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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Transcript: President Bill Clinton, Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel

September 16, 1998

CLINTON: Ladies and gentlemen, last June in Washington, I had the opportunity to speak of a remarkable trio of leaders -- each a champion of freedom, each imprisoned by authoritarian rules, each now after decades of struggle the president of his nation.

Last June, I was hosting President Kim Dae-jung of Korea. Next week, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa will be here. And of course, today, I am very proud to stand with President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic.

In the Prague Spring of 1968, a celebrated young playwright boldly called for an end to one-party rule before Soviet tanks crushed the people's hopes. Vaclav Havel's plays were banned. He lost his job. But he carried on.

In 1977, he spearheaded the Charter '77 human rights.

And for his activism then, he faced more than a decade of harassment, interrogation and incarceration. Still, he carried on. And in 1989, he was at the forefront of the Velvet Revolution that at last brought freedom to the Czech and to the Slovak peoples.

There was exhilaration all around the world when he spoke as president on the first day of January 1990 and declared, "People, your government has returned to you."

I was proud to visit President Havel in Prague in 1994, to see the great energy, creativity, joy of the Czech people unleashed.

When we celebrate freedom today, we know that many challenges still lie ahead. President Havel recently put it very well. "Something is being born," he said. "One age is succeeding another. We live in a world where everything is possible and almost nothing is certain."

Today our meetings focused on seizing those possibilities and minimizing those uncertainties. I'm delighted that Foreign Minister Kavan and Defense Minister Vetchy, representatives of the new government headed by Prime Minister Zeman, as well as Mr. Tosovsky, the governor of the Czech National Bank, were able to participate in our discussions.

We talked about the true partnership for security our nations have forged, our desire to build a world with greater tolerance, greater respect for human rights, to build a united, democratic peaceful Europe.

We talked about next year's NATO summit here and the Czech Republic's preparations for integration into the NATO alliance.

I thanked President Havel for beginning to talk with me a long time ago, even before I became president, about the importance of the expansion of NATO and the Czech Republic's role in it.

Already Czech troops are working side by side with us in Bosnia, where we've just seen further evidence that the Bosnian people are on the path to lasting peace, a free election with a strong turnout. Czech soldiers serve as peacekeepers and military observers in Macedonia and Georgia, in Angola, in Mozambique and Liberia.

Today, we spoke about the urgent need to bring stability to Kosovo to prevent suffering there and the current tensions in Albania. We discussed ways to strengthen our cooperation against the terrible scourge of terrorism, and I had the chance to thank the president for the support we got from the Czech Republic for our actions against terrorism in the wake of the bombings of the American embassies in Africa.

We talked about the situation in Russia, the economic crisis there, the new government. I underscored America's continuing support for Czech reforms, greater openness in economic institutions and greater investment in their increasingly competitive economy.

And I expressed our strong support for the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union and for the fair treatment of American businesses that would be affected.

We are making progress as friends and partners. That is possible only because of the courage President Havel and the Czech people have shown and continue to show today. We will continue to do the hard work together so that our children can reap the full benefits of it in the new century.

Thank you for coming, Mr. President. The floor is yours.

HAVEL: Mr. President, I thank you for the floor and for those nice words. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming.

With your permission, I'll try to speak in your nice language.

The situation of the contemporary world is very complicated.

We fear it especially in Europe, especially in Central Europe, especially in Czech Republic. And I think that, in this situation, it's extremely important the responsibility of the United States as the biggest, most powerful country all around the world.

And I -- I'm extremely grateful and thankful to Mr. President and his leadership because it was in his time when we received the chance to build new Europe, and to develop new Europe. It means to build the new world, peaceful world because in modern time, as you know, Europe was main exporter of world war. And now it is complicated for them to change.

And it was during his leadership when these chances were open with support of your big country.

I would like to thank for all this to the president and to thank to all your nation.

Thank you.


CLINTON: It's a hurried (ph) nation.

HAVEL: Do you think that they understood me.

CLINTON: I think so, but you (OFF-MIKE).

MCCURRY: We'll begin the questioning with Helen Thomas of United Press International.

QUESTION: Mr. President, what can the U.S. and NATO to stop the killing in Kosovo?

And what do you say to people who have said that you have lost all the moral authority to lead this nation or to conduct foreign affairs?

CLINTON: Let me answer the second question first, and then I will talk about Kosovo, because it's very important.

I have never stopped leading this country in foreign affairs in this entire year, and I never will.

The issues are too important and they affect the way Americans live at home. Just in the last several days, of course, we have taken action against those who killed our people and killed the Kenyans and Tanzanians. We have, I and my administration, have been working for peace in Northern Ireland, for stability in Russia.

