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Toasts at the State Dinner for President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia

May 15, 1990

President Bush. Mr. President and distinguished members of the Tunisian delegation, it's a great honor for Barbara and me to welcome you back to the White House -- a great pleasure, a personal pleasure.

We have some things in common. Before becoming President you were an ambassador. You come from a large family, in which you take great pride. You also take pride in physical fitness, and from a youthful passion for soccer to an interest in jogging today. And I'm told you like to keep your staffs jumping -- [laughter] -- by heading out onto the streets for surprise visits with your countrymen. You keep track of your Cabinet personally, using a home computer. Your home computer is called an Apple -- [laughter] -- mine is called John Sununu. [Laughter] Looking at you, I can't believe this, but I'm told that you take great pride in your role as a grandfather. You're a youthful one at that.

But in this country, the combination of grandchildren and computer games has produced some unexpected results. This is a true story, Mr. President. The most popular computer game in America is called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. [Laughter] Don't worry about the translation; it doesn't make any sense in English, either. [Laughter]

But tonight, in a more serious vein, I want to toast a leader who, with dignity and respect, took Tunisia through a critical transition in its history. President Ben Ali's peaceful and constitutional accession to power in 1987 really marked a turning point in Tunisia's history. He boldly but wisely chose the difficult path of political and economic reform.

Tunisia's greatness as a nation goes back to the earliest foundations of Mediterranean civilization. For centuries, Carthage dominated the western Mediterranean, rivaling the splendor and the power of Rome. And Tunisia today serves as a model of pragmatic change in the Arab world -- a country that looks to the future, not to the past; a country that has shunned the path of radicalism; a country that draws on the progressive tradition within its north African and Islamic heritage to address the challenges of a fast-changing world without, outside your borders. And you've already faced great challenges with the tenacious and pragmatic approach that we admire, and we will support you in your efforts.

Mr. President, in our welcoming ceremony this morning, I described the American military cemetery in Carthage, where nearly 3,000 brave Americans are buried in Tunisian soil. And let me conclude tonight with the words left on your shores by their commanding general, America's beloved President Eisenhower -- Ike -- when he spoke in Tunisia when he was President back in 1959.

Ike noted that he'd last visited your beautiful country exactly 16 years earlier, 1943, in the midst of a war that we thought would bring permanent peace. And he added -- and this is his quote -- "We have found that peace does not come just because the guns are stilled. We have to work for peace. We have to work with our hearts, with our substance, with our hands. We have to work all the time to maintain the peace and to make it more secure."

Mr. President, our talks here today reflect President Eisenhower's sentiments. They've strengthened the special friendship that is already deep and enduring; improved our understanding of each other's concerns; and laid the foundation for expanded cooperation and, yes, for expanded peace in the region and expanded peace in the world.

Earlier this morning, we enjoyed a glorious day out there on the South Lawn. And in Tunisia, it is common to compliment a visitor who brings rain. But because Washington has just weathered 2 weeks of rain, Mr. President, today we appreciate your bringing us the sunshine.

So, let me ask all of you to toast the health and success of President Ben Ali and the friendship between our two great nations. Welcome, Mr. President.

President Ben Ali. In the name of God, the clement, the merciful, Mr. President, it gives me pleasure to express to you, Mr. President, and to Mrs. Bush my thanks and gratitude for the warm welcome and kind hospitality extended to me personally and to the Tunisian delegation accompanying me. Such a warm reception sincerely reflects the mutual friendship and respect that characterize our traditional and sustained ties and represents a further step towards the consolidation of our common values of freedom, democracy, and defense of human rights.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, the world is witnessing major radical changes in accordance with people's will and aspiration for freedom, democracy, and protection of dignity of individuals and of the community as a whole. Those changes reflect undoubtedly the common values that we both share. In fact, we have fully subscribed since November 7, 1987, to these very principles, as we are convinced that evolution is necessary as well as the fulfillment of the aspiration of the Tunisian people.

We have consequently reorganized the Tunisian society on a new basis to enable Tunisians to exercise their natural and legitimate rights and to live freely and democratically in a state of law and constitutional institutions. We are also committed to a policy of free market economy and open the way to private initiatives.

In view of the emergence of regional groupings and the need to find ways to deal with them, the Maghreb States have succeeded in establishing a union that I have presently the honor to chair and which is a great achievement, with a flexible and open structure which responds to the aspirations of the peoples of the region for cooperation and integrated development.

Mr. President, we have, on various occasions, called upon the international community to bring in a qualitative change in its relations, one taking into account the international detente and going beyond the international relations between advanced countries and developing ones to reach a more comprehensive concept designed for laying down a covenant for peace and progress that preserves the interests of all parties and brings about a new spirit of solidarity and justice. We believe that such an achievement is likely to provide the propitious climate which will give new impetus to the democratic process that has widely emerged on the international arena, ensure balanced development, protect our societies from the dangers of regression and extremism, and alleviate the tensions that threaten peace and security in the world.

Among the chronic factors of tensions within our region, in the Middle East and Africa, we have to mention the Palestinian-people issue and the conditions prevailing in South Africa. We believe that, owing to its weight, the position it enjoys, the influence it exerts, and its traditional and noble values, the United States can persuade Israel to respond positively to the bold initiatives taken by the Palestinian leadership and endorsed by Arab summits and to recognize the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people. As to South Africa, while the situation is still a source of concern, despite the recent positive development, it is necessary that the international community should continue its support to leader Nelson Mandela's pledge to eradicate apartheid and build a society founded on equality and respect of democracy, standards, moral values, and international law.

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, my visit to your country, with which we are maintaining a traditional and deep-rooted friendship, aims at strengthening and enhancing these relations for the benefit of our two countries, as we share a commitment to freedom and democracy and work for peace, security, and stability in the world on the basis of people's right for self-determination and solidarity between nations.

Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to stand up and join me in a toast in honor of the President of the United States and Mrs. Bush as an expression of our deepest appreciation for the feelings of friendship he expressed this morning to Tunisia -- a country he visited more than once -- and a tribute to the American people. Long live the Tunisian-American friendship. Thank you very much.

Note: President Bush spoke at 8:15 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to John H. Sununu, Chief of Staff to the President. President Ben Ali spoke in Arabic, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

George Bush, Toasts at the State Dinner for President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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