Good morning; Merry Christmas; Season's Greetings. All across our country, families are gathering to share this joyous time and to give thanks for the good things in our lives.
This holiday season, one of the greatest blessings of all is that our Nation is at peace, freedom is on the march, and the world is a safer place than it was a year ago. I'm proud of our efforts to turn conflict into cooperation, to transform fear into security, to replace hatred with hope. In a world that is ever more bound together, those efforts have been good for millions of people around the globe, and very good for America.
Perhaps most important of all, for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, for the first time in nearly half a century, parents can put their children to bed at this Christmas season knowing that nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union are no longer pointed at those children. Just this month, we signed the START I agreement with Russia that guarantees the elimination of thousands of missiles from the former Soviet arsenal and clears the way for further reduction. And Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, three republics of the former Soviet Union, are now fulfilling their commitments to give up every one of the weapons they inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Finally, in North Korea, our firm diplomacy secured an agreement that requires that country first to freeze and then to dismantle its nuclear program, all under international inspections.
On a separate note, let me say that our thoughts, Hillary's and mine, and I know all of America's, are with the family of Chief Warrant Officer Hilemon, who was killed last week in a tragic incident in North Korea. We are pleased that his remains have been returned to his family, and we are hopeful that his crewmate, Chief Warrant Officer Hall, will soon be back with his family.
Our steady diplomacy has helped to achieve real progress on many fronts. But when necessary, our troops have also proved themselves ready to defend our national interests, to back up our commitments, and to promote peace and security. For 3 years, a brutal military regime terrorized the Haitian people and caused instability in our hemisphere. It wasn't until the regime knew our troops were on their way that finally they agreed to step down peacefully and to return power to the democratically elected government. Now, under President Aristide, Haiti is free, democratic, and more secure. Its people have a chance to rebuild their nation. Our hemisphere is more democratic and more stable, and that's good for America.
When Iraq again threatened the stability of the Persian Gulf, I ordered our troops, ships, and planes to the region to stop a would-be aggressor in his tracks. In this vital part of the world, too, we have protected the peace.
I know all Americans share my pride in the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who are standing watch for freedom and security today and in this holiday season in Haiti and the Persian Gulf and, indeed, all around the world. I wish all our troops could come home for the holidays, but those who aren't are doing important work for our Nation. And as you gather in your homes this week, I hope you'll join me in a prayer for their well-being and the health and happiness of their families.
All around the world, our efforts to build peace have contributed to progress in solving what once seemed to be unsolvable problems. In South Africa, the long night of apartheid has given way to a new day of freedom. In Ireland, after centuries of struggle, a lasting settlement between Catholics and Protestants is finally within reach. And in the Holy Land, so close to the hearts of many of us at this time of year, Israelis and Arabs are turning the page on the past and embracing a future of peace.
Of course, there are still too many people, from Bosnia to the refugee camps outside Rwanda, who are plagued by violence and cruelty and hatred. And we must continue our efforts to help them find peace. But we should remember how many people around the world are moving toward freedom and how fortunate we are here in America to have been able to help them to move toward freedom. To them, America is a beacon of hope. They admire our values and our strength. They see in us a nation that has been graced by peace and prosperity. They look to us for leadership and for eternal renewed energy and progress.
For Hillary and for myself, I want to wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy holiday.
God bless you all, and God bless America.