Transcript: Prime Minister's speech to the State Department
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Prime Minister: "after two years working hand in glove with the United States, I know that we are at our best when we are not just strong, but we are smart."
Secretary of State Clinton
Thank you very all much. Please be seated. Welcome to the State Department. We are thrilled and so pleased to host this luncheon for our very special guests, Prime Minister and Mrs Cameron. It is wonderful to see all of you celebrating spring with us and, knowing that, our relationship - it’s always spring; it’s always being renewed, it is always durable, it is a cornerstone of both of our nations’ foreign policies and it has such a great resonance between our two peoples.
Now, I want to recognise our chef today, a native of Birmingham, England - not Alabama - who made herself a home in New York City as the Executive Chef of a couple of very hip restaurants: one, The Spotted Pig, the other, The Breslin. So, it’s really a delight to have April Bloomfield with us. She was just talking with the Prime Minister. It was a very timely introduction because when the Prime Minister and President Obama exchanged gifts, President Obama gave the Prime Minister a barbeque. I mean, a real down-home, American barbeque with a smoking compartment and everything else. So, April stands ready to help, Prime Minister.
We joke about the special relationship, but that’s because we’re so comfortable with it. It means such a great deal to us. It is not just because of a wide range of shared interests, but our deeply rooted history and the unbreakable friendship between our countries. Now, of course, the President did remind the Prime Minister at the White House ceremony this morning that we are at the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and I was pleased to tell my counterpart and friend, the Foreign Secretary, and also the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it was my predecessor in one of my other lives, Dolley Madison, who actually saved the extraordinary portraits of George and Martha Washington having received word from her husband, who was truly then a Commander-in-Chief in the field, that unfortunately the British truly were coming. So, she rushed from the White House, taking some treasures with her, leaving behind the meal that she had prepared for her husband and his officers, and the British officers ate the meal before they burned the White House.
So, you know we are looking forward, but nevertheless, there are certain memories that are also of significance. How wonderful it is; here we are today, and working together in so many important parts of the world - helping to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, helping to promote successful transitions and democratic reforms in the Arab world. We worked alongside each other to end a dictator’s rule in Libya. We are now focussed on helping the people of Syria realise a better future for themselves.
We are grateful for the leadership that the Prime Minister and his government have shown on so many issues. Just recently I was in London for a conference on Somalia that they sponsored. No matter what the issue, we are standing together.
So, I know, Prime Minister and Samantha, that this is just a small measure of hospitality to try to demonstrate our commitment and appreciation for this relationship. We were so well-treated when the President and I and our teams were on a State visit last year, sponsored by the government, of course, her Majesty’s Government. We did the best that we could with the weather. We think we pulled that off quite well, but it is now my great pleasure to welcome a dear friend, a great American and a superb Vice President, Joe Biden.
Vice President Biden
Thank you very much. Well, Madam Secretary, thank you very, very much. Mr Prime Minister, Mrs Cameron, like you, we host a large number of visiting dignitaries and high level meetings, but sometimes they’re fretted with challenges which require us to form whole new relationships. Sometimes they are preoccupied with hammering out agreements or producing what the policy-wogs refer to as deliverables. This one is easy. Today is entirely different. The diplomatic engagement with the full agenda of critical issues, yes, it’s on the agenda. But it’s also something more like a family gathering with very little disagreement. We sat in the Cabinet Room today; it was like a cabinet meeting. It wasn’t like meeting with foreign dignitaries.
Together we, the United States and Great Britain, are very proud stewards of the deepest international partnership. The bond between our countries and our people has stood the test of time and it has grown stronger. Through the ravages of two World Wars, we’ve weathered ever-shifting fortunes - even the political fortunes in each of our countries - and nothing changes except it gets better.
So, Mr Prime Minister, we’re deeply honoured to welcome you on your first official visit to Washington, and we’re also always anxious to welcome a British Prime Minister back to Washington, even on the anniversary of the War of 1812. But I must tell you, Mr Prime Minister - the Secretary knows this and a few of my friends like John Kerry know it - in my family it wasn’t the War of 1812 that really bothered anybody about the British. The Bidens emigrated from Liverpool in 1825, but the other side of the family, the Finnegan side of the family, they had a different problem and it wasn’t the War of 1812. So, my grandfather Ambrose Finnegan, see, things have changed. I just want you to know.
