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  • The President: Thank you so much.

  • (applause)

  • Thank you.

  • Sabaidii!

  • Sabaidee bor?

  • Audience: Sabaidii.

  • To the government and the people of Laos, thank you so

  • much for the kind welcome that you've extended to me

  • and my delegation.

  • I am very honored to be the first American president to

  • visit Laos.

  • (applause)

  • Thank you.

  • I am told that this hall is where you come together for

  • the national singing contest.

  • And I know that you celebrate your musical

  • traditions, including kap lam.

  • But I'm not going to sing today, so you should not worry.

  • As you host leaders from across Southeast Asia and

  • beyond, I do want to thank Laos for your leadership as

  • this year's chair of ASEAN.

  • Today, the eyes of the world are on Laos.

  • And I know that that may be a little unusual, because

  • Laos is a small nation next to larger neighbors and, as

  • a result, too often, the richness of your culture has

  • not been fully appreciated.

  • And that's why, as part of my visit, I'm grateful for

  • the opportunity to know Laos better, and to help share

  • your story with the world.

  • I know that here, you cherish the beauty of the

  • land -- the mist-covered mountains and sunsets over

  • the Mekong.

  • The achievements of ancient civilizations that echo in

  • the ruins of Vat Phou, and palm leaf manuscripts that

  • are preserved at your temples.

  • Tomorrow, I'll experience some of this heritage myself

  • when I visit Luang Prabang.

  • I only regret that -- I know this is called the Land of a

  • Million Elephants, but Secret Service will not let

  • me ride an elephant.

  • (laughter)

  • But maybe I'll come back when I'm no

  • longer President.

  • But in countless stupas and in your daily lives, we see

  • the strength that draws -- so many of you from your

  • Buddhist faith -- a faith that tells you that you have

  • a moral duty to each other, to live with kindness and

  • honesty, and that we can help end suffering if we

  • embrace the right mindset and the right actions.

  • And in literature like the epic of Sinxay, we see the

  • values that define the people of Laos, which is

  • modesty and compassion, and resilience and hope.

  • At our luncheon today, I was treated to the best of Lao

  • culture and cuisine, including khao niaw.

  • I did not get any Beerlao, but I will try some later,

  • maybe this evening.

  • (laughter)

  • And in all of you here today -- and

  • especially the young people of Laos -- we see the

  • diversity that is the strength of this nation.

  • You have Lao and Khmu and Hmong, and a tapestry of

  • proud ethnic groups and indigenous peoples.

  • So you are truly a people of the heart, and I thank you

  • for welcoming me with such generosity, your nam jai.

  • I realize that having a U.S.

  • president in Laos would have once been unimaginable.

  • Six decades ago, this country fell into civil war.

  • And as the fighting raged next door in Vietnam, your

  • neighbors and foreign powers, including the United

  • States, intervened here.

  • As a result of that conflict and its aftermath, many

  • people fled or were driven from their homes.

  • At the time, the U.S.

  • government did not acknowledge America's role.

  • It was a secret war, and for years, the American people

  • did not know.

  • Even now, many Americans are not fully aware of this

  • chapter in our history, and it's important that we

  • remember today.

  • Over nine years -- from 1964 to 1973 -- the United States

  • dropped more than two million tons of bombs here

  • in Laos -- more than we dropped on Germany and Japan

  • combined during all of World War II.

  • It made Laos, per person, the most heavily bombed

  • country in history.

  • As one Laotian said, the "bombs fell like rain."

  • Villages and entire valleys were obliterated.

  • The ancient Plain of Jars was devastated.

  • Countless civilians were killed.

  • And that conflict was another reminder that,

  • whatever the cause, whatever our intentions, war inflicts

  • a terrible toll, especially on innocent men, women

  • and children.

  • Today, I stand with you in acknowledging the suffering

  • and sacrifices on all sides of that conflict.

  • And from the anguish of war, there came an unlikely bond

  • between our two peoples.

  • Today, the United States is home to many proud

  • Laotian Americans.

  • Many have made a hard journey through refugee

  • camps and relocation, building new lives in a

  • new country.

  • And even as they've become Americans, they've held on

  • to their Lao heritage -- worshipping in their

  • temples, honoring their elders, dancing the lamvong.

  • Even now, they remember a beloved song -- that "If we

  • depart from our homeland and flee far away from her, we

  • will always have you as our true friend as long

  • as we live."

  • And as a new generation has come of age, more Laotian

  • Americans have made the journey here to their

  • ancestral homeland.

  • Said one of them who was born in Vientiane, our

  • "heart and home have always been in Laos."

  • And this spirit of reconciliation is what

  • brings me here today.

  • Our two governments will continue to

  • have differences.

  • That's true with many nations.

  • As we do around the world, the United States will

  • continue to speak up on behalf of what we consider

  • universal human rights, including the rights of the

  • people of Laos to express yourselves freely and decide

  • your own future.

  • Yet even as our governments deal candidly with our

  • differences, I believe, as we have shown from Cuba to

  • Burma to Vietnam, the best way to deliver progress for

  • all of our peoples is by closer cooperation between

  • our countries.

