January 13, 1989

Thank you, Charles, and Ambassador Dubinin, and our young honored guests. I thank you all very much. It's a great pleasure for me to welcome you all here. And let me say, I'll have to brace myself for this -- S'Novym Godom. [Laughter] For those of you who don't know -- that needs a translation for those here who don't speak Russian: It means Happy New Year, if I said it correctly. [Laughter]

Well, I want particularly to thank Ambassador Dubinin for the great cooperation the Soviet Government has provided in making this exchange possible. It's just been 8 months since I proposed this program to President Gorbachev, and I'm very happy to see it already underway as I prepare to leave office. Let me also commend Charlie Wick for the outstanding work that he's done in organizing this and other exchange programs. Under his leadership, USIA has made a vital contribution to United States-Soviet relations through development of people-to-people programs that make it possible for us to better understand one another and the world we live in.

Now to all of you, the American and the Soviet students here today, I want to tell you that I share your excitement. You're representing your countries in a new international program. You have received a unique opportunity to learn about another country, and you've embarked on a great personal adventure. To the Soviet students, I want to say, welcome to America. You've made a long voyage to come here, but I think you'll find many things to delight and fascinate you.

Last spring, I spoke to students at Moscow State University where some of you may go on to complete your studies. I talked to them about the political and economic system in the United States. But you'll have the chance to see it for yourself. And I think you'll find American democracy and our free economy both remarkable and thrilling. What with our political parties and our open elections, all of the independent media, free labor unions, private businesses, and private organizations of every type and size, America has more different, independent participants in our system than we have flavors of ice cream. And believe me, we have a lot of flavors of ice cream.

For the American students -- whose Russian, I understand, is a little better than mine -- I found my visit to the Soviet Union last spring very fascinating. And all of you will have an even greater opportunity to learn about life in that country. The Soviet Union encompasses a remarkably rich and diverse culture. You'll find some of the world's greatest literature, art, and music. And you'll also find other young people who will be very interested in learning more about you and where you come from. I'm especially pleased that you'll be staying with Soviet families because -- for all the differences between our systems of government and the practical and philosophical differences are important -- I think you will find that as people we share so much. Above all, we share our common humanity and our dreams of peace and freedom and a decent life for ourselves and our children.

For the students from both countries, you will have the chance to imagine what it would be like to grow up in the other country, go to their schools, to work, to worship, and to raise a family. You'll hear each other's music and see each other's fashion, and share with each other your personal goals and ambitions and personal hopes. And I think as you get to know each other and become friends with each other, you may come to believe something that I have long believed and felt myself: and that is that most of the problems in this world between countries do not exist between people. People around the world have much more in common than they do differences. The differences are between governments, and the problems are between governments. It's not people who begin wars or suppress freedom, it's governments that do that. As I've said many times, if it were just up to young people like you, if you could all get together and meet one another, I think you'd become fast friends. And I don't think there would ever be another war.

Well, you have a lot to look forward to, and not only the exchange program. This is a fascinating time to be alive, and I think your generation will lead us into one of the most exciting ages in human history. You know, as I look at all of you, I can't tell which of you are American and which are Soviet. And I'm glad that you will have this chance to get to know one another and to learn from one another. So, I won't take any time now to talk about my operation. [Laughter] I will just say a thank you to all of you, and God bless all of you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:25 p.m. in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to Yuriy V. Dubinin, Soviet Ambassador to the United States, and Charles Z. Wick, Director of the U.S. Information Agency.