CHIEF DIPLOMAT AND CEREMONIAL HEAD OF STATE

“He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors”

-United States Constitution, Article II, Section 2


“he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers”

-United States Constitution, Article II, Section 3

Two roles bequeathed to the President of the United States that operate in conjunction with one another are those of Chief Diplomat and Ceremonial Head of State. During his administration, President Clinton would have acted in these roles while receiving foreign dignitaries, negotiating treaties, or while attending official events as a representative of the American people. In this module, you can read about instances in which President Clinton fulfilled these roles. 

The Good Friday Agreement

While the 1990’s was a largely peaceful decade for the Western world, “The Troubles” between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland and Northern Ireland raged on. For President Clinton, this struggle was not an issue of internal politics for the U.K. to handle on their own; rather, the lobbying of the large Irish-American population of the United States caused peacemaking in Ireland to become a leading diplomatic goal of the President’s two terms.  

In 1994, President Clinton appointed a special envoy, former Senator George Mitchell, who worked to facilitate negotiations between the two sides. This would prove to be complicated work as the sides had been involved in nearly open warfare between rival paramilitary groups until a ceasefire had brought a tenuous end to the fighting just months earlier. 

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President Clinton holds a meeting to discuss peace in Ireland
President Clinton, National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, Special Envoy George Mitchell, and Ambassador William Crowe meet with Gerry Adams, leader of the Sinn Féin political party.

In 1995, President Clinton, in an act of public diplomacy, traveled to Northern Ireland to engage directly with the Irish people on the issue of peace. On the lightning two-day trip, the President and First Lady of the United States campaigned for peace through various events in which they spoke to its importance in the region.

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Puzzle Poster
A poster announcing President Clinton’s participation in the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, held at Belfast City Hall, November 30, 1995.

Of these events, the speech delivered at the Belfast City Hall’s Tree Lighting Ceremony was perhaps the most powerful. After being introduced by the Lord Mayor of Belfast and lighting the 49-foot-tall white pine that had been donated by Nashville, Tennessee, President Clinton approached the podium as the crowd of 80,000 cheered. 

During his short speech, President Clinton spoke to the benefits that the ceasefire had brought to the people of Belfast and the ways in which their Christmas holiday would prove to be “especially joyous” because of it. President Clinton challenged the people of Ireland from “both sides” to “forgive” the violence of the other and pledged the support of the United States to “those who take risks for peace”. 

Click the player above to watch a recording of the 1995 tree lighting ceremony at Belfast City Hall and a speech by President Clinton. 

Within a few short years, on a rising swell of enthusiasm for peace, the Good Friday agreement was signed by the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland in 1998 before passing a popular vote in both nations. The journey to peace in Ireland had not been completed; however, the road forward had become clear. Although President Clinton had only played a small part, his contribution to peace in Ireland was made possible by his role of Chief Diplomat and Ceremonial Head of State for the United States. 

The Oslo Accords

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Arafat and Rabin shake hands
Prime Minister Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands after signing the Oslo Accords at the White House, 1993.

Perhaps one of President Clinton’s greatest diplomatic successes was the bringing together of Israel and Palestine to sign the Oslo Accords in 1993. Prior to the signing, Israel and Palestine, although neighbors, had been locked in an on-again off-again conflict since the creation of an Israeli state in 1947. 

The Oslo Accords, which had been negotiated during secret meetings in Norway, served to vastly improve the chance for peace in the region by establishing a framework for future peace negotiations between the two countries. The accords stipulated that a Palestinian Authority be officially recognized by Israel as the governing body of the Palestinian people and be afforded self-government in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians, in turn recognized Israel’s right to exist and renounced its intent to attack and destroy that state.  

Click the player above to watch President Clinton and Vice President Gore receive world leaders in the Oval Office

Before the ceremony, President Clinton and Vice President Gore greeted foreign leaders from the Middle East and beyond before presiding over the event itself. During the event Prime Minister Rabin and Yasser Arafat shook hands in front of the world’s press for the first time. 

Click the player above to watch the signing ceremony for the Oslo Accords. The signing begins at 31:30.

President Clinton’s hosting of the signing ceremony for the Oslo Accords served as a symbolic endorsement of the deal by the United States through the President’s role as Ceremonial Head of State. Further, President Clinton’s presence at the signing enforced for the signatories that the United States desired peace in the region, illustrating President Clinton’s role as America’s Chief Diplomat. 

Rallying World Leaders to Uphold Democracy in Haiti

After the Haitian military overthrew their nation’s democratically elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in a 1990 coup d’état, they began to wage a campaign of political violence against dissenters and Aristide’s supporters. President Clinton, receiving reports of violence and concerned about a growing number of Haitian refugees seeking asylum in the United States, resolved to rally international support to oust the brutal regime.  

In 1994, months before Operation Uphold Democracy would finally force the Haitian military from power, President Clinton was fulfilling his role as America’s Chief Diplomat to bring world leaders over to the cause of Haitian democracy.

