[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[September 16, 1998]
[Pages 1591-1596]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

The President's News Conference With President Vaclav Havel of the Czech 
September 16, 1998

    President Clinton. Thank you very much. Please be seated.
    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 rulers, 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

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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 
movement; 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 
    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 served as peacekeepers and military observers in Macedonia, in 
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 
    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 
    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.
    President Havel. Mr. President, I thank you for the floor and for 
these 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 feel 
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'm extremely grateful or 
thankful to Mr. President and his leadership, because it was in his time 
when we received the chance to build a new Europe. And to build a new 
Europe--it means to build the new world, peaceful world, because in 
modern time, as you know, Europe was the main exporter of world wars, 
and now it has a completely different chance. And it was during his 
leadership when these chances were open, with support of your big 
    I would like to thank for all this to your President and to thank to 
all your Nation.
    Thank you.

Kosovo/President's Moral Authority

    Q. Mr. President, what can the U.S. and NATO do to stop the killing 
in Kosovo? And

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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?
    President 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. 
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 relations--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 U.N. 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--not, I want to say, above 
the tree line--at least at very high levels in the mountains, which 
means it will get colder there much more quickly than in the rest of the 
country. Winter is coming on; you could have a major humanitarian 
    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're 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 to what we 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.
    Q. So you think you do have the moral authority to lead this Nation?
    President Clinton. Well, 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'm 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 is no option; we have got to deal with these things. And I'm very, 
very heartened by what world leaders have said to me in the last 2 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.

Czech-U.S. Shared Values

    Q. I'm sorry, I will ask the question in Czech because I need a 
Czech answer.

[A question was asked in Czech, and a translation was not provided.]

    President Havel. I have never said that we believe in different 
values. We believe in the same values like the United States. And the

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United States and especially the American Nation is fantastic, big body 
with many very different faces. I love most of these faces. There are 
some which I don't understand. I don't like to speak about things which 
I don't understand. [Laughter]

President's Regrets and Goals

    Q. 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?
    President Clinton. Mr. Hunt [Terence Hunt, Associated Press], 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 believe 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 2 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 funding 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 HMO's.
    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 
acknowledgment and chagrin about what I did wrong and my determination 
to put it right.

Friendship With President Clinton/ Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa

    Q. 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 relations with 
    President Havel. I didn't recognize any change.
    I was speaking some minutes ago about these faces of America which I 
don't understand. There are some faces which we understand very well. In 
this connection, permit me to congratulate Mr. Mark McGwire and to wish 
the success to Mr. Sammy Sosa. [Laughter]
    Press Secretary Mike McCurry. Larry McQuillan from Reuters.

Russia/Testimony Before Grand Jury

    Q. Mr. President, as the Lewinsky 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 these videotapes?
    And sir, if I could ask President Havel a question. With the current 
developments going on in Russia, are you concerned that there's a return 
to 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?
    President Havel. I don't think that contemporary or current 
development in Russia is such a danger like old Soviet Union. It is a 
country in a very complicated situation, and it will be a country in 
complicated situation I think 50 or 100 years. But we understand this 
complication because 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 
dangerous in it. It's a natural process, and I think it is much more 
better to have ill Russia than healthy Soviet Union. [Laughter]
    President 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 the 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 want to put it behind them, and they want to go on. 
And they want me to go on and do my job, and that's what I intend to do. 
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

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this session, and there's still only one appropriation bill passed and 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 the 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.
    Q. When you gave the deposition, sir, were you fully aware that it 
might be released, the videotape?
    President Clinton. Mr. McQuillan, 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. 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 it.

Friendship With President Clinton

    Q. 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?
    President Havel. Excuse me, I am a little bit tired. I prefer to 
speak in my language.
    I believe 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.
    Mr. McCurry. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
    President Clinton. Do you want to take one more? April [April Ryan, 
American Urban Radio Networks], go ahead.

President's Initiative on Race

    Q. 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. Do you regret that your personal problems 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 if he did, I 
strongly disagree with him. I don't think it's affected it at all. As a 
matter of fact, I think in 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 6 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 be a report--the board will give 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--just two 
things that I'd like to emphasize: number one, legislation, fully 
funded, within the balanced budget bill, to get rid of the backlog in 
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and otherwise enforce the 
antidiscrimination laws of the country; I think that is very important. 
Number two, 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 2 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 
2 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

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seen in Rwanda, 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 think you should see it as a springboard, both in the 
recommendations the advisory commission will make and in the document 
that I will put out after that.
    Q. So could there be a council on race?
    President Clinton. I understand they may recommend that, and if they 
do, of course, I will take it very seriously.
    President 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 of President Clinton, because this is the America I know the best--
is for my work, for my support of civic society, a big inspiration.
    Thank you.
    President Clinton. Thank you very much.

Note: The President's 164th news conference began at 3:13 p.m. in the 
Dean Acheson Auditorium at the State Department. During the later 
portion of the news conference, President Havel spoke in Czech, and his 
remarks were translated by an interpreter. In his remarks, President 
Clinton referred to Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Kavan, Minister of 
Defense Vladimir Vetchy, and Prime Minister Milos Zeman of the Czech 
Republic; Josef Tosovsky, Chairman, Czech National Bank; President 
Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico; President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of 
Brazil; Prime Minister Jean Chretien of Canada; President Jacques Chirac 
of France; Christopher R. Hill, U.S. Ambassador to the Former Yugoslav 
Republic of Macedonia; and President Slobodan Milosevic of the Federal 
Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). President Havel referred 
to St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs 
outfielder Sammy Sosa, who broke Major League Baseball's single-season 
home run record. Reporters referred to former White House intern Monica 
S. Lewinsky.