Remarks by Vice President Biden and President Lee at a State Luncheon
The State Department
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Madam Secretary, thank you very much. President Lee, Mrs. Kim, members of your delegation, to all the distinguished guests in this great room here this afternoon. My wife, Jill, and I are delighted -- or I should say it the other way: I’m Jill’s husband, we are delighted to be here. It’s a great honor to join Secretary Clinton in hosting our friends from the Republic of Korea.
As the Secretary has already stated, today we’re here to celebrate our close ties, Mr. President, our shared values and the partnership that we have built together.
To state the obvious, this is not a new partnership, but an old friendship rooted in mutual respect, and a history of shared sacrifice. Our alliance, forged in war, is now a cornerstone of peace, security and prosperity for all of Northeast Asia.
Mr. President, I noted that two years ago when we took office and three years ago when you took office, both you and President Obama made the same pledge. You made a pledge that you would strengthen the strategic alliance with the United States of America. As President Obama said when he took office that he planned on -- strengthening the pledge, the alliance with the Republic of Korea.
I don't think it’s an overstatement to suggest that you have succeeded. Thanks to your leadership and that of President Obama, the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea is the strongest it has ever been.
We’re working shoulder-to-shoulder on many common problems. And increasingly, these problems are global challenges. And increasingly, the Republic of Korea, as the Secretary stated, is playing a global role.
One example of that is that you will host the nuclear summit next year to help further our shared commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, reduce nuclear arsenals and secure nuclear materials.
And from our discussions this morning in the Oval Office, I know we share the hope that the participating countries will come to Seoul ready to deliver on pledges they made in Washington last year, and to build on those pledges.
We also know, Mr. President, for you and for your fellow countrymen, nuclear security is not some abstract concept. Together, we have built an international sanctions regime that impedes proliferation and constrains North Korea’s nuclear missile programs. But together we also remain willing to engage in meaningful talks -- meaningful talks -- with North Korea with the shared goals of denuclearization and the reduction of tensions on the peninsula and in the region.
Finally, we celebrate perhaps our greatest achievement yet. Last night, as a consequence of the hard work of your negotiators and Ambassador Kirk and many others, the United States Congress voted to approve the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement. And I know from our discussions today it is our mutual hope that your national assembly will ratify it very soon, and this agreement will be recognized by all as a win for both of us, and bring the world’s first and 12th largest economies even closer together.
Madam Secretary, many people have known that President Lee’s nickname is the Bulldozer. (Laughter.) I wondered how in the Lord’s name he got that nickname. He doesn't look like an American linebacker in the National Football League to me. (Laughter.) But his persistence exceeds any linebacker that ever hit me. (Laughter.) But I want you all to know what you may not know and that is the origin of the nickname. I’m told that earlier in his career, President Lee once completely -- completely dismantled, took apart and reassembled a bulldozer in order to figure out how to make it work better and improve it.
And knowing you from before, Mr. President, when I heard that story it strangely did not surprise me. (Laughter.) For those who know you much better than I, it’s no surprise either because it’s a story as a testament to your unyielding perseverance but your incredible patience -- breaking down problems to the nuts and bolts and sometimes literally -- in order to do that, in order to develop practical and lasting solutions.
From my perspective in Washington, that's exactly what you’ve done, Mr. President, as President. You have the ability to overcome obstacles and inspire others to do the same, and it’s helped us. It’s helped us to find and reach so many goals together.
Now, Mr. President, let me offer a toast to your leadership: To our partnership, which serves the interest of both our great nations now and into the future, and to all of those who have worked so tirelessly to make real our shared vision, thank you, Mr. President, and welcome.
(A toast is offered.)
Mr. President, let me invite you to make some remarks. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT LEE: (As interpreted.) First of all, Mr. Vice President and Madam Secretary, let me just explain and add a little bit to the story about my nickname Bulldozer. (Laughter.) The bulldozer that I dismantled down to the nuts and bolts, that was a Caterpillar bulldozer. (Laughter and applause.) And also, let me remind you, ladies and gentlemen, this was a brand new Caterpillar bulldozer. (Laughter.)