Mr Prime Minister, we are truly deeply honoured that you’re here. In your op-ed, you co-authored with President Obama, you wrote, and I quote: ‘What makes our relationship special, our unique and essential asset, is that we join hands across so many endeavours.’ Put simply, you said, ‘We count on each other and the world counts on our alliance.’ That is absolutely true. The United States and the United Kingdom cooperate on a breathtaking array of issues, none more important than the six military campaigns we have waged alongside of one another just in the last 20 years. As you said, the world counts on us. It was true in Libya, and Mr Prime Minister I’d like to personally commend you for your leadership you personally showed, alongside President Obama, in championing the international effort to help drive Gaddafi from power and give the Libyan people a better future. It’s true in Afghanistan as well where 9,500 British soldiers stand shoulder-to-shoulder with American comrades and warriors, preparing the Afghan security forces to take responsibility for their country in 2014. As the President said today in the Cabinet Room, Mr Prime Minister, no country has made a greater sacrifice than yours in that endeavour.
It’s true as well in the fight against al-Qaeda which has menaced both our countries. Together we’ve substantially degraded al-Qaeda. We’ll continue to work towards its destruction, dismantlement and ultimate defeat. It’s true that our efforts to strengthen the global economy after the deepest financial crisis since the Depression have been remarkable. I remember when we first took office, within the first weeks, the G8 was meeting and the G20 was meeting. The question was could we get an internationally coordinated effort, and I remember the President said, ‘The Brits will be with us.’ It’s an interesting comment. We had only been in office a matter of days, if not - it couldn’t have been more than two weeks.
In our efforts to fight hunger, disease and end famine wherever it strikes, Mr Prime Minister, you are always there. Your country has always been there. To keep our shared sacred obligation to our military veterans and those who have served us so well, you have been a stalwart. And we will see a strong symbol of that shared sacrifice when the British wounded warriors compete alongside American counterparts in the Wounded Warrior Games in Colorado in May. I commend you Mr Prime Minister on the new US/UK Service Personnel and Veterans Joint Taskforce which is helping our troops transition to civilian life, which has been a difficult circumstance for many of our veterans who have been deployed multiple times into god-awful circumstances.
Graham Greene in The Quiet American said and wrote, ‘Friendship is something in the soul. It’s a thing one feels. It’s not a return for something.’ I think that is the simple best definition of a relationship between the United States and Great Britain. So, to honour our friendship, please raise your glasses when you get them. Please raise your glasses to the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Prime Minister Cameron, to the people of the United Kingdom and the enduring special relationship we have between us.
Thank you. Thank you so much for those speeches and thank you for that warm welcome. Of course, it is slightly embarrassing being here on the 200th anniversary of 1812. Because of that I asked a historian friend of mine, Andrew Roberts, before coming on this visit, I said, ‘Andrew, why is it that in Britain we don’t properly commemorate and recognise this rather embarrassing episode in our history?’ And he said, ‘Well, the thing is that of course we’re coming up to the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, and we so much more enjoy talking about defeating the French than anything that went wrong with our American cousins.’
It’s great to know that there is a chef from Birmingham, England who is here cooking our meal today. Actually, my political party did make the mistake in a recent Birmingham election of putting out a leaflet, and the person who had designed the leaflet took off the internet the scene, the city scene of Birmingham, but not being a native of Birmingham actually put in the city scene of Birmingham, Alabama on this leaflet. And the great shock and surprise was when the City Council was re-elected with this leaflet. So, anything can happen in politics.
You also mentioned, Madam Secretary, the exchange of gifts between President Obama and me. I think we’ve got it slightly wrong because I’ve given him a table tennis table and he’s given me a barbeque. But when you see us standing next to each other, it is quite clear that the person who needs the exercise is the British Prime Minister and the person who needs the barbeque is the President of the United States.
Thank you also for putting together such an amazing guest list. We were looking through it last night, Samantha and me, in bed, looking through this guest list and Samantha said, ‘That is my favourite. The star from my favourite movie is going to be here.’ I said, ‘My god, is it Ben Kingsley from Gandhi?’ No, he’s not coming. ‘Is Peter O’Toole still okay, from Lawrence of Arabia; is he coming?’ No. It is Chevy Chase from Caddyshack. That’s the great movie.
