Remarks by Vice President Biden, Secretary Kerry and Italian PM Renzi at State Luncheon

Vice President Biden, Secretary Kerry and Italian PM Renzi

Remarks with Vice President Joe Biden, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi At State Luncheon in Honor of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

Ben Franklin Room
Washington, DC
October 18, 2016

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Thank you, thank you all very, very much. Thank you. Please be seated. Make yourselves comfortable.

Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Vice President, grazie benvenuti to all of you here, and buon pomeriggio to all of you. I am delighted to offer the best wishes of everybody here to our distinguished guest, the prime minister of Italy Matteo Renzi and his wife Agnese Landini, and indeed to the entire Italian delegation. We are very honored and very privileged to have you here today and excited to have you here today. I think you can tell from the reception with the President and his personal comments.

Mr. Prime Minister, a number of decades ago, when I was a high school student, struggling –


SECRETARY KERRY: — just another. Just another. (Laughter.) You and I can relate to that. The others – (laughter).

Well, I was struggling to recall the pluperfect subjunctive of Latin verbs – (laughter) – and I was thinking very unkind thoughts about both Romulus and Remus at the time. And I never imagined that a day like this would come where I would be introducing the prime minister of Italy. But here we are, and we hope that everybody feels very much at home, but particularly our honored guests.

You will find many dear friends here, Mr. Prime Minister – friends of Italian history, of Italian culture, art, more than a few lovers of Italian wine; and provided you get a little moment to drive around Washington and see things, you’ll see statues of Dante, Marconi, St. Christopher, St. Francis. Glance at a dollar bill and you will encounter a quotation from Virgil. Look at a map, you’ll recall that this city is named for a son of Genoa, and this continent, as you mentioned this morning at the arrival ceremony, for a native of Florence. You visit almost any college campus on a Friday night, and you’ll see a toga party. (Laughter.) That’s a difficult derivative; I know, folks. But it’s fun. It’s an element of fun.

And if you had turned on an American television set just two nights ago, you would have seen the United States Secretary of State portrayed by an extraordinarily dynamic individual, smart and good-looking, named Tea Leoni. (Laughter.) Not only that, our chef this afternoon is Tony Mantuano, the culinary genius behind one of America’s finest restaurants, Spiaggia, in Chicago. And he is a distinguished member of the American Chef Corps, which is a volunteer group of chefs who do us proud at events not just here but all around the world, and they travel overseas to help win hearts and minds and stomachs, and friends, for America. He is known throughout the country for his appearances on TV, on the TV shows Top Chef Masters, and I ask that everybody here just join in saying thank you to him for donating his services to this. (Applause.)

So the last time I had the privilege of seeing Prime Minister Renzi was in New York, actually just a few weeks ago, and I was privileged to present him with the prestigious Global Citizen Award on behalf of the Atlantic Council. And I know everybody here agrees that honor was richly deserved. The prime minister is the youngest person ever to be chosen as Italy’s head of government. He’s renowned for his high energy, dynamic ideas, his commitment to economic reform, to eloquence on behalf of the transatlantic partnership and leadership. And anybody who heard his comments this morning at the arrival ceremony heard this presence, this vision, and you could feel the energy and the commitment and the passion about it. And he has also shown a particularly graceful and difficult leadership in responding in humane ways to the global refugee crisis. Of course, none of this should be surprising, because after all, he did go to graduate school in Massachusetts. (Laughter.)

We are really delighted to welcome him here on an official state visit. This is the first state visit by an Italian prime minister in 20 years. And his visit could not come at a more propitious time, because relations between the United States and Italy right now are what we would all call fantastico, or in Bostonese, “wicked awesome.” (Laughter.) Our two nations are NATO allies; we work together extremely closely in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are partners in training international peacekeepers and security forces. We stand side by side in the fight against terrorist groups who are trying to destroy the very civilization that Roman lawmakers, philosophers, and artists did so much to create.

And on climate change we have both come down squarely on the side of Mother Nature, and for decades we have engaged in joint projects related to the study and exploration of space, which, as we know, was invented by Galileo – the study, that is, not space itself. (Laughter.) Notwithstanding Italian claims thereto. (Laughter.)

