THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAMES JONES, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MEXICO; ALEXANDER WATSