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President Clinton Meets With Bipartisan Coalition on Debt Reduction For Impoverished Countries

Aired October 2, 2000 - 3:40 p.m. ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go directly to the White House, President Clinton making a statement on the Middle East to his cabinet.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... entire $435 million that we pledged in debt relief to the world's poorest countries and to authorize the International Monetary Fund to do its share as well.

It's not often we have a chance to do something that economists tell us is a financial imperative and religious leaders say is a moral imperative; not often that we find an issue that puts John Kasich and Maxine Waters on the same side, economists and evangelicals in the same room.

All of us feel a common obligation to do the right thing.

In the most indebted countries, one in 10 children dies before his or her first birthday, one in three is malnourished, the average adult has only three years of schooling. This is a terrible omen for our shared future on this planet and it is wrong.

More than a year ago, religious leaders organized a very successful global campaign for debt relief. It touched many of us here today and generated strong, bipartisan support in the Congress.

The United States developed a plan with other creditor nations to triple debt relief available to the world's poorest nations, provided they agreed to put the savings from debt payments into health and education. Here are the results so far: Last year, Bolivia saved $77 million and spent it on health and education; Uganda used its savings to double its primary school enrollment; Honduras now intends to offer every child nine years of schooling instead of six; Mozambique is buying much-needed medicines for government clinics, especially important there, in light of the terrible floods they experienced.

Now, other nations are watching to see if the United States will do its part. If we don't, it's possible that some nations will do all the work that we should have done to qualify -- or that they needed to do to qualify, but they won't get any relief at all.

Now, let me remind you, we are talking here about one-five- thousandth of our budget to lift the burden of debt around the world for years to come. We're talking about giving as many as 33 nations a chance for a new beginning, and about doing good works that our different faiths demand of us. This is a remarkable opportunity that we must seize now. And we must not let other issues divert us from it.

Again, I'm profoundly grateful to all of you for coming, and to you, especially, Representative Kasich, for making sure that this is a broad bipartisan group. So I would like to open you to the floor to you to say a few words.

REP. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Thank you, Mr. President.

You know, I've been involved in a lot of coalitions in the 18 years I have been here, but it's almost always been to fight against a common enemy. That seemed to be what united Republicans and Democrats, and liberals and conservatives. But now this is a coalition that is really designed to advance a wonderful common good, which is to take some of the bounty of the United States in the 21st century, and say, "We've got to share it with some other people."

You know, we just got done with the Olympics and we could tell that, when we won so many medals, we had to work extra hard to not build resentment in the minds of other people in other parts of the world. Now with the economic and the military and political dominance we have, I think that it's essential for the United States to share its bounty and open its heart to people who are the poorest of the poor and, as you say, it is not a lot of money for us to make a very -- to have a very big impact in the world.

I want to thank Bono. Basically I called over there on Friday and told him it was Paul McCartney and he took the call anyway.


And Bono flew from Ireland to be here. He got to New York last night. He has been, without question, the most dedicated and driving force behind this whole initiative from day one.

And I also want to thank Pat Robertson who came here who changed everything that he had. And I called him on Friday and said I thought it was important that he be here with everyone else.

And I want to thank my colleagues. And Maxine did a great job in the House advancing the issue. But Mr. President, this man right here, Gene Sperling, has been unrelenting in his efforts to try to secure this.

So I hope we can get it done. And if we do, we will have made a meaningful contribution in this 21st century to the rest of the world.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you very much, Mr. President. First, I want to thank you and commend the Clinton administration, Secretary Summers, Gene Sperling, also, for your leadership and your determination to make this happen. I'm pleased to work with Mr. Kasich, our chairman, Mr. Leach and so many in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion. And it's also bilateral. I mean, other countries -- multilateral -- many other countries of the world are participating.

We have a golden opportunity -- pun intended -- now to show the greatest of our country by being philanthropic, but in our own interest.

I have a special responsibility, Mr. Chairman, because as the ranking on Foreign Operations, I have to fight this fight in our committee. Senator Leahy leads the charge, but it's actually we're hoping to have bipartisan agreement on this.

But in my -- my caucus is -- we're blessed with a strong -- Congressional Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, Asian-Pacific American Caucus, members of Congress in bipartisan way, who understand the cultures, the needs, the possibilities of the Southern Hemisphere and other areas in the Third World, who know how essential this money is. And it's not a great deal of money, as you said.

We had a three-year plan, we're in the second year...

WOODRUFF: We have been listening to members of a bipartisan coalition on debt reduction for poor countries at a meeting at the White House with President Clinton. We are sorry, we had labeled this as a cabinet meeting, and obviously that's wrong, and we apologize for that. The president meeting there with Congressman John Kasich and, as you saw, the singer Bono from U2 to talk about the U.S. commitment to reducing debt around the world. We are expecting the president this afternoon to make a comment about the Middle East and the recent dramatic increase and unrest there, and as soon as that does take place we will go to that live.

Thank you, and we'll be back with "TALKBACK LIVE" in just a moment.



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