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Remarks by President Clinton and President Arpad Goncz of Hungary

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 8, 1999


The South Grounds

9:45 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: President and Mrs. Goncz; ladies and gentlemen; in the early 1850s, the great Hungarian patriot Lajos Kossuth came to this country and to this house to seek support for restoring liberty to his nation. He said then, "To find the sunlight of freedom we must come to America." Kossuth would be proud today that his statement no longer holds -- that the sunlight of freedom shines in Hungary, and all across the world.

In the past year I have had the privilege to welcome to the White House extraordinary leaders who risked their lives in the struggle for liberty, were imprisoned for their beliefs and activism, and now have emerged in freedom's sunlight as the Presidents of their nations: Kim Dae Jung of South Korea; Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Today, with freedom at last shining brightly in Hungary, I have the great honor and pleasure to welcome President Arpad Goncz, our friend, our partner, our ally.

Let me begin with a few words about our common enterprise in Kosovo. For 77 days we have been working to achieve a simple set of objectives there -- the return of refugees with safety and self-government; the withdrawal of all Serbian forces; the deployment of an international security force with NATO at its core. Last Thursday Serb authorities accepted a peace plan that embodies those conditions. Today, in Bonn, we took another important step forward -- the G-8 countries now have agreed to language of a United Nations Security Council resolution that will help us to realize these basic goals: peace with security for the people of Kosovo, and stability for the region as a whole.

The key now, as it has been from the beginning of this process, is implementation. A verifiable withdrawal of Serb forces will allow us to suspend the bombing and go forward with the plan. NATO is determined to bring the Kosovars home, to do so as an alliance acting together, and in a way that ultimately can strengthen the relationship between Russia and the West.

Our great writer, E.L. Doctorow, once said, "The devastating history of 20th century Europe, which you and I might study in a book or look at as tourists, is housed in the being of Arpad Goncz." In World War II, he fought in resistance and was wounded by Nazi fire. In 1956, he rose with fellow citizens against Stalinist oppression. And after Soviet tanks crushed the uprising, he was sentenced to life in prison.

Released after six years, he became a translator, bringing Western ideas to Hungary, and through his own plays and stories, challenged Hungarians to think about the nature of tyranny and the meaning of freedom. After NATO's resolve and the courage of Central Europeans helped to bring down the Iron Curtain, the Hungarian people chose this great man to lead them.

Now, Hungary is one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe, with America its largest foreign investor. Hungary has acted to protect the rights of its own minority groups, and worked for the rights of ethnic Hungarians in other nations. Hungary has stood with the United States as a NATO ally against ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and for a more positive future for all the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe. Hungary is leading the way toward what people dreamed of throughout the long Cold War.

I am very proud of the alliance between our countries, the friendship between our people. I am grateful for the contributions of Hungarian Americans to the fabric of our present greatness and good fortune. And I am very honored to welcome here the President of Hungary. President Goncz, welcome back to America and to the White House. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT GONCZ: Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Vice President, and wife of the Vice President, Mrs. Gore; ladies and gentlemen, friends. I sincerely thank you, Mr. President, for your kind words of greeting, which clearly reflect the exceptional confidence and warmth that your country has always shown to my homeland.

On the occasion of my official state visit to the United States, I consider it an honor to be able to share a few thoughts with you here, in front of the White House, perhaps the most gracious and eloquent heritage of American history and culture.

Mr. President, allow me to begin by citing something you said recently in San Francisco. The story of the 21st century can be quite a wonderful story, but we have to write the first chapter. It is the most significant even in my political career, and life as a Central European intellectual, that my country as an ally of the United States is now able to write that first chapter together with you.

We have a shared responsibility to ensure that the worldwide and irreversible victory of freedom and democracy doesn't remain merely a scenario. We must work together so that the actors in the story of the 21st century are able to live in prosperity and integrity, at peace with themselves and each other. Hungary is a responsible and reliable partner of the United States in this.

A membership of NATO means participation in defending the ideals and values which are indispensable for lasting international security, and which were reaffirmed by the leaders of the 19 member states at the Washington Summit. Hungary, which recently became a member of the NATO and shares a border with the Yugoslav crisis zone, fully shares the objectives of the Atlantic Alliance for peacemaking in Kosovo and agrees to the conditions set.

We are acting in accordance with our national interests and our obligations as allies in offering the greatest possible support to the international community acting for peace. We are urging a political, diplomatic settlement that will create lasting peaceful conditions among the nations of the Yugoslav region and one that will ensure democratic development of Yugoslavia.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you that this very moment when we meet here is extraordinary. It had appeared for some time that we had to come very close to the end of the hardships and difficulties, and we can start building a future, lasting peace and democracy, which cannot be complete without the reconciliation of the Serbs. But our hopes will never come true without Belgrade's clear commitment and verifiable measures, proving the seriousness of their intentions.

For a thousand years we have held the view that the fate and future of Hungary and Europe are indivisible. The key to the survival and development of the Hungarian people in the heart of the continent, in the Carpathian Basin, can only be inseparably bound to political and economic Europe.

Our negotiations on accession to the European Union are proceeding encouragingly. Our performance places us among the countries most eligible for integration, and we do our utmost to facilitate at the earliest date. I am certain that the successful accomplishment of this process will further increase your real confidence in Hungary, and that through our membership in the EU, we, ourself, will be able to promote cooperation between the United States and Europe.

Together with our consistent and, allow me to say, natural Western orientation, we are also rewarding special attention to balanced policy toward our neighbors, and contributing to strengthening European security with our active regional role. Through confidence-building steps, the promotion of economic cooperation and support for civil relations, we are also pursuing the goal that Hungary shouldn't be a border fortress of the unified Europe. Keeping in sight the fate of the close to 3 million Hungarians living in minority status in the neighboring countries, we extend many-sided support to our neighbors to bring them ever closer to the mainstream of Europe in development.

The prospective of NATO integration in the EU membership is the key to the future of them and the important security interests for Europe. The regional problems for American diplomacy and the personal initiatives taken by you, Mr. President, also served as a goal and we welcome and support them.

The present level and quality of Hungary and American relations is the result of an ongoing process of development which has been driven by shared principles and goals, and the mutual benefit of practical cooperation. It is especially encouraging to see that our relations also extend to new areas and regions which represent preparation to face the challenges of the future. We consider it of key importance and deepen the already successful cooperation, for example, in the field of the economy and trade. These successes have a beneficial influence on Hungary's development and also offer us a possibility of being closely associated with the American role in the region.

One of the most valuable of the countless links joining the two countries is the hundreds of thousands of Hungarians living here who have earned respect with their work and who have given support of inestimable value for the development of the Old Country.

Mr. President, on behalf of the Hungarian delegation, I thank you once again for your invitation, and for all the support of historical value which you, Mr. President, and all American friends of us have given my country in decisive years. I regard this day as a festive occasion for the allied Hungarian and American peoples, and I am deeply convinced it is an important chapter in our modern and dynamically developing relations.

Thank you. (Applause.)

END 10:00 A.M. EDT


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