The President's News Conference With Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany in Bonn
Chancellor Kohl. President Bill, ladies and gentlemen, it's the very great pleasure for me to be able to welcome you, Mr. President, here to Germany, here in the Chancellory of the Federal Building of Germany.
I salute the President of the United States, the country to which the Germans owe so much after the war, more than any other country in the world. American soldiers brought freedom to Germany. American soldiers were those who brought us freedom, and the United States of America helped us in those difficult times. And Bill as a representative of a generation that experienced that. I was 15, 16 years old then— those who, until the monetary reform here in Germany, had firsthand experience of hunger and starvation, had experience of the kind of rubble in which our cities had fallen and the destruction that had been wrought through the war. As someone of that generation, I say to you how much that means, friendship and partnership with the United States, to us here in Germany. And we have not forgotten the millions of American soldiers who, over a period of more than 40 years, defended freedom and peace and security for us here in Germany, who were here, far from their homes, together with their relatives, with their family members.
And we have certainly not forgotten—certainly I have not forgotten—that all American Presidents, ever since Harry S Truman, the unforgettable Harry S Truman, and George Marshall always were ready to help us in difficult times. And all Presidents of the United States, from Harry S Truman onward, all the way to George Bush, and to you, to you, Bill, and to your term in office, all of you have helped us along the way.
I will never forget the German unity in those dramatic days and months, 1989, 1990, and the years after that, that this would not have been brought about without the assistance and help of our American friends. And in this dramatic moment of change in the world, where I feel it is changing for the better, it is of tremendous importance that we should continue this good cooperation.
Tomorrow you will go to Berlin. And that is something for which I am highly grateful, because for us Berlin is the symbol of the free world. And without your assistance throughout the years—the airlift is just one case in point— people would not have been able to live freely in peace and freedom in Berlin.
For the future, we want to adhere to the clear maxim of Konrad Adenauer, who said again and again that German security, German future rests on two pillars: the unification of Europe and transatlantic partnership and friendship. And this basic tenet of our foreign policy will not change, which is why I am grateful that the President of the United States, once again, on the 9th of January of this year in Brussels made it very clear in his speech that the presence of American soldiers here in Germany and in the whole of Europe will be maintained.
I think we have launched a lot of common initiatives. I would like to mention here the exchange programs of young students, the contribution that was made to the German American Academic Council, that apart from military security issues and economic issues, cultural relations are very important, too, and they also strengthen our relationship.
We have just talked about how the ancestry of so many Americans—so many Americans know about their roots that they have here in Germany. And what we have built up over these years, decades, centuries, is something that we want to continue.
You see these old trees, very old trees, that were planted by generations that were before us. And we are happy to see them grown, because others have been so farsighted to plant them. And if we bring together young Americans and young Germans, it's as if you've planted the seedlings for a new forest. And this is something we want to do together.
We talked about many topical issues of dayto-day politics yesterday and today, yesterday in Naples. We will continue our talks here today. Once again, a very warm welcome to you here in Bonn and later on in Berlin. And what is important and what still stands is what we said after our first meeting: Watching a German-American friendship, a German-American partnership is one of the basic prerequisites for upholding peace and freedom of our country, and I'm truly grateful for this.
The President. Thank you very much. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to visit here in Bonn for the first time and to be the first American President to come here since the fall of the Wall and the unification of Germany. I also want to say, I appreciate very much having the opportunity to see Chancellor Kohl again and to build on the work that we have just done at the G-7 Summit at Naples.
The relationship between Germany and America in the last several decades has been truly unique in history. And the Chancellor and I both hold our offices at a moment of historic opportunity. The walls between nations are coming down; bridges between nations are coming up. The integration of Europe, strongly supported by the United States, is well underway.
We know from our experience how half of Europe was integrated through NATO and other institutions that built stability after World War II. We marvel at the leadership of Chancellor Kohl and his fellow Germans who came from West and East and who have now made their nation whole, who are working so hard to revive the economy, not only of Europe but of the entire globe.
