "People, yourgovernment has returned to you."

I was proud to visit President Havel in Prague in 1994, to see thegreatenergy, creativity, joy of the Czech people unleashed. When we celebratefreedom today, we know that many challenges still lie ahead. PresidentHavelrecently put it very well. "Something is being born," he said. "One ageissucceeding another. We live in a world where everything is possible andalmostnothing is certain."

Today our meetings focused on seizing those possibilities andminimizingthose uncertainties. I'm delighted that Foreign Minister Kavan and Defense

Minister Vetchy, representatives of the new government headed by PrimeMinisterZeman, as well as Mr. Tosovsky, the Governor of the Czech National Bank,wereable to participate in our discussions.

We talked about the true partnership for security our nations haveforged; our desire to build a world with greater tolerance, greater respect forhuman rights; to build a united, democratic, peaceful Europe. We talkedaboutnext year's NATO Summit here and the Czech Republic's preparations forintegration into the NATO Alliance. I thanked President Havel forbeginning totalk with me a long time ago, even before I became President, about theimportance of the expansion of NATO and the Czech Republic's role init.

Already, Czech troops are working side by side with usin Bosnia, where we've just seen further evidence that the Bosnianpeople are on the path to lasting peace -- a free election with astrong turnout. Czech soldiers served as peacekeepers and militaryobservers in Macedonia, in Georgia, in Angola, in Mozambique andLiberia.

Today we spoke about the urgent need to bring stabilityto Kosovo to prevent suffering there, and the current tensions inAlbania. We discussed ways to strengthen our cooperation against theterrible scourge of terrorism, and I had the chance to thank thePresident for the support we got from the Czech Republic for ouractions against terrorism in the wake of the bombings of the Americanembassies in Africa.

We talked about the situation in Russia, the economiccrisis there, the new government. I underscored America's continuingsupport for Czech reforms, greater openness in economic institutionsand greater investment in their increasingly competitive economy.And I expressed our strong support for the Czech Republic's accessionto the European Union and for the fair treatment of Americanbusinesses that would be affected.

We are making progress as friends and partners. That ispossible only because of the courage President Havel and the Czechpeople have shown and continue to show today. We will continue to dothe hard work together so that our children can reap the fullbenefits of it in the new century.

Thank you for coming, Mr. President. The floor isyours.

PRESIDENT HAVEL: Mr. President, I thank you for thefloor and for these nice words. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you forcoming. With your permission, I'll try to speak in your nicelanguage.

The situation of the contemporary world is verycomplicated. We feel it especially in Europe, especially in CentralEurope, especially in Czech Republic. And I think that in thissituation it's extremely important the responsibility of the UnitedStates, as the biggest, most powerful country all around the world,and I'm extremely grateful or thankful to Mr. President and hisleadership because it was in his time that we received the chance tobuild a new Europe, and to build a new Europe it means to build thenew world, peaceful world, because in modern time, as you know,Europe was the main exporter of world wars, and now it has acompletely different chance. And it was during his leadership whenthese chances were open, with support of your big country.

I would like to thank for all this to your President andto thank to all your nation. Thank you. (Applause.)

Q Mr. President, what can the U.S. and NATO do tostop the killing in Kosovo? And what do you say to people who havesaid that you have lost all the moral authority to lead this nationor to conduct foreign affairs?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let me answer the second questionfirst, and then I will talk about Kosovo, because it's veryimportant.

I have never stopped leading this country in foreignaffairs in this entire year, and I never will. The issues are tooimportant and they affect the way Americans live at home.

Just in the last several days, of course, we have takenaction against those who killed our people and killed the Kenyans andTanzanians. We have -- I and my administration have been working forpeace in Northern Ireland, for stability in Russia. I have beenpersonally involved in the peace process in the Middle East again, asit reaches another critical phase. I gave a speech Monday, which Ithink is about the most important subject now facing the worldcommunity, how to limit this financial crisis, keep it fromspreading, how to develop long-term institutions that will help topromote growth and opportunity for ordinary people around the worldin a way that permits America's economic recovery to go on.

After that, my suggestions were embraced by the leaders,the financial leaders of the largest industrial countries in theworld. Yesterday, as it happens, I got calls from the Presidents ofMexico, Brazil, and the Prime Minister of Canada, all thanking me forwhat I said on Monday and saying they wanted to be a part of it.

So I feel very good about where I am in relation to therest of the world. I had a good talk with President Chirac ofFrance, who called me a couple of days ago to talk about some of ourcommon concerns, and the U.N. inspection system in Iraq and otherthings. So I feel good about that.

Now, on Kosovo, the American people should know that wehave looming there, right next door to Bosnia, a significanthumanitarian problem. There are many, many tens of thousands ofpeople who have been dislocated from their homes. But somewherebetween 50,000 and 100,000 -- it's hard for us to know for sure --are above -- now I want to say above the tree line -- at least atvery high levels in the mountains, which means it will get colderthere much more quickly than in the rest of the country. Winter iscoming on; you could have a major humanitarian disaster.

