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Toasts of the President and President Kekkonen of the Republic of Finland

July 23, 1970

Mr. President and our guests tonight:

We are very honored to have in this house again one of the world's most distinguished leaders. I shall have more to say about him in a moment, but as I speak of him tonight, I am, as all of us will be, particularly impressed by the fact that of all of the elected leaders of the world, he has been in office longer, where there was party opposition, than any elected leader in the world.

Since there are many from the Senate and the House who respect political ability, we respect you, Mr. President. I asked the President before dinner if he had ever lost an election. He had to think a long time. He said, "The first one; but never after that." I wasn't quite so fortunate.

Mr. President, as you had noted as the receiving line came through tonight, everybody in this room either has been to Finland or had a very deep affection for your country and your people. I am one of those fortunate ones who had the opportunity to know the Finnish people, not only in America where we have such a great contribution to our society from those of Finnish background, but in Finland where I had the opportunity to visit in 1965 with Mr. John Shaheen, one of our guests tonight.

I shall always remember that visit. I shall remember it for many reasons. When you think of a country you think of it in the history books or the geography books or the news stories. Then when you go there you find the country as it really is and sometimes the reality is different from the history books and the news stories and the pictures.

I would urge all of you who have not been to Finland to go, to see it, to know it, and particularly to know the beauty of the country; the land, not just of 10,000 lakes, as Congressman MacGregor pointed out tonight, as Minnesota, but one of 60,000 lakes--60,000 with names-not just the "Land of Blue Lakes and of White Snow," but also a land of a very strong people with very great progressive ideas with regard to the development of their country.

I spoke to that point this morning. I will not elaborate on it now. I would like, however, to say that tonight we honor this country and we pay our respects to it as a nation, as the President pointed out, which is neutral and independent, but neutral and independent not in a negative way but a positive way, positive in working always for the cause of peace in the world and in reducing tensions between great and small powers. And it seems to me particularly appropriate that we honor tonight this nation and this man because they have been hosts to the conference at Helsinki,1 the conference that may well have begun the process which could lead to the most significant agreement since the end of World War II in reducing tensions in the world between great powers.

In speaking of our Finnish friends tonight, I would like to say that they are a special kind of friend. I mean by that that they can be our friends, and are our friends, without having to be the enemy of anybody else. It is because we have a special feeling of affection and friendship for the people of Finland and respect for its government and for its leaders, that we are so happy to have the President here tonight and the members of his party.

Now, a word about him: The President is well known in this country because of his many visits here previously. He has been to the United States 16 times, and twice as an official state guest. He was also here in 1932 as a member of the Olympic team of Finland. I attended those Olympic games in 1932. I did not see him participate in the high jump. He was the Finnish champion in the high jump. But the day I was there I watched Lauri Lehtinen of Finland win the 5,000 meters by a yard over Ralph Hill of Oregon. The President recalls that day very well, too, because it was perhaps the most exciting race of all the Olympics of 1932 held in Los Angeles.

Now that leads me to another point. When we think of Finland we think of great athletes, of skiers and snow and Olympic games. We think of the scenery and the rest. But tonight we honor and respect this country because, although it is a small country, its leaders have played a very large role in the world in participating in international organizations, in serving the cause of peace and friendship in the world.

So, tonight I know all of you will want to join me in raising your glasses--raising your glasses to a small country but to a very big man, the President of Finland.

1 Phase I of the strategic arms limitation talks between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Note: The President spoke at 10:59 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

President Kekkonen responded as follows:

Mr. President:

I am pleased to have this opportunity to thank you for the warm and friendly welcome I have received here today. I know that it is an expression of the friendship and mutual understanding that so happily exist between our two countries. Let me assure you, Mr. President, that we in Finland highly value the friendship of the American people, and we shall do our part in maintaining it in the future.

As I said on my arrival in Washington this morning, there are no unsolved problems, no disputes, between Finland and the United States. I have not come here to seek aid or assistance. Nor have I come to offer advice. Yet the talks we have had today have been of utmost interest and importance for Finland. They have enabled me to gain a better understanding of the policies of the United States, and they have given me the opportunity to put forward our views and aspirations with regard to international relations. Only a few days ago I had similar talks in Moscow. For a nation in Finland's position, the actions of the United States and the Soviet Union, and the relations between them, have a decisive influence. I hope that my two visits will help us in our efforts to safeguard the freedom and security and the prosperity of the Finnish nation.

As a neutral country, Finland seeks security, not through military alliances or the protection of one group of powers against another, but through a foreign policy designed to keep us outside of any possible conflict. Such a policy does not mean a withdrawal from international life. On the contrary, Finland has a vital national interest in working actively, together with other nations, for the containment of international conflicts and the peaceful settlement of disputes between nations.

We realize that in today's world the security of Finland cannot be divorced from international security as a whole. It is natural, therefore, that we must view with great concern any event or action that endangers international security and thus, ultimately, ourselves.

Accordingly, it is in our own interest that we must oppose the use or threat of force in international relations, wherever it occurs, and deplore any attempt to gain political ends by military means.

Accordingly, too, Finland as a member of the United Nations has been and continues to be prepared to do her share in the maintenance of international peace and security. We have contributed men and money to every peacekeeping operation undertaken by the United Nations, and we have sought by other means as well to promote the universal collective security system provided for by the United Nations Charter.

What I have said explains our interest in the discussions of European security that have taken place in recent times. Our continent remains the scene of the deadliest concentration of modern weapons of mass destruction ever known in history. Yet it seems to me that the guns of Europe are pointed at ghosts from the past, and that the European nations are divided by problems that in fact have ceased to be problems. We, therefore, welcome every constructive effort to replace mutual fear and suspicion with trust and cooperation between all.

One means to this end that has been proposed could be the holding of a conference on European security with the participation of all the states involved, including, of course, the United States. We in Finland believe that this is a useful idea, and we have offered to act as host for such a conference, if it is decided that it should be convened. We believe Finland would be well qualified for such a role, for we have friendly relations with all the governments concerned and maintain a neutral position on the principal issues dividing Europe, notably the German question.

I know that no single conference can solve the many complicated problems that affect European security today. I personally do believe, however, that it is vitally important to make a fresh start that would liberate the peoples of Europe from the fear of war and give them confidence in a peaceful future. Only in such an atmosphere could every European nation truly develop its own national identity. The convening of a conference on European security could well contribute to creating such an atmosphere.

In offering these thoughts, Mr. President, I am speaking for a European nation that desires nothing but the possibility of living in peace and security and cultivating friendly relations with all nations both near and far. I am convinced that these aspirations of the Finnish people meet with understanding and sympathy on the part of the United States, and my visit here today has confirmed me in this conviction.

I am most grateful to you, Mr. President and Mrs. Nixon, for your generous hospitality and for this opportunity to meet so many distinguished Americans. It gives me great pleasure to propose a toast in honor of the President of the United States and Mrs. Nixon.

Richard Nixon, Toasts of the President and President Kekkonen of the Republic of Finland Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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