Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. President Chirac, Mrs. Chirac, members of the French delegation, to our distinguished guests from France and the United States, Hillary and I are delighted to welcome a great friend of our country to America's house.
As President tonight I am thinking of the experience of one of my most illustrious predecessors, Thomas Jefferson. As every American knows, when Thomas Jefferson was Minister to France, he developed a fondness for everything French. When he returned home, his political opponents tried to turn the American people against him by accusing him of excessive Francophilia. [Laughter] Patrick Henry struck the harshest blow. He denounced Jefferson, and I quote, for "abjuring his native victuals" in favor of French cuisine. [Laughter] Somehow Jefferson overcame the attack and went on to become President. And thank goodness, today Americans consider a good French meal to be a supreme treat, not high treason. [Laughter] Still, I feel compelled to make full disclosure to our French guests: Our extraordinary White House chef, Walter Scheib, is an American. [Laughter]
A decade before Thomas Jefferson went to France, France came to the aid of American people. Dozens of ships carrying cannon, rifles, mortars, and clothing crossed the Atlantic to supply those who were fighting here for our independence. At Yorktown, General George Washington's troops were one-half French. And together with the French fleet, they decided our great revolutionary struggle in freedom's favor there. So it is not an exaggeration to say that the American people owe our liberty to France.
Today, freedom-loving people all over the world still look to France not only for its strength but for its values, the tolerance, the freedom, the progress. We see that in Bosnia where the heroism of France's soldiers and the determination of its President are helping peace to take hold. We see it in Africa where France is battling poverty and disease to bring hope to millions. We see it in Europe where French leadership is transforming Jean Monnet's vision of an undivided continent finally into a reality. And we see it in the struggle that France is waging against the forces of destruction in the modern world, against the terrorism, the organized crime, the drug trafficking, forces from which none of us are immune.
Mr. President, I am grateful to have you as our partner in facing all these common challenges. I have long admired your political tenacity, and I have a suggestion that in France they should begin to call you "Le Comeback Kid." [Laughter] I also think all of my fellow Americans should know that, as far as I know, the President is the only foreign head of state who once worked behind the counter at a Howard Johnson's restaurant. [Laughter]
I know the deep affection he developed for our Nation lives on and that he still takes vacations in California. Today he gave me some good advice; he suggested that I should spend a little time out there in the next few months. [Laughter]
Most of all, Mr. President, let me say I admire the course you have set for France and the strength and determination which you are bringing to pursuing that course. Our nations have a special responsibility to lead by example and by action. Under your leadership, France is meeting that responsibility. And the United States is very, very proud to be a partner on the verge of a new century with our very first ally.
And so let us all raise a glass to France, to its President and First Lady, and to our enduring alliance. Long live our two nations.