Well, Mr. Vice President, Dr. Biden, Madam Secretary, thank you very much for inviting all of us here to this lovely room and giving us this opportunity. I’m also very happy to see so many business community leaders represented here from both Korea and the United States. And I know -- and let me assume that all of you here are friends of Korea, which makes this occasion that much more meaningful.
Ladies and gentlemen, I consider both Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton as my very, very close friends. And, first of all, with regards to Vice President Biden, I know that in 2008, immediately or soon after I was elected President of Korea that he led the move to unanimously adopt a congratulatory resolution congratulating me on my election as President. I think this is the first time that I am thanking you in person, Mr. Vice President. So let me use this opportunity to say thank you, sir.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: It was an honor.
PRESIDENT LEE: (As interpreted.) And, ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Clinton has always been a friend of Korea. And ever since she assumed her important role as Secretary of State, I know that one of the first countries that she visited was the Republic of Korea during her Asian trip.
I remember it was February of 2009 when I had the pleasure and privilege of receiving her in Seoul. And we had very good and constructive talks while she was visiting Korea back then and of course after that as well. Secretary Clinton has always been a staunch supporter of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and of course in Northeast Asia.
And, ladies and gentlemen, last night as you all know the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement was ratified by both houses of Congress. And we’re of course very happy about that. And I was having dinner in fact with President Obama and Secretary Clinton was also there. And as we were having dinner, it was President Obama who was looking at his Blackberry and told me -- and gave -- and broke the news that finally the KORUS FTA was ratified by the U.S. Congress while we were having dinner.
And so when I heard those news -- of course, I was very happy to hear those news, but also very -- I felt kind of sorry, because I knew that the members of Congress were skipping dinner in order to resolve this issue. (Laughter.) So of course, I was very thankful and also sorry for the members of the Congress. (Applause.)
So, ladies and gentlemen, I take this opportunity to thank once again, first of all, the congressional leadership for helping us ratify this very important agreement. I thank all the members of Congress and both houses for their support. I, of course, thank President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton, and everyone else in the administration who for many years have tirelessly pursued this goal and finally made it into fruition. So thank you very much. (Applause.)
And also, ladies and gentlemen, how could we all forget the hard work that has been put in by the members of the business communities of both Korea and the United States. Again, I take this opportunity to convey my deepest gratitude to all of you here. (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, based upon our own experience of entering into and implementing free trade agreements, we know from experience that free trade agreements lead to doubling and sometimes tripling and quadrupling the amount of trade and investments going into each others’. And also, what’s more important is the fact that FTAs lead to creation of good, decent jobs, and it spurs growth and innovation and entrepreneurship.
And, of course, now that have the FTA ratified by both houses of Congress here, it is now up to the business community of Korea and the United States to fully utilize and take advantage of what is a very good model free trade agreement.
And also, Secretary Clinton, I almost forgot, but I must thank you because -- thank you for your hard work in making this possible -- to have an American pavilion being present at the Yeosu Expo. Thank you very much for that. And, of course, my gratitude goes out to the American companies who have decided to take part.
In all honesty, Madame Secretary and Mr. Vice President, I was very concerned because we have about 100 plus companies and countries taking part in the Yeosu Expo, but I was concerned that the United States wasn’t one of them. But now, I can be relieved that that is not the case. (Laughter.)
Mr. Vice President, Madame Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, as you know, we are really commemorating the 60th anniversary of an enduring alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States. Of course, this alliance began 60 years ago as a military-political alliance. But now, today, we can safely say that this alliance has entered into a new phase. We are beginning a new 60 years -- a 60-year mark. This is truly a historic achievement. And, also, ladies and gentlemen, please be proud of the achievements that both of our countries have made over the last 60 years through our partnership and through our friendship.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the 21st century of course we have many, many challenges, and often many of them are very serious. And, of course, it requires our cooperation between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. But, ladies and gentlemen, I’m confident that we will work together and we will come out stronger by overcoming these many challenges. And, of course, we reaffirmed this pledge between Korea and the United States during my morning meeting with President Obama.
So once again, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Thank you, Madame Secretary, for this wonderful occasion and invitation, and my special thanks to all the business community leaders here. Thank you, very much. (Applause.)
1:56 P.M. EDT