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Phone Call Notes Haiti
Click the document above to read the talking points President Clinton had for conversions with world leaders regarding action in Haiti. 

Through the “talking points” for phone conversations above, one can see that President Clinton’s work as Chief Diplomat involved more than simply calling world leaders and asking for help. Rather, President Clinton’s talking points show that he reinforced areas of common ground between the United States and its allies, sought to reconcile contentious points like trade spats, and explained to world leaders why it was important for them to commit to the cause of democracy, even when it was on a tiny island in the Caribbean. 

In the end, President Clinton’s efforts were hugely successful as he assembled a coalition of 22 nations to oppose the Haitian dictators. In the face of overwhelming international cooperation, the dictators abandoned their posts and President Aristide was returned to his rightful place. 

Hosting State Dinners

Beyond direct negotiations with other nations and their people, the President of the United States also fulfills their roles of Chief Diplomat and Ceremonial Head of State through holding and attending state dinners. These meals serve as an occasion for the President to showcase the hospitality of the United States and forge closer bonds with leaders of other nations. This was the case in 1994 when Nelson Mandela, the newly elected President of South Africa, visited the White House for a state dinner. 

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President Clinton greets President Mandela
President Clinton and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa walk together on the South Lawn for the State Arrival Ceremony for President Mandela.

President Mandela’s visit to the White House began with a ceremony on the South Lawn at 11:00 AM where President Clinton and the First Lady received him at his vehicle. After speeches, the playing of national anthems, and introductions, the party moved to a reception inside the White House and a meeting in the Oval Office before retiring to their own quarters until evening. 

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President Clinton's schedule
Click the document above to take a closer look at President Clinton's schedule while he hosted the state dinner. (Page 10-15). 

Later that evening, President Clinton and President Mandela, accompanied by their wives, ascended the stairs of the North Portico as they were announced to the dinner’s guests. Once seated for dinner, both Presidents offered toasts to one another that spoke to the beneficence of their counterpart and dinner was served. 

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Mandela State Dinner Menu
The dinner menu from Nelson Mandela's state dinner in 1994. 

The food served during a state dinner is as important as the speeches and ceremony that it accompanies. The menu for these meals is selected in order to dually recognize dishes popular in the guest’s home country and showcase ingredients and preparations that are unique to the United States. For President Mandela’s state dinner, the inclusion of red curry and halibut were nods to South African cuisine while American products like a wild ripened cheese from New York showcased American ingredients. 

Click the player above to see selected moments from the state dinner of President Nelson Mandela. Arrival Ceremony (00:00-15:30). Speeches (15:30-32:00). Dinner arrival and reception line (35:00-1:02:10). Toasts by President Clinton and President Mandela (1:02:13-1:16:00). Entertainment by Whitney Houston (1:16:15-1:22:00). 

Following the decadent meal, the evening was capped off with entertainment as Whitney Houston sang several of her most famous songs in the Rose Garden for both presidents, their families, and assembled guests. 

Receiving State Gifts

When world leaders meet with the President of the United States, it is common for them to exchange gifts on behalf of their nations. This type of gift is referred to as a state gift. The President, in their capacity as Ceremonial Head of State, receives the gifts of foreign nations on behalf of the American people.

Often, the gifts exchanged are representative of the gifting nation's culture, the relationship between the two nations, or the relationship between the two leaders. Below, you can explore several gifts that President Clinton received during his eight years in office.

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Roman Coliseum
Glass Mosaic gifted to President Clinton titled Roman Coliseum. Photo courtesy White House Historical Association.

The Roman Coliseum, a glass mosaic depicting the ruins of the famous Roman structure, was gifted to President Clinton by Pope John Paul II during a visit to the Vatican by President Clinton in June of 1994. In this case, the emphasis on glass art and Roman ruins is representative of the culture of the Vatican and greater Italy.

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Shamrock Presentation
President Clinton receives a crystal bowl of shamrocks from Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds on St. Patrick's Day. Read President Clinton's remarks here.

In a Saint Patrick’s Day tradition, the Prime Minister of Ireland presents the President of the United States with a crystal bowl filled with shamrocks in a small ceremony referred to as the “Shamrock Ceremony”. During a speech following the presentation in 1994, President Clinton said that “these shamrocks, represent the values and rich heritage our nations share. From the earliest days of this republic, the American dream has so often been a story of Irish American achievement.”

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Robben Island Stone
Quarried limestone from Robben Island. Presented to President Clinton by Nelson Mandela during a 1998 visit to Cape Town, South Africa.

This piece of stone, quarried from the Robben Island Maximum Security Prison in South Africa, was gifted to President Clinton by Nelson Mandela in 1998 during a state visit to Cape Town, South Africa. Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned at Robben Island from 1964-1982 on charges of treason for his opposition to the system of racial apartheid that ruled his nation. During that period, Mandela would have engaged in grueling manual labor quarrying away stones like this one.

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