At the heart of our discussion today was what we have to do to integrate Europe's other half, the new independent nations of Central and Eastern Europe, Poland, the Baltic countries, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, the others. We noted how American and Russian forces will soon leave places in Germany where they have been since 1945. We discussed how important it is to expand joint military exercises with our allies through the Partnership For Peace. But we also recognize that trade, as much as troops, will increasingly define the ties that bind nations in the 21st century.
We discussed how new institutions and relationships must be built on even broader stability in the wake of the aftermath of the cold war. We discussed how new institutions and relationships must build even stronger stability after the cold war, institutions such as the European Union whose presidency Germany has recently assumed, the World Trade Organization, and of course, the Partnership For Peace.
As we build on the work we did in Naples and look to next year in Halifax, the economic, cultural, and security bonds between Germany and the United States will grow stronger. The Chancellor and I will continue to do everything we can to make the microphones work—[laughter]—and to integrate the newly independent countries of Europe into shared security with their neighbors, helping them to reform their economies, attract new investment, claim their place at the table with free and friendly nations of like mind.
Let me say again how much I personally appreciate the working relationship I have enjoyed with Chancellor Kohl and the partnership that has existed for so long now between Germany and the United States. As we look forward to further progress in integrating Europe, in dealing with the difficulties in Bosnia—and we hope that peace will be made there—I think it is clear that to imagine any of these things working out over the long run, the German-American partnership will have to be maintained and strengthened, and I am confident that it will be.
Q. Tomorrow a German court will rule whether Germany can send troops beyond NATO's borders. How would you like to see Germany play a greater role on the world stage? I would actually like to ask the Chancellor how he sees that as unfolding.
The President. The German court will rule— for fear that I will have an adverse impact, although I doubt that the opinion of the United States can or should have much impact on a constitutional judgment by a German court.
Let me answer you in this way. I have great confidence in the larger purposes and direction of this country and of the support Germany has given to a unified Europe in which it is a partner, but an equal partner, with its friends and neighbors, as well as to a more aggressive effort to solve the problems within Europe, like Bosnia, and beyond Europe's borders.
I think anything that can be done to enable Germany to fulfill the leadership responsibilities that it is plainly capable of fulfilling is a positive thing. But of course, the German court will have to interpret the German constitution. That's beyond the reach of Americans to understand, much less comment on, but I do hope that we will have the benefit of the full range of Germany's capacities to lead.
Chancellor Kohl. First of all, ladies and gentlemen, I think you will well understand that before the court has come to its final ruling I will not be able to comment on that. Here in Germany we say that on the high seas and in front of a tribunal you are always in God's hands, and I think a chancellor would be well advised to stick to this kind of advice.
I can only tell you how we see our position in general terms, the role of Germany. Well, we are members of the United Nations, and as members of the United Nations we have certain obligations and we have certain rights. And I think it is simply inconceivable and incompatible with the dignity of our country that we make full use of the rights and do not fulfill our obligations. This is unacceptable.
That is also the background of the internal dispute that is currently in discussion, that is going on here. We have had help from our neighbors, from the United States, that I already mentioned. Now when things get a bit rough, we cannot simply sit back and let others do the work. We will have to discuss, obviously, how we are going to do this in detail once the court has come to its final ruling. We have to assume our international responsibilities.
This excuse that we had for the past 40 years, and it was a justified opinion under the circumstances, where we said, "Well, as a divided country we will simply not be able to take certain decisions," that is something that is no longer valid. One cannot be a reunified country with 80 million people with the kind of economic strength that we have, with the kind of reputation and prestige that we claim for ourselves, if we do not fully assume our responsibilities and fulfill our obligations. And as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, I would have you know that it will be the opinion of this Federal Government that we will bear responsibility within the framework of our responsibilities.
