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The President's Trip to South Asia

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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 20, 2000


Dhaka, Bangladesh

8:20 P.M. (L)

PRESIDENT AHMED: Excellencies, distinguished guests, this is an historic occasion for us, being the first ever visit of the President of the United States of America to Bangladesh, and it presents an extraordinary event that will remain indelible in the memories of the people of Bangladesh.

Your visit is not only a testimony to the friendly ties between our two countries, but it is also a reflection of our shared values manifest in our deep commitment to democracy and rule of law. I am sure that, despite your short visit, you had an interesting time, and your fruitful discussion with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would be the harbinger of a new era in our relationship that will be mutually beneficial.

Mr. President, Bangladesh attaches great importance to its relationship with the United States. Our two countries are bound by friendship that, over the years, have gained in depth, dimension and content. Our people hold the people of the government of the United States in great esteem for their commitment to freedom, democracy and the dignity of human beings, as well as for their sincere efforts to put a human face in interstate and global relationship, who stresses human rights, empowerment of the disadvantaged sections of the society, including women in cases of employment opportunities.

Mr. President, America indeed is an indispensable participant in any effort to tackle global problems. It is also fortunate to have an extraordinary leader and a statesman of your stature as President. You have given America about eight years of unprecedented growth and prosperity through your dynamic leadership. You have given America a bold and decisive leadership which has helped defuse tension and reduce conflict in the world over. You have reinvented government and revived the American spirit, which will be catalytic in shaping what you call the 21st century American revolution, with opportunity for all and responsibility from all.

We also admire your bold and dynamic leadership and your genuine efforts to advance the cause of peace and stability throughout the world. We recall with gratitude the support and solidarity the United States has shown to our people during the disastrous flood in 1998. We are indeed grateful to you, Mr. President, for deep concern for the welfare of the people of Bangladesh.

Mr. President, in keeping with our commitment to fulfill the dreams of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman, the government has undertaken policies and programs for the rapid economic development of the country on the basis of good governance and transparency.

Top priority has been placed on market reforms, deregulation of the economy and foreign investment. Indeed, our objective, and if I might add, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's passion, has been economic development with a human face that empowers women, caters to the education of the children, and cares for the elderly, the vulnerable and the weak.

The government has undertaken specific programs to provide pension to elderly male and female; a rehabilitation scheme for distressed women and street children, which has had a positive impact on poverty alleviation. The achievements of Bangladesh in areas like the microfinancing shelter for the poor, health and family planning, and literacy similarly have been acclaimed worldwide.

Mr. President, I am happy to say that Bangladesh today had earned the admiration of the international community for its commitments to peace and stability, and its moderate and rational position on issues and events.

Bangladesh has been catalytic in the establishment of South Asian Association for the Regional Cooperation. It is the spokesman for the LDC countries. It is the first to sign and ratify the CTBT in South Asia. It is a member of the United Nations Security Council. It will be hosting the Non-Aligned Summit in Dhaka next year.

Mr. President, we are determined to create a sona bungla -- that is gold in Bengali -- by our people who will enjoy a good quality of life in at atmosphere of peace and prosperity. However, in our march to our destiny, we seek the support of friends; we seek the support of the United States of America. I am sure the government and the great people of the United States of America would stand by our side.

Before I conclude, may I once again thank you, Mr. President, for visiting Bangladesh. Excellencies and distinguished guests, may I now request you to join me in a toast to the health, happiness and long life of his excellency President Bill Clinton; to the enduring friendship between Bangladesh and the United States; to the health of all the distinguished guests present here. Thank you. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Excellent statement. (Applause.)

Mr. President, Prime Minister, distinguished guests, this has been a day of extraordinary hospitality, insight and discovery for us. On behalf of the American delegation, I thank you for all you have done to make us feel at home.

For five years now, my wife and daughter have been singing the glories of Bangladesh. Finally, I am glad to see for myself. This day has been a watershed for both our nations. Americans admire Bangladesh as a proud Muslim nation, devoted to peace with its neighbors, to peacekeeping around the world, to tolerance and diversity within its borders. When the great Bengali writer, Rabindranath Tagore, was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, he said this: I am glad I have done some work to give expression to this great age when the East and the West are coming together.

Although he did not live to see the creation of Bangladesh, Tagore doubtless would be proud of all you have done to lead your people into a new century. I believe he would also approve of what we did today to bring the East and the West closer together.

I was deeply gratified this morning to be the first American President to arrive in Bangladesh, and I am proud of the kind of partnership we are forging. It is about more than the ceremony of a state visit. It is about promoting democracy and the values that give meaning to our lives. It is about helping children stay in school and have a better future. About investing in people who have never been given a chance to succeed before, and investing in a nation that now has a chance to succeed as never before.

Tomorrow the sun will rise on a deeper friendship between America and Bangladesh. Through our ceremonies and our conversations, we have hastened the arrival of a more peaceful new day -- the kind of day that Tagore spent his life imagining. A new day comprehending not only the absence of war and suffering, but the presence of mutual understanding and common endeavors.

On behalf of all Americans, I pledge that we will work with you to build on this good day, to soften the hard facts of daily hardship, to make real the poetry of our finest aspirations.

I ask you now to join me in a toast to the President, the Prime Minister, the people of Bangladesh and the friendship between our two nations. May it grow. May it deepen. May it affect the lives of our people in ways that are truly good.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)


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