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Remarks Following Discussions With United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and an Exchange With Reporters

January 23, 1997

The President. Good afternoon. Secretary-General and your distinguished staff, Mr. Vice President, Madam Secretary.

The President of the United States must exercise the leadership of our country for peace and freedom, for security and prosperity in the world. When we must, we will act alone. But when we can, we must work with others to spread the cost and the risks of engagement and to make our own leadership more effective.

The United Nations is critical in advancing the progress and peace of the world. It vaccinates children against disease, helps refugees to stay safe and go home, teaches farmers how to grow good crops, guards against the spread of nuclear weapons. And from Angola to the Middle East, U.N. peacekeepers are giving diplomacy a chance to work and peace a chance to take hold.

That is the kind of burden-sharing we need to seize the promise and meet the perils of a world growing ever closer together. That's why last year I believed so strongly that the United Nations needed new leadership, a Secretary-General who could rebuild the institution to take on the challenges of the future. I am very pleased that the U.N. chose Kofi Annan for the job. He is a man who shares that vision and is clearly prepared to act, an experienced diplomat, a proven reformer, a man committed to a revitalized United Nations, one that upholds its timeless mission but that adapts to new times.

We had a good discussion. We talked about the need to put the U.N. back on sound financial footing. That will demand far-reaching reform, the elimination of waste, streamlining staff, wiping out overlap and abuse. The Secretary-General and I agree that the U.N. must pursue this course of reform. It's clear to me that he is prepared and determined to get the job done.

As the U.N. moves to reform, it must know also that the United States is prepared to pay its way. In the weeks ahead, I will be working with Congress to reach an agreement through which America can pay our arrears to the U.N., meet our obligations, and continue to spur real progress. We cannot expect to lead through the United Nations unless we are prepared to pay our own way and to pay what we owe as they do what they should along the path of reform. As long as the United States does its part— as long as the United Nations does its part, we simply have to be prepared to pay our debts and to pay our dues.

Today we are proud as Americans to stand as the indispensable nation, the world's leading force for peace and freedom and security and prosperity. But we cannot sustain our leadership or, more importantly, our goals for a better world, alone. And we cannot sustain it by words alone. Our well-being at home depends upon our engagement around the world. We have to have the resources to meet that challenge and to assume the responsibilities of leadership. Meeting our commitment to the United Nations is a crucial part of that task, and I might say also, on Secretary Albright's first day in office, adequately funding our foreign policy operations through the State Department and our other diplomatic missions is also a critical part of that task.

I'm very encouraged that the Secretary-General will be meeting with congressional leaders during his visit here to Washington. I look forward to working with the Congress and with the Secretary-General to renew the United Nations for the century ahead, and I'm very glad that he is the first leader that I have met with after my Inauguration.

Mr. Secretary-General, would you like to say a few words? Welcome to Washington.

[At this point, Secretary-General Annan made brief remarks.]

The President. Thank you very much.

U.S. Debt to the United Nations

Q. Mr. President, why did you wait so long to want to pay back your debts? And is it conditional on reforms?

The President. First of all, I wanted to pay it back all along. Our budget will actually have a plan to pay it back and to pay it back in a prompt fashion. As a practical matter, I know from consulting with the Members of Congress that we won't be able to secure support in the Congress for paying the arrears unless they're convinced that reform is going forward.

But you know, the United States has been, I think, very fortunate to have hosted the United Nations since its creation, to have supported it and worked with it in ways large and small. And we have been immensely benefited by the burden-sharing and humanitarian work that the United Nations has done. So I am determined to see that we pay our way. And I think it's a part of—I'll say again, it's a part of having the proper attitude toward our foreign policy operations in general.

I'm gratified that Secretary Albright and Secretary Cohen were confirmed yesterday. I hope that Bill Richardson and Tony Lake will be promptly confirmed so we can put our whole foreign policy team on the field and go to work. But we have to recognize that our diplomacy and our leadership cannot be through the defense budget alone. We also have to have an adequate diplomatic budget to do the work that has to be done. And that is—a part of that is paying our U.N. way.

Q. Mr. President, what do you think about——

Q. Mr. President, if you put the U.N. on a scale of 1 to 10, where would you place it?

The President. Rising rapidly. [Laughter]

Canada-Cuba Trade Agreement

Q. What do you think about Canada's trade deal with Cuba?

The President. Excuse me?

Q. Canada's trade deal with Cuba?

The President. What about it?

Q. What is your reaction to it? Do you have any?

The President. Well, my reaction is I'm gratified that the Canadians, along with the Europeans, are now talking more to the Cubans about human rights and democratic reforms. I'm skeptical, frankly, that it will—that the recent discussions between the Canadians and the Cubans will lead to advances. I believe that our policy is the proper one, but I'm glad that the Canadians are trying to make something good happen in Cuba.

U.S. Debt to the United Nations

Q. Gentlemen, would the two of you like to have a common strategy about how to get a reluctant Congress to give up this money?

The President. Well, I think we have common interests there. I've already told you that I'm utterly convinced that the Secretary-General has a chance to genuinely reform the United Nations for the 21st century because he is committed to do it and because he and his team have the capacity to do it. And I think all that remains is for him to establish an appropriate relationship with our Congress. And I think he'll do it and do quite well with it. And we don't need to coordinate a strategy for that. No secret here, we've told you everything we've just said in there.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:21 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Following Discussions With United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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