What are we doing about it? We're doing three things.First of all, we're doing everything we can to avert the humanitariandisaster. Secondly, we're pursuing negotiated settlement optionsthrough Ambassador Chris Hill. Thirdly, we're doing NATO planningand consulting with our allies because I still believe the bigproblem here is Mr. Milosevic is determined to get a militarysolution if he can, instead of pursuing a diplomatic solution whichwould give the Kosovars the autonomy they're supposed to have underthe Serbian system that they once had.

Now, I discussed this with President Havel -- he maywant to comment on it since it's in his neighborhood. But while thepolitical and legal situation is not identical to what we had inBosnia, the humanitarian issue is similar. And we don't want arepeat of Bosnia; we don't want another round of instability there.And I think it is imperative that we move forthrightly, with ourallies, as firmly as possible, to avert the humanitarian tragedy, andthen to get a political solution.

Q So you think you do have the moral authority tolead this nation?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, you might -- in my view, thatis something that you have to demonstrate every day. My opinion isnot as important as the opinion of others. What is important is thatI do my job.

I said last Friday and I'd like to say again, I amseized on two things: I'm trying to do the still quite painful workthat I need to do with my family in our own life; and I'm determinedto lead this country and to focus on the issues that are before us.It is not an option. There is no option. We have got to deal withthese things. And I'm very, very heartened by what world leadershave said to me in the last two weeks about what they want us to do.And there was an enormous positive reaction here in America andaround the world to the steps that I outlined on Monday. It wasvery, very heartening to me.

Q I'm sorry, I will ask the question in Czech becauseI need a Czech answer. (Asks question in Czech.)

PRESIDENT HAVEL: I have never said that we believe indifferent values. We believe in the same values like the UnitedStates. And the United States and especially the American nation isfantastic, big body with many very different faces. I love most ofthese faces. There are some which I don't understand. I don't liketo speak about things which I don't understand. (Laughter andapplause.)

Q Mr. President, from your understanding of events,is Monica Lewinsky's account of your relationship accurate andtruthful? And do you still maintain that you did not lie under oathin your testimony?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Mr. Hunt, I have said for a monthnow that I did something that was wrong. On last Friday at theprayer breakfast, I laid out as carefully and as brutally honestly asI could what I believe the essential truth to be. I also said then,and I will say again, that I think that the right thing for ourcountry and the right thing for all people concerned is not to getmired in all the details here, but to focus -- for me to focus onwhat I did, to acknowledge it, to atone for it, and then to work onmy family -- where I still have a lot of work to do, difficult work-- and to lead this country, to deal with the agenda before us, thesehuge issues that I was just talking about internationally, plus, withonly two weeks left to go in this budget year, a very, very largerange of items before the American people here at home -- doing ourpart to deal with this financial crisis, with funding theInternational Monetary Fund, saving the Social Security system beforewe spend the surplus, doing the important work that we can do to helpeducate our children, dealing with the patients' bill of rights forthese people, 160 million of them, in HMOs.

These are the things, to me, that I should be talkingabout as President, without in any way ever trying to obscure my ownpersonal acknowledgement and chagrin about what I did wrong, and mydetermination to put it right. (Applause.)

Q Mr. President Havel, you said today that PresidentClinton is your great friend. I wonder if the discovered misdeeds ofPresident Clinton have anyhow influenced your approach to him, yourrelations with him.

PRESIDENT HAVEL: I didn't recognize any change. I wasspeaking some minutes ago about these faces of America which I don'tunderstand. There are some faces which we understand very well. Inthis connection, permit me to congratulate Mr. Mark McGwire and towish the success to Mr. Sammy Sosa. (Laughter and applause.)

Q Mr. President, as the Lewinsky matter continues tounfold, can you foresee any circumstance where you might considerresignation -- either because of the personal toll on you or the tollon the country? And do you think it's fair if the House shouldrelease these videotapes?

And, sir, if I could ask President Havel a question.With the current developments going on in Russia, are you concernedthat there's a return to some degree of some former Soviet officialswho are running the country? And do you have a fear that perhaps anold threat may return?

PRESIDENT HAVEL: I don't think that contemporary orcurrent development in Russia is such a danger like old Soviet Union.It is a country in a very complicated situation, and it will be acountry in complicated situation I think 50 or 100 years. But weunderstand this complication because we have the same. But for us,it is question of years; for them, it is question of decades. Idon't see anything very dangerous in it. It's a natural process, andI think it is much more better to have -- feel a shock than healthySoviet Union.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let me, first of all, say that thepersonal toll on me is of a no concern except insofar as it affectsmy personal life. I think -- and I feel the pain better now becauseI'm working on what I should be working on. I believe the rightthing for the country -- and what I believe the people of the countrywant is, now that they know what happened, they want to put it behindthem and they want to go on. And they want me to go on and do myjob, and that's what I intend to do. That is the right thing to do.(Applause.)

