Jimmy Carter photo

Toasts of the President and President Alessandro Pertini of Italy at a State Dinner in Rome

June 20, 1980

PRESIDENT PERTINI. Mr. President, I am particularly happy to welcome you, Mrs. Carter, and your entourage on your first visit to Italy, which falls at a particularly delicate and difficult moment in international affairs and on the eve of the Venice summit. Public opinion in our countries look to this opportunity for obtaining an unambiguous and reassuring answer to the problems and uncertainties which lie before us.

Although at many similar occasions and meetings in the past, we have sought to emphasize how numerous and how close are the traditional ties which unite our two peoples and nations, permit me, Mr. President, to once again recall our substantial convergence of views.

The ties of friendship between Italy and the United States are deep-rooted and immutable and extend back through history to one of my fellow countrymen who opened up the frontier with the New World. This long history tells of the irresistible passage of men and ideas across the vastness of the ocean.

I am thinking now of the influence that the American Revolution had on movements for Italian unification and independence, the political and cultural interaction between Italy and the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century, which witnessed the first mass emigration of Italian labor to the United States, particularly from the most depressed areas of the Italian South. From that emigration a whole group of your countrymen originated, those of Italian extraction who made their mark through their hard work, tenacity, patience, and, affection, both for their country of adoption and their distant motherland in the Old World.

Nor can we Italians forget that at the darkest hour in our national history—and not ours alone—there came from the United States the decisive intervention against fascism and nazism, the moral support and the economic aid which permitted our ravaged and exhausted country to rebuild and regain its place within the international community.

Casting my mind back to our struggle, I am bound to recall that noble message which Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered to the U.S. Congress in the wartime winter of 1944. His conception of liberty was the same for which we were fighting, we Italian patriots in the mountains, towns, and cities, and it was for this same liberty that the European resistance and the Allies fought. It was a total political and social conception of liberty which remains today the fundamental value for which, Mr. President, we and our two countries are still fighting today.

I want now to take two quotations from that Roosevelt speech on which we all should meditate:

"This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty."

This great President then finalized this idea with these words:

"We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race or creed."

This conception of liberty, Mr. President, should be championed and consistently safeguarded in the international order also, in relations between all peoples, with the developing countries and with the Third World, which has so great a need for help from the industrialized nations to resolve the frequently life-and-death alternatives which encroach on all sides.

While I speak, millions of human beings are fighting against hunger. In 1979, 18 million children in the world died of malnutrition. This slaughter of the innocents is a condemnation which weighs heavily on the consciences of every statesman-and I am no exception. To resolve these agonizing problems means to strengthen that liberty proclaimed in the noble words of President Roosevelt.

To defend this liberty intact and indivisible, the United States have twice set foot on the old continent; these two memorable landings I myself lived through during the First and Second World Wars. And the gravestones recalling those American soldiers who laid down their lives that Europe might be free remain an everlasting monument to the defense of liberty.

These men indeed died for Europe's freedom, since the United States were not drawn to Europe by desire for conquest, but only by the firm resolution to stem the rising tide of authoritarian regimes. These men—I repeat—came to defend our liberty.

Mr. President, Italy is committed to a policy of dialog and detente in its awareness of the need for contacts which foster an understanding of the stances adopted by others and make its own position understood; this in the conviction that detente is the only possible way forward if a dangerous and complex spiral is to be avoided in international relations. Only an overall climate able to contribute to the maintenance of relations of friendship and confidence can effectively place relations between states in a framework within which elements of opposition and controversy can be settled and their causes progressively reduced.

This is the spirit which inspires our participation in the Atlantic Alliance, just as this is also the spirit which guides our staunch commitment to the creation of a politically unified Europe. Both these undertakings seem the surest means of removing the threats to peace, reducing tension, and achieving all those essential conditions for the peaceful and harmonious development of our peoples.

It is nevertheless necessary, particularly at a time when the future is so overshadowed with uncertainties, to succeed in expressing that Western solidarity to which we refer. This solidarity must therefore be translated into concerted and united positions on the major problems which confront us. If indeed a lesson can be learned from the analysis of the present political situation and outlook, it is surely the need—or urgency, rather—to strengthen ties, to create new forms of consultation and cooperation, in common recognition of the commitment which makes all of us equally indispensable to collective security.

