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Obama invokes ‘spirit of Hawaii’ at APEC leaders’ dinner

    President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his wife Kim Yoon-ok at the Hale Koa this evening.
    President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host a state dinner at Hale Koa Hotel in Waikiki for the world leaders and their wives who attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Obama greets leaders from Taipei.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed the leaders and representatives from 20 other Asia-Pacific nations with a Hawaiian-style luau at the Hale Koa Hotel behind tight security that disrupted Saturday night traffic through Waikiki.

A tightly guarded security zone around the luau included concrete barriers and steel fences that were cloaked to prevent anyone from watching the arrival of the APEC dignitaries.

The luau included hula dancing and Obama greeted his dinner guests with "Aloha."

"We are 21 leaders from across the Asia Pacific who represent close to 3 billion people….men and women of every faith, color and creed," Obama said. "Whatever our differences, our citizens have sent us here with a common task: to bring our economies closer together, to cooperate, to create jobs and prosperity that our people deserve so they can provide for their families, so they can give their children a better future."

The evening began with a greeting ceremony that started 30 minutes behind schedule, around 6:42 p.m., and lasted more than 50 minutes.

Representatives from each country were introduced individually, shook hands with the president and first lady, then posed for photos in front of a well-lit banyan tree adorned with five APEC signs.

"Guys, how are you?" Obama said to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen. 

Obama welcomed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by clapping him on the back. 

Medvedev, like seven other APEC representatives, arrived at the dinner alone.

After posing for photos with each guest, the Obamas then escorted them behind a "privacy screen" before returning to greet the next arrival.

Obama and his male counterparts all wore dark business suits. Michelle Obama wore a strapless dress that appeared to be made from raw silk that had a bold sash of pink on top that exposed her shoulders and wrapped around her left biceps.

At dinner, Obama told the APEC leaders and representatives that he "could not imagine a more fitting place than my home state of Hawaii."

"Here we are literally in the center of the Pacific," Obama said. "Here we’re reminded of the progress that’s possible when people of different background and beliefs come together. This is the most diverse state in our nation, home to so many races and immigrants and Americans who trace their roots back to many of your countries. Hawaii’s not perfect but I think Hawaii comes about as close as you’ll come to a true melting pot of cultures. Here we’re a single `ohana,’ one family.

"We remember that beneath the surface, behind all the different languages and some very long names, we all share the same hopes, the same struggles and the same aspirations," he said. "And we’ve learned that we’re more likely to realize our aspirations when we pursue them together. That’s the spirit of Hawaii. It’s what made me who I am. It’s what shapes my interactions with all of you. And it’s the spirit that I hope guides us in our work this weekend."

Obama then proposed a toast "with the words of a traditional Hawaiian proverb." 

He said the toast in Hawaiian, "A’ohe hana nui ke alu ‘ia,"  and then translated. 

"That means ‘no task is too big when done together by all.’ Cheers. Salud."

He toasted with a glass of water.

On Sunday, the APEC Leaders’ Meeting moves across Oahu to the JW Marriott Hotel in Ko Olina. 

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