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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Remarks by President Obama at Luncheon for Heads of State and Government

United Nations
New York, New York

1:42 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you, Mr. Secretary General, as always, for your kind words and your welcome. For eight years, this luncheon has followed a long speech by me. For eight years, it’s forced me to be brief and not subject you to a second long speech. And after eight years, I finally figured out the Secretary General’s plan. It keeps me brief and I will follow that plan here today.

My role is very simple. As President of the host country of the United Nations, it is my pleasure to welcome each and every one of you. The presence of so many world leaders in one place is always an enormous undertaking. New York City always rises to the occasion. And over the last few days this city has been tested again. And on behalf of all of us, I want to salute our police officers, our law enforcement officials, our first responders for hosting us, but also showing the world the true meaning of grit and resolve. So thank you again, New York City and the New York-New Jersey area. (Applause.)

As I said earlier today, even as we work to uphold our international system, it is the choices of individuals that decides whether our world is defined by confrontation or cooperation. So again today, I want to pay special tribute to those individuals who devote their lives to sustaining the system -- the men and women who staff the United Nations and its organizations; those in Syria and elsewhere who risk their lives to deliver aid to people in dire need; those who give their lives as peacekeepers. The entire world is in their debt.

And I would note, just as this morning was my last speech to the General Assembly as President, this will be my last toast at this luncheon. It will be the Secretary General’s as well. So I want to take this opportunity on behalf of all of us to say thank you, Mr. Secretary General, for your outstanding leadership of this institution and the example of your life. You’ve traveled a remarkable journey. Born in a village in South Korea, rising to the highest levels of global leadership. And it is a testimony to your courage and your optimism, your imagination, and your will.

We see your legacy in the new Sustainable Development Goals, your courageous defense of human rights, a reinvigorated peacekeeping structure, and the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change.

I should point out we’re not the only ones who are grateful for the Secretary General’s leadership. A village on the island of Samoa declared him officially a crown chief and prince -- (laughter) -- which I believe is a title that you can keep for life. There’s no term limit to that. (Laughter.)

So let me propose a toast: To the eighth Secretary General of the United Nations, who in his seventh decade still embodies what Robert Kennedy famously called the “qualities of youth” -- “not a time of life, but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, and a predominance of courage over timidity.” That aptly describes our Secretary General. We are grateful for his service. We are grateful to his team. The world is better for him. Cheers.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

1:45 P.M. EDT