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Remarks at a White House Dinner Honoring the Chiefs of Diplomatic Missions

February 18, 1982

President Reagan. Mr. Ambassador, Mrs. Dobrynin, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

Napoleon is quoted as having instructed one of his ambassadors in the art of diplomacy by saying, "Keep a good table and look after the ladies." [Laughter]

Well, tonight it's been our honor to set a table for you and indeed a pleasure to entertain so many charming and beautiful ladies. Nancy and I are delighted to welcome you here as friends—more as friends than as representatives of our countries, more for passing a pleasant evening than for transacting business.

In an era of instant communication, the diplomatic job becomes even more important. And those manners, customs, and standards of behavior, synonymous with diplomacy, become indispensable tools for keeping the peace. All the world relies on maintaining the ethics and standards of their profession. Certainly, each of us strives uncompromisingly to represent the interest of our countries, which is as it should be. Yet, at the same time, we're mindful that it is our actions that will determine the future of mankind. This dual personality—or responsibility, I should say—is a heavy weight. Even so, we must never lose touch with those human qualities that reaffirm that the affairs of state are ultimately relationships between people.

One of my predecessors, John Quincy Adams, who was also a fine Secretary of State, once pointed out, "In the intercourse between nations, temper is a missionary perhaps more powerful than talent. Nothing was ever lost by kind treatment." So tonight as we socialize together—now, that term should not be taken economically, of course— [laughter] —as we get to know each other, let us be mindful that diplomacy is a cherished institution that permits such fraternal interaction.

Americans, perhaps because of our own cultural and racial variety, believe that beneath the world's diversity most people have similar goals. They look for dignity, freedom, peace, and a chance to prosper. These common dreams and aspirations can serve as our strength.

At the diplomatic dinner last week, I recalled Antilles, the character in Greek mythology who drew his power from touching the Earth. So long as he touched the Earth, he could not be defeated. But when he lost touch, he grew frail. Well, similarly, as long as we stay in touch with the hopes and honest desires of our people, the prospects for world peace will be strong.

Looking around this room tonight gives reason for optimism. We represent a panoply of languages, cultures, religions, and traditions. Yet the civility and cordiality between us is not only possible, it is expected. Yes, problems exist. But this dinner is not a microcosm of mankind's problems; it is, instead, a sample of the opportunities we have to communicate on a personal level and cooperate as representatives of our independent nations. Lest some cynic suggest that cooperation does not extend beyond party-going, let us point to our commitment to maintain the diplomatic tradition which we celebrate.

In recent years, this tradition has come under increasing attack from terrorists who seek to strike at governments through their diplomatic representatives. In the last 15 years, diplomats from over 100 countries have been victims of terrorist attacks. Fortunately, most have survived these attacks; a few, tragically, have not. Those who perpetrate these cowardly acts should never doubt that every nation considers an attack on any diplomat a crime against mankind which will not be tolerated in any land.

Reflecting on this, we're grateful to the diplomatic community for your courage and perseverance. So, since there is no one of us that will be toasted separately, I ask you now to raise your glasses with me in a toast in honor of the Washington chiefs of mission. May mankind profit by what we do.

Ambassador Dobrynin. Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, ladies and gentlemen:

On behalf of my colleagues, members of Washington's diplomatic corps, it is my real pleasure and also a privilege to thank you, Mr. President, and you, Mrs. Reagan, for this wonderful dinner at the White House.

I must admit, Mr. President, that dining, lunching, and entertaining is an important part of our profession, but this excellent evening, so rich with the graciousness of the hosts and their elegant and warm hospitality makes it a memorable occasion for all of us. It gives me a most pleasant opportunity to extend our warm greetings to the First Lady of this country, who makes this evening so enjoyable a one. And I should say, this is one of the privileges to be with you—to be seated next to the First Lady. [Laughter] So, it was worthwhile to me to stay for 20 years in this country to have this opportunity. [Laughter]

Mrs. Reagan has been standing beside her husband through many years and now, as is well known, gives much of her heart, spirit, and support to the President after his journey from the Pacific, California, to the shores of the Potomac River. And this change of residence, we understand, does not make your life, Mr. President, easier at all.

