Remarks By Vice President Joe Biden and President Tarja Halonen Of Finland

Helsinki, Finland–(ENEWSPF)–March 8, 2011 – 11:25 A.M. (Local).

PRESIDENT HALONEN:  So once again, good morning to everybody.  I think that Vice President Biden has chosen a very, very good day to visit Finland because today marks the 100 years anniversary of the International Women’s Day.  And I think that both — you yourself, your wife and your granddaughter are very pleased at that.

So you already know that we all very warmly welcome you, Vice President Biden, to Finland.  Our discussions today have been fruitful, and I have a feeling that we have succeeded update quite many topical issues.  Of course, it was too short time, anyway.

But relations between Finland and the United States of America are excellent and the reason to support continuation of many contacts.  But as we have also said, the United States is an important partner for us — for Finland, for Europe.  And I hope so that old friends have strong ties, and we could also be looking for new opportunities to cooperate.  Finland is committed to develop further our bilateral relations in all things — I’ve already mentioned cultural cooperation, trade, investments, green economy, clean technologies.  I know you are interested in the welfare state system, health, education, gender — whatever you mentioned earlier.

But we are a part of the — part of the global system, the part of the world.  I already said that I felt very strongly when President Obama — first time held a speech in the United States, General Assembly.  And I was witnessing him, and I had gained a feeling that it was a very, very welcome speech.  So I’m very pleased then with President Barack Obama and his administration.  You yourself have been placing more emphasis on the work done in the United Nations and other multilateral organizations.  We do need it.  We are very happy that your administration, including also Hillary Clinton, have taken very strong interest in women in all speeches and always done in security — and everywhere.

So the United States and Europe have worked hard for democracy, human rights and the rule of law and people decide what is values is very strong.

We spoke also of the recent events in Northern Africa and in Libya, particularly.  And there are signs that the international community is quite unanimous on that, that the will of the people should be that what we are hoping for, not giving the possibilities only for those who have very strong military and many forces.

So both the humanitarian situation and also the grasp for the stability of the — are on our mind.  And I give it more for you how you feel about Northern Africa.

Finland and United States have worked side by side in many crises, humanitarian operations and I think that we have a respect for both sides concerning Afghanistan and also many other countless systems.

Finland is not a member of NATO, but an acting Partnership for Peace country, such as Sweden, Austria and Ireland, for example.  And we share — both a responsibility in many ways — to work.  So — for the — it’s for the Afghans for themselves — democracy, the rule of law and the respect of human rights, including the rights of women and the girls.  But as we discussed Afghanistan, we left all — the crisis of — so what has been committed is past, but looking forward to speak more for the sustainable development of the global work and for both of our countries.  So I do hope so that we can find those ways how to combine stable economic growth, social justice and ecologically sustainable development.  We will have a good — with our governments, with a lot of the good ministers.

To the media I would say that it’s not only the President and the Prime Minister in Finland who are women, but — aside my job, in the government, there are also ladies.

And what the world is needing, more women — but also more progressive men because it’s not — having lots of those.  So, Mr. Biden, you are most welcome.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Well, thank you, Madam President.  I apologize for — we kept the press a little bit.  I would prefer that I had a whole day to spend with the President.  I notice a couple of you remarking that we keep smiling and laughing.  There’s a whole lot of reasons for that.  Most of all it’s based on how comfortable the President has made me feel and all our countrymen.

Our ambassador was — who we’re very proud of — was saying nothing but good things about his stay here in Finland and about you, Madam President.

And we have agreed — I’ve invited the President, if she has the time when she’s in the States, I’d like to take her up on her offer to spend more time with me because there’s so much more that we have to talk about.  It’s great to be back here in Helsinki.  This is an absolutely beautiful capital with a very, very long history of very important contributions to international affairs.

It seems like yesterday — I know you’re not old enough to remember but I remember as a U.S. senator the Helsinki Accords and how —

PRESIDENT HALONEN: We are exactly the same age.  (Laughter.)  Both 68 years old.  (Laughter.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  But seriously when you think about how the world has changed, how it’s changed so remarkably.  And I would mark the Helsinki Accords as one of those moments when the tides of history really began to move.  And Finland remains in the forefront of a range of global challenges.

The President was very complimentary about the remarks of the address of my President to the General Assembly, and I was telling her that the President and I — but the President feels very strongly that it’s not sufficient that America exercises a leadership role merely by the example of its power, but by the power of our example — not just by the example of our power, but the power of our example.

And we understand fully and welcome the fact that this is a world in which no one nation has the capacity to change the course of history for the better.  Some have the capacity to change it for the worse, but no one nation has the capacity to change it for the better.

