Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Toasts of the President and President Bourguiba

May 15, 1968

Your Excellency, Mr. Vice President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

We honor tonight a courageous patriot-the founder of modern Tunisia.

President Bourguiba, who knows something of fighting, lives with the benefits of peace. In the new schoolhouses, hospitals, highways, and the fertile fields that mark his ancient country, he sees what peace has brought to his people and what he believes it can bring the developing world.

He is a revolutionist, yes, but he is a builder, too. He led his nation to independence, and building on a freedom that is newly won. President Bourguiba knows that a nation may be politically independent, but not truly free, unless its people, living in peace, are free to pursue the better life to which all men aspire.

A just peace can be achieved all around the Mediterranean:

--if men will turn their thoughts and their energies and their resources to its achievement;

--if men will acknowledge that compromise can show strength, that wisdom may travel with forbearance, that honor lies in statesmanship.

It is they--the people of the Middle East-who must take up the work of a just peace. Others cannot do it for them. But America will always try to help them in that work as I explained to the President earlier today--without concern for our own gain.

Tonight I reaffirm that the United States stands ready to assist all these troubled nations in their peaceful development. We have dedicated ourselves, within the United Nations and outside, to achieve a durable peace. We have pledged our help to resolve the age-old problems that obstruct the path toward comity between nations.

Tonight, with a friend who has given the world hope by his example, we again renew that pledge.

President Bourguiba, I understand that in your country you are affectionately called "the Supreme Combatant." In our country we would call you the "Grand Champion."

Ladies and gentlemen, let us now raise our glasses in salute to a champion of peace, freedom, and justice--to President Bourguiba of Tunisia.

Note: The President proposed the toast at 10:17 p.m. at a dinner in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his opening words he also referred to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. President Habib Bourguiba responded as follows:

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen:

According to certain so-called realists, a statesman, in order to be successful, should be hard as rock, cold as the calculating machine; he should have a dry heart and do away with those weaknesses such as friendship, faithfulness, and enthusiasm.

If that were to be true, I must be a very poor statesman because I confess that I am a man of feeling and I am very honored to cherish certain friendships such as yours, Mr. President, and that of your great country in particular.

It is my intention to remain faithful to those friendships regardless of circumstances.

Before knowing you, Mr. President, I had heard that it was said that you had the same defects as I have just described. Ever since I have been your guest, I have noticed that those accusations were well-rounded and that reassures me a great deal because if you and I have been statesmen for the last 37 years, if we have been able to serve our respective countries for such a long span of time and carry out today the responsibilities that go to the leadership of a nation, that means that maybe the so-called realists are not quite right.

Furthermore, those realists have never been able to explain to us how come you cannot raise anything on rock, neither wheat nor cotton nor anything of value.

Mr. President, my friendship towards your country dates back to the period when the United States had not yet achieved the status of a great power which it enjoys today. It predates the cold war and the assistance given to development. Therefore, my friendship is not based on political or economic considerations, but rather on a firm realization of the lasting qualities of the American people, on its contribution to modern civilization, and the part that it is playing in this century.

A few weeks ago, exactly on March 20, in a letter which I sent to my friend, Ho Chi Minh, I wrote as follows:

"I also know of the United States of America. I know the men that govern that country. I know their psychology and the imperatives of their domestic and foreign policy. I have not forgotten the American Revolution nor the generous ideas of emancipation and universality which the United States defended in the aftermath of the First World War, nor have I forgotten the prominent part they played in the last world war when the essential human values which are at the very basis of our life seemed to be at the point of submersion and the pitiless barbarity of the Nazis and the Japanese militants. Nor can I forget that even more recently the United States has played a decisive role in their influence next to their allies and to favor the decolonization of a great number of peoples in Africa and Asia."

That is the very essence of my thinking. Having said this, Mr. President, I fully know that your country is now undergoing an unprecedented period of frustration at the same time that you are faced with tremendous problems, both at home and abroad.

I know that your people, who represent from 5 to 6 percent of the world's population, nevertheless produce each year 50 percent of the world's wealth.

You are concerned at the present in better distributing this wealth within the boundaries of your Nation where the colored minority has not yet reached the level of well-being and dignity which is necessary for national unity and for the good name of the United States.

I also know that you are concerned at the same time, in spite of your deficit, with the balance of payments, with helping the underdeveloped countries to come as full partners into the 20th century.

