Public Papers

Remarks at the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church Annual Convention in Arlington, Virginia


Well, thank you. My heavens, what a wonderfully warm welcome. I'm just delighted to be with you. I want to salute Archbishop Saliba, a man I've known for many years. My pleasure to see you again, sir. And congratulations on celebrating 25 years as the leader of this church.

I think our timing on this meeting is pretty good because just 3 days ago -- who is this guy? -- [laughter] -- I returned from Turkey, the nation that is the home to the ancient city that gives your church its name. And ancient Antioch is where the name ``Christian'' first came into use, a city where a tradition of tolerance took shape around a faith that would one day light the lives of millions. The strength of your faith, and the welcome it has found in America, is testimony that the spirit of Antioch lives today and flourishes.

The spirit of Antioch and the spirit of America really have much in common. For many years now, I've been blessed with the privilege to represent, in one way or another, this great country. And wherever I've gone, on every continent, in every corner of the world, I find people who have tremendous admiration for America and all it stands for. And yes, part of it grows out of the fascination with our music and our movies and with the clothes we wear or the cars we drive. But what attracts people to America more than any material thing is an idea, and that idea is freedom.

And we must remember -- especially in this, the bicentennial year of our Bill of Rights -- that a central part of that American idea is a freedom of faith: the right of every man and woman to worship, to witness God, as they see fit. From the settlers and seekers who landed at Plymouth Rock to the pilgrims of our own day, America has long been a safe haven, a welcome refuge from persecution. They come to our shores to trade tyranny for tolerance. And all faiths are welcome here. Tolerance is our way of recognizing the limits of our own earthbound understanding. Tolerance testified to the fact that we are human, only human: that before God, our vast knowledge, all our science, all the wisdom of the ages, is a single drop of water, and our ignorance an ocean.

Faith has a power of its own. As in the earliest days at Antioch, the means of moving men remains the same: the power of example, of life lived in harmony with an ideal.

The image of the Good Shepherd was present in Peter's mind when he wrote: Tend the flock of God, that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.

The same ethic governs not simply men but nations. And when America acts in the world, we must act as a moral agent, as a force for good. Many times, the path forward is full of obstacles, and the choices we confront neither black nor white, in a world of lesser evils. And still, we must choose. To advance American ideals, we must act.

Nowhere are the choices more difficult than in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. Many of you came to this country from that region, leaving friends and family, leaving a part of yourselves behind. For you, the suffering and turmoil in that part of the world is not simply political but personal. You feel it deeply in your hearts. And I cannot share your private anguish, but I can say from my heart, it pains me deeply to see the Middle East -- sacred ground of three great faiths -- riven by hatred and conflict.

In Iraq, we confronted a country under the rule of a man of brutal means and, in my view, unmitigated evil -- a man who made war on his own people, menaced his neighbor, and threatened the world's peace.

I believed then -- and I believe now -- that what we and our coalition partners did to stand up against Saddam Hussein's aggression was right; it was just; it was moral. And we did the right thing. Who can doubt this now, knowing as we do just how close Saddam Hussein was to possessing nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them against defenseless men, women, and children.

We fought not for a narrow interest but for a noble ideal. And we fought to liberate a nation, to defeat an aggressor who brought misery -- who brings it still -- to many millions of innocent people. I've said over and over again, and I'll repeat it here today: We have no quarrel at all -- none -- with the people of Iraq. But Iraq will not realize its potential as a nation -- rejoining the family of nations -- so long as Saddam Hussein stays in power.

At every point during the Gulf conflict, I held out hope that out of the horrors of war might come new prospects for peace. That hope is even stronger now. In Lebanon, we see the first tangible signs of political progress -- of domestic reconciliation and restored order -- after a decade and a half of nightmarish civil war. Thanks to the Taif accords, a truly sovereign Lebanon -- one free of all armed militias and foreign forces -- is no longer just a dream.

Just last week, Secretary Jim Baker undertook his fifth mission to the Middle East -- fifth -- since the Gulf war. His purpose: to bring about a peace conference designed to launch direct negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Building on the positive response from Syria, we've gained the agreement of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and the six-State Gulf Cooperation Council -- GCC -- to attend a peace conference with Israel.

As a result, we know for certain now that the Israelis are studying our proposal seriously. We hope that they will respond favorably to this historic opportunity for peace and security. I know the Palestinians are closely examining their choices. And here, too, I would ask only that they do everything possible to take advantage of this unprecedented situation to attain their legitimate rights and at the same time further the cause of peace.

And as you also know -- you all know -- we also have the public commitment of several Arab States -- including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia -- to suspend the economic boycott of Israel, if Israel suspends settlement activity in the occupied territories. In the Middle East, as in Lebanon, our objective remains a peace that is fair to all parties, a peace that promotes the security of our friends and true stability in the entire region.

At the same time, all of us must understand the challenges to come and the limits to what we can do. No one -- not this President, not the United States, not the U.S.S.R. or the U.N. or our European allies -- no one can impose a solution that the parties in the Middle East do not welcome and cannot live with. But the difficulties must never stand in our way. We can and will be catalysts for peace. That is the mission of the United States of America.

Just as the Christians of Antioch led by example, so, too, we who would ask others to follow must begin by asking more of ourselves. As Paul wrote to the Romans: Let us, therefore, follow after the things which make for peace.

Once again, let me tell you what a joy it is to be here. Let me give you the commitment I've given to the American people that I will go the extra mile, walk the extra distance to try to bring this peace, lasting peace, long-sought-for peace, to this troubled corner of the world. I feel it deeply in my heart.

Thank you. And may God bless this great Nation, the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 11:15 a.m. in the Arlington Room of the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Metropolitan Philip Saliba, Primate of the Archdiocese; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; and Secretary of State James A. Baker III.