Remarks at a Working Luncheon in Honor of Nordic Leaders

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
May 13, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very, very much. Please be seated. Good afternoon to everybody. (In Norwegian.) (Applause.) Which, not translated literally, means “Welcome, all of you, to my house.” And it’s hardly that it’s our house; it’s Ben Franklin’s room, and we are really privileged to welcome our Nordic friends here.

I truly – I didn’t start out by trying to play favorites at all. The president this morning covered all the Nordic languages, and I’m not going to do that. But I just wanted to touch base with my childhood experience when I was 12 years old or so – 15, up through 15 – and living in Oslo. And I had a wonderful time learning about life in Scandinavia with all the countries. And it still means the world to me.

But what I really learned there was two major phrases. One was: (In Norwegian) – (laughter) – which means “I don’t speak any Norwegian.” And the other was: (In Norwegian) – (laughter) – which in my age meant everything. But the only person for whom it meant anything was my mother and my siblings, because I was 12 and 13 and much too young.

President Niinisto and Prime Minister Solberg and Prime Minister Lofven, Prime Minister Rasmussen, and Prime Minister Johannsson -- we are really honored – and I mean that – we’re honored to welcome you here today. I was a little bit surprised that all of you were able to come, considering that the grand final for Eurovision – (laughter) – is happening tomorrow. But then I learned that a Swedish artist won last year. Sweden is hosting this year, and it’s the only Nordic country with a group in the finals. (Laughter.) So fortunately, a Swede also founded Skype, so during the state dinner you can all catch up on the competition.

It is really a pleasure for us to welcome so many artists, business leaders, athletes, scholars, and policy makers from across the Nordic region and the United States. And I am delighted, and I think our guests of honor are delighted, that we have Chef Marcus Samuelsson, who is here to prepare today’s lunch. And we’re very, very proud to have him as a member of the State Department’s American chef corps, which travels around the world and serves as culinary ambassadors throughout the world.

Now, Marcus is a global citizen. His story – which I was interested that a number of the prime ministers here were very familiar with it – has taken him from Ethiopia to Sweden to Harlem, and we are all extraordinarily excited to learn he will be opening a restaurant in Washington later this year. (Applause.) So Marcus, Marcus – Marcus, before you run away: Welcome to the neighborhood, and thank you so much for being here. Now you better get the meal out on time. (Laughter and applause.)

Anyway. Folks, as I mentioned earlier, we gather in the Ben Franklin Room, and it’s special for a lot of reasons. Not only was he America’s first diplomat, but he was our very first ambassador to Sweden, and Franklin negotiated our country’s original Treaty of Amity and Commerce back in 1783. He obviously negotiated well, because it stuck and we have been very, very close friends ever since. I have to add that although Ben was well known for a lot of different sayings, among them “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise,” that was before he began his ministerial career in Europe. (Laughter.) Then he began saying things like, “Wine is constant proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” (Laughter.) And that is the spirit within which we come here today.

I also call attention to some of you who – if you have a moment after the lunch, walk in the room – there are a bunch of artifacts there that belong to the State Department on display, linking our countries. And one of them is a State Department report recommending that the United States buy Iceland and Greenland from the Government of Denmark. (Laughter.) Now, this was written in 1868, and at the time a congressman from Wisconsin suggested that the acquisition of Iceland with its fields – this is a quote – “fields beautifully green, mountains clothed in purple, heath, an atmosphere of astonishing purity, would be far preferable to the purchase of Alaska.” (Laughter.)

Now, just think what might have been, folks. We could have been toasting with Brinnivin Aquavit. And if you go back well through history, this might not be America; it might be Eriksona or something like that. We – and our – at the same time, our country’s presidential candidates would be feverishly contesting the Iceland primary. I’m not sure that would work out very well. (Laughter.)

