Remarks at a Dinner in Honor of Republic of Korea President Park Geun-hye

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Mellon Auditorium
Washington, DC
October 14, 2015

SECRETARY KERRY: Madam President, thank you for gracing us with your presence this evening. We are delighted to welcome you here. And I know your government is as proud as we are of Ambassador Mark Lippert, and we are deeply appreciative for his service and to have him here today. (Applause.) And we thank him and you for helping to keep our bilateral ties so strong.

I want to thank all of you for coming tonight. And this is an extraordinary group assembled here. I appreciate the opportunity to share a few words. Thank you for the generous welcome a moment ago. I want to make it absolutely crystal clear that I am not running – (laughter) – and if elected, I would not serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives. (Laughter.) I must say though, looking around the tables here, there are a few good candidates here – of either party. I also see some very, very dear friends, a number of ex-secretaries, Secretary Cohen, Secretary Powell, Secretary – I don’t know if Chuck is still here.

Madam President, we are really delighted to welcome you here. The warm reception that you and Foreign Minister Yun gave to me during my visit last spring to Seoul is something that I will remember forever. And I just was chatting with my friend Byung-se about the wonderful tree that he gave me. And I’ve been able to reciprocate today, ladies and gentlemen, by giving to the foreign minister of the Republic of Korea a tree that comes directly from Mount Vernon – a Tulip Tree that has been grown there – in America – since the 1680s. It grows to 300 feet and for 300 years, so I told him, ‘Don’t put it in your living room.” (Laughter.)

I want to thank you, Madam President, for laying a wreath today earlier at the very striking Memorial to the American military men and women who served in Korea – 19 statues representing a squad in full combat gear, on patrol, ever watchful, always prepared to stand in defense of our shared values. And those figures call to mind years of shared sacrifice when American and Korean troops fought shoulder to shoulder on the Pusan perimeter, on the beaches of Inchon, and in the bitter cold surrounding the Chosin Reservoir.

It’s a tragedy that, unlike other conflicts that are commemorated on America’s National Mall, this one has never formally ended. And the need for vigilance, we all know, continues. And through the combined efforts of our two great countries, that vigilance is being met.

We also have much to celebrate this evening, and that is much less solemn and much more joyful, because our alliance cannot be explained simply by the alignment of security and material interests – although, obviously, that helps – but is based much more on the discovery long ago and repeated over and over again that when Americans and Koreans get together, good things happen.

Together we have built a dynamic two-way commercial relationship and an academic partnership that enables thousands of U.S. students in Korea and Korean students in America to bond over late night chats over Kakao Talk and to sing their lungs out in noraebang rooms. (Laughter.)

And we have also literally become part of one another. Today there are more than 2 million Koreans and Korean Americans living in the United States of America, and they can be found in every single corner of our land, not to mention at our gathering tonight. And their economic and social contributions to America and to our bilateral relationship are profound.

In addition, we have two governments that each day consult and work closely with one another on issues of vital importance to both of our countries. These imperatives include the fight against violent extremism and terror, the pursuit of peace, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and efforts to promote strong and sustainable economic growth.

We also recognize that ours has to be a dynamic partnership that focuses, as our citizens do, on issues of the future and particularly issues like clean energy, the need to address the challenge of climate change, and ensuring that we have smart rules in place to guarantee the preservation of open space and also a reliable and secure internet. Madam President, you showed precisely that kind of commitment to the future today when you visited NASA’s Goddard Space Center.

And one of the many characteristics that Koreans and Americans have in common is the desire always to be looking ahead and looking up, getting ready for the next big thing.

In times that are good and in those that are not so good, our countries have always had each other’s back. That is a pretty worthwhile tradition to continue, and from the feeling in this room tonight and the presence of so many important and distinguished guests, I have no doubt that we will continue.

Madam President, once again, thank you so much for honoring us with your visit. I know President Obama is looking forward to his meeting with you. And thanks to all of you in this hall tonight for supporting – probably I should say really for embodying – the deep and lasting friendship between the American and Korean people. We celebrate that tonight, and we’re delighted to have you here. Thank you. (Applause.)