  • And that's why, today, the United States and Laos have

  • agreed to a new comprehensive partnership to

  • guide and deepen our relationship for years

  • to come.

  • Our partnership recognizes that the Lao People's

  • Democratic Republic is an independent, sovereign nation.

  • The United States does not seek to impose our will on Laos.

  • Rather, we seek a relationship based on mutual

  • respect, including respect for your independence and

  • your sovereignty.

  • Our new partnership will continue to deal with the

  • painful legacy of war.

  • And on behalf of the American people, especially

  • our veterans and military families, I thank the

  • government and the people of Laos for your humanitarian

  • cooperation as we've worked together to account for

  • Americans missing in action.

  • And I'm pleased that, as a result of this visit, we

  • will increase our efforts and bring more of our

  • missing home to their families in America.

  • I also know that the remnants of war continue to

  • shatter lives here in Laos.

  • Many of the bombs that were dropped were never exploded.

  • Over the years, thousands of Laotians have been killed or

  • injured -- farmers tending their fields,

  • children playing.

  • The wounds -- a missing leg or arm -- last a lifetime.

  • And that's why, as President, I've dramatically

  • increased our funding to help remove these

  • unexploded bombs.

  • As a result, Laos is clearing more bombs.

  • Fewer Laotians are being hurt or killed.

  • And together, we are saving lives.

  • But there is still much more work to do.

  • So today, I'm proud to announce a historic increase

  • in these efforts.

  • The United States will double our annual funding to

  • $90 million over the next three years to help Laos

  • expand its work.

  • (applause)

  • This will help Laos expand its work to

  • remove even more bombs, allow Laotians to farm more

  • land, and increase support for victims.

  • I'll bear witness to this work tomorrow when I meet

  • with survivors.

  • Given our history here, I believe that the United

  • States has a moral obligation to help Laos heal.

  • And even as we continue to deal with the past, our new

  • partnership is focused on the future.

  • We want to be your partners as you invest in the

  • well-being of your people, and especially your children.

  • I believe that when any child anywhere goes hungry,

  • when their growth is stunted, that's a

  • profound injustice.

  • So we're joining with Laos to promote nutrition and

  • bring more healthy meals to children in school so they

  • can grow strong, focus in class, and realize their

  • full potential.

  • We want to be your partner in improving education.

  • I'm told that there's a saying here -- "a tray full

  • of silver is not worth a mind full of knowledge."

  • [1] So we'll help more children learn how to read.

  • We'll bring more American teachers here to help teach

  • English, and more Lao teachers to America to

  • strengthen their English.

  • And I'm proud to announce that an initiative that's

  • very important to me and to my wife Michelle, an

  • initiative called Let Girls Learn, is coming to Laos

  • and Nepal.

  • (applause)

  • We believe that the daughters of Laos have

  • just as much talent and potential as your sons.

  • (applause)

  • And none of our countries anywhere in the

  • world can truly succeed unless our girls and our

  • women have every opportunity to succeed, the same

  • opportunities as boys and men do.

  • (applause)

  • We want to be your partner with the young people of

  • Laos as you strengthen your communities and start

  • businesses, and use Facebook to raise awareness for the

  • rights and dignity of all people.

  • And that's why, as part of our Young Southeast Asian

  • Leaders Initiative, we're helping young men and women

  • across Laos develop the skills you need to succeed.

  • Two of our top companies -- Microsoft and General

  • Electric -- are helping to increase training in

  • engineering and technology.

  • Young people in Laos shouldn't have to move

  • someplace else in order to prosper.

  • You should be able to work and build a better life

  • right here in Laos.

  • And we want to be your partners as Laos forges

  • greater trade and commerce with the world.

  • When other countries invest here, it should create jobs

  • here for the people of Laos.

  • So as Laos pursues economic and labor reforms, we'll

  • work to encourage more trade and investment between our

  • two countries, and between Laos and the rest of

  • this region.

  • As a result of my visit, I hope that more Americans

  • come here as well, to experience your country and

  • the beautiful culture, and to forge new friendships

  • between our peoples.

  • And as Laos grows, we want to be your partner in

  • protecting the natural beauty of your country, from

  • your forests to your rivers.

  • As Laos works to meet its growing need for energy, I

  • want to work with you to pursue clean, renewable

  • energies like solar.

  • And let's help farmers protect their crops, and

  • villages adapt to a changing climate.

  • We should work together so that development is

  • sustainable -- especially along the Mekong, upon which

  • millions of people depend for their livelihood and

  • their food and their health.

  • The Mekong is a treasure that has to be protected for

  • future generations, and we want to be your partner in

  • that process.

  • So this is the future our two countries can build

  • together, and I'm optimistic that we can do it.

  • I'm confident because my visit is part of a

  • broader agenda.

  • As some of you know, as President, a key priority of

  • my foreign policy has been to deepen our engagement

  • with the nations and peoples of the Asia Pacific.

  • And here, on the final leg of my last visit to Asia as

  • President, I want to discuss why