I have been personally involved in the peace process in the Middle East, again, as it reaches another critical phase.

I gave a speech Monday, which I think is about the most important subject now facing the world community -- how to limit this financial crisis, keep it from spreading, how to develop long-term institutions that will help to promote growth and opportunity for ordinary people around the world in a way that permits America's economic recovery to go on.

After that, my objectives were embraced by the leaders, the financial leaders of the largest industrial countries in the world.

And yesterday, as it happens, I got calls from the presidents of Mexico, Brazil and the prime minister of Canada, all thanking me for what 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 the rest of the world.

I had a good talk with President Chirac of France who called me a couple of days ago to talk about some of our common concerns and the UN inspection system in Iraq and other things. So I feel good about that.

Now on Kosovo, the American people should know that we have looming there, right next door to Bosnia, a significant humanitarian problem. There are many, many tens of thousands of people who have been dislocated from their homes. But somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 -- it's hard for us to know for sure -- are above -- I want to say above the tree line -- at least, at very high levels in the mountains, which means that it will get colder there, much more quickly than in the rest of the country.

Winter is coming. 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 humanitarian disaster.

Secondly, we're pursuing negotiated settlement options through Ambassador Chris Hill.

Thirdly, we're doing NATO planning and consulting with our allies, because I still believe the big problem here is Mr. Milosevic is determined to get a military solution, if he can, instead of pursuing a diplomatic solution, which would give the Kosovars the autonomy they are supposed to have under the Serbian system that they once had.

Now I discussed this with President Havel; he may want to comment on it since it's in his neighborhood.

But while the political and legal situation is not identical with what we've had in Bosnia, the humanitarian issue is similar.

And we don't want a repeat of Bosnia. We don't want another round of instability there.

And I think it is imperative that we move forthrightly with our allies as firmly as possible to avert the humanitarian tragedy and then to get a political solution.

QUESTION: So you think you do have the morality authority to lead this nation?

CLINTON: You might -- in my view, that is something that you have to demonstrate every day. My opinion is not as important as the opinion of others. What is important is that I do my job.

I said last Friday -- and I'd like to say again -- I am seized on two things. I am trying to do the still-quite-painful work that I need to do with my family in our own life, and I'm determined to lead this country and to focus on the issues that are before us.

It is not an option. There's no option. We have got to deal with these things, and I am very, very heartened by what world leaders have 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 and around the world to the steps that I outlined on Monday. It was very, very heartening to me.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. I will ask the question in Czech because I need a Czech answer.


HAVEL: I have never said that we didn't defend values. We believe in the same values like the United States. And the United States, especially American -- American nation, is fantastic: big, big (OFF-MIKE), big money, with many different places.

I love most of these places. There are some which I don't understand. I don't like to speak about things which I don't understand.



QUESTION: Mr. President, from your understanding of events, is Monica Lewinsky's account of your relationship accurate and truthful? And do you still maintain that you did not lie under oath in your testimony?

CLINTON: Mr. Hunt, I have said for a month now that I did something that was wrong. On last Friday at the prayer breakfast, I laid out as carefully and as brutally honestly as I could what I believed the essential truth to be.

I also said then -- and I will say again -- that I think that the right thing for our country and the right thing for all people concerned is not to get mired in all the details here; but to focus -- for me to focus on what I did, to acknowledge it, to atone for it; and then to work on my 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, these huge issues that I was just talking about internationally, plus, with only two weeks left to go in this budget year, a very, very large range of items before the American people here at home: doing our part to deal with this financial crisis with the funding of the International Monetary Fund; saving the Social Security system before we spend the surplus; doing the important work that we can do to help educate our children; dealing with the Patients' Bill of Rights for these people -- 160 million of them -- in HMOs.

These are the things to me that I should be talking about as president without in any way ever trying to obscure my own personal acknowledgement and chagrin about what I did wrong and my determination to put it right.


(UNKNOWN): The Czech press (OFF-MIKE).

QUESTION: Mr. President Havel, you said today that President Clinton is your great friend. I wonder if the discovered misdeeds of President Clinton have anyhow influenced your approach to him, your relation to him.

HAVEL: I didn't recognize any change. I was speaking some weeks ago about the faces (ph) of America which I don't understand. There are some faces (ph) which we understand very well.

And this connection (OFF-MIKE) to congratulate Mr. McGwire and to wish the success to Mr. Sammy Sosa.



QUESTION: Mr. President, as the Lewinksy matter continues to unfold, can you foresee any circumstance where you might consider resignation, either because of the personal toll on you or the toll on the country? And do you think it's fair if the House should release the videotapes?