Right now Italy is hosting 30,000 members of America’s Armed Forces and 30,000 U.S. students. Our total two-way trade has reached 80 billion annually. American tourists cross the Atlantic in droves in order to sample Italy’s unique and astounding cultural heritage, to take part in events such as last year’s extraordinary Milan Expo, and we’re very glad to have the commissioner, Doug Hickey, here who did such a good job of stewarding that. And we also know there are an awful lot of people who are playing the Italian version of Pokemon Go these days. About 17 million Americans proudly claim Italian heritage, and a lot of them are with us here this afternoon. (Laughter.)

I am confident that with Prime Minister Renzi setting the policy in Rome – and the President could not have made this more clear in the bilateral meeting that we had today, where he really singled out in what is one of the more interesting conversations I think the Vice President and I would say we have shared in, because it was serious and it was observant, it was thoughtful, it was sensitive and visionary, as I said. And I think everybody here knows how challenged Europe is right now and the relationship with Europe. I think the President could not have been more clear in singling out the prime minister of Italy Matteo Renzi for the singular role that he is playing and will play in the future as we go forward. And I don’t think I would be letting the cat out of the bag in saying to you that the President was very clear about the sense of responsibility that he thought the prime minister has, because that is one of the most important relationships in the world.

My friends, we all care about the bonds that exist between Italy and the United States, but I want to just share with you for a moment a special and more personal reason for my sense of that bond. My father passed away about 16 years ago. He had a very deep affection for Europe, and as a Foreign Service officer he was consistently posted through Europe. And it was during that time when I was a young kid over there that I actually picked up enough Italian to get by, which I have forgotten over the years. But at the age of 82, my dad did something that was a little bit extreme, even for him. He decided to polish up on the language that he loved the most – Italian – and he moved into a dorm at Dartmouth College, where he was the oldest student by several decades. (Laughter.)

He took a course. He passed it. But that wasn’t enough. He wanted to learn more. So a few months later, he went to Prime Minister Renzi’s home city of Florence, where he arranged for an elderly woman – I say elderly relative to his 82 – (laughter) – to cook his meals and to speak Italian with him. And one evening when the woman started talking about Medici this and Medici that, my father decided he had finally made it; he had begun to master the language. So he responded, thinking how great it was to be exchanging ideas on the high points of Florentine history with a native Italian in Italian. It was only then that he realized to his absolute dismay that the woman was actually complaining about her doctors. (Laughter.) And that it wasn’t Medici that she was talking about, but medicina. (Laughter and applause.) So I just remind all of you that roma non fu fatta in un giorno, folks. (Laughter.) It takes a little while.

I’ll just try a little bit in retrospect here, amici. (In Italian.)

Ladies and gentlemen, Rome is known as the eternal city, as all of you know. I want you to join me now in a toast to what I am confident will be the eternal friendship between the United States of America, the Italian people, and to the leader of the Government of Italy, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.


(Vice President Biden delivers remarks.)

PRIME MINISTER RENZI: Mr. Secretary, Mr. Vice President, (inaudible) present, I really, I really in difficult moment, because I receive a very good speech of the team about the great crisis around the world, because this is the state secretary, this is the department – State Department, so I arrive with it. And with two guys incredible as Joe and John, it’s impossible – (laughter) – to make a good speech and because you are great speakers. You – but if it’s correct –

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Just don’t talk about age. That’s all we ask of you. (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER RENZI: If is an Italian characteristics courage and loyalty, I think you are – you both are great Italians, because your courage, your loyalty, and your friendship in – toward our people, it’s an incredible gift for us. So first of all, thank you so much and thank you so much for the invitation.

For me, it’s not easy, because when I met President Obama in Ise-Shima during the G7, I told him, “Please, Mr. President, why we don’t organize a new visit in Italy? Maybe you can visit the Pope.” I try obviously to involve him. (Laughter.) “We have the good Italian wine.” He told me, “No.” “Okay, why?” “Because I will organize for your country a state dinner, the last state dinner.” So for me and for us this is a great gift. This is a great act of friendship. And also this is a message, because our friendship is not only focused on the past. We have lots of reasons for the great friendship in the past, the relation between Columbo, between Amerigo. I come very briefly. I continue with the – I discuss also about the flag, the American flag, because in Italy there is a legend – I think it’s a legend – in Florence in which the flag come from a particular church in Florence with the strips red and white.

