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East/West: Clinton Appeals For A Maintenance Of U.S. Leadership In International Affairs

Washington, 6 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- President Bill Clinton took advantage of a ceremony honoring Ronald Reagan, the former U.S. president credited with hastening the end of the Cold War, by calling on the U.S. Congress to maintain U.S. leadership in international affairs.

Clinton spoke Tuesday at the formal dedication ceremony for the new Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, an 816-million dollar edifice in Washington not far from the White House.

Clinton reminded the audience of government officials, members of Congress and other dignitaries of "President Reagan's resolve to fight for freedom, and his understanding that American leadership in the world remains indispensable."

Clinton remarked that it is fitting that a piece of the Berlin Wall -- which once separated communist East Berlin from the democratic western sector -- is in the Reagan building.

Said Clinton: "America's resolve and American ideals, so clearly articulated by Ronald Reagan, helped to bring that wall down. But as we have seen repeatedly in the years since, the end of the Cold War did not bring the end of the struggle for freedom and democracy, for human rights and opportunity."

Reagan was president for two four-year terms, from 1981 to 1989. He was a fierce anti-communist who once referred to the Soviet Union as an evil empire. Reagan's foreign policies have been given some of the credit for speeding up the demise of the former Soviet Union and the communist nations of central and eastern Europe.

Reagan is now 87 years old and living in retirement in the western state of California. He did not attend the ceremony on Tuesday because he suffers from Alzheimer's disease. The former president was represented by his wife Nancy, who said she was deeply moved by the tributes.

President Clinton noted that, since the end of Reagan's second term, "the freedom and opportunity for which he stood have continued to spread." Clinton said the end of the Cold War released millions of people from the yoke of totalitarianism. He said new democracies are emerging all around the world, and more nations are enjoying the fruits of victory. He warned, however, that no one should grow complacent.

Sounding a familiar anti-isolationist theme, Clinton again warned that the U.S. "cannot be partly in the world," and that it "cannot lead in fits and starts or only when we believe it suits our short-term interests." Clinton cited a favorite phrase of Reagan's -- that "freedom is always in America's interests" -- and said U.S. security and prosperity depends upon the willingness of Americans to be involved in the world.

Clinton praised the U.S. Senate for approving the inclusion of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in the NATO military alliance.

However, Clinton said the Congress "has other opportunities to fulfill the spirit and honor the legacy," of Reagan. He called on Congress to approve U.S. contributions to the International Monetary Fund, and he urged the Congress to set aside the money to pay the dues arrears of the U.S. to the United Nations.

Clinton reminded the Congress that Reagan was a supporter of both the IMF and the U.N.

Said Clinton: "President Reagan understood so clearly that America could not stand passively in the face of great change. He understood we had to embrace the obligations of leadership to build a better future for all. "