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Background: Secretary of State Warren Christopher Resigns

November 7, 1996 at 12:00 AM EDT


PRESIDENT CLINTON: We are truly about to make a new beginning. Yesterday at the wonderful welcome home that Hillary and Al and Tipper and I had at the White House, I saw a remarkable sight. Warren Christopher was wearing a T-shirt. He did have it on underneath his Saddle Row suit. Nonetheless, it was there. This is the same Warren Christopher, I would remind you all, who made People Magazine’s best dressed list, the only man ever to eat presidential M&M’s on Air Force One with a knife and fork. (laughter among audience)

Yesterday, Sec. Christopher gave new meaning to my conviction that we are entering an age of new and remarkable possibilities. Today it was–it is with great regret at his departure but deep gratitude for his service to our administration and to our country, that I have accepted Warren Christopher’s decision to step down as Secretary of State. He has left the mark of his hand on history, not in some theoretical and tangible fashion but in concrete ways that have made a real difference in the lives of the American people and people around the world.

He has served three previous Democratic administrations as a trade negotiator, a deputy attorney general, a deputy secretary of state when he brought home our hostages from Iran. These past four years I have been proud and privileged to have him by my side as secretary of state.

Today if the children of the Middle East can imagine a future of cooperation, not conflict, if Bosnia’s killing fields are once again playing fields, if the people of Haiti now live in democracy instead of under dictators, in no small measure it is because of Warren Christopher. The cause of peace and freedom and decency have never had a more tireless or tenacious advocate. Those of us who have worked with Chris know that his quiet dignity masks a steely determination.

Let me cite just one example. History will record that Bosnia’s peace was secured at Dayton. You will also recall that literally until the last minute the outcome was in doubt. Our negotiators have their bags packed, and we’re ready to head home without an agreement. But Chris refused to give up, and the force of will finally convinced the Balkan leaders to give him to the logic of peace. For all Sec. Christopher’s skill at defusing crises, I believe his lasting legacy was built behind the headlines, laying the foundations for our future.

Under his leadership, we’ve taken on new threats like terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and environmental degradation. We’re seizing the opportunities to make the 21st century more secure and prosperous for every American, working toward a Europe that is undivided, Democratic, and at peace, building a new partnership with a strong and open Russia, meeting the challenges of change in Asia with strength and steadiness, opening more markets abroad, and helping American businesses to take advantage of these new opportunities.

Perhaps most important, Warren Christopher’s life provides powerful proof that America has a unique responsibility and a unique privilege to lead. He has helped the American people understand that we cannot lead on the cheap, it takes time, energy, and resources. And as we go forward, I pledge to protect and preserve the resources for our diplomacy that Warren Christopher has put to such good use.

These past four years, time and again, I have reached out to my friend for his counsel, his judgment, and his support. It is no exaggeration to say that Warren Christopher has literally been America’s elder statesman. There’s also no exaggeration today that he retains the energy, the vigor, and the capacity of a person half his age. I thank Sec. Christopher for agreeing to stay on until we select a successor.

I will consult closely with him in that process. In the weeks ahead, I might have a hard time finding him, however. The Secretary has continued to do the vital business of our nation, participating next week in the Cairo Conference, traveling to China and throughout Asia, moving on to Europe to work on Bosnia and adapting NATO to the future.

Sec. Christopher already has set a four-year record as America’s most traveled diplomat in chief. If you could earn frequent flier miles for government travel, we would owe him at least a round trip on the space shuttle. The Vice President says that with the travel he’s already logged in, he could go to the Moon and back and back to the Moon again. I want him to travel a few more miles so he will finish on the right planet. (laughter among audience)

Through dignity, determination, hard work, and skill, through an unbelievable powerful collection–a combination of his intellect, his integrity, and his good heart–Warren Christopher has earned our nation’s admiration and a debt that can never be fully repaid. From the bottom of my heart, I thank him for his service to the nation and his unique friendship to the President. Mr. Secretary. (applause)

WARREN CHRISTOPHER, Secretary of State: Mr. President, it would just be absolutely impossible for me to express fully my gratitude to you for entrusting this post to me at this extraordinary moment in history. I’m grateful for the unfailing and unstinting support that you have given me in moments of high success and at the difficult times as well. I also want to thank you and Hillary for the many kindnesses that you’ve extended to Marie and to me and our family. I also want to express appreciation to you, Mr. Vice President, for being here today, as you always have been for me, and want to pay tribute to the remarkable role as the President said that you have played in shaping and carrying out our nation’s foreign policy.

Being secretary of state is to take part in history’s relay race. It’s been a great privilege for me to have an opportunity to run this challenging leg over the last four years. I’ve done so with the sure sense that we’ve begun to shape American foreign policy for the 21st century. Mr. President, the world looks to the United States for leadership, and you have responded magnificently.

Thanks to your leadership, America is more secure, more prosperous, and our values are more ascendant than they were when we took office four years ago. No secretary of state could ever have had stronger support than I have had from the President and Vice President, or from my colleagues at the National Security Agency, many of whom I’m proud and pleased are here today. I’ve also been tremendously honored by an opportunity to work with so many talented members of the State Department, many of whom I see down here today, including the dedicated men and women of the Foreign Service and the Civil Service as well.

I’m, of course, also grateful to the American people. It is their values and their aspirations that I have sought to uphold as I’ve traveled around the world these last four years. I’m convinced that especially as this time of change in the world, this time of challenge and change, the American people expect our nation to maintain a strong and principled global leadership.

They can be assured that I will be doing that, maintaining our active engagement, as I travel to the Middle East, Europe, and Asia over the next several weeks before the time of transition actually takes place. I’ve been very generously blessed by providence, and I will leave office with a deep sense of attitude and humility. I also leave with great confidence, Mr. President, that you are laying the foundation for the next American century. Thank you very much. (applause)