It is for these reasons that we feel profound solidarity and sympathy with the feelings of the people of the United States and for the stand taken by the U.S. Government over the distressing issue of the Tehran hostages. I personally understand, Mr. President, the agony of your thoughts: to be forced to adopt embittered caution to avoid a global conflict. I have often asked myself what would have happened if the hostages had been of some other nationality. I am proud to have been the first to express full solidarity with you and to dispatch a firm protest to the Tehran authorities.

Our support of a friendly nation and ally is at this time inspired above all by concern for what is needed to restore as quickly as possible a situation of legality which has been so brutally overthrown. These events risk involving that overall climate of international relations in the overthrowal of rules which traditionally govern relations between states, when it is that climate which is the cornerstone of the very existence of states founded on the rule of law.

For these same reasons, Italy is opposed to any departure from the principle of constantly striving to safeguard detente. In particular, Italy deplores that most serious departure currently perpetrated in Afghanistan. This indeed jeopardizes not only local equilibria but also the general principles governing coexistence between peoples.

Yet again, therefore, we voice our firm protest against the brutal invasion of that country. With our own memories of the struggle against foreign powers who occupied and oppressed our country, we send out from this place, which is today honored by your presence, Mr. President, a message of brotherly solidarity to the Afghan patriots who are heroically pursuing their struggle against the invader. It would be cowardice to resign ourselves to the criminal act which has been committed, and cowardice is the main enemy not only of peace but also of democracy.

The task of defending peace and democracy in the world must be a common task. Europe must take its own responsibility for this onerous task if it is to survive; this responsibility can validly be undertaken by Europe to the degree to which the continent can succeed in achieving its unity. But this unity will never be obtained unless we learn to put aside our egotism and individual interests and permit the admission of nations such as Spain and Portugal to the European Community.

I still vividly recall my recent visit to Spain. This nation, which has without bloodshed made the transition from a long dictatorship to democracy, is today totally committed to its social and economic rebirth under the guidance of a young and wise sovereign.

A truly united Europe will never come into being while we continue to create restricted "executive boards," or worse, even more limited bodies. The nations of democratic Europe—all nations, without discriminations of any sort—must take their place with equal rights and equal obligations. Italy has shown that she can fulfill her obligation, but she intends to see her rights and, above all, her national dignity, properly safeguarded.

You are familiar, Mr. President, with discriminations which have been practiced or attempted towards Italy. The United States has supported us, and for this, Mr. President, we are grateful. Yet permit me, nevertheless, as a representative of Italy—this country to which I have dedicated my whole life—to lodge my protest.

These discriminations are senseless, because they do not take into consideration the strategic importance derived from the nation's geographical position. Italy is a democratic bridge uniting Europe with Africa and the Middle East, and in the alarming event that this bridge should be destroyed, not only would the Mediterranean area be destabilized but world peace itself placed in jeopardy. Moreover, the terrorism in our country is probably aimed at just this objective.

With equal rights and equal obligations for each member and without these absurd discriminations, European unity can be truly created. Then, and only then, Europe, which has been a battlefield for centuries, can become through its human, cultural, technological, and industrial potential, a land of solidarity. A Europe on these lines could truly contribute to the strengthening and defense of world peace.

With these intentions and these remarks, I propose this toast to ever closer ties between Italy and the United States, to your own personal well-being and that of Mrs. Carter and all those present.

PRESIDENT CARTER. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen:

It's a great honor for me to be here on a trip of great economic importance to our Nation and also one of political and diplomatic significance to our two nations and also to the world.

My entire family has been here before me, and I have to admit that the best diplomat is not the one speaking to you. I remember when my mother arrived in Italy without any instructions from the diplomatic corps, she made three statements: First of all, she said she had always through her entire life wanted to meet the Pope; secondly, she congratulated Italy on choosing such a young President; and third she says, "I have never met an ugly Italian man." [Laughter]

I learn a lot from these visits. One piece of advice that I've gotten from the President is that when I go to Spain, I not go to bed too early, but be sure to see the flamenco dancers, and I intend to take your advice, Mr. President.

You have a text before you, but I would like to say these words to you, because they are so important to us. We have a lot in common. In each of our lands, a democracy has been born. Each has struggled to achieve the balance of unity and liberty that lead free societies to the highest form of human government—self-government.

