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Toasts of the President and Ambassador Guillermo Sevilla-Sacasa of Nicaragua at a Dinner Honoring the Chiefs of Mission of the Americas

April 06, 1971

Mr. Secretary of State, Ambassador Sevilla-Sacasa, Your Excellencies:

This is a very special dinner tonight in the State Dining Room, special because of those who attended and special because of the relationship we have.

Speaking of a special relationship, I know that you, as members of the diplomatic corps, watch every word and every phrase that whoever is President may utter. And you notice that from time to time we refer to the special relationship that the United States has with Great Britain. It is a special relationship because of common situations with regard to language, the common law, our system of debate in Parliament, and so forth.

Tonight, I do not refer to a special relationship. I refer to something that is more meaningful, a personal relationship, a very personal relationship with so many of you here personally, to all of the people of your countries, and to the American family of which we are all members.

We are glad that we speak tonight, not just of Latin America but of Canada and the Caribbean, the whole American family, la familia americana.

And in speaking of that personal relationship, I know that there must be times when you must wonder, as representatives of your country, about the interest the United States seems to have--as we must have, because our interests must be in the areas where the problems seem to be the greatest at the moment--the interests we have in the Mideast, in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, and that perhaps we do not seem to express often enough the interest we have and the feeling that we have in our hearts for our closest friends, our closest neighbors.

I want to try to express that feeling tonight, express it in very personal terms, not about each of you personally here-the time would not permit that but about our own experience.

As the Ambassador from Mexico knows, and as many of you know, my wife and I spent 2 weeks in Mexico on our wedding trip. We went back there 25 years later with our two daughters.

And as a Californian, we have a very personal and special feeling about the common tradition that we in California share with our neighbors to the south, in Mexico and all the other countries.

Some of you may not know that in 1941, a year after we were married, due to the fact that my wife at that time was very affluent--I was just a poor lawyer--but my wife being a teacher had acquired enough money that we were able to get the cheapest berth on the last of the old banana boats, the Ulua, that took the Caribbean cruise. Some of you may remember the Ulua. You have to go back that far to remember it because it was sunk by the Germans in 1942. But in 1941, we shall never forget the trip that we took. It took us to Panama and it took us to San Jose. It took us to the countries of Central America.1

And, again, at that time we acquired a personal feeling for those countries-many years before we thought we might be in this place or even considered that there would be a possibility of our being here as a guest, let alone as a host.

And then all the other times are too numerous to mention. The inaugurations that we have been honored to attend in Mexico and other countries in South America, the trips that we have taken, 1955, 1958, and then personally in 1964, 1967.

I would imagine perhaps that I am the first President of the United States who has visited every country of North and South America personally before I became President.

Now, let me tell you what it means. I could put it in quite concrete terms tonight. When my very fine staff and Secretary Rogers and Assistant Secretary Meyer 2 and Dr. Kissinger prepared the talking notes, they said these are good things that you could mention: the fact, first, that I am devoted to the proposition that we must complete the links in the Pan American Highway. We are doing so. It will be done, not as fast as I would like. Nothing ever happens as fast as a President would like, no matter how much power you think he has. But it will be done.

And the fact that we plan to submit to the Congress, as soon as we can get the proper climate, the proposal that I made that some of you will remember at a dinner where all the press covering Latin America were present, the Inter American Press Association, for a general tariff preference.3 It will happen. It will happen while I am in this office. And these things I could mention.

But all of that I could mention to any group of visitors, because, whether it is Europe or Asia or Africa or the Mideast, there are these individual, very pragmatic, materialistic things that we could do. And they do matter. They matter a great deal. How much will the loan be or the aid or the cooperation or the assistance, whatever the case might be. I do not mean for one moment to say that we do not have an enormous interest in that and that you do not have our total commitment to the programs on which we are working together.

And the Secretary of State will expand on that commitment when he meets with you all in the beautiful city of San Jose just starting almost a week from today.

But let me put it in more personal terms. I could tell you about sugar quotas, I could speak about Pan American highways. I could speak about tariff preferences. I could speak about new methods of financing, all of these things. But what does it mean? How do you know that I mean it, that our country means it, in a very personal way?

Now, I have to turn, really, to an experience my wife had to illustrate it. A few months ago she went to Peru. It was a time of great tragedy, Mr. Ambassador, for Peru. It is no secret around this table that the Government of the United States had very significant differences with the Government of Peru, but believe me, the people of the United States have no differences with the people of Peru.

