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Toast at a Dinner Hosted by Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev

December 09, 1987

Mr. General Secretary, Mrs. Gorbachev, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, Ambassador and Mrs. Dubinin, and ladies and gentlemen: We're coming to the end of the second full day of your visit to our land. It's been an eventful 2 days. But now that you've seen our Nation's Capital, Mr. General Secretary, I only wish you could have a chance to meet the people who normally work and do business here. Unfortunately, they're all in Iowa and New Hampshire- [laughter] —campaigning for my job.

As everyone in the United States knows, I have a weakness for anecdotes. So, if I may, I'd like to begin with a story I was so moved by recently that I mentioned it in my address to the people of the Soviet Union. It's an account of one of our diplomats, a young man then, stationed in our Embassy in Moscow during World War II. He was there when news of victory, V-E Day reached that city, and he said Red Square erupted in a spontaneous demonstration of thankfulness and joy.

Our Embassy's chancery was just across from the Kremlin, and many of the Americans stationed there in those days were still in uniform. When they walked outside to join in the celebration, the crowd spotted them, lifted them onto their shoulders, and carried them on to Red Square. But the young diplomat said he was even more moved by the words of one Red Army major standing near him in the crowd, words filled with new found hope: "Now it's time to live," he said.

Well, Mr. General Secretary, we've accomplished much so far in this summit—a path-breaking agreement that for the first time will eliminate an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons. But I'm convinced that history will ultimately judge this summit and its participants not on missile count but on how far we moved together to the fulfillment of that soldier's hopes.

We have prided ourselves, Mr. General Secretary, on our realism, that we've come to this summit without illusions, with no attempts to gloss over the deep differences that divide us, differences that reach to the core values upon which our political systems are based. But we said, even so, we can make progress; even so, we can find areas of agreement and cooperation.

But perhaps in this Christmas season, we should look at an even deeper and more enduring realism. It is a reality that precedes states and governments, that precedes and surpasses the temporary realities of ideology and politics. It is the reality that binds each of us as individual souls, the bond that united Soviets and Americans in exultation and thanksgiving on that day of peace, 42 years ago.

General Secretary Gorbachev, you've declared that in your own country there is a need for greater glasnost, or openness, and the world watches expectantly and with great hopes to see this promise fulfilled. For in talking of openness and promising truth, you've called on the deepest hungers of the human heart, hungers shared by all, whether they be Soviet or American or the citizens of any nation on Earth.

Thomas Jefferson, one of our nation's great founders and philosophers, once said, "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty as well." He meant that we're born to freedom and that the need for liberty is as basic as the need for food. And he, as the great revolutionary he was, also knew that lasting peace would only come when individual souls have the freedom they crave. What better time than in this Christmas and Hanukkah season, a season of spirit you recently spoke to, Mr. General Secretary, when you noted the millennium of Christianity in your land and spoke of the hopes of your people for a better life in a world of peace. These are hopes shared by the people of every nation, hopes for an end to war; hopes, especially in this season, for the right to worship according to the dictates of the conscience.

There's an old Russian saying: "Every man is the blacksmith of his own happiness." And like all folk sayings, it contains a profound understanding of the human condition. We can, with our free will, shape our future. We can make it what that Soviet soldier saw in his vision of a better world, a vision of peace and freedom.

In memory of that day in Red Square when Soviet citizens carried American soldiers on their shoulders, in memory of that day when the Red Army embraced a new world of hope, I raise my glass. Mr. General Secretary and Mrs. Gorbachev, Foreign Minister Shevardnadze, thank you. And Ambassador and Mrs. Dubinin, thank you for your hospitality this evening. And for my last attempt at Russian: Za vashe zdororye [To your health].

Note: The President spoke at 7:40 p.m at the Soviet Embassy. Earlier, the President and the General Secretary met privately and then with U.S. and Soviet officials in the Oval Office at the White House to discuss regional issues and arms reductions.

Ronald Reagan, Toast at a Dinner Hosted by Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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