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Visit of Prime Minister Barre of France Remarks of the President and the Prime Minister at a Working Dinner for the Prime Minister.

September 15, 1977

THE PRESIDENT. Since I have been in office as President, we've had some very distinguished visitors come to our country, representing many of the great nations of the world. But as I said in my welcoming remarks this morning, to have Prime Minister Barre come here with other distinguished members of the French Government gives me an opportunity to say accurately that of all the nations in the world, our greatest debt is to France.

When we struggled 200 years ago for our independence and freedom, France was our staunch ally. We've never raised arms against France. I think during one transient period we actually declared war, but the French ignored our little Nation. [Laughter] The President and the Congress eventually swallowed a couple of times and said, "France is our great friend, and we'll forget about our declaration, since they didn't even notice it in their newspapers." But with that one brief incident late in the 1700's, we've had the closest and most constant friendship with France.

We learned from them before our Nation was formed. Benjamin Franklin was our agent in Paris, representing the Colonies, and our own State of Georgia paid him an extra stipend every month--I think it was about $15 a month--to represent us and our farmers, our tobacco exporters in France. He never came to Georgia, but he always cashed the check that was sent to him--[laughter]--and I presume he did a good job.

When I walked in the front foyer of the Georgia's Governor's Mansion for 4 years, there was always a portrait hanging there of George Washington that was given to Count d'Estaing, who led naval forces, for helping our country in its struggle for freedom.

And, of course, we know that our Capital City itself was laid out by a Frenchman, and the first and earliest and most definitive assessment of the character of American people was written by a Frenchman. And although this was written more than 150 years ago, there's still an insight into our struggling Nation's character that's of great interest to those who are involved in politics in our country.

I reread some voluminous excerpts from de Tocqueville's analysis last year after the campaign was over, and I thought I was finally going to be here. I wanted to see what was thought about us then. I can't say that my own analysis of the American people was very much different from his.

I think it's also good to point out that Thomas Jefferson, as an Ambassador to France, absorbed the best elements of the French commitment to freedom and the worth of the individual human being, and this was part of his own contribution to our Nation's history, to our Nation's laws, to our Constitution. So, in those ancient days for us, recent days for an ancient nation like France, we derived our character from them and our freedom with their help.

And I've always felt an obligation to France, even as a schoolboy, because of this tremendous contribution in time of crisis and challenge.

As you well know, in this century we've stood side by side with France when freedom again was challenged and fought as brothers for liberty. And now I have learned more and more as a President the somewhat unique nature of France, to honor the friendship that ties them with us as an ally, which is crucial to us and to world peace and to the preservation of our democratic principles throughout the world, but also to retain a unique aloofness and independence which is, I think, admirable.

France has never been dominated by anyone else as long as they had control of their government. And they've retained even now a sense of autonomy and independence of action that can't be persuaded against their best judgment, even by the closest of allies. And that's an admirable trait in my opinion.

We have the closest relationship with France in matters that concern our own economy. We share common problems and common goals. And when we have a qualified economist who is both the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister come to our country, we were very eager to be students and to learn from him.

We've admired what they've done in the field of controlling energy consumption. I think we have a lot to learn from them, and I would like for the Prime Minister to repeat to you the comment that he made earlier to me today about our own efforts to conserve energy in this country.

When our White House was burned, Monroe--later President Monroe--was in France. And when he came back, he brought this particular gilded centerpiece, Mr. Prime Minister, from France back to our country. He delivered this here, I think, in 1818. And Rosalynn, in particular, wanted to put it on the table tonight to show that when the White House was rebuilt after being burned in 1812, that part of France's beauty was delivered here by our President.

So, those ties of history and those ties of the current day are very important to us. We seek France's advice and counsel as we deal with the problems of the world, in the Middle East, with their unique relationship with the European Community, as an adviser in Africa, as a generous nation. And we have a lot to admire there.

Of all the developed nations in the world, France devotes a larger portion of their gross national product to foreign aid than any other. And this sense of pride, independence, freedom, and also generosity is admirable, indeed.

We are honored to have the Prime Minister come here to be with us. We've not had a Prime Minister of France come here in the last 20 years. He did come here last year, but not as a Prime Minister. And we are very' grateful that he would honor us in this way.