To my memory, this is the first time that the President hosts such a special dinner for the diplomatic corps at the White House—if I'm not mistaken, from President Eisenhower.

There is a widespread and not exactly correct legend, as you may know, Mr. President, that diplomats are pin-striped partygoers whose days—and even nights—are mostly spent on consuming caviar under the clinking sounds of crystal glasses. But the real story is that diplomats lead a difficult and laborious life. They feed on a mixed salad of often unreliable pieces of news, so-called "leaks"— [laughter] —and important, but not nutritious rumors which they find on the local information markets. [Laughter] The trouble is that they have to try it all before finding an edible or final truth. And of course, American politics, which sometimes is quite a riddle for the foreigners, doesn't make our life easier, especially answering our own governments' persistent question: "What's going on in this country?" [Laughter] So, any help from you, Mr. President, is always a welcome relief for us. [Laughter] That is why a dinner at the White House has a special importance to us.

In a way, to all of my colleagues here, ambassadors present here tonight, this is a kind, if you would like, of summit meeting, which we so cherish in our professional activities. I can confess to you, Mr. President, that after today's dinner, international communication channels will be overcrowded with the messages sent abroad from Washington embassies. [Laughter] It is quite possible that practically each diplomatic cable, I could presume, will start with the proud words: "Tonight, I, the Ambassador, had a very interesting conversation, personally, with the President"— [laughter] —"very interesting, prolonged conversation, personally with the President. And he told me so and so." [Laughter] And this I will leave at the discretion of each ambassador—what he was told. [Laughter]

And I may assure you, Mr. President, that each ambassador will try to present this conversation in the best possible way. After all, how could any ambassador miss this opportunity of the year. This kind of meeting is an excellent practice which we would all like to be continued. We are ready to spend any time with you, Mr. President— [laughter] —and at any place of your convenience-the White House, Camp David, or even your ranch in California. [Laughter] On our part, we would be happy to welcome you and Mrs. Reagan to our embassies any time—for dinner, for lunch, or even for breakfast— [laughter] —if it is, of course, not too early.

Present here tonight is the second part of our diplomatic corps, and I hope, Mr. President, that you like it as well as the first one. Your Chief of Protocol has assured me that the two parts are equal, selected on the basis of complete balance and parity, and neither of the parts can claim any superiority over the others. [Laughter]

I'm sorry I missed the first dinner, since I was out of the country. While in Moscow, I received the word about your speech, Mr. President, made on that occasion, and you repeated some parts of this today. And I can say, on behalf of all my colleagues, that we completely welcome your commitment to the security of diplomats and share your statement that, and I quote, "an attack on any diplomat is a crime against mankind." This is also the policy of our governments and gives us an additional feeling of security. After all, our profession becomes rather dangerous nowadays.

The Washington Diplomatic Corps represents all the continents of the globe, different races and different cultures. We brought here our own ideals and philosophies. We came here to maintain and, if possible, to improve relations between the United States and our countries, to explain as much as possible, the basic and current policies of our governments to the United States leaders and the American people, and to try to understand politics and policies of this country.

We all believe that there is one goal we share, and that is to preserve peace as the most important thing in the troubled world today. Diplomacy should play a leading role in achieving this noble goal, and we know that your Secretary of State, Mr. Haig, fully shares this view.

Mr. President, you may count on us, ambassadors, that we are all ready to work together in promoting international peace and cooperation between the United States and the countries we represent.

May I propose a toast to the health of our hosts, the President and Mrs. Reagan. We would also like to warmly congratulate you, Mr. President, and you, Mrs. Reagan, with your thirtieth wedding anniversary, which comes in several days. A lot of personal happiness to you and to your family.

Note: The President spoke at approximately 9:50 p.m. in the East Room at the White House at the second of two dinners honoring the chiefs of diplomatic missions. Anatoly F. Dobrynin is the Soviet Ambassador to the United States and dean of the diplomatic corps.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Dinner Honoring the Chiefs of Diplomatic Missions Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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