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- Lafayette Celebrations

Published on February 10, 2009
Speech by Pierre Vimont, Ambassador of France to the United States.

Washington DC, September 6, 2007
Dear Members of Congress,
Former Members,
French senators,
Honored guests,
Dear Friends,

It is a great privilege and pleasure for me to welcome you all to the Residence of France.

As you may know, this is my first week of official business as French Ambassador. And here I am already with you celebrating the Marquis de Lafayette ! I hope that he will forgive me for this audacity and I beg his mercy, wherever he is.

Even though I am new to this city, I have to confess that I feel a little bit at home, as I lived in Washington DC more than 50 years ago when I was 4 years old, and considered myself at that time as a genuine American boy. So, in spite of being a new Ambassador, I feel like a very old Washingtonian.

I am very happy that so many Members of Congress have been able to join us this evening.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the presence tonight of two distinguished Senators: Senator Maria Cantwell and Senator Susan Collins.

We also have several members of the French Caucus, in particular Congressman John Boozman and Congressman Jim Oberstar, who are the able co-chairs of the Caucus in the House. I want to sincerely thank them for the wonderful job they have done to develop this outstanding group.

I would also like to aknowledge the presence of Bob Michael, the Chair of the former members committee of France.

Unfortunately, Senator John Warner could not make it tonight. But as he announced a few days ago he will retire next year, I want to seize this opportunity to pay tribute to this great statesman and friend of France.

I am particularly grateful to Senator Warner for introducing a bill in 2002 conferring honorary citizenship to the Marquis de Lafayette.

And tonight we are also lucky to have with us two French Members of Parliament, who are members of the American Caucus of the French Senate: Senator Jean-Guy Branger and Senator François Marc. The Chairman of this Caucus, Senator Paul Girod, has been obliged to go back to France for personal reasons and he asked me to forward to all of you his sincere apologies for missing this reception.

I would also like to welcome the representatives of the Administration, and in particular Frances Townsend, the President’s adviser on Counter-terrorism, and and Kurt Volker from the State Department, with whom we work so closely and efficiently.

We also have the pleasure to have with us tonight Lieutenant General Blum, the Chief of the national Guard.

Last, but not least, I would like to acknowledge the presence of representatives of the business sector who contribute so much to reinforcing our relationship.

On this very special night that marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Marquis de Lafayette, allow me to say a few words about this extraordinary man.

As you all know, Lafayette was a young French aristocrat who learned of the American revolutionaries and was immediately captivated by the vision of a free and independent United States.

This became his life ambition. He believed so much in this noble cause that he decided to dedicate his fortune and use his personal connections at the French Court of Versailles to help the patriots succeed in the Revolution.

He would also put his extraordinary military skills at the service of the new nation and help win decisive battles against the British forces, including the Battle of Yorktown.

But most importantly: throughout the years he lived in this country, he established a very deep and warm friendship with the American people and, in particular, with George Washington, whom he regarded as his adoptive father.

Lafayette’s commitment to America’s liberty and his true love for this country and its people established and shaped the unique relationship between the United States and France.

Since then, this relationship has had its ups and downs, but the fundamental strength of the special bond between our two countries has never been in question.

During World War I and World War II, the US soldiers of freedom liberated France and Europe from oppression. Many sacrificed their lives to that end and there is in the heart of each French citizen, young and old alike, a profound gratitude toward our American friends. We have not forgotten and will never forget what the United States did at that time.

One of the lessons of our history is that from Yorktown to the Beaches of Normandy, just as is the case today in Afghanistan and in the Balkans, France and the United States have stood shoulder to shoulder to defend and promote the values of freedom and democracy that together we gave the world.

Also true today is that our two countries are each other’s best ally in the fight against terrorism or the risks of nuclear proliferation, in Iran or North Korea.

The United States and France have always been and will always remain steadfast allies, as President Sarkozy recalled last week in his speech to the French ambassadors.

Beyond diplomacy, the economy also plays a powerful role in enhancing our cooperation. 2,400 French companies have established operations in the United States, and employ over 450,000 people.

US companies in France employ half a million people. And on a daily basis more than $1 billion is exchanged between our two countries. So tonight I would like to thank French and American businessmen for contributing so much to the knowledge and cooperation between our economies and our people.

But now, I would like to give the floor to Members of Congress. They are the best experts on Lafayette. Indeed, there are longstanding, close ties between Lafayette and the Congress. When Lafayette first arrived on the shores of the United States, he stood before the first U.S. Congress to offer his services. I have to confess that the initial reception was a little bit skeptical. But Lafayette would rapidly convince the Congress of his complete dedication to their cause. After the successful American Revolution, he would be invited, in 1824, to address the Congress of the United States, the first foreign dignitary to do so.
To this day, the portrait of Lafayette in the House Chamber reminds us of that memorable event.

Following on this great tradition, Congressman Ike Skelton, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced a resolution in the 110th Congress that was approved by the House in May, honoring the life and legacy of the Marquis de Lafayette. Senator Mary Landrieu, Co-Chair of the French Caucus in the Senate, introduced a similar resolution, which was approved today by the Senate. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart for this great recognition of Lafayette.

First, I’d like to invite Chairman Oberstar and Congressman Boozman, House Co-Chairs of the French Caucus, to say a few words.

Let me now welcome Senator Jean-Guy Branger, a member of the American Caucus in the French Senate.

And finally, I am pleased to introduce Lieutenant General Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau.

And now, I invite you all to go to the terrace, where our friends from the Fife and Drum Corps will offer us a wonderful musical performance.

Thank you.

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