The American people and the people of Finland enjoy a strong and very enduring relationship, reflecting of the fact that we’ve often stood shoulder-to-shoulder in responding to global crises, as we continue to do.  And in that vein, I want to thank the President for her recent trip to the Middle East, which continued to demonstrate Finland’s commitment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and her visit to Afghanistan.  We almost were there the exact same day.


THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I think we missed by a day or two.

I have made multiple visits to Afghanistan, and yet we found that our assessment was fairly consistent as to where we stand at the moment, and we have been standing, quite frankly, side-by-side in the International Security Assistance Force. In Mazar-e-Sharif, the Fins and the Swedes have done a great, great job, and we appreciate them very, very much.

In fact, as I said, we had a very similar view about the commitment that was taken — and by the way, Finland has been just a great and critical partner also in unleashing economic potential, new technologies in combating climate change, in combating nuclear proliferation and in a responsible search — I emphasize a responsible search — for resources in the Arctic region, which we look to Finland’s leadership and example.

And innovation, as we both discussed, is the key — is the key to the future — and Finland has been a renowned global leader in that department fueled by a truly world-class system of public education, which I also sought some input — didn’t have enough time really to talk about it more — but I hope when the President is in New York, you may be able to come to Washington — about the great success of your public education system, which is of the highest priority for President Obama and me in the United States.

And by the way, as a hockey fan, Madam President, my wife Jill, who is truly a rabid, as we say in the vernacular at home — a rabid hockey fan — a Philadelphia Flyers fan, we are so happy to — a number of the contributions made by the Finnish people to the National Hockey League.  (Laughter.)  And in fact, as a Philadelphia Flyers fan, my wife pointed to me that Kimmo just — Timonen just scored his 100th goal this weekend in the National Hockey League.  (Laughter.)  Although, it was in a losing endeavor for the Philadelphia Flyers, but we expect a great deal from him as a defenseman.  And we expect that when he — when the Flyers win the Stanley Cup, maybe they’ll let him bring it home to show it everyone here.

PRESIDENT HALONEN:  So speaking about the ice hockey, so I spoke a lot about the good neighborhood relations with Sweden and Russia.  But you can forget them all concerning ice hockey.  (Laughter.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  President Obama has said many times, Madam President, the United States supports a strong and united Europe so that together — together — we can face and meet the extraordinary challenges and seize the extraordinary opportunities of our time.

We are extremely grateful, and I mean this sincerely that Finland shares our vision of a robust transatlantic relationship.  And we also thank you for all you’ve done to make that relationship real and make it thrive.

Let me conclude by saying that it seems only fitting to be here in Helsinki on International Women’s Day.  It is not hyperbole to suggest that Finland has been a leader in the world — in the world — a pioneer when it comes to women having the right to an equal — equal — place in society.  And I believe that to be the single greatest moral imperative of our time.  And I mean that literally.

Now, it’s easy for me to say that here on International Women’s Day, but the American press that’s here — whether they would agree or not, they can tell you that I’ve spent the bulk of my career as a United States senator and as Vice President promoting women’s rights.  I was the author of, in our case, a landmark piece of legislation called the Violence Against Women Act.  Senator Lugar and I as senators, and now as Vice President, we’re trying to promote the International Violence Against Women Act.  And we also — I will tell you, if you excuse me, as we used to say in the Senate, Madam President, the U.S. Senate, this is a point of personal privilege.  I told you this story, but I’m going to tell it.  My staff is going, oh, God, what is he going to say.  (Laughter.)

But last night, sitting in the Government House with my 12, almost 13-year-old granddaughter and my wife, who is a doctor and a professor at a college, a community college.  My wife was saying how great it was that you were president, and there is a women prime minister.  And my little 12-year-old chimed up from the couch and said, “And, Pop, 40 percent of their congress” — she calls it, their parliament — “of their congress is women.  Isn’t that great!”  (Laughter.)  That’s my 12-year-old granddaughter.

And so I just want you to know the leadership of Finland has not gone unnoticed.  And we look to Finland for the example that sets — we were — what we were laughing about as we were walking in is, we were exchanging stories about our mothers.  And my mother would occasionally quote an old proverb which says that, women hold up half the sky.  Women hold up half the sky.

In my household, they hold up two-thirds of the sky.  All kidding aside, the single most civic-significant thing we can do in the 21st century to impact on the prospect of peace and security is to educate more women — to have women, particularly in other parts of the less developed world have equal access to opportunity.

As you remember, Madam President, the U.N. sponsored a study on the Muslim world, the Arab world and said the most significant — they were Arab scholars, Muslim scholars — the single most significant thing that could happen would be to liberate women in that part of the world.  I’m here to also pay tribute to the leadership, the incredible leadership of Finland in that regard.  And if there’s any nation in which I can stand on the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day, this is the most appropriate place to stand, and you’re the most appropriate person to stand with.

Thank you.


11:41 A.M. (Local)