Freedom and human rights have no firmer friend in thought and action than President Pertini. For personal liberty and democracy in this country, his country, he paid the price through years of cruel imprisonment. In fact, I understand that in 1940 he was not released from prison as he legally had a right to be, because he was considered especially dangerous. And so he remains today: dangerous to anyone who would threaten to destroy or to diminish the liberty of an individual, the rights of a group, or the life or livelihood of free people.

As chief of state, he was foremost in his appeal to Iranian authorities—the first of all—to release our diplomatic personnel from terrorists, and it gives me great pleasure on this personal occasion to express the gratitude which the American people and I feel for his unswerving support.

This morning, President Pertini and I discussed some of the central issues that are troubling world peace. Later I was able to discuss these questions with Prime Minister Cossiga, whose visit to Washington in January and whose presidency of the European Community have so deeply impressed us all.

Three basic ideas ran through our discussions today. The first is that the best possible policy for our countries, as we face a time of danger, change, and testing in the 1980's, is a policy that seeks both strong defense of national security and lasting world peace, for the plain truth is that the one is necessary to the other.

In decades past the West successfully resisted Soviet expansionism, both eastward and westward. Today we see the Soviet Union thrusting southward directly into Afghanistan and indirectly through Vietnam and Cambodia. This represents a strategic challenge to the vital interests of the West and to the industrial democracies. We must face it together. If we are firm in our resolve, we will define a position from which we can encourage detente. If we fail, we will have allowed the strategic, political, and economic balance to be gravely altered in favor of totalitarianism.

A second belief we share is that we cannot defend our common heritage of freedom by arms alone. Our future—the future of our way of life—is equally dependent upon our ability to provide economic opportunity and social justice for all our citizens and to create a decent world environment in which freedom can survive and prosper. We must be careful thinkers and practical politicians in our approach to energy independence, inflation, developing nations, arms control, and peace in troubled regions, such as the Middle East.

The third basic idea that ran through our discussions today is that national security and world peace can only be achieved by maintaining a strong and united Atlantic Alliance. Just as the best form of government is self-government, so the strongest cement of any alliance is free will. Ours is an alliance of independent democracies. We draw strength both from our common traditions and our individual differences.

Mr. President, let us not be afraid to confront directly and in full public view the most fundamental challenges of our alliance today. We've heard a great deal recently about the differences and the disagreements among the Western democracies. Some voices in my country and in Europe talk about disarray. Some pessimists view debate among democratic nations as a signal of fatal weakness. They predict the decline of Western civilization, spreading pessimism, materialism, softness of will, and diminishing confidence in ourselves and in our institutions.

Our experience and reality itself shows clearly that these self-styled realists are wrong. Our open and public grappling with economic and social problems cannot obscure the extraordinary achievements of our society as a whole. The democratic nations are magnets for young students from all over the world. The democratic world is a center of intellectual and technological invention. It's a great focus of cultural creativity. It's undergoing a major resurgence of religious belief, and our political institutions establish and exhibit a resilience unmatched by any society in the totalitarian world.

It is not from democracy that millions of refugees have fled since 1945. It is not to escape democracy that people have risked their lives in small boats in the high seas during recent weeks. It is not from democracy that nearly 10 percent of the people of an entire Asian nation have left their ancient homeland. And it is certainly not from democracy, but from foreign oppression, that hundreds of thousands—almost a million—of men, women, and children have now fled Afghanistan. These votes of fleeting millions are being cast—as the voices of millions more are being raised—for the deeply rooted faith that gives democracy its unique dynamism: Our underlying belief in the inalienable rights and dignity of human beings.

Material accomplishments and cultural vitality alone cannot express the power of our spiritual heritage. Nor is the spirit of our society found simply in the enterprise, the skills, or success of our people. The fundamental desire for democracy rises from the very center of the human heart and the human soul. That's why the echo of the unsilenceable call for liberty is heard throughout the world. That call finds its voice in the nations assembling in Venice tomorrow.

Our faith in human rights—the freedom, the dignity, and the value of every individual—is the most compelling revolutionary concept of our times. It has produced a level of economic progress and intellectual creativity unmatched by any other political philosophy or idea. We have no reason to fear change, new ideas, or new problems. We do not rely on military invasions by so-called friendly neighbors, much less on terrorism, to sustain the idea of liberty. It stands on its own merit.

The search for freedom and democracy has spread throughout recent years—in Spain, in Portugal, in Greece, in Africa, in Latin America. Today the genuine human voice of democracy rings far more clearly than the rasping loudspeakers of authoritarian regimes.