Anyway, let me be serious in sharing quickly with everybody, and I do mean quickly – we want you to eat and enjoy. The Nordic states have made an absolute extraordinary imprint on American life. Even though Leif Erikson, after discovering Canada, apparently saw no point in even visiting Boston. But it didn’t matter, it really didn’t matter, because today more than 11 million U.S. citizens claim Nordic ancestry, and a number of you here with us today. Two chief justices of our Supreme Court were of Scandinavian descent. A son of Danish immigrants conceived the magnificent sculptures on Mount Rushmore. A Finnish American architect designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch and Dulles Airport. Norway was the ancestral home of two United States vice presidents. And then there were the stars who spent at least some of their careers lighting up Hollywood – Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Greta Garbo, and my body double Viggo Mortensen. (Laughter and applause.)

The other critical thing about the five leaders that you see standing in front of you today – and President Obama mentioned this earlier about countries that punch above their weight – of all the lists of people in the world who are global citizens who just never stop implementing their sense of responsibility and duty about global citizenship, these five are at the top of the list all the time. When the world needs them, they step up and they match words with actions. For example, to degrade and defeat Daesh, you have provided planes, weapons, training, and equipment to our Iraqi and Syrian partners on the front lines fighting for a nation, for freedom from oppression of a dictatorship.

To address the worst refugee crisis since World War II, you have contributed nearly a billion dollars in food, shelter, and humanitarian aid for displaced Syrian families, and you have more than done your fair share of the duty in bringing people to your country and providing shelter.

To preserve our planet, you helped bring about a landmark agreement on climate change, and you are working to preserve the arctic environment in a responsible and sustainable way.

To prevent the spread of epidemic disease, you helped to lead a global effort that produced money and medical personnel to halt Ebola in its tracks and put a lie to the predictions there would be a million people dead by Christmas two Christmases ago and to spell the difference between life and death for tens of thousands of people.

And to promote human rights and dignity, you’ve been at the forefront of efforts to empower women and girls in schools and homes and the workplace.

And you have been critical also on an issue that was talked about this morning in helping us to bring attention, because a lot of people just don’t even have the beginning of understanding about the threat to our oceans. The oceans are viewed as just so vast and so huge that nothing can harm them. But in fact, we human beings have now literally consumed, destroyed, eliminated 40 percent of all marine vertebrate, and every fishery in the world is under stress. It’s an extraordinary challenge, and you are joining with us in an effort to call global attention to this with Our Ocean Conference later this year.

But of all the issues and many more that exist, you know the United States and members of the Nordic Council are working together in pursuit of peace and prosperity, safety and security for the nations we represent, but inevitably for the world we share because you cannot be safe at home if we are not expanding our efforts on a global basis.

So I want to ask everybody to join me in a very special toast to all the energy and commitment, to the shared values, the beliefs that bring us together here today. It’s an extraordinary event when we have five leaders together for a state visit in one moment, but that itself is a symbol of the integrity of this friendship and of our mission together. And I ask you to drink to that friendship and to the history and to the future. Thank you, sir.


Thank you. Now it’s my pleasure to introduce – by the way, we’re going to have terrific entertainment after we eat. A great group of young folks are going to come from the Duke Ellington School of Arts, and I know that’s going to be fun. Before that, each of our great distinguished guests are going to have a chance to speak, and we lead off with the prime minister of Denmark, Prime Minister Rasmussen. (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER RASMUSSEN: Thank you. I am not a part of the excellent entertainment. I’m just here to say thank you. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to you for hosting us, John. I know that you always highlight that the food is better in State Department than in the White House. (Laughter.) So I must say I have tried White House and I’m looking very much forward to our lunch – (laughter) – and tonight we can compare.

Today we celebrate the close relationship between the United States and the Nordic countries and we reaffirm our solid commitment to tackle common challenges. We have worked together for over a decade in Afghanistan, we are united in the fight against ISIL/Daesh, we lead international efforts to curb climate change, and we join forces in upping global prosperity through trade liberalization and skillful use of our development aid.