Q. Mr. President, back home you've been criticized by the Republican leader, Bob Dole, for your condolences that you offered to the Korean people on the death of Kim Il-song. How do you feel about his comments? Do you think it was a mistake to offer condolences, and are you concerned about this latest postponement of the North-South talks and also the Geneva talks?
The President. First of all, let me say that the statement that I issued was brief, to the point, and appropriate, and very much in the interest of the United States. It is a fact that after years and years of isolation and a great deal of tension arising out of the nuclear questions, we began talks again with the North Koreans on the day that Kim Il-song died.
I think it is in the interest of the United States that North Korea continue to suspend its reprocessing, refueling, and continue to engage in those talks. They have told us that the talks will resume after an appropriate time for grieving. And I would think that the veterans of the Korean war and their survivors, as much as any group of Americans, would very much want us to resolve this nuclear question with North Korea and to go forward. So what I said and what I did, I believed then and I believe now was in the interest of the United States and all Americans.
Q. On the situation in Bosnia, there seems to be a growing concern in the United States to go ahead and finally lift the arms embargo so that Bosnian Muslims can defend themselves. Are you now prepared to support that, and why has it taken so long?
Perhaps, President Clinton, you'd like to respond to that as well.
Chancellor Kohl. Well, first of all I don't think it would be wise to discuss this question at this present moment in time, publicly, and I will not do so. We have come to clear agreements so the participants to the conflict have a clearcut plan submitted to them on the table.
There is a very clear period for a decision that has been granted to them, and I think we should wait until that has run out and then come to our decision. But I would like to use this opportunity to appeal to all parties to the conflict in Bosnia to seize this opportunity that may open up itself if all parties to the conflict show themselves willing to compromise.
If you look at the declaration, the statement that emanated from the conference yesterday in Naples, where President Yeltsin also had a share in that since eight countries participated yesterday that here, a very clear-cut position comes out of this declaration and I support this declaration, and I am in complete agreement with my friend Bill Clinton on that.
The President. Let me just say, too, the Bosnian Government has, with great difficulty—because the map is not easy for anyone—but the Bosnian Government has said that it would accept that contact group's proposal and present it for approval, and I think we should support that. I think that the Serbs should do the same, and I think it should be implemented.
The contact group has worked very hard to bring an end to this conflict and to be as fair as possible to the parties. And what we have to do with this problem in the heart of Europe here is to give the chance for peace to occur, and we all need to be supporting this. And I feel very strongly that the fact that we've been able to achieve a united position here gives us a chance to have the peace agreement work if it is accepted in good faith. And that's where I think we ought to go. I think we ought to work together with our allies in Europe to solve this problem, and we have come very close to doing that.
Q. Mr. President, are you operating on blind faith in terms of North Korea? It seems to me that the fact that they in the future will get to us through diplomatic channels and really postpone the talks, now today the breakoff of the North-South summit. Don't you have some sense that things may not go so well?
The President. Well, the evidence will be in the action. That is, we have been told—first of all, let me break these two issues up.
The United States said that we would go back to discussions on the nuclear questions if, but only if, the reprocessing and refueling were suspended so that the situation could not further deteriorate. The North Koreans have told us that they were prepared to continue the discussions, but they wanted an appropriate period of time in the aftermath of Kim Il-song's death. So I think, on balance, we know whether or not they will keep their word and we will be able to see that. We will know whether or not they continue to avoid reprocessing, refueling. And they say they want to continue the talks, so I'm hopeful on that.
On the question of the summit, as I understand it—and I haven't had a chance to visit with President Kim about it, I'm going to talk with him in the next couple of days—keep in mind, that's a matter for the North Koreans and the South Koreans to determine between themselves. And I don't think it's entirely clear right now, at least, where both parties stand on the timing of that. I do hope it will be held as soon as it's appropriate and so do the G-7 countries. We, the G-8, yesterday, came out for that in our political statement.