In terms of the question you asked about the House, theyhave to decide that. That's not for me to decide. They have to dotheir job, and I have to do mine. There are some things, though, weneed to do together. And again I would say, it's been quite a longtime during this session and there's still only one appropriationbill passed and a lot of other things still out there. So I hope wecan work together to do some things for the American people. I thinkthat the time has come to think about the American people and theirinterests and their future. And that's what I'm going to focus on,and that's what I would hope the Congress would focus on.

Q When you gave the deposition, sir, were you fullyaware that it might be released, the videotape?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Mr. McQuillan, I'm trying toremember. I think that I knew that the rules were against it, but Ithought it would happen. I think that's where I was on that. Butit's not of so much concern to me. I mean, you know that Iacknowledged an improper relationship and that I declined to discussthe details, and that's what happened. So I'll leave it for othersto judge and evaluate. That's not for me to say.

I want to work on my family and lead this country, andothers will have to make all those judgments. They're not within myrange of authority anyway, so it's pointless for me to comment on it.

Q Mr. President, you have mentioned in your speechthat you appreciate the personal contribution of President Clinton tothe NATO enlargement, and you see him also as a personal friend. I'dlike to know, how do you think that an eventual resignation orimpeachment of President Clinton would influence the American foreignpolicy and the Czech-American relations.

PRESIDENT HAVEL: Excuse me, I am a little bit tired. Iprefer to speak in my language.

I believe that this is a matter for the United Statesand for the American people, who will be their President. When Ihave made a friendship with someone, I remain that person's friend,no matter which office he or she holds or doesn't hold.

MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Do you want to take one more?

Q Mr. President, your initiative on race finishesthis month and your Press Secretary yesterday agreed that the raceinitiative isn't flying because of your current problems and it wasbogged down in the muck and mire. Do you regret that your personalproblems affected your potential legacy on race and that it may just,at best, be a Band-Aid approach to racism in America?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all --

MR. MCCURRY: That's not exactly what I said.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't know if he said that, but ifhe did, I strongly disagree with him. I don't think it's affected itat all. As a matter of fact, I think in the response you've seenfrom some sectors of the American community -- have reinforced andacknowledged the centrality of this issue to the work of the last sixyears, not just the work of the last year.

And let me also say that what is coming to an end hereis this phase of it. And there will be a report -- the board willgive me a set of recommendations. Then we expect to produce adocument. But the main thing is we have to keep making progress forthe American people. I would remind you that we have before theCongress right now -- just two things that I'd like to emphasize.Number one, legislation, fully funded, within the balanced budgetbill, to get rid of the backlog in the Equal Employment OpportunityCommission and otherwise enforce the anti-discrimination laws of thecountry. I think that is very important.

Number two, we have an empowerment agenda put togetherby the Vice President and Secretary Cuomo, and an education componentput together by Secretary Riley to create affirmative economic andeducational opportunities and to stress inner-city and isolated ruralareas that are predominantly minority.

Both those are not particularly costly. Both thosecould be passed by this Congress in the next two weeks. Both thosewould actually do something for the American people that live beyondthe borders of the federal establishment here, and I very much hopethey will pass.

But I expect this to be a central part of the work I doin the next two years. I expect this to be a central part of thework I do for the rest of my life. I think in the 21st century --when you go back to World War II and you think about the part of theNazi experience that was directed against the Jews, and you look allthe way through the ensuing years -- all the way to the end of thiscentury -- down to what we've seen in Rwanda, the Middle East,Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, you name it, it will be incumbentupon the United States to be a force for tolerance and racialreconciliation for the foreseeable future.

So this is just simply a phase of this work that iscoming to an end, and I think you should see it as a springboard,both in the recommendations the Advisory Commission will make and inthe document that I will put out after that.

Q So could there be a council on race?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: I understand they may recommendthat, and if they do, of course, I will take it very seriously.

PRESIDENT HAVEL: One of my whole life personal idealsis ideal of a civic society. I must tell you that America -- andAmerica especially in time of President Clinton, because this is theAmerica I know the best -- is for my work, for my support of civicsociety, a big inspiration.

Thank you. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Thank you very much.


President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House
White House for Kids | White House History
White House Tours | Help | Text Only

Privacy Statement

What's New - September 1998

1998 Hispanic Heritage Month

The People Of Limerick

National School Modernization Day

Hillcrest Elementary School Remarks

Family Incomes Are Up, Poverty is Down

Presidential Mentoring Awards

Remarks to Students, Teachers and Tutors

Press Briefing

Presidential Welcome

Religious Leaders Breakfast

First Budget Surplus in a Generation

The Council On Foreign Relations

Gateway 2000 Facility Remarks

The Congressional Gold Medal To South African President Nelson Mandela

Moscow State University Address

Welcomes President Vaclav Havel

Joint Press Conference

President Yeltsin

Patients' Bill Of Rights

The Northern Ireland Assembly

President's Advisory Board On Race

Remarks In Dublin, Ireland

Opening Session Of The United Nations General Assembly

Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi

African American Religious Leaders Reception

The National Farmers Union