Speech

Video and transcript of White House State Dinner

Video and transcript of President Obama exchanging toasts with Prime Minister David Cameron during a state dinner on the South Lawn of the White House.

President Obama:

Good evening everyone.  Please have a seat.  Welcome to the White House. 

Michelle and I could not be more honoured that you could join us as we host our great friends, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, and his remarkable wife, Samantha. 

As I said this morning, this visit also gives us an opportunity to return the gracious hospitality that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, as well as David and Samantha and all the British people, showed us during our visit to London last year. And I know Michelle looks forward to returning because as she announced yesterday she will be leading the US delegation to the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in London. 

I am jealous.  Now, I’m so grateful for all the time that David and I have had together, but as we’ve learned you can never tell how things will get reported as a consequence of our interactions.  When we met two years ago, we exchanged beers from our home towns.  One news story said, ‘David Cameron and Barack Obama cemented their special relationship by hitting the bottle.’  When we had a barbeque at Downing Street for some of our service members, David and I rolled up our sleeves, threw away the aprons, and decided to flip the burgers ourselves.  One reporter called it, ‘A brave and foolish move’.  Another expressed amazement at our ‘surprising competence’.  And finally, when David and I were beat pretty badly in table tennis by some local London kids, one newspaper asked the head coach of the British Olympic Women’s team to critique our performance.  ‘Obama,’ the coach said, ‘talked a lot.  David over‑hits the ball.  Both of them,’ I’m quoting here, ‘looked a little confused.’ 

But in moments like that and in all of our interactions, including today, I’ve learned something about David.  In good times and in bad he’s just the kind of partner that you want at your side.  I trust him; he says what he does and he does what he says.  And I’ve seen his character.  I’ve seen his commitment to human dignity during Libya.  I’ve seen his resolve, his determination to get the job done - whether it’s righting our economies or succeeding in Afghanistan.  And I will say something else David, all of us have seen how you as a parent, along with Samantha, have shown a measure of strength that few of us will ever know.  Tonight I thank you for bringing that same strength and solidarity to our partnership, even if you do over-hit the ball.

We are by no means the first President and Prime Minister to celebrate the deep and abiding bonds between our people.  There’s been no shortage of words uttered about our special relationship and I was humbled to offer my own last year when I had the opportunity to address Parliament in Westminster Hall.  So, rather than words, I’d like to leave you tonight with two simple images.  They’re from different times and places, decades apart, but they’re moments I think that reveal the spirit of our alliance and the character of our countries.

The first is from the Blitz when month after month the British people braved the onslaught from the sky.  And one of the most enduring images from those days is from the London skyline, covered in smoke with one thing shining through: the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, tall and proud and strong.  The other image we know from our own lives, from that awful September day, that unforgettable picture of the Manhattan skyline covered in smoke and dust with one thing shining through: our Statue of Liberty, tall and proud and strong. 

In those two moments I think you see all you need to know about who we are and what brings us together tonight.  In war and in peace, in times of plenty and times of hardship, we stand tall and proud and strong together.  And as free peoples committed to the dignity of all human beings we will never apologise for our way of life nor waiver in its defence.  It’s why David’s grandfather fought alongside us Yanks after D-Day, why my grandfather marched across Europe in Patton’s army.  It is why tonight at dusty bases in Afghanistan, both American and British soldiers are getting ready to go on patrol like generations before them, shoulder to shoulder.  It’s why our diplomats and development workers are side by side, standing with the activists who dared to demand their rights, save a child from drought or famine.  It’s why leaders of our two countries can embrace the same shared heritage and the promise of our alliance even if we come from different political traditions, even if the Prime Minister is younger than nearly 200 years of his predecessors, even if the President looks a little different than his predecessors.  And David, it’s why tonight our young children and children across our countries can sleep well knowing that we are doing everything in our power to build a future that is worthy of their dreams.

So, in closing, let me just say that I intended to make history tonight.  I thought that I could be the first American president to make it through an entire visit of our British friends without quoting Winston Churchill.  But then I saw this great quote and I thought, come on, this is Churchill!  So, I couldn’t resist.  It was December 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbour had finally thrust America into war alongside our British friends, and these were the words Sir Winston spoke to his new American partners: ‘I will say that he must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below of which we have the honour to be the faithful servants.’  So, I would like to propose a toast - to Her Majesty the Queen on her Diamond Jubilee, to our dear friends David and Samantha and to the great purpose and design of our alliance.  May we remain now and always its faithful servants.  Cheers everyone.

