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September 15, 2000
Differences no hurdle to better relations: Clinton
Amberish K Diwanji at the White House
United States President William Jefferson Clinton on Friday welcomed Prime Miniser Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the White House at a ceremony witnessed by about 500 people who had gathered on the lawns of the presidential mansion, including a large number of the Indian American community.
Clinton said it was a special honour "to welcome to the White House the prime minister of the world's largest democracy." His statement was cheerfully applauded by those gathered, more so by the Indian American community who happily waved the flags of both countries.
The president told the prime minister that America always has had a great fascination with India, for its rich history, culture, great religions, and increasingly, the US is fascinated by India when it thinks in terms of the future.
"We see in India today a rising economic leader, making breathtaking strides in information technology, an emerging environment leader, recently immunising 140 million children against polio, a leader in our community of democracies, reminding the world that freedom is not a Western value but a universal value," he added.
Recalling his recent trip to India, the president said, "I was profoundly moved by the visit that my daughter and our party and I had to the Gandhi Memorial. Tomorrow I will be proud to join you as you dedicate another Gandhi memorial right here in Washington DC."
The president declared that it is altogether befitting that "both our nations honour the Mahatma. Martin Luther King used Gandhi's teachings to show America that while we held principles of equality we knew to be right, we permitted practices of inequality we knew to be wrong. And we have been changing for the better ever since."
Declaring that India and the US had forged a common bond arising from their common commitment to freedom and democracy, Clinton said the challenge was to turn common bond into common achievements.
"Today we will continue our work in areas where the world needs both America and India to lead if we are to defeat AIDS, reduce poverty, protect the global environment, and open the global economy," he announced.
The president said India and US would discuss the common desire to see peace through dialogue in South Asia. On the vexed issue of nuclear arms and testing, Clinton said, "We will talk about our common interests in slowing the spread of nuclear weapons and broader consequences of proliferation in South Asia. At the same time, we welcome India's commitment to forgo nuclear testing until the treaty banning all nuclear testing comes into force."
The president insisted that differences between the world's two largest democracies were not a hurdle to better relations. "No matter our differences - and two such large and diverse nations will always have some differences, as long as we are thinking - if we speak with care and listen with respect, we will find common ground and achieve common aims," he said.
Clinton said that Vajpayee spoke about India's ability to cherish its own marvelous unity, and Vajpayee wrote poetry on the importance of unity, saying that people of many faiths can have one dream in every eye.
"In America, we too have a dream of unity amidst our diversity. If people as diverse as we can affirm our common humanity and share common dreams, surely we should and can embrace common endeavours," he stated.
The US president thanked the prime minister for the wonderful welcome he received on his visit to India. Clinton hoped that Vajpayee's in return too would feel the warmth of America in the welcome. "But more than anything else, I hope this is the beginning of a long line of common endeavours," he stated.
The Indian prime minister's speech was much shorter. Thanking the president for his kind words and hospitality, he said he was very pleased to be at the White House.
"This is a part of a continuing dialogue between the world's two largest democracies. We will carry forward the talks that we began in New Delhi in March this year during President Clinton's historic visit to India," he announced.
The prime minister said that the Indo-US vision statement signed in March 2000 embodies the aspirations and responsibilities of "our two democracies for the 21st century."
Vajpayee told the gathering that Thursday was a historic and memorable day at Capitol Hill, and added, "This day in the White House promises to be the same."
As he has done several times on this visit, the prime minister once again acknowledged the contribution of the Indian Americans. "I pay tribute to the Indian American community, which has been such an effective bridge in strethening Indo-US ties," he stated and received rapturous applause from the Indian Americans in the audience.
rediff.com has assigned Associate Editors Amberish K Diwanji and Savera R Someshwar to cover Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to the United States. Don't forget to log into rediff.com for news of this historic visit as it happens!
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