And sir, if I could ask President Havel a question.

With the current developments going on in Russia, are you concerned that there is a return of some degree of some former Soviet officials who are running the country? And do you have a fear that perhaps an old threat may return?

HAVEL: I don't think that that will -- contemporary or current development in Russia is such a danger like was Soviet Union. It is a country in very complicated situation. And it will be a country in complicated situation, I think, 50 or a 100 years. But we understand these complications, because we -- we have the same. But for us, it is question of years. For them it is question of decades. I don't see anything very danger (sic) in it. It's natural process, and I think it is much more better to have an ill Russia than healthy Soviet Union.


CLINTON: Let me first of all say that the personal toll on me is of no concern, except insofar as it affects my personal life.

I think the -- and I feel, though pain, better now, because I'm working on what I should be working on. I believe the right thing for the country, and what I believe the people of the country want is now that they know what happened, they'll want to put it behind them and they want to go on, and they want me to go and do my job. And that's what I intend to do, and that is the right thing to do.


In terms of the question you asked about the House, they have to decide that. That's not for me to decide. They have to do their job, and I have to do mine.

There are some things, though, we need to do together. And again, I would say it's been quite a long time during this session and there's still only one appropriation bill passed a lot of other things still out there. So, I hope we can work together to do some things for the American people. I think that time has come to think about the American people and their interests 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.

QUESTION: When you gave your deposition, sir, were you fully aware that it might be released, the videotape?


CLINTON: Mr. McClellan (ph), I'm trying to remember. I think that I knew that the rules were against it, but I thought it would happen. I think that's where I was on that. But it's not of so much concern to me. I mean, you know that I acknowledged an improper relationship and that I declined to discuss the details.

And that's what happened.

And so, I'll leave it for others to judge and evaluate. That's not for me to say. I want to work on my family and lead this country and others will have to make all those judgments. They're not within my range of authority anyway, so it's pointless for me to comment on them.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you have mentioned in your speech that you appreciate the personal contribution of President Clinton to the NATO enlargement, and you see him also as a personal friend. I'd like to know how do you think that an eventual resignation or impeachment of President Clinton would influence the American foreign policy and the Czech-American relations?


HAVEL: Excuse me, I'm a little bit tired. I prefer to speak in my language.

HAVEL (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I believe, first, that this is a matter for the United States and for the American people -- who will be their president. When I have made a friendship with someone, I remain that person's friend no matter which office he or she holds or doesn't hold.

QUESTION: Will you take another, Mr. President?


QUESTION: Mr. President, your initiative on race finishes this month and your press secretary yesterday agreed that the race initiative isn't flying because of your current problems and it was bogged down in the muck and mire.

But do you regret that your personal problems affected your potential legacy on race and that it may just, at best, be a bandaid approach to racism in America?

CLINTON: First of all...


CLINTON: I don't know if he said that. But if he did, I strongly disagree with him. I don't think it has affected it at all.

As a matter of fact, I think, the response you've seen from some sectors of the American community have reinforced and acknowledged the centrality of this issue to the work of the last six years, not just the work of the last year.

And let me also say that what is coming to an end here is this phase of it. And there will me a set of recommendations. Then we expect to produce a document.

But the main thing is we have to keep making progress for the American people. I would remind you that we have before the Congress right now -- there are two things that I'd like to emphasize: No. 1, legislation fully funded within the balanced budget bill to get rid of the backlog in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and otherwise enforce the anti-discrimination laws of the country. I think that is very important.

No. 2, we have an empowerment agenda put together by the vice president and Secretary Cuomo, and an education component put together by Secretary Riley to create affirmative economic and educational opportunities in distressed, inner-city and isolated rural areas that are predominantly minority.

Both those are not particularly costly. Both those could be passed by this Congress in the next two weeks. Both those would actually do something for the American people that live beyond the borders of the federal establishment here. And I very much hope they will pass.

But I expect this to be a central part of the work I do in the next two years.

I expect this to be a central part of the work 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 the Nazi experience that was directed against the Jews, and you look all the way through the ensuing years -- all the way to the end of this century down to what we've seen in Rwanda and the Middle East, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, you name it -- it will be incumbent upon the United States to be a force for tolerance and racial reconciliation for the foreseeable future. So this is just simply a phase of this work that is coming to an end. And I t document that I will put out after that.

QUESTION: So, could there be a council on race (ph) (OFF-MIKE)?

CLINTON: Well, they -- I understand they may recommend that.

And if they do, of course, I will take it very seriously.

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

MCCURRY: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

QUESTION: Mr. President....

CLINTON: Thank you very much.


Investigating the President


Wednesday, September 16, 1998

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