New York

12 September 2013

Deputy Secretary-General's Remarks at Special Event to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's Historic Last Address at the United Nations [As prepared for delivery]

Thank you very much for organizing this important commemoration.

I am honoured, first, to deliver this message on behalf of the Secretary-General:

I warmly welcome all participants to this meeting at the UN marking the historic 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s last address to the United Nations.

This speech is remarkable in many ways. Although President Kennedy led the United States at the height of the Cold War, his vision extended far beyond a divided world.

His speech covered the events of the day as well as the fundamental values needed for a better future. The indivisibility of human rights. The wastefulness of military spending. The imperative of tolerance across racial and religious lines. The importance of the rule of law. The proud record of peacekeeping – and the need for sound financing for UN peacekeeping operations. The urgent need to embrace peace on paper – and, more than that, in our hearts. And his unwavering belief that human beings are capable of steering our own destiny.

Today we renew our commitment to these ideals. We strengthen our resolve to improve the United Nations so that we may tackle the challenges facing our world.

As President Kennedy said, peace is an ongoing process that demands changing opinions, eroding barriers and building new structures. None of us may stand aside when the rights of any of us are violated.

His conviction that “it is never too early to try, and it is never too late to talk” applies to every conflict in the world today, including the devastating fighting in Syria.

President Kennedy’s warning a half-century ago that military stockpiles threaten the world without increasing security remains true. So does his admonition that all nations have a responsibility to act through the United Nations to protect our world. The stakes remain just as high; humankind still has the capacity to make this the best generation or the last.

In his final speech to the United Nations, President Kennedy expressed deep appreciation for this Organization, but he also said “what the United Nations has done in the past is less important than the tasks for the future.”

Today we remember President Kennedy’s visionary leadership and his principled ideals. But more importantly, we look ahead with even greater resolve to realize peace, development and human rights everywhere in our world.

Mr. President,
Ladies and gentlemen,

This occasion has special significance for me personally, and I hope the President will allow me to say a few words in my own capacity.

The Secretary-General has eloquently reviewed the historical significance of President Kennedy’s final speech to the United Nations and its relevance to all of us today.

I would only wish to add that like the Secretary-General, I came to the United States as a teenager with the great fortune to cross paths with John F. Kennedy.
I was an exchange student living in Decatur, Indiana. My host family was very involved in politics. The father was the county Democratic chairman.

[DSG may wish to share a few personal thoughts here about Jefferson-Jackson dinner and meeting JFK.]

I don’t think it is purely a coincidence that both the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations had such early and impressionable encounters with President Kennedy.  His spark and inspiration helped set us both on the path that led to public service and ultimately the United Nations.   

Many of us are old enough to remember the moment when President Kennedy was killed. Even those who do not remember this tragic moment know this was a terrible tragedy that reverberated far beyond the United States.

Our meeting today is proof that although John F. Kennedy’s life was cut short, his legacy endures. Let us pledge to give it even greater meaning as the years pass.

Thank you.