President Clinton Addresses The Opening Session Of The United Nations General Assembly

Office of the Press Secretary
(New York, New York)

For Immediate Release September 21, 1998


United Nations
New York, New York

11:13 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mr. President, Mr.Secretary General, the delegates of this 53rd session of the GeneralAssembly,let me begin by thanking you for your very kind and generous welcome and bynoting that at the opening of this General Assembly the world has much tocelebrate.

Peace has come to Northern Ireland after 29 long years.Bosnia has just held its freest elections ever. The United Nations isactively mediating crises before they explode into war all around theworld.And today more people determine their own destiny than at any previousmomentin history.

We celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UniversalDeclarationof Human Rights, with those rights more widely embraced than ever before.Onevery continent people are leading lives of integrity and self-respect, and agreat deal of credit for that belongs to the United Nations.

Still, as every person in this room knows, the promise ofourtime is attended by perils. Global economic turmoil today threatens toundermine confidence in free markets and democracy. Those of us whobenefitparticularly from this economy have a special responsibility to do more tominimize the turmoil and extend the benefits of global markets to allcitizens. And the United States is determined to do that.

We still are bedeviled by ethnic, racial, religious andtribalhatreds; by the spread of weapons of mass destruction; by the almostfranticeffort of too many states to acquire such weapons; and, despite all efforts tocontain it, terrorism is not fading away with the end of the 20th century. Itis a continuing defiance of Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of HumanRights, which says, "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and securityofperson."

Here at the U.N., at international summits around theworld,and on many occasions in the United States, I have had the opportunity toaddress this subject in detail, to describe what we have done, what we aredoing, and what we must yet do to combat terror. Today, I would like totalkto you about why all nations must put the fight against terrorism at thetopof our agenda.

Obviously this is a matter of profound concern to us. Inthelast 15 years our citizens have been targeted over and over again -- inBeirut, over Lockerbie, in Saudi Arabia, at home in Oklahoma City by one ofour own citizens, and even here in New York in one of our most publicbuildings, and most recently on August 7th in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam,whereAmericans who devoted their lives to building bridges betweennations, people very much like all of you, died in a campaign ofhatred against the United States.

Because we are blessed to be a wealthy nation with apowerful military and a worldwide presence active in promotingpeace and security, we are often a target. We love our countryfor its dedication to political and religious freedom, toeconomic opportunity, to respect for the rights of theindividual. But we know many people see us as a symbol of asystem and values they reject, and often they find it expedientto blame us for problems with deep roots elsewhere.

But we are no threat to any peaceful nation, and webelieve the best way to disprove these claims is to continue ourwork for peace and prosperity around the world. For us to pullback from the world's trouble spots, to turn our backs on thosetaking risks for peace, to weaken our own opposition toterrorism, would hand the enemies of peace a victory they mustnever have.

Still, it is a grave misconception to see terrorismas only, or even mostly, an American problem. Indeed, it is aclear and present danger to tolerant and open societies andinnocent people everywhere. No one in this room, nor the peopleyou represent, are immune.

Certainly not the people of Nairobi and Dar esSalaam. For every American killed there, roughly 20 Africanswere murdered and 500 more injured -- innocent people going abouttheir business on a busy morning. Not the people of Omagh inNorthern Ireland, where the wounded and killed were Catholics andProtestants alike, mostly children and women, and two of thempregnant, people out shopping together, when their future wassnuffed out by a fringe group clinging to the past.

Not the people of Japan who were poisoned by saringas in the Tokyo subway. Not the people of Argentina who diedwhen a car bomb decimated a Jewish community center in BuenosAires. Not the people of Kashmir and Sri Lanka killed by ancientanimosities that cry out for resolution. Not the Palestiniansand Israelis who still die year after year for all the progresstoward peace. Not the people of Algeria enduring the nightmareof unfathomable terror with still no end in sight. Not thepeople of Egypt, who nearly lost a second President toassassination. Not the people of Turkey, Colombia, Albania,Russia, Iran, Indonesia, and countless other nations whereinnocent people have been victimized by terror.

