Wednesday, September 21, 2011

President Obama Toasts Peacekeepers--And Easy Elections--At United Nations Luncheon

Members of the General Assembly gather to break bread...
President Obama joined his fellow world leaders for a late lunch at the United Nations on Wednesday, hosted by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The President was stumping on the campaign trail last night in New York, and he managed to work a joke about his re-election efforts into his toast. (Above: The President and Ban toast)

"A lot of us are envious of him, because, in running for a second term, he ran unopposed--and he won, unanimously," President Obama said of Ban, now in his fifth year as Secretary General.

"I’m still trying to learn what his trick is," President Obama said, to laughter.

Before taking his seat, the President mingled and shook hands with his fellow leaders for about ten minutes; these included Heads of State and Government, as well as a smattering of royalty. Mr. Obama spoke with President Myung-bak Lee of the Republic of Korea, who will be honored at the White House with a State Visit and State Dinner on October 13th. (Above)

The annual luncheon followed the President's morning address to the General Assembly as well as meetings o the sidelines. He arrived about fifteen minutes late, at 1:46 PM, and was seated at the head table with Ban. Also at the head table: Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.

During toast, President Obama hailed Ban as "a very modest man" who "led a remarkable life"

"Today, we see the difference you’ve made in Cote d’Ivoire, in Sudan, in Libya, in confronting climate change and nuclear safety, in peacekeeping missions that save lives every single day," President Obama said.

Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalil, President of the National Transitional Council of Libya, was among the guests, who sat at tables of ten, with white wine pre-poured on the table along with water. The President met with him on Tuesday.

"So we want to salute you," President Obama told Ban. "We want to salute those who serve in U.N. missions around the world, at times at great risk to themselves. We give them their mandate, but it is they who risk their lives--and give their lives--so people can live in peace and dignity."

The leaders raised their glasses.

"To the leader who, every day, has to work hard to try to unite nations, and to all the men and women who sustain it, especially those brave humanitarians in blue helmets," President Obama said. "In an era of great tumult and great change, let all of us be part of the solution. Cheers."

In his own toast, Ban thanked the City of New York, then recapped the historic year, which includes "the new flags of Southern Sudan and Libya proudly wave in the September breeze" outside the United Nations building, he said, adding that he is grateful for the support of the UN's mission.

"Mr. President, 50 years ago this week, your predecessor, President John F. Kennedy, addressed the General Assembly. He came, he said to join with other world leaders -- and I quote, “to look across this world of threats to a world of peace.” Looking out upon the world we see no shortages of threats," Ban said. "And closer to home, wherever we might live, we see the familiar struggles of political life -- left versus right, rich versus poor, and up versus down. Seldom, however, has the debate been more emotional or strident; yet, seldom has the need for unity been greater."

The UN can be proud of work in the Côte d’Ivoire, North Africa, for feeding the poor and helping stabilize the globe, Ban said. (Above: President Obama is at left, listening to Ban speak)

"And we can do more to make the Arab Spring a season of hope for all, to put the sustainable back into development, to prevent the crises before they explode," Ban said, before raising his glass.

"And so, distinguished heads of state and government, Excellencies, Your Majesties, let us raise a glass to clarity of vision, to unity of purpose, to a common resolve for action, to the United Nations, and to continued success of each and every heads of state and government present here," Ban said.

Other luncheon guests included President Heinz Fischer of Austria; Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka; Jean Ping, Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union; Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women; Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Roza Otunbaeva, President of the Kyrgyz Republic. (Above: President Obama speaks with Austria's President Fischer)

By 2:32 PM, President Obama was rolling to the Sheraton Hotel to join former President Bill Clinton for a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative.

*The full transcript of the toasts is here.

*Top photo by Samantha Appleton/White House; other photos by Devra Berkowitz for the UN

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