Prime Minister David Cameron:

President Obama, First Lady, ladies and gentlemen.  It is a tremendous honour to be here this evening and I want to thank you for putting on such a great dinner and for making our visit so special over the last two days.  Thank you also for those strong and beautiful words that you’ve just spoken. 

Both Barack and I have said a lot today about the importance of the relationship between our two countries and our peoples.  Like my predecessors, I’m proud of our essential relationship and of Britain’s strong national bond with the United States of America.  I feel it in my bones.  Now there is of course a great history of close relationships between US Presidents and British Prime Ministers.  Importantly, these have been regardless of the political parties they happened to represent.  Her Majesty the Queen is a great authority on the matter.  She has seen - and she likes to tell me this - no fewer than 12 British Prime Ministers and 11 American Presidents during her time on the throne, and I’m sure everyone here would want to pay tribute to her incredible service and selfless duty in this, her special Diamond Jubilee year. 

Now Her Majesty’s first Prime Minister was of course Winston Churchill, a regular guest here at the White House.  I’m not going to quote from Churchill; I’m going to quote about Churchill because it seems his visits were not always the easiest experience for his American host.  As Roosevelt’s secretary wrote after one visit, ‘Churchill is a trying guest.  He drinks like a fish, he smokes like a chimney, he has irregular routines, works nights, sleeps days and turns the clocks upside down.’  And for those of you who wonder why the British Prime Minister now stays at Blair House, rather than the White House, I simply observe this: we all know the story of Winston Churchill famously found naked in his bath by President Roosevelt.  This happened while he stayed at the White House in December 1941 and the federal government bought Blair House in 1942. 

Now turning to Obama-Cameron.  As fellow parents, Barack and Michelle have both been personally very kind to Sam and me.  And as fellow leaders, we’ve struck up, I believe, a really good partnership.  It is frank and honest.  We talk through issues very rationally.  We don’t need to remind each other of the basic threats that we face, we know them.  But there are three things about Barack that really stand out for me - strength, moral authority and wisdom. 

Strength because Barack has been strong when required to defend his national interest.  Under President Obama’s leadership, America got bin Laden, and together with British and coalition forces, America has fundamentally weakened al-Qaeda.  The President says what he will do and he sticks to it.  I will never forget that phone call on Libya when he told me exactly what role America would play in Libya, and he delivered his side of the bargain to the letter.  We delivered our side of the bargain too and let us all agree that the world is better off without bin Laden, but the world is better off without Gaddafi too. 

Moral authority, because Barack understands that the means matter every bit as much as the ends.  Yes, America must do the right thing, but to provide moral leadership America must do it in the right way too.  The first President I studied at school was Theodore Roosevelt.  He talked of speaking softly and carrying a big stick - that is Barack’s approach and, in following it, he has pressed the reset button on the moral authority of the entire free world. 

Wisdom, because Barack has not rushed into picking fights but has stewarded America’s resources of hard and soft power.  He’s taken time to make considered decisions, drawing down troops from Iraq and surging in Afghanistan.  He’s found a new voice for America with the Arab people, and at home he’s recognised that in America, as in Britain, the future depends on making the best of every citizen. 

Both our nations have historically been held back by inequality, but now there’s a determined effort in both our countries, most notably through education reform, to ensure that opportunity is truly available for all.  Half a century ago the amazing courage of Rosa Parks, the visionary leadership of Martin Luther King and the inspirational actions of the civil rights movement led politicians to write equality into the law and make real the promise of America for all her citizens.  But in the fight for justice and the struggle for freedom, there is no end because there is so much more to do to ensure that every human being can fulfil their potential.  That is why our generation faces a new civil rights struggle - to seek the prize of a future that is open to every child as never before.  Barack has made this one of the goals of his presidency - a goal he is pursuing with enormous courage, and it is fitting that a man whose own personal journey defines the promise and potential of this unique nation, should be working to fulfil the hopes of his country in this way. 

Barack, it is an honour to call you an ally, a partner and a friend.  You don’t get to choose the circumstances you have to deal with as a President or a Prime Minister and you don’t get to choose the leaders that you have to work with, but all I can say is that it is a pleasure to work with someone with moral strength, with clear reason and with fundamental decency in this task of renewing our great national alliance for today and for the generations to follow.  And with that, I propose a toast to the President, to the First Lady and to the people of the United States of America.  Cheers.

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