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President Clinton Speaks at Ronald Reagan Building Dedication

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 5, 1998


Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, D.C.

1:36 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mrs. Reagan, Mr. Barram,Secretary Daley, Senator Moynihan, Delegate Norton, Senator Dole, SenatorLott, all the members of Congress and the Diplomatic Corps who are here;Mr. Mayor, Secretary Schultz and General Powell, and all the former membersof the Reagan administration who are here and enjoying this great day; toMaureen and the friends of President and Mrs. Reagan who are here: I'dlike to begin by thanking Jim Freed and his team for a magnificentbuilding. I think we all feel elevated in this building today.(Applause.)

I also want to say on behalf of Hillary and myself a special word ofappreciation to Mrs. Reagan for being here. From her own pioneeringefforts to keep our children safe from drugs to the elegance and charm thatwere the hallmarks of the Reagan White House, through her public and bravesupport for every family facing Alzheimer's, she has served our nationexceedingly well. And we thank her. (Applause.)

The only thing that could make this day more special is if PresidentReagan could be here himself. But if you look at this atrium, I think wefeel the essence of his presence: his unflagging optimism, his proudpatriotism, his unabashed faith in the American people. I think everyAmerican who walks through this incredible space and lifts his or her eyesto the sky will feel that.

As Senator Moynihan just described, this building is the completion ofa challenge issued 37 years ago by President Kennedy. I ought to say, anddoggedly pursued for 37 years by Senator Moynihan. (Laughter andapplause.) I must say, Senator, there were days when I drove by here weekafter week after week and saw only that vast hole in the ground, when Iwondered if the "Moynihan hole" would ever become the Reagan Building.(Laughter.) But, sure enough, it did, and we thank you.

As you have heard, this building will house everything from aninternational trade center to international cultural activities to theAgency for International Development to the Woodrow Wilson Center forScholars. It is fitting that the plaza on which we gather bears the nameof President Wilson. And it is fitting that Presidents Wilson and Reaganare paired, for their work and, therefore, the activities which will beculminated in this building span much of what has become the AmericanCentury.

Since President Reagan left office, the freedom and opportunity forwhich he stood have continued to spread. For half century, Americanleaders of both parties waged a cold war against aggression and oppression.Today, freed from the yolk of totalitarianism, new democracies are emergingall around the world, enjoying newfound prosperity and long-awaited peace.More nations have claimed the fruits of this victory -- free markets, freeelection, plain freedom. And still more are struggling to do so.

Today, we joy in that, but we cannot -- indeed, we dare not -- growcomplacent. Today, we recall President Reagan's resolve to fight forfreedom and his understanding that American leadership in the world remainsindispensable. It is fitting that a piece of the Berlin Wall is in thisbuilding. America's resolve and American ideals so clearly articulated byRonald Reagan helped to bring that wall down.

But as we have seen repeatedly in the years since, the end of the ColdWar did not bring the end of the struggle for freedom and democracy, forhuman rights and opportunity. If the history of this American century hastaught us anything, it is that we will either work to shape events, or wewill be shaped by them. We cannot be partly in the world. We cannot leadin fits and starts or only when we believe it suits our short-terminterests. We must lead boldly, consistently, without reservation,because, as President Reagan repeatedly said, freedom is always inAmerica's interests.

Our security and prosperity depend upon our willingness to be involvedin the world. Woodrow Wilson said that Americans were participants in thelife of the world, like it or not. But his countrymen did not listen tohim, and as a result, there came a great Depression, the rise of fascism,the second world war. Our nation then learned we could not withdraw fromthe world.

Then a new generation of Americans reach outward in the years afterWorld War II, building new alliances of peace and new engines of prosperity-- NATO, the United Nations, the IMF, the International Trading System. Itis no accident that during this period of great American leadership abroadwe experienced unparalleled economic prosperity here at home. And it is noaccident that freedom's great triumph came on America's watch.

Today on the edge of a new century, the challenges we face are morediverse. But the values that guide America must remain the same. Theglobalization of commerce and the explosion of communications technology donot resolve all conflicts between nations. Indeed, they create newchallenges. They do not diminish our responsibility to lead, therefore,instead they heighten it. Because today's possibilities are not tomorrow'sguarantees, we must remain true to the commitment to lead, that everyAmerican leader of both parties, especially Ronald Reagan and WoodrowWilson, so clearly articulated in this 20th century.

For 50 years we fought for a Europe undivided and free. Last week theUnited States Senate took a profoundly important step toward that goal bywelcoming Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO, an achievementI believe that would make Ronald Reagan proud. The alliance that helped tokeep the peace for half century now brings us closer than ever to thatdream of a Europe united, democratic and at peace.

Now Congress has other opportunities to fulfill the spirit and honorthe legacy of the man whose name we affix to this building today. Congresshas the opportunity to maintain our leadership by paying for our support tothe IMF and settling our dues to the United Nations. I hope they will doit.

President Reagan once said we had made what he called an unbreakablecommitment to the IMF, one that was unbreakable because in this age ofeconomic interdependence an investment in the IMF is simply an investmentin American prosperity. And we fought for 50 years for peace and securityas part of the United Nations.

In 1985, Ronald Reagan said the U.N. stands as the symbol of the hopesof all mankind for a more peaceful and productive world. We must not, hesaid, disappoint those hopes. We still must not disappoint those hopes.President Reagan understood so clearly that America could not standpassively in the face of great change. He understood we had to embrace theobligations of leadership to build a better future for all. The commercethat will be conducted in this great building will be a testament to theopportunities in a truly global economy America has done so much to create.

The academic and cultural activities that will be generated frompeople who work here will bring us closer together as well. Because theagency for International Development will be here, we will never forgetthat the spark of enterprise and opportunity should be brought to thesmallest, poorest villages in the world. For there, too, there are peopleof energy, intelligence, and hunger for freedom.

This is a great day for our country. This is a day of honoring thelegacy of President Reagan, remembering the service of President Wilson,and rededicating ourselves to the often difficult but ultimately alwaysrewarding work of America.

As I stand within the Reagan Building I am confident that we willagain make the right choices for America, that we will take up wherePresident Reagan left off -- to lead freedom's march boldly into the 21stcentury.

Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)

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