Remarks at a Reception for the Heads of Delegation to the 38th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, New York

September 25, 1983

George, thank you very much. Ambassador Kirkpatrick, Mr. Mayor, and distinguished guests and friends:

Thank you for coming this evening. And on behalf of all my fellow citizens, let me welcome you to the United States as we gather for the 38th Session of the U.N. General Assembly. The United States is proud to be the home of this organization whose purpose is to bring peace to all the people of the planet, and your presence honors our nation.

I'm looking forward to addressing the General Assembly tomorrow because I bring a message that's very important to me personally, to my country, and I believe to all the members of the U.N. I've come to speak before the General Assembly because, like so many others, I'm disturbed by the drift of world events in recent weeks. I still believe the United Nations is an effective forum for not only discussing our problems but doing something about them.

As much as the Korean airline tragedy has been on my mind over the past few weeks, tonight I want to say just a few words about another tragedy that has been troubling me greatly -- the one that is occurring in Lebanon, that beautiful, prosperous land which was once a model of coexistence among peoples and faiths. It has been shattered by violence for reasons which are especially complex.

Our goal, as well as the United Nations, is the territorial integrity, the sovereignty, and the political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized boundaries. It's long been clear that we can best fulfill this role by working to strengthen the legitimate Government of Lebanon, by negotiating the withdrawal of all external forces, and by promoting a cease-fire and national reconciliation among Lebanese communities.

At the request of the Lebanese Government, my nation, as you know, joined with France, Italy, and the United Kingdom in sending peacekeeping troops to give Lebanon a chance to pull itself together while our diplomats continue to search for internal agreement and an end to external intervention.

Well, just a short while ago, today, welcome news flashed across the Middle East that a cease-fire has officially been declared. Within a few hours, it is hoped that guns will finally be stilled. No one can underestimate the challenges that still lie ahead. Lebanon has been racked by so many conflicting forces for so long that the building of peace and national reconciliation will be very formidable tasks. But this is the critical first step. We hope it marks a new beginning in Lebanon, a period of calm when Lebanon can begin to reclaim its nationhood free of outside forces and the threat of new bloodshed.

The coming days must be a time for restraint and reconciliation by all parties. We in the United States will continue to be as helpful as we can in this process, and I hope and pray there will be U.N. observers on hand to help in that process.

Let me say that President Gemayel of Lebanon has shown true statesmanship during this period. The Secretary-General and I spoke with him by telephone earlier today to congratulate him on this cease-fire and to wish him well. The assistance of Saudi Arabia, the cooperation of Syria have also been indispensable during this process.

Finally, if I may, can I congratulate those who have served in the peacekeeping forces in Lebanon as well as two of our own United States diplomats, Robert McFarlane and Richard Fairbanks. All of them have played an enormously constructive role and they, too, must share in our happiness this evening.

We must all remember that what is at stake in Lebanon is a vital principle of international law and international morality, a principle at the heart of the U.N. Charter. A country's right to decide for itself how best to achieve its sovereign objectives, free of occupation, threat, and blackmail -- that is what the goal must be. The people of the United States have no driving desire to become involved in the internal affairs of other nations. Contrary to what some have alleged, we have no objectives of our own in Lebanon beyond peace for its people and freedom from external intervention. We would prefer that everyone just mind their own business and live their lives peacefully, but we recognize that as a major power we have major responsibilities. In good conscience, we can't turn our back on those responsibilities.

The problems of Lebanon, important in their own right, are at the same time a part of the greater question of peace for all of the Middle East. We remain committed to the principles I outlined on September 1st, 1982, which were based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, 338, and the Camp David accords. The United States will not let up in its efforts to promote a just and lasting, comprehensive negotiated peace so that the nations and peoples of the Middle East can live together in peace.

In closing, let me say that I've come to New York this year because I want to reaffirm that the United States of America will continue to work constructively in the United Nations and in every other forum to help resolve conflicts, to support the forces of peace and international civility, and to promote economic cooperation and prosperity. We believe arms reductions are of particular importance. The commitment of the United States to the goals of the U.N. Charter is unwavering. In the cause of peace, my country will play its part and carry its share of the burden.

Thank you all.

Note: The President spoke at 7:08 p.m. in the Hilton Room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick made welcoming remarks and introduced Mayor Edward Koch of New York City and Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who then introduced the President. The reception was hosted by the United States for heads of state, foreign ministers, and heads of delegation to the United Nations session.

Following the reception, the President and Mrs. Reagan returned to the Presidential Suite at the hotel, where they remained overnight.