My wife went there, and she came back with memories of the wonderful people that she saw in a period of tragedy--still proud, still strong, still determined to stand on their feet, welcoming assistance from abroad, but not being completely dependent upon that assistance.

What I am trying to say to all of you here tonight very simply is this: that we in this house do not consider we have a special relationship with our friends in the American family because you are closest to us, and, therefore, very important to us, which you are, but that the relationship is personal going back over so many years, personal going back over so many memories, personal in the sense that when something happens, a tragedy in your house, it also happens in our house. You feel it in your hearts. We feel it in ours. When there is happiness in your house or in your country, we feel happiness in ours.

That is the personal message I would convey to you tonight.

In that spirit, because I cannot toast all of the countries that are represented here and their heads of government, and not all the ambassadors and other distinguished people that are represented here, I am going to propose the toast tonight to the dean of the diplomatic corps because--not to tell this group who know his record--it is quite unusual, quite unusual in the sense that he has been dean of the diplomatic corps longer than anybody in history. He has lived through, as dean, six Presidents and nine Chiefs of Protocol, nine Secretaries of State--that shows who lives longest in this business--four Speakers and four Chief Justices.

Any man who can survive that long has to be quite a man.

To my personal friend, your personal friend, the friend of the Americas, the dean of the diplomatic corps, Ambassador Sevilla-Sacasa.

The dean.

1 The S.S. Ulua, named for a river in Honduras, was operated by the United Fruit Company in the Caribbean between 1919 and 1942. She served with the U.S. Navy during World War II and in 1946 was retired to the James River Fleet and scrapped.

2 Charles A. Meyer, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs.

3 See 1969 volume, Item 424.

Note: The President spoke at 9:44 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Ambassador Sevilla-Sacasa responded as follows:

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

I have the honor to propose a toast to the President of the United States of America and Mrs. Nixon: To the President and Mrs. Nixon.

Mr. President, the Chiefs of Mission of the Americas and the Ambassadors, representatives of those republics to the Organization of American States, as well as our wives, are very grateful to Your Excellency and the First Lady, Mrs. Nixon, for the tribute you are so graciously rendering to us tonight at the White House.

The kindness of your invitation, Mr. President, the hospitable atmosphere of the White House, the elegance of your table, the kindness of your words, the presence of the Secretary of State and other distinguished personalities of your Government enhance our rejoicing tonight.

Today, Mr. President, as on many previous occasions, we are most pleased to be enjoying your lavish hospitality. Just last February 8, the Chiefs of Mission and our wives enjoyed the elegant reception you offered in our honor at the White House--an unforgettable night, Mr. President.

Tonight, you feast your very good friends of Latin America by offering this splendid dinner that has given us the opportunity to share with Your Excellency and the First Lady the bread and wine of friendship that is so gratifying to us all.

Friendship, Mr. President, is a sacred word, a marvelous and noble sentiment that is like a rare essence that perfumes our life.

Friendship, Mr. President, that is the main tie that united the men who live in America, the continent of peace and hope.

We come from peoples who are friends of your people, Mr. President, friendly peoples who respect and esteem the North American nation, the glorious nation that is the bulwark of peace and liberty.

We represent peoples who have for Your Excellency great respect and affection, Mr. President, and for your distinguished wife, Mrs. Nixon, immense admiration and esteem because of her noble nature and her personal charms.

We all know that you harbor in your hearts affectionate feelings for our nations and that you wish to contribute in solving our problems and preoccupations.

Very close to us, the cherry blossoms perfume the air. Here with you at the White House on this beautiful night in April, very close to the celebration of the Pan American Day, a date which is for all of us a source of inspiration, we can again say that there is a rare essence that perfumes the atmosphere, the sacred friendship of our people with yours, the friendship of our nations with you, and our friendship with Your Excellency, Mr. President, and with the worthy companion of your life, Mrs. Nixon.

Thank you for your very nice words about myself. As you know, Mr. President, one of my greatest honors of my life is to be dean here in your great country. To be dean certainly is my official title. But I have many other titles. One of my best is considered loyalty for you and your nation.

Thank you again for your kind attention, which gratified and honored us.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Richard Nixon, Toasts of the President and Ambassador Guillermo Sevilla-Sacasa of Nicaragua at a Dinner Honoring the Chiefs of Mission of the Americas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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