Now, none of these victims are American, but everyone was a son or a daughter, a husband or wife, a father ormother, a human life extinguished by someone else's hatred,leaving a circle of people whose lives will never be the same.Terror has become the world's problem. Some argue, of course,that the problem is overblown, saying that the number of deathsfrom terrorism is comparatively small, sometimes less than thenumber of people killed by lightning in a single year. I believethat misses the point in several ways.

First, terrorism has a new face in the 1990s. Todayterrorists take advantage of greater openness and the explosionof information and weapons technology. The new technologies ofterror and their increasing availability, along with theincreasing mobility of terrorists, raise chilling prospects ofvulnerability to chemical, biological, and other kinds ofattacks, bringing each of us into the category of possiblevictim. This is a threat to all humankind.

Beyond the physical damage of each attack, there isan even greater residue of psychological damage -- hard tomeasure, but slow to heal. Every bomb, every bomb threat has aninsidious effect on free and open institutions, the kinds ofinstitutions all of you in this body are working so hard tobuild.

Each time an innocent man or woman or child iskilled, it makes the future more hazardous for the rest of us.For each violent act saps the confidence that is so crucial topeace and prosperity. In every corner of the world, with theactive support of U.N. agencies, people are struggling to buildbetter futures, based on bonds of trust connecting them to theirfellow citizens and with partners and investors from around theworld.

The glimpse of growing prosperity in NorthernIreland was a crucial factor in the Good Friday Agreement. Butthat took confidence -- confidence that cannot be bought in timesof violence. We can measure each attack and the grislystatistics of dead and wounded, but what are the wounds we cannotmeasure?

In the Middle East, in Asia, in South America, howmany agreements have been thwarted after bombs blew up? How manybusinesses will never be created in places crying out forinvestments of time and money? How many talented young people incountries represented here have turned their backs on publicservice?

The question is not only how many lives have beenlost in each attack, but how many futures were lost in theiraftermath. There is no justification for killing innocents.Ideology, religion, and politics, even deprivation and righteousgrievance do not justify it. We must seek to understand theroiled waters in which terror occurs; of course we must.

Often, in my own experience, I have seen where peaceis making progress, terror is a desperate act to turn back thetide of history. The Omagh bombing came as peace was succeedingin Northern Ireland. In the Middle East, whenever we get closeto another step toward peace, its enemies respond with terror.We must not let this stall our momentum.

The bridging of ancient hatreds is, after all, aleap of faith, a break with the past, and thus a frighteningthreat to those who cannot let go of their own hatred. Becausethey fear the future, in these cases terrorists seek to blow thepeacemakers back into the past.

We must also acknowledge that there are economicsources of this rage as well. Poverty, inequality, masses ofdisenfranchised young people are fertile fields for the sirencall of the terrorists and their claims of advancing socialjustice. But depravation cannot justify destruction, nor caninequity ever atone for murder. The killing of innocents is nota social program.

Nevertheless, our resolute opposition to terrorismdoes not mean we can ever be indifferent to the conditions thatfoster it. The most recent U.N. human development reportsuggests the gulf is widening between the world's haves andhave-nots. We must work harder to treat the sources of despairbefore they turn into the poison of hatred. Dr. Martin LutherKing once wrote that the only revolutionary is a man who hasnothing to lose. We must show people they have everything togain by embracing cooperation and renouncing violence. This isnot simply an American or a Western responsibility; it is theworld's responsibility.

Developing nations have an obligation to spread newwealth fairly, to create new opportunities, to build new openeconomies. Developed nations have an obligation to helpdeveloping nations stay on the path of prosperity and -- and --tospur global economic growth. A week ago I outlined ways we canbuild a stronger international economy to benefit not only allnations, but all citizens within them.

Some people believe that terrorism's principal faultline centers on what they see as an inevitable clash ofcivilizations. It is an issue that deserves a lot of debate inthis great hall. Specifically, many believe there is aninevitable clash between Western civilization and Western values,and Islamic civilizations and values. I believe this view isterribly wrong. False prophets may use and abuse any religion tojustify whatever political objectives they have -- evencold-blooded murder. Some may have the world believe thatalmighty God himself, the merciful, grants a license to kill.But that is not our understanding of Islam.