But while liberty need not be imposed by force, we know all too well that once won, it must be defended. To quote from your statement, Mr. President, "Cowardice is the main enemy not only of peace but also of democracy." The search for peace demands strength, not weakness; firmness, not vacillation; pride, not arrogance. We do not seek to remake the world on the model of America or the West. We want the peoples of the world to decide their own destroy and to make their own choices. We are confident, because history is on the side of freedom.

Let there be no mistake about this: The West is not motivated by relentless hostility nor by a desire for indiscriminate confrontation nor a return to the cold war.

But for the Western alliance simply to accept foreign occupation and domination of Afghanistan as an accomplished fact would be a cynical signal to the world that could only encourage further aggression, further tension, and further danger to world peace. It is our responsibility to register in concrete terms our condemnation of the Soviet invasion for as long as that invasion continues.

We cannot know with certainty the motivations of the latest Soviet move, whether Afghanistan is the purpose or the prelude, but there can be no doubt that this invasion poses an increased threat to the independence of nations in the region and to the world's access to vital resources and to vital sealanes. The fact is that our democracies are dependent on oil supplies from a volatile region whose own security from internal divisions and from external threat is now in question. Unresolved, that security problem could change the way we live. Already it does touch directly or drastically the lives of all.

But our interest in peace and stability in the region goes far beyond economics. In this ever more interdependent world, to assume that aggression need be met only when it occurs at one's own doorstep is to tempt new and very serious adventures.

Detente with the Soviets remains our goal, but detente must be built on a firm foundation of deterring aggression. The Soviets must understand that they cannot recklessly threaten world peace or still enjoy the benefits of cooperation while pursuing a policy of armed intervention. Above all, everyone must know that efforts cannot succeed to divide our alliance nor to lull us into a false belief that somehow America or Europe can be an island of detente while aggression is carried out elsewhere.

We recognize, Mr. President, that our policy towards those who might threaten peace must be clear, it must be consistent, it must be comprehensible. There must be no room for any miscalculation. But let me be equally clear that the way to improved relations is open, and that is the path we prefer.

I'm confident that just as the American people want to sustain strong policies against Soviet aggression, they also want our strong efforts to continue at arms control. We know that the SALT II agreement can contribute directly to the security not only of the United States but of Europe and indeed of the entire world. It can help to restrain future arms competition, continue the historically important direction of nuclear arms limitation, and keep our faith that even the most dangerous differences can be resolved in a framework of cooperation. Especially now in this time of tension, observing the mutual constraints imposed by the treaty is in the best interest of every nation on Earth.

Therefore, I intend to honor the object and purpose of the treaty as long as the Soviet Union, as observed by us, does the same. I will remain in close consultation with our Congress with the goal of seeking the ratification of SALT II at the earliest opportune time.

Further, if the decade of the 1980's is not to become the decade of violence, we must work with our friends on renewed efforts to stabilize all aspects of arms competition and to widen the scope of arms control agreements.

In sum, I do not accept forecasts of weakness or failure for democracy in the world. Our societies, our values, our freedoms will decline only if we allow them to do so; only if we surrender to uncertainty about where we stand and in what we believe; only if we forget that each nation and each individual share a responsibility to pull together and defend those common beliefs which unite us—and I am convinced that none of us will ever surrender nor forget.

Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen, just as within each democracy we must work to nourish the spirit of community which alone can make the whole of a nation larger than the sum of its parts, so within the alliance of free nations it is equally true that unless we work together we shall surely be vulnerable separately.

I pledge America's own unswerving commitment to our common interest of security and peace, and we depend on our European friends and allies to join us in that effort. Together we can and will defend the values and interests of our society. Historical experience counsels such a course. Present circumstances compels it.

It is in this spirit of alliance and partnership that I ask you to join me in a toast. If you would please rise. To President Pertini, to the traditions of two great nations that are at once parallel and interwined, and to the unbreakable spirit of freedom, friendship, and the love of human life that will forever join our countries and our people.

Note: The exchange of toasts began at 9:35 p.m. in the Salon delle Feste at the Quirinale Palace. President Pertini spoke in Italian, and as printed above, the translation of his remarks follows the White House press release.

Jimmy Carter, Toasts of the President and President Alessandro Pertini of Italy at a State Dinner in Rome Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251219

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