This afternoon, we will share a wonderful meal prepared by a special chef, who I will talk about later, from New Orleans, and we will share it at these tables around in the Ben Franklin Room. And tonight, we will do so around tables on the South Lawn of the White House. But it’s the table right over here that really is historic and an important symbol of the strength of the deep roots of our friendship. It was on this desk, Mr. President, that Ben Franklin, John Adams, and John Hay signed the Treaty of Paris that brought to an end our great War of Independence. And it is clearly a triumph that we perhaps never would have marked without the special help of the French, and we thank you even now.
President Hollande and the people of France, more than 230 years later we have not forgotten your friendship and we will forever cherish our partnership.
How appropriate for us to gather in the Ben Franklin Room. Not only did Franklin come to be called the first American, but he was also the father of the Foreign Service and he was our first ambassador to France. It was also Franklin who wrote many of the first rules for decorum in America, and then from the moment he arrived in Paris made every effort to break them all. (Laughter.) I don’t think we could get him confirmed by the Senate today. (Laughter.)
But what Franklin did to bring the best of the frontier spirit to France, Thomas Jefferson did in sharing France’s cultural vitality with America. From Monticello’s dome, which you saw yesterday, Mr. President, with President Obama, and which was modeled after a palace on the Seine, to the Paris Market Wallflowers on Jefferson’s magnificent estate, to Voltaire and Rousseau’s influence on the founders’ belief in the consent of the governed and the connection between education and liberty, France has been an inspiration from our very start.
For many of us, the bonds between our two nations are rooted not just in history, but also in family. We know about Vice President Biden’s grandparents, the Finnegans, but with his middle name, Robinette, his family honored his French roots.
My own parents, Americans abroad, first met and fell in love on the coastline of France, in Brittany, only to be separated by the coming war in the late 1930s. My mother, then living in Paris, had become a nurse and was treating the wounded at Montparnasse. The day before the Nazis entered the city, she escaped with her sister, ahead of their advances on a bicycle and proceeded to forage her way across France while German fighters were strafing them en route. And she made her way to Portugal eventually, where she boarded a ship that brought her to the United States and brought me here.
When my mother returned to France for the first time after the war, Mr. President, I went with her, a very young child. And one of my first memories was holding her hand and walking through the bombed-out and burned-down remains of her family’s home, which had been used as a headquarters by the Germans, and then in retreat as Patton came through, they burned it and bombed it. When we walked through, only a chimney and a stone staircase stood up, rising into the sky.
With my father in the Foreign Service posted to Europe, the France that we knew then was one that was still marked by the remains of war. My father once took me to visit the beaches of Normandy, the pilgrimage still to this day, where as a young child I could see still some of the detritus of war, some of the skeletons of Higgins boats and tanks and the burned-out bunkers, where I would even play. It wasn’t until years later, walking those beaches after I had been to war in Vietnam, that I fully understand the incredible price, the full price, of peace and liberty that both of our Greatest Generations paid, from the French Resistance to the citizen-soldiers who left farms and factories to make the world safe from tyranny.
We are all deeply honored that a man who was willing to pay that price at that time in 1944 is here today. Seventy years ago, when he was just 23 years old and the youngest in his unit, he flew missions aboard a B-17 over Normandy. Please join me in saying a special thank you to First Lieutenant Art Ordel of the United States Army. He’s right here, ladies and gentlemen. (Applause.)
We remember today that it really took an entire generation of heroes like Art to free France from fascism. And we remember that generations earlier, at our moment of maximum need, when the odds were against us in those uncertain days of the American Revolution, the United States might not have survived beyond our infancy without France by our side. We remember that when both our nations confronted existential challenges it was our deep friendship, which is rooted in our shared principles and values, that carried us through.
Still today, we give greater meaning to that friendship with our work together in almost every part of the world that is in conflict today – in Libya, in Syria, in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, in the fight against AIDS, and in the fight to deal with climate change.
So today, I want to ask all of you to join me in a toast.
Mr. President, when we had dreams of being a nation free from tyranny, when men like Franklin and Jefferson gathered in Philadelphia to map out a road to liberty and independence, they knew that they would hang at the end of a British rope if they failed. Instead, it was Franklin who famously said, “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” And after the war, Jefferson famously said, “Every man has two countries, his own and France.” And today, we all say that our shared history and shared values had special meaning then, and they still do today, and that with our work together throughout the world, our friendship will stay strong for future generations.
So I ask you to raise your glasses and join me in a toast to a special friendship and to a special alliance. Merci.
We are very lucky to have a Vice President who understands the vital importance of aligning our interests and our values at the same time, and that is why he believes so strongly in the vitality of our friendship with France. The Vice President and I have been friends for perhaps 40 years now, and of course, he has long been a great friend of France. It’s been a personal privilege to have been a colleague of his in the Senate and to see how deeply he values his personal relationships and also those on the world stage. Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for joining us today. (Applause.)