So, Mr Vice President, Joe Biden, Madam Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this wonderful reception. Samantha and I are thrilled to be with you at the State Department, and even more thrilled to be here in the Ben Franklin Room. Franklin epitomises so much about what is good about the character of our two countries - innovative, passionate, diligent. He was a man who was prepared to stand up for his values and back his words with deeds. In the best tradition of our two nations, he was also a straight-talker. In fact, he once said, ‘Guests are a bit like fish; they begin to smell after three days.’ So, you will be relieved to know, having arrived yesterday, I’m leaving tomorrow.
I want to start by paying a personal tribute to Mr Vice President, Joe Biden, for your sustained and outstanding contribution as a legislator, as a campaigner, as a statesman. I remember in the 1990s when you spoke out consistently for the need for military intervention to stop the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo. You were right to do that. And in Libya I believe we showed we’d learned the lessons. We were able to intervene; we were able to act and change the course of that country’s history and we were right to do so. So, today we applaud your vision and your courage, Mr Vice President.
Also a word of deep gratitude to you, Madam Secretary. You’ve been a great friend for Britain for 20 years, and no one will ever forget your contribution in Northern Ireland - your incredible resilience and your conviction that peace really could be achieved after so many decades of conflict. And I hope, Mr Vice President, with your relatives looking down, they will see that the relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland have never been better. It’s a testament to one woman, Her Majesty the Queen on the 60th year on the throne, that her visit to the Republic of Ireland did so much to restore relations between our countries and we should pay tribute to her.
Now, Secretary of State, Hillary, in just three years you have visited 95 countries - you have travelled over 700,000 miles - and some people wondered how two British Conservatives like William Hague and I would get along with this great force of the Democratic party. But, as we in Britain say, quite simply, we have been bowled over. Whenever we come together to discuss the most difficult issues, whether it’s Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, you always speak with the greatest precision and the greatest power. Every one of us is in awe of the passion, the intellect and the relentless energy you bring to every aspect of international affairs.
You also bring great energy and effort to something else, to one of the greatest pieces of unfinished business in human history: the emancipation and empowerment of women. There are a generation of young women out there in the world today who owe you much more than they will very know because they can live safer, more dignified, more fulfilling lives than the generations who came before them.
You are also a great champion of smart power and that is what I want to just say a word about today because, after two years working hand in glove with the United States, I know that we are at our best when we are not just strong, but we are smart, when we deploy everything we have at our disposal. In a world of complex problems, there are no simple, easy solutions.
Take Somalia where there is a vicious circle of state failure, economic collapse, piracy, terrorism, kidnapping, famine. As our conference in London showed last month, a credible solution cannot just be about military action or even aid in isolation. We will only succeed when we bring together all of our military, diplomatic, economic, political effort to achieve peace and prosperity. That’s also why we in Britain don’t just see our increased spending on aid as doing the right thing morally - although we do believe that - we also think it is the right thing diplomatically and politically as well. It enhances our ability to get things done. This kind of smart power is one of the great strengths that Britain and America have in common, and I think it’s very much on show looking around this room today.
This morning once again, young British and American men and women in uniform got up to serve together. In the Persian gulf, in Afghanistan, in the Indian Ocean and we honour their incredible service and their sacrifice. But we’re not just strong because of our military alone. We are strong too because of the power of British and American diplomacy. As Secretary Clinton put it, ‘The tide of war is receding, but as troops come home civilians remain to carry out the critical missions of diplomacy and development.’ Across the world, our specialists are working to understand and influence other countries in shaping the big issues including in very challenging and very dangerous locations. Minute by minute, hour by hour, there are phone calls between London and Washington as our diplomats work together to assess the latest intelligence and work out the best ways forward. In fact, our national security advisors last year talked so often that I think the President was beginning to believe that there was someone called Ricketts Donilon who was just one individual rather than two working together.
But this is not just a security relationship. Our smart power comes from more than our ability to defend our security. It is rooted in the intertwining of two peoples and two communities. Britain and America continually shape the world because - whether you are scientists, innovators, business men and women, athletes or stars of fashion, art or music - all of you look across the Atlantic in both directions to find kindred spirits with the same big ideas and the same big ambitions.
So, at this, the home of smart power, in the midst of this memorable visit, let me end with a tribute to all of you - to the people who, day-in day-out, make this the essential relationship that it is today and what it will be tomorrow and the years to come. Let me ask all of you to please raise your glasses to the Vice President, Joe Biden, and the Secretary of State.