In both of these areas what has been done so far still is not sufficient. You know it better than anyone else and you have told it to me. And I have told you, Mr. President, and this I want to repeat before our friends who are gathered here tonight, that this time where your country is concerned with electoral campaigns, I did not come here to ask you to help us, I came here to thank you and to thank the American people and the Congress of the United States for the work you have been able to do so far for my country.

I also came here to express to you our feelings on a certain number of problems of foreign policy which are of concern to the United States, to Tunisia, and to most other countries.

The first of those problems, obviously, is that of Vietnam. I rejoice as you do when I note that the war is no longer the only political path and that from one side and from the other some headway has begun leading to deescalation.

That is the way that I have always recommended because I believe that it will lead to an honorable compromise, perhaps difficult to work out, but which is the only solution, since military victory is unattainable. Here again, being consistent with another shortcoming that I have, or defect, which is frankness, I will tell you that I said to President Ho Chi Minh in that same letter of March 20:

"Today the main thing is to assure for a foreseeable future, the security of North Vietnam, the independence of the South and the possibility that those two countries may one day become re-united through peaceful means.

"It is also important, I believe, to act in such a way that no great power can have hegemony over the North or the South, and thus upset the world balance. The important thing is that the countries that neighbor Vietnam should not be submitted to pressures that would cause upheavals in the situation as it exists in the area.

"Now, it seems to me that these objectives, these goals, are reasonable ones, and that they can be accepted by yourself, by all the Vietnamese, both from the North and South, who are mainly concerned with the independence of their country and that they can also be accepted by the United States of America.

"All that I know about yourself, about the statements made by your Government and the statements made by the leaders of the National Liberation Front and all that I know about the leaders of the United States and their declarations, all of this authorizes me to think that today on those bases we have present the conditions for fruitful negotiations.

"It is obvious that the United States and other great powers have hoped to control North and South Vietnam so as to prevent those nations from coming under the control or the influence of other great powers. Today I think we can hope that an independent Vietnam, free from any foreign occupation, would be for all those powers an acceptable solution because it does not upset the balance to which they attach such great importance.

"I feel that through the continuation of war no other objectives could be reached. It is therefore necessary, without wasting one day, to start on the work toward negotiations and the matters of procedure become only secondary even though they may present certain important moral aspects."

Mr. President, the other problem which is of concern to us is that of the Middle East and that strikes even closer to home, if such a thing is possible. The United States is not directly involved in those problems, but still, the United States has the obligation, as well as the means, to help in finding a solution, and this, through an understanding with the other great powers, and also taking into consideration the interests of the countries concerned.

This tragedy that we are witnessing in the Middle East presents three aspects which should cause deep concern to any straight-thinking man and also should make such straight-thinking men try to act.

The first aspect of that is something that, as far as I know, is without precedent in history. As a matter of fact, ever since the Balfour Declaration of 1917 we have been witnessing an action which consisted, on the part of a government, that of Great Britain, to offer to the persecuted people, namely the Jewish people, the land belonging to another people, the Palestinian people.

The second aspect is something that has lasted since 1948 and has become worse in 1967, that is, the spectacle of a million men and women who were thrown out of their country, of their homes, of their lands and are living in camps and are fed and clothed and housed by international charity.

The third aspect, finally, is the occupation by Israel, first in 1956, and then in 1967, of new Arab territory through the force of arms as well as the fact that they tend to maintain to keep themselves in these territories or to appropriate certain of them.

When we think about the situation and when we go beyond the rather superficial analysis which dawns from day to day, we realize that there are other elements in this problem which make it extremely complex and of a rather difficult solution.

The Balfour Declaration to which I made reference awhile ago, and through which the British Government committed itself to give a part of Palestine to the leaders of the Zionist movement, so as to found a homeland for the Jews is something, when we think of it, rather along the lines of the Congress of Berlin and the other conferences through which the European powers have cut up in pieces and divided among themselves the countries of Africa and Asia.

But in the case of the Balfour Declaration, it was not a matter of giving a country to a nation which would send its nationals, regardless of their denomination; it was rather a matter of putting into Palestine people from a single denomination regardless of their nationality. But that is not the most important thing.

What seems to me very important and basic is the fact that this decision made by the British, which is unfair for the Arabs of Palestine, which is unjustifiable from the point of view of the rights of people, this decision has nevertheless become legitimate as a result of the action of the international community on two occasions.

The first time, right after the First World War at the San Remo Conference, and the second time it was made legitimate in 1947 by the United Nations.

Myself, as a man of principle, I deeply regret that the League of Nations in so doing has ignored the 14 points of President Wilson, and I also regret that the organization of the United Nations, with an overwhelming majority, including the five great powers, has taken a decision which was not in conformity with its own charter, a charter based on the right of people to self-determination.