(Vice President Biden delivers remarks.)
PRESIDENT HOLLANDE: Mr. Vice President, Mr. State Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, I’m very proud to be there, but I obliged to speak in French because of a tradition that French presidents speak in French. (Laughter.) It’s a protection, also, for him. (Laughter.)
(Via interpreter) I’d like to thank you for this warm reception extended to me and my delegation, and I salute Mrs. Albright, Mr. Kissinger, Mr. Colin Powell, three former secretary of States, and all the personalities that are present in this room. As you’ll recall, Mr. Vice President, Secretary of State, France and the United States have always been allies, and this was confirmed in Thomas Jefferson’s house, who, if there hadn’t been such a big estate, could have been located in Paris, because we knew all his objects were familiar to us, this bust of Voltaire. Even Turgot’s bust was there. So we felt at home. It was like a French museum. There was even a very good cellar where the most prestigious wines were kept – not dating back 200 years admittedly, but they – they’re a witness to a taste for French culture.
Today, we have to address new challenges. Times have changed. But what is fascinating and has been fascinating over the past few years is the fact that France and the United States always act together. France is the United States’ ally or are the United States allies of France? It’s not always easy to have France as an ally, but it’s not always easy to have the United States as an ally for France. But what makes our friendship so special is precisely the fact that it is based on independence, sovereignty, and respect. We are guided by the same principles and the same values. We are two nations who are proud of holding messages for the whole world. We don’t do it for ourselves, for our glory, for power, for interests. We do it because we want to send the same messages as the one we received from our founding fathers – human rights, emancipation of peoples.
France carries out its duty where it feels the most committed – in Africa. We did it in Mali. And this operation was only successful because our American and our European friends helped us along the way, as did our African friends. Today, we are in the Central African Republic to prevent a massacre. Some even talk of a genocide. Because again, we feel that this is our responsibility, and we know we can count on our American friends’ support.
We also stand together to solve the Syrian issue, to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons, to fight against the risk – the Iranian or North Korean potential risk. We stand together every time peace is at stake, and we supported John Kerry’s initiative for the resumption of negotiation between Palestinians and Israeli. We always stand side by side when it comes to defending a conception of our planet, when it comes to making sure that the climate as a challenge is addressed. And this is precisely why France will host an extremely important conference for the very future of our planet. We stand side by side thanks to our will to be part of an alliance, NATO, in which we want to define new goals because the international situation has changed.
John Kerry and Laurent Fabius today are mobilized to work for Ukraine. Ukraine is very far away from the United States. It’s not all that close to France either. But in a way, it is very near us in that these men and women have expectations, have wishes for freedom. They don’t want to be separated from their neighbors. They just want to be able to make their own choices. We also have to address commercial challenges. That’s no mean task for – we need to open up new markets, we need to intensify trade relations, and we also need to defend some of our interests. And again, we do it whilst respecting a number of principles.
France is very attached to the cultural exception, l'exception culturelle. It’s not about protecting. It’s about plurality. It’s about diversity of languages, of cultures throughout the world. We know that revolution is underway at the moment. It came from the United States, as often it is – the digital revolution. We need to promote the digital agenda. We need to enhance it and strengthen it in order for it to produce economic advantages, and we need to support it and accompany it, because it is our responsibility.
This is why I entirely trust this confidence between France and the United States. This is a state visit, not the first one. Other state visits took place here. General De Gaulle came here on a state visit. He was a loyal ally of the United States, even though he wasn’t all that keen on showing it in all the various ways of expressing it. But every time the United States had to call for France’s solidarity, France was there, particularly during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then Georges Pompidou came here. He stayed quite a while. Back then, French presidents of the Republic could stay a week, sometimes two weeks, sometimes even longer. Happy days. (Laughter.)
The Vice President gives me his authorization to stay longer. Unfortunately, it is impossible. President Pompidou came and it was a challenging reception because he was defending his policy in the Middle East. But he was warmly received. He was welcome because he was working for peace. Then President Giscard d'Estaing came here and President Francois Mitterrand. I was telling this anecdote: President Francois Mitterrand went to the Silicon Valley and one young business leader – I wouldn’t say contradict him – but called upon him. He didn’t know exactly who he was. He thought it was just a small American company or a medium-sized American company. Maybe it was. It was Steve Jobs. That was the young lad. Well, we never forgot it.
And President Jacques Chirac came to see you, I am here, and President Sarkozy came here on an official visit. So this is a tradition we’re in. Every single time, we were able to strengthen our ties to make headway in terms of friendship between France and America. Thank you very much. (Applause.)