Together we make a difference, and in many aspects we see positive trends and developments around the world. Nevertheless, instability, armed conflicts, and extreme inequality are still a fact of life for millions of people around the world. We cannot, we must not, and we will not shut our eyes to this fact.

At the end of the day, the transatlantic cooperation is the backbone of our common fight for a free and prosperous world. And therefore, we are committed to further strengthen our cooperation with our close friend and partner, the United States. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Sir, thank you very much.

PRESIDENT NIINISTO: Secretary Kerry, ladies and gentlemen, we Nordics consider the U.S. as an essential partner in foreign and security policy. We have a lot to contribute for peace, prosperity, and freedom in our own region, in Europe, and globally, and we do contribute. We are here to contribute. And, well, you felt a bit sorry that we had no possibility of watching the Eurozone contest. Don’t worry, at least for Finns it’s all clear – we are not qualified. (Laughter.)

I also want to thank you personally for your determination in pursuing political solutions to a multitude of crises around the world. In Finnish we have a word for extraordinary stamina and determination. The word is sisu. The way which you have negotiated for peace in the Middle East, the nuclear deal with Iran, and your persistent efforts to end the civil war in Syria witness you of sisu. Are you, by the way, sure, Mr. Secretary, that you don’t have some Finnish ancestor? (Laughter.)

I want to raise my glass for the deep and broad friendship and cooperation, and understanding that during your Scandinavia visit you learned all the essential; that is, skal. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.

We joked earlier that if the speeches go on long enough, we may not be able to walk to our chairs. (Laughter.) But would you all please welcome the prime minister of Iceland? (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER JOHANNSSON: Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to be here. I would like to thank you for your warm reception extended to me and my delegation. I share all the sentiments previously expressed as regards the achievements of our summit meeting on this good Friday the 13th. Our joint statement is a testament to the broad and deep cooperation the Nordic countries enjoy with the United States.

Since the United States was the first to recognize the independence of Iceland in 1944, we have enjoyed an enduring friendship. Further strengthening that friendship is one of my government’s foreign policy priorities. What makes our friendship so special is the fact we are guided by the same principles and the same values. Our countries share a fundamental belief in democracy, the rule of law, same – and the post-war international system.

Mr. Secretary, I would like to say a few words about your initiative, the Our Ocean Conference. In Chile, in October last year, I had the honor to attend the conference as Iceland’s minister of fisheries at that time. There, I announced Iceland’s commitment for an additional contribution to the UN fisheries training program with a special focus on small island developing states. Implementation of that commitment is in the final stages.

As you know, Iceland has played a significant role in the development of the Law of the Sea and is a leading nation when it comes to the sustainable management of fisheries resources. It is an experience we are happy to share with the developing states as well as with our friends and neighbors. I hope your cooperation, our cooperation on the oceans, has a bright future.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you all now to join me in a toast: To the Secretary of State, to all gathered here today, and to the people of the United States of America.




SECRETARY KERRY: Ladies and gentlemen, Her Excellency the Prime Minister of Norway. (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER SOLBERG: Dear Secretary Kerry, Nordic colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. Six toasts, speeches, is probably going to be a bit of a challenge in a – at a luncheon. I hope we overcome this. But I would like to thank you, Secretary Kerry, for your generous welcome. I join my Nordic colleagues in appreciation of your hosting today’s lunch, but even more for your leadership and your tireless efforts on key issues. You seem to be everywhere. Last morning in London, at the conference, we were together.

SECRETARY KERRY: So were you. So were you. (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER SOLBERG: Yeah, but – and I would like to say your efforts are very appreciated by Norway. And I think, as politicians, we all know that when election time comes, the voters are close to home. They want to know how we solve the issues in their communities and in their country. But in today’s globalized world, problems internationally who are not solved becomes issue in neighborhoods and in your local communities. That’s why we need to continue to have a United States with an international agenda on peace and prosperity and development.