As a statesman, while I feel very deeply the tremendous injustice which strikes at this small people, while I understand that we should protest against the consequences of this injustice, I still have been recommending year after year, in the Arab conferences, in all my statements and all my writings, that we take into full account all those different factors, particularly the fact that the community of nations as a whole has approved the creation of Israel, and has, beyond any doubt, given to it an international stamp of legality.

Now, starting from the premise that the Arabs do not have on their side either military force or international law, I have pleaded that the Arabs should accept the frontiers that were established by the United Nations in 1947, frontiers which should have been guaranteed by the great powers.

Within those frontiers, with borders established by the United Nations, Israel would have attained the peace and security that it is trying to reach. As for the Arabs, they would have bowed before an accomplished fact, though it may have been unjust, but at the same time, accepting the legality given by the United Nations, the Arabs would no longer have been alone, as they have always been, as a matter of fact, since 1948.

They could have saved a good portion of Palestine. They would not have to make so many military expenses that were excessive as well as useless. And they would have avoided the humiliating defeat of 1967.

In other words, the Arabs, having abandoned the idea of rejecting the other party beyond the sea, could have arrived at the containment and would have thus regained the support of world opinion.

Unfortunately, I was not heard by the Arab leaders of the Middle East because they did not want to listen to me, even though the people themselves seemed to have some understanding for the points of view and the reasoning that I used.

The war of June 1967, was not avoided. This war brought a new element into the situation, and now I want to say that this element has a decided influence on the evolution of this country, that is in the years to come, and therefore, it also affects the solution of the conflict.

The new fact that we are witnessing in this part of the world, is the appearance on this stage of the Palestinians themselves since last June. This fact is something that I have been wishing for for several years. It is something which is emerging stronger and stronger from day to day.

I pleaded to the responsible heads of state and the responsible statesmen to take into account this fact, unless they want to continue to reason on the basis of premises that are no longer valid, because the fact is that today it is the Palestinian people themselves which is going to take, day by day, an ever greater measure of responsibility in the struggle to regain its rights on its land and responsibility for the type of compromise that may put an end to that struggle.

The outcome of this political-military struggle, which the other Arab countries are no longer qualified to lead, but which they have to support, will depend on the willingness of the Palestinian people to make sacrifices, to organize itself, and particularly to display a high degree of maturity.

I don't think that I could be accused of being an extremist, but I want to say that we in Tunisia are going to give our support to that struggle because it is a just struggle and because we have a firm conviction that it will lead to a durable solution which can only be a compromise between the aspirations and the likes of one side and the other, all of this based on the will to resist and the will to survive shown by each of the two communities.

What there is today between Palestinians and Israelis is fear and particularly a mutual contempt. From this struggle will emerge the esteem of the one for the other, and therefore, the assertion by each of the parties of the right of the other party to live, the right to security and the right to development Then, there will be a valid solution because it has been accepted and not imposed.

Therefore, there will be peace and then there will be cooperation. Such is, Mr. President, my opinion about the problem of the Middle East. This is something which I have explained to the politicians themselves, in Jericho in 1965, when I told them, "That is what I would have done if I had been in your place."

I want to add that the last word will belong to those who are directly concerned with this matter, that is, the Palestinians themselves.

Now, I would not like to conclude my remarks without repeating again the expression of the great joy that I have felt in visiting you here, Mr. President, in making this visit which, for reasons beyond our control, could not have been done at the date that had been originally established.

Allow me, particularly, to express my gratitude for the very kind gesture that you had at the time when you sent directly to my bedside the eminent cardiologist, Dr. Mattingly. I can assure you that the Tunisian people, deeply moved by your very spontaneous act, saw that it was the hallmark of a friendship which has remained steadfast for more than 20 years.

Now, I just want to thank you once more for your kind hospitality and to wish to you, Mr. President, and to the American people that you may be able to solve, in the spirit of peace and understanding, the overwhelming problems which your own society is facing at the present time.

I have no doubt that the United States, in spite of her formidable power, will remain faithful to the image which I carry in my mind, and the image which I mentioned a moment ago, that is, the country of freedom, the generous ideas, ideas of emancipation and universality which you have been depending on ever since the dawn of your Republic.

In conclusion, I want to make the wish that the negotiations now undertaken to bring peace to Vietnam be fully successful so that you may dedicate all your energies to building the great American society as well as to contribute in a decisive manner to peace and progress in the world.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Toasts of the President and President Bourguiba Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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