But there's no pie-in-the-sky optimism here; there are facts, which are the predicate to continuing talks. And the facts are, will the nuclear reprocessing and refueling be suspended and will the talks resume at an appropriate time and a reasonable time. And so far, the answers to both those questions seem to be yes, and therefore, I think that's good news.
Q. Mr. President, the indications seem to be that the younger Kim is a somewhat peculiar chap, and I wonder what sense you may have of that and how it may affect any calculations you might be making as to whether and when, if at all, to reach out to him diplomatically in any way?
The President. I wish you'd answer that question, Helmut. [Laughter]
Chancellor Kohl. I don't think either of us knows anything specific. And in such difficult times and in such a difficult situation, I think the best thing is probably one to wait until you see the original, and don't hear reports that you hear about the original.
The President. Let me give you an answer. I was only halfway serious, but he did a good job, didn't he? [Laughter]
I don't know the younger Kim. And I think you have to be careful in judging people by what others say about them one way or the other. I think we need to proceed on the facts. If the facts are that North Korea is serious about continuing to talk with us in Geneva and will continue to suspend these important elements of the nuclear program, then we should proceed on that basis. Any other questions will have to be developed as we know more than we now know.
Decline of the Dollar
Q. Really a question for Chancellor Kohl, whether or not you have some concerns about the falling U.S. dollar, whether or not you and President Clinton discussed that, and do you think that the U.S. should take some action by involving the dollar at this time?
Chancellor Kohl. That was not the subject of our discussions today. But on the margins of the conference in Naples, that was an issue among others. But I must tell you that it's not my job to talk to a government with whom we have such friendly ties in such a forum and then to make this in any way public. That is something that I do not want to do.
The American economy, and this is to our advantage infinitely here in Europe and in Germany, has, thankfully, now picked up again and is in an upswing. And I think the American Government knows very well how the domestic situation is and is in the best position to make decisions. I don't think that it would be appropriate to discuss this publicly. I have a very vivid memory of this kind of discussion in my own country over the years; this is why I always held back in this kind of discussions with others.
The President. Let me say I'm reluctant to say more than I already have, which is that we will not use the dollar as an instrument of trade. We take this issue seriously, but the fundamentals of the American economy are sound. I appreciate Chancellor Kohl talking about our economic recovery in saying that that is good for Germany. We want to be in a position to buy more as well as to sell more.
Q. Mr. President, you said that the German-American relations were a truly unique relationship. Obviously, one thinks immediately of a special relationship that played quite a significant role in the relations of your country with the U.K. Now, which country is going to be the most important half of the talks for you in the future?
The President. That's like asking me to pick a team in the World Cup. [Laughter] Once we were eliminated I declined to do that.
Well, the relationship we have with the two countries is different, you know. I mean the history is different. The relationship we have with the U.K. goes back to our founding. Even though we fought two wars with them early in the last century, it is unique in ways that nothing can ever replace because we grew out of them.
The relationship we have with Germany is rooted in the stream of immigration that goes back 200 years. Indeed, as Chancellor Kohl said, most Americans might be surprised to know that German-Americans are the largest ethnic group in the United States, about 58 million of them. But what we have shared since World War II, I think, is astonishing. And I think 200, 300, 400 years from now historians will look back on this period, this 50 years, and just marvel at what happened in the aftermath of that awful war. And it has given us a sense, I think, common partnership that is unique now because so many of our challenges are just to Germany's east. What are we going to do in Central and Eastern Europe? What will be our new relationship with Russia, will it continue as strongly as it now seems to be doing?
So there's a way in which the United States and Germany have a more immediate and tangible concern with these issues, even than our other friends in Europe. And so history has dealt us this hand, and a very fortunate one it is, I think.
Thank you very much.
NOTE: The President's 65th news conference began at 11:49 a.m. at the Chancellory. Chancellor Kohl spoke in German, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.
William J. Clinton, The President's News Conference With Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany in Bonn Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/220235