Strong relationships, both personal and institutional, is based on our history and our common fundamental values. It will bind and continue to bind U.S. and the Nordic countries firmly together – the unity effort of close cooperation in addressing the world’s most pressing challenges, like upholding respect for international law, democracy, and human rights around the world. I believe that our countries are stronger when we act together and that the transatlantic bond is our common strength. All allies and European partners must continue to contribute to our shared security and to participate also in the international agenda towards prosperity.

Norway stands ready to take its part, and I’m happy to see that with your leadership, Secretary Kerry, the United States is really taking their part.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you so much.


SECRETARY KERRY: Cheers. (Applause.) Thank you, Madam Prime Minister.


And finally, but not least, the prime minister of Sweden, Mr. Lofven. (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER LOFVEN: We’re not drunk yet. (Laughter.)

Thank you very much, Secretary Kennedy – Kerry, sorry – Secretary Kerry. Thank you very much for the invitation. Thank you, Mrs. Heinz Kerry. It’s a pleasure to see you. It will be also pleasure to continue the discussions since this morning over a fine lunch prepared by the Swedish chef, Marcus Samuelsson. I congratulate you to the excellent choice of chef.

There’s so much that have been said already, but I do want to continue on what my Danish colleague mentioned, and that is your personal efforts and that you are a champion of so much. And some of the international issues that are at the very core of our government’s agenda are also issues that you, Secretary Kerry, have taken the global lead to address, and that is very, very important. I will mention just two of them.

The first is climate. Your relentless fight for much-needed global action to combat climate change is so important. The Paris agreement is a milestone, and Sweden will do our part to make sure that we also find the result and the outcome of the agreement will become reality. We will continue to push for speedy climate adaption. It is vital for the future – for our lives, but also for the future of our planet.

The second issue is your strong commitment to engaging Israelis and Palestinians to substantial and real peace talks. Now lately, developments on the ground have been increasingly negative, unfortunately. But now it is up to us, the whole world community – not only you, but the whole world community. We must step up efforts and through resolute action show that the two-state solution is the only way to peace and security for both Israel and Palestine.

So Secretary Kerry, we look forward to continuing out countries’ close dialogue on how best to tackle international challenges together. Thank you very much for all your work.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, sir. (Applause.)

Now, before you all run away, if I can indulge for – and I don’t want to keep everybody from the food, but a couple quick things. First of all, I want everybody to join me if you will, please, in saying thank you and hello to my wife Teresa, who empowers me to go out and do all of this. Thank you. (Applause.)

And secondly, I’m privileged to have here as a guest today my future stepdaughter-in-law, who is marrying my stepson, Andre Heinz, who has been living in Stockholm for 10-plus years or more. I mean, he’s been living there forever now, and he met a beautiful Icelandic woman who he is marrying this summer. And I look forward to being in Stockholm for that, but I want you all to say hello to Maria Marteinsdottir. (Applause.)

And finally, folks, as we were joking about drinking six toasts and we’re not drunk yet, I just flashed in my mind one of the great stories, which is Winston Churchill, believe it or not, was awarded an award for temperance at the end of the war. (Laughter.) And he came to the – he came to America to receive this award, and the MC who was about to provide the award to him looked at him and said, “You know, Sir Winston, we’ve done some research. We’ve actually learned that at lunch you have a little bit of wine, then in the afternoon you have an afternoon constitutional, then you have more wine with dinner in the evening. You take a long bath with as much brandy as is in the bath.” (Laughter.) “So we’ve figured out – we’ve calculated that if you took all the liquor you have imbibed in a lifetime,” which raises the question of why he was getting a temperance award, “it would go to a line right here.” And she pointed to this line on the wall, sort of right where the top of the windows are.

And Sir Winston very purposefully stood back, and he looked at the line, he looked at the ceiling, he looked at the line. He turned to the audience and he said, “So far to go, so little time.” (Laughter.) There you are, there you are. (Applause.)