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Toasts of the President and President Asad of Syria at a Dinner Hosted by President Carter in Geneva, Switzerland

May 09, 1977

PRESIDENT CARTER. Many of the American leaders who have been to Syria to meet with President Asad, and who have also met with many other leaders around the world, have almost always come back to report that he is one of their favorite leaders of all the world; that he's brilliant, also a very enjoyable companion, very frank, and very helpful in the discussions. Although I don't agree with everything that my predecessors have reported, this is one occasion when I agree completely.

Although he's quite modest, I've discovered that he speaks English very well and also reads the finest American literature. He's about halfway through reading "Why Not the Best?" [Laughter]

He and I have compared our backgrounds. He comes from the same type farm community where I grew up, and we've just discovered that we were whipped quite often by the same stern but fair fathers. We also agreed that the whippings didn't hurt us much since we both became Presidents of our country.

I believe that this visit in Geneva, which President Asad was kind enough to help arrange, can possibly be a milestone in the world's search for peace. Because of President Asad's personal strength and his intimate knowledge of the Middle Eastern region and its history and background, he has helped me a great deal to understand. And the unique role that Syria can play in this year's search for agreement is valued by all those who have studied this very difficult question. His willingness to reach out to other people has been demonstrated by the trust which the Palestinians have placed in him, by his sacrificial effort to bring peace to Lebanon, and by his effort to bring about a closer relationship with his neighbors, particularly in Jordan.

We realize that this year's deliberations will not be easy ones, but we will not be deflected from .our effort to reach agreements by slogans which no longer apply and by ancient wounds which all of us are trying to help. be cured and forgotten.

The prospect for peace and harmony, prosperity and trade, mutual understanding and increased world leadership is an inspiration to all parties involved to search equally for a resolution of differences.

I'm especially grateful that our own Nation's relationships with Syria are being strengthened with every passing week. We have just completed a treaty on cultural exchange, and shortly in the future, our airline service will begin between Syria and the United States with Syria's .only passenger airline.

I have great confidence in the constructive attitude and the contribution which President Asad can bring to the difficult negotiations this year. And on behalf of the people of the United States, Mr. President, I would like to propose a toast to the greatness of Syria and to their own great leader, President Asad.

My new friend.

No broken glasses? [Laughter] That's good luck, a good omen.

PRESIDENT ASAD. Once more I have to say that the cordial atmosphere in which we have lived since the first minute we have met makes us be hopeful in the future. There is no doubt that I have, myself, as well as the members of the Syrian delegation, realized that President Carter is seeking what is good, what is just, and wants the United States to play a constructive role in the solution of the Middle East problem.

After the meeting now, I talked with members of the Syrian delegation in this sense, and we agreed on the same conclusions.

It is a cause of confidence if there were in the world many leaders who are seeking the good of humanity. And it is our task to work for the good of humanity, once we are convinced that the road on which we go serves justice, serves the good of humanity.

Mr. President, in my name and in the name of members of the Syrian-Arab delegation, I thank you for the invitation to dinner and for the kind remarks we have just heard. I am happy we are having this meeting, which has provided the first occasion for personal contact between us and has provided me with the opportunity to know you personally, firsthand, after having become acquainted with you as well as possible through your stance and statements.

We have come to Geneva prompted by the sincere desire to make of this meeting, through our common efforts, a landmark in the history of relations between the Syrian Arab Republic and the United States of America and to realize the main objective of this meeting--that of working assiduously in order to establish a just peace in the Middle East. This objective both you and we have, on several occasions, expressed the wish to see achieved.

You are aware of the extent to which bilateral relations between our two countries have been influenced by the Middle East conflict, passing through low-ebb phases, due to our feeling that the American attitude toward our cause was incompatible with the American responsibilities as we see them. And this, unfortunately, has had an influence on the interests of the Arab and the American missions.

We consider our talks today a joint effort aimed to remedy the situation that has caused a misstatement from which relations between our two countries have suffered. We hope that this effort will produce results promoting the good of our peoples and serving the cause of the establishment of a just peace in the Middle East.

I believe that you agree with me that the outcome of the phase which we have started today depends on continuing efforts to be exerted after reaching the conviction that peace in the Middle East can be established only on the basis of justice, and that the continued occupation of the Arab territories and the denial of the rights of the Palestinian people are completely opposed to justice.

There are those who believe that time, aided by considerations of violence and various forms of coercion, can solve problems of the conflict in accordance with their viewpoints and aspirations, though these may be illegitimate. I have no doubt that they are mistaken and that they act in accordance with a wrong, destructive urge.

I have an unshakable belief that the rights of peoples cannot and should not be obliterated by the passage of time. It is vain that man should build his happiness at the expense of the happiness of others and that' he should believe that such happiness could continue while he persists in the destruction of the happiness and existence of others. Of course, events will not happen isolated from the will and efforts of man, but I presume that the will of man is one of good, one of justice and fruitfulness, and that the efforts of man are exerted in order to fulfill his will.

What we, the Arabs, seek with consistency, is to arrive at a just peace on the basis of the resolutions of the United Nations. We believe that the United States, as a big power, as a permanent member of the Security Council and a cochairman of the Geneva conference, can play a major and effective role towards contributing to the achievement of this goal to which all those who sincerely believe in the cause of a just peace aspire.

The United States efforts can help fundamentally in making the march to peace obtain its desired objective. What makes us hopeful that the United States will play its full role in this field is that you, Mr. President, have repeatedly stressed the importance you attach to ethical principles. What is based on these principles and ideals would surely lead to justice and would constitute a sound basis for lasting peace.

Permit me to quote here what I told my people and the world on October 6, 1973--not to record the word, not to remind of the war, but merely to repeat the meaning of what I said that day and to assert that we lived the meaning of these words while we were fighting the war: "We are not lovers of killing and destruction, but we defend ourselves against killing and destruction. We are not aggressors, and have never been. But we have defended and are still defending ourselves against aggression. We do not want anyone to die, but we defend our people against this. We love freedom and want it for ourselves, as well as for .others. And we are on the defense so that our people may enjoy freedom. We are advocates of peace. We endeavor to secure peace to our people and to all peoples of the world. We defend ourselves in order to live in peace."

Mr. President, peace is a noble aim and the precious objective worthy to be served by sincere exertions. Let us exert joint efforts to achieve this objective.

Again, I thank President Carter, and I propose a toast to the health of President Carter and to the prosperity of the American people. I want to propose a toast to our first meeting.

PRESIDENT CARTER. Many more in the future, I hope.

Note: President Carter spoke at 8:15 p.m. in Le Carnaval Room at the Intercontinental Hotel. President Asad spoke in Arabic, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

Following the dinner, President Carter returned to London.

Jimmy Carter, Toasts of the President and President Asad of Syria at a Dinner Hosted by President Carter in Geneva, Switzerland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244180

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