A quarter of the world's population is Muslim --from Africa to Middle East to Asia and to the United States,where Islam is one of our fastest growing faiths. There are over1,200 mosques and Islamic centers in the United States, and thenumber is rapidly increasing. The 6 million Americans whoworship there will tell you there is no inherent clash betweenIslam and America. Americans respect and honor Islam.

As I talked to Muslim leaders in my country andaround the world, I see again that we share the same hopes andaspirations: to live in peace and security, to provide for ourchildren, to follow the faith of our choosing, to build a betterlife than our parents knew and pass on brighter possibilities toour own children. Of course, we are not identical. There areimportant differences that cross race and culture and religionwhich demand understanding and deserve respect.

But every river has a crossing place. Even as westruggle here in America, like the United Nations, to reconcileall Americans to each other and to find greater unity in ourincreasing diversity, we will remain on a course of friendshipand respect for the Muslim world. We will continue to look forcommon values, common interests, and common endeavors. I agreevery much with the spirit expressed by these words of Mohammed:rewards for prayers by people assembled together are twice thosesaid at home.

When it comes to terrorism there should be nodividing line between Muslims and Jews, Protestants andCatholics, Serbs and Albanians, developed societies and emergingcountries. The only dividing line is between those who practice,support, or tolerate terror, and those who understand that it ismurder, plain and simple.

If terrorism is at the top of the American agenda --and should be at the top of the world's agenda -- what, then, arethe concrete steps we can take together to protect our commondestiny. What are our common obligations? At least, I believethey are these: to give terrorists no support, no sanctuary, nofinancial assistance; to bring pressure on states that do; to acttogether to step up extradition and prosecution; to sign theGlobal Anti-Terror Conventions; to strengthen the BiologicalWeapons and Chemical Convention; to enforce the Chemical WeaponsConvention; to promote stronger domestic laws and control themanufacture and export of explosives; to raise internationalstandards for airport security; to combat the conditions thatspread violence and despair.

We are working to do our part. Our intelligence andlaw enforcement communities are tracking terrorist networks incooperation with other governments. Some of those we believeresponsible for the recent bombing of our embassies have beenbrought to justice. Early this week I will ask our Congress toprovide emergency funding to repair our embassies, to improvesecurity, to expand the worldwide fight against terrorism, tohelp our friends in Kenya and Tanzania with the wounds they havesuffered.

But no matter how much each of us does alone, ourprogress will be limited without our common efforts. We alsowill do our part to address the sources of despair and alienationthrough the Agency for International Development in Africa, inAsia, in Latin America, in Eastern Europe, in Haiti andelsewhere. We will continue our strong support for the U.N.Development Program, the U.N. High Commissioners for Human Rightsand Refugees, UNICEF, the World Bank, the World Food Program.

We also recognize the critical role these agenciesplay and the importance of all countries, including the UnitedStates, in paying their fair share.

In closing, let me urge all of us to think in newterms on terrorism, to see it not as a clash of cultures orpolitical action by other means, or a divine calling, but a clashbetween the forces of the past and the forces of the future,between those who tear down and those who build up, between hopeand fear, chaos and community.

The fight will not be easy. But every nation willbe strengthened in joining it, in working to give real meaning tothe words of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights we signed50 years ago. It is very, very important that we do thistogether.

Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the authors of theUniversal Declaration. She said in one of her many speeches insupport of the United Nations, when it was just beginning, "Allagreements and all peace are built on confidence. You cannothave peace and you cannot get on with other people in the worldunless you have confidence in them."

It is not necessary that we solve all the world'sproblems to have confidence in one another. It is not necessarythat we agree on all the world's issues to have confidence in oneanother. It is not even necessary that we understand everysingle difference among us to have confidence in one another.But it is necessary that we affirm our belief in the primacy ofthe Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and, therefore, thattogether we say terror is not a way to tomorrow, it is only athrowback to yesterday. And together -- together -- we can meetit and overcome its threats, its injuries, and its fears withconfidence.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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

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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

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