Barack Obama photo

Remarks at a Luncheon Hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations in New York City

September 21, 2011

Secretary-General Ban. President Obama, Excellencies, distinguished heads of state and government, Your Highnesses, Your Majesties, distinguished ministers, ladies and gentlemen: Welcome to the United Nations. Welcome to our common house.

We are off to a flying start today, I must say. Thank you, President Obama, for your inspiring oratory, and more, for its vital importance.

As ever, we thank the United States and its generous people for hosting United Nations during last 66 years. This is the 66th session. Let me offer a special word of thanks to New Yorkers. In the last month, they have faced an earthquake, then a hurricane, now a perfect storm of the world's leaders, creating lot of traffic jams. [Laughter] And we are very much grateful for their patience.

Let me say straight off, this is my fifth lunch with the distinguished leaders of the world, and I'm very much grateful for your strong support. In that regard, I am very glad that it is not my last lunch, and we will have five more lunches in the coming 5 years. [Applause] Thank you very much. Taking this opportunity, I would like to really sincerely express my appreciation and thanks to all of the heads of state and government for your strong support. You can count on me. And it's a great and extraordinary honor to serve this great organization.

Mr. President, 50 years ago this week, your predecessor, President John F. Kennedy, addressed the General Assembly. He came, he said, to join with other world leaders, and I quote, "to look across this world of threats to a world of peace," unquote. Looking out upon the world, we see no shortages of threats. And closer to home, wherever we might live, we see the familiar struggles of political life: left versus right, rich versus poor, and up versus down. Seldom, however, has the debate been more emotional or strident; yet seldom has the need for unity been greater.

We know the challenges. I won't reprise my speech, except to say that we do indeed have a rare and generational opportunity to make a lasting difference in people's lives. If there is a theme in all that has been said today by the leaders, it would be the imperative of unity, solidarity in realizing that opportunity. We must act together. There is no opt-out clause for global problem-solving. Every country has something to give in and to gain.

Excellencies, let me close with a question. By any chance, do you ever feel that you have become a slave, you have become a slave of--to this machine? [Laughter]

[At this point, Secretary-General Ban held up his mobile phone.]

Somehow, I sense that I'm not alone. I have seen so many leaders having and speaking over the phone, even while at the summit meetings. Thanks to device like this, the world has been more connected. But let us not mistake--misunderstand that with being united. Being connected depends on technology. Being united depends on us: on leaders, on institutions, and on the decisions you make.

We have come a long way since last year. Outside this building, the new flags of Southern Sudan and Libya proudly wave in the September breeze. And today I am very pleased to recognize the presence of Southern Sudan President, His Excellency Salva Kiir, who came to New York for the first time after their independence, and President of National Transitional Council of Libya, His Excellency Abdul Jalil, who received very strong support yesterday. And they will continue to receive such support. Let us give them a big applause.

We can be proud of the firm stand we took for freedom and democracy in Cote d'Ivoire, North Africa, and elsewhere. We can be proud of the many lives we saved, the hungry people we fed, the children we helped to grow up healthy and strong. And we can do more to make the Arab Spring a season of hope for all, to put the sustainable back into development, to prevent the crises before they explode.

And so, distinguished heads of state and government, Excellencies, Your Majesties, let us raise a glass to clarity of vision, to unity of purpose, to a common resolve for action, to the United Nations, and to continued success of each and every heads of state and government present here.

Thank you very much. Cheers.

President Obama. Cheers.

[Secretary-General Ban offered a toast.]

Secretary-General Ban. Cheers.

President Obama. Cheers.

Secretary-General Ban. Cheers. Thank you. Cheers.

President Obama. Good afternoon, everyone. These lunches come right after my remarks to the General Assembly, so I've already spoken too long. [Laughter] I just--as the host of the United Nations, I want to welcome all of you. In particular, though, I want to cite Secretary-General Ban for his extraordinary leadership. As you begin your second term, I want to take this opportunity to thank you, not just for your leadership, but also for your lessons in life.

As we all know, the Secretary-General is a very modest man, but he's led a remarkable life. Born into World War II, as a young boy in the middle of the Korean war having to flee the fighting with his family, just as his home country has risen, so he has risen to leadership on the world stage.

A lot of us are envious of him because, in running for a second term, he ran unopposed--[laughter]--and he won unanimously. [Laughter] I'm still trying to learn what his trick is. [Laughter]

But, Secretary-General, that fact reflects the high esteem with which all of us hold you and your leadership. And I want to quote something that you said when you began your new term: "We live in a new era where no country can solve all challenges and where every country could be part of the solution." I could not agree more. Today, we see the difference you've made in Cote d'Ivoire, in Sudan, in Libya, in confronting climate change and nuclear safety, in peacekeeping missions that save lives every single day.

So we want to salute you. We want to salute those who serve in U.N. missions around the world, at times, at great risk to themselves. We give them their mandate, but it is they who risk their lives--and give their lives--so people can live in peace and dignity.

So I want to propose a toast: To the leader who, every day, has to work hard to try to unite nations, and to all the men and women who sustain it, especially those brave humanitarians in blue helmets. In an era of great tumult and great change, let all of us be part of the solution.

[President Obama offered a toast.]

Secretary-General Ban. Thank you very much.

President Obama. Cheers.

Note: The President spoke at 1:54 p.m. at United Nations Headquarters.

Barack Obama, Remarks at a Luncheon Hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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