This is an opportunity for us to share our defense plans, to share military secrets with them, to nurture one another in times of trial, and to share common successes. And I believe that it's accurate to say that both nations are benefited by a relationship that is intimate, close, permanent, and valuable.

I'd like to express on behalf of the American people my thanks for these men who have come to visit us. And on behalf of our people, I'd like to offer a toast to Prime Minister Barre and to his distinguished colleagues, to the people of France, and to the spirit which has always made France such a great nation.

THE PRIME MINISTER. Mr. President, gentlemen, once again, here tonight, the United States and France are at a rendezvous of friendship, a friendship which over 200 years has never been denied.

As you have recalled yourself this morning, in warm terms which touched me deeply, our two countries have always stood side by side to fight for liberty and justice. It is true that France may sometimes appear to be a difficult ally and has sometimes appeared to be so. But how could it be otherwise when one has respect of oneself and respect of others?

France, who has existed for over 1,000 years and has withstood the vicissitudes of history, knows that strong friendship requires total vigilance. I have therefore appreciated, first of all, the frank, simple, and serious tone of the meetings that you have been kind enough to invite me to have with you. These meetings will have demonstrated to you, Mr. President, that where the great issues of the world of today are concerned, our preoccupations and our aspirations are fundamentally the same.

The United States is striving with patience, tenacity, and faith to contribute the best it has to contribute to peace and prosperity in the world. France is doing the same.

France believes, first of all, as she looks at the world as it has been shaped over the last 30 years, that a new economic order must be gradually defined, taking into account the legitimate aspirations of all nations. Whatever the framework within which this will, therefore, take place in the future, the constructive dialog between industrialized and developing nations is an obvious need. Those who would attempt to jeopardize it and who would substitute confrontation would assume a tragic responsibility in the face of history. It is also extremely important that the freedom of exchange of any and all kinds be preserved among nations.

Allow me to say to you, Mr. President, once again, that in a field which assumes particular significance in our bilateral relations, the field of aeronautical relations, we expect, confidently, the decisions of the United States Government and of United States justice. We are convinced that they could in no way contradict the traditions that your country declares itself to be so profoundly attached to.

France believes, in the second place, that in the East-West relations a policy of detente, understanding, and cooperation is necessary now more than ever. France knows from her own long experience that vigilant trust is far preferable to distrust, to a refusal to enter into a dialog, and to incomprehension. The American people, motivated by a blend of tolerance and conviction, which gives it its moral strength, and of which you, Mr. President, are the exemplification, cannot fail to be so persuaded.

France is also aware, as is the United States, of the dangers posed by nuclear proliferation. France fully assumes her responsibilities as a nuclear power. The measures France has taken in this connection attest to it. We are convinced that one can, one must, indeed, reconcile the means to stem proliferation of nuclear armaments with the indispensable development of nuclear energy production, for tomorrow all shall need that energy.

France, finally, is sensitive to the absurd, dangerous, overly wasteful, ruinous character of the unlimited accumulation of armaments. If it is justifiable and normal, so long as reason alone does not rule the world, for each country to seek to give itself the means to carry out its own defense, today we are witnessing an overequipping in armaments, which is fraught with threats. And so the French Government shall endeavor, within the prospect of the next special session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, to bring her contribution to the common thinking in order to lead towards genuine disarmament.

Mr. President, I have dwelt upon four fundamental issues for the future of the world, but there are more immediate and more tragic threats bearing down upon peace in Africa, as in the Middle East. We have devoted a thorough exchange of views to these threats. I shall therefore simply express with fervor and anguish my wish that in these areas which could break out into flames at any moment, passions shall not rule out over reason.

We are aware of the efforts that you have undertaken to promote peace. You know that we shall not spare our own efforts.

A world at peace must not only be a world without war; it must also be a world without violence and without tyranny, where the furthering of the human being is the prime objective of society. Peace is not established only upon the silence of man.

Mr. President, may I propose a toast to yours and to Mrs. Carter's health, to the prosperity and the happiness of the American people, and the friendship between France and the United States.

Note: The President spoke at 8:45 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. The Prime Minister spoke in French, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.

Jimmy Carter, Visit of Prime Minister Barre of France Remarks of the President and the Prime Minister at a Working Dinner for the Prime Minister. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/242020

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