But this is the point. The real reason of this friendship is not only focused on the past. Every day we have a lot of international commitments together – international commitments in Afghanistan, in Iraqi, in Africa, around the world in Balkanian areas. And we consider United States of America as our point of reference, our clear leader, and we will continue to work together. But the real challenge today is not simply to create a common value to work together in international issues. It’s fight together against the culture of hate, against the culture of intolerance, against the culture of lack of respect. United States are a model in this fight, and I think we need a new efforts in this particular moment, because we risk not only out of our borders, a deviation, a deviation from our ideals and from our identity.

For that reason, I think the presence of great country as United States in our destiny is a gift, but also the relation with two great guys. I think I am only one Italian who visited Delaware as first state, I think. (Laughter.) I think this is a – and I don’t know why. I don’t remember why. (Laughter.) But really, really, really – no, no, please, it’s true. Not for you, Joe – this is the problem. But when I met an Italian community in Wilmington, 2006, they told me, “Oh, we have a senator.” “I know, it’s Joe Biden. I know a little America politics.” “Oh, it’s incredible. It’s Italian, but it’s not Italian.” “Perfect.” (Laughter.) So – and a pizzaiola, a man who organize, who create a fantastic pizza. So in 2006, I was the only one Italian who visit Delaware before all the countries, but maybe it’s the common destiny, Joe. (Laughter.)

And I start my experience in very – political experience, more correctly, in a very particular moment in 2004 when John ran for the White House. And we remember the great ideas and values of this, but unfortunately without victory but with a great message for the new generations, and also with a speech, very powerful, in – during the convention of the young senator of Illinois.


PRIME MINISTER RENZI: Some guy. (Laughter.) Yeah, so you choose a very good. So thinking to be here with these guys in State Department, it’s an incredible privilege. But I think this is not simply a sentiment of friendship. We have a common identity and common value. I am really – my gratitude to you for the incredible passion and for incredible quality of your job. And I ensure to everyone, particularly Italian community, Italian American – Italian community, we will continue to give in our hearts this type of value.

And let me conclude about one point: Yes, Italy is wonderful. There are Italian journalists, yes? Okay, I cannot speak about – (laughter) – the difference between Italian cities, okay. (Laughter.) But I think if your father, at 82 years, decide to study Italian and also to discuss with this woman about the role of Medici’s family, this is not simply a sentiment of a great man who need a future, also if not so young. But I think is a message, is an incredible message who – and we learn this message from American people. It’s the desire to continue to look at the future in every moment. Martin Luther King wrote a great statement – a lot of great, but particularly also – if tomorrow is the last day, I will continue to think about the tree, about the future.

So I think, dear Joe, dear John, for Italy and the United States, the sentiment is the same. We cannot look at the past. The past is wonderful and magnificent, but we continue to go in direction of the future with the same expectation and the same aspiration of your father – 82 years, looking at the future. This is also the message I learn from your incredible job, and I hope, with my government – with Paolo Gentiloni in particular, who is the minister of foreign affairs, we will continue. And all the speech about the great passion and the great initiatives of Italy around – with – in cooperation with the Secretary – the State Department, I will leave for the next time, but – Paolo. (Laughter.) But Paulo – (applause) – please – but the best thing we could organize with United States of America is not simply a great initiative and a great political initiative – is to share this value and this ideal.

Thank you so much. Enjoy and – (applause) – in Italian, especially, is salute.





SECRETARY KERRY: So folks, just before you eat – just before you eat, just one moment left. First of all, I love the way Matteo give – the prime minister gives birth to every thought and word. He’s like, “Uh, uh.”. (Laughter.)

I want to introduce a few – there are loads of distinguished guests here, but I do want the President’s Cabinet to be particularly represented here, and particularly our former Secretary of State Colin Powell. I’m delighted to have you here, Colin. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

And I just quickly want to thank so many colleagues from the Administration coming – Susan Rice, National Security Advisor – (applause) – Ernie Moniz, the Secretary of Energy and my great colleague and friend – (applause) – Valerie Jarrett, the President’s special advisor for women and business affairs – (applause) – Shaun Donovan, our Secretary of Housing is over here – (applause) – Maria Contreras-Sweet, our Cabinet member – there she is – the head of the Small Business Administration. Thank you. (Applause.) And I believe I got every member of the Cabinet. If not, I won’t be in the Cabinet anymore. I’m sorry. (Laughter.)

But anyway, please enjoy lunch enormously. And I want to say a word, please. My colleague, Paolo Gentiloni, the foreign minister of Italy, is one of the best colleagues anybody could ask for. He does an incredible job and he is a friend to boot, and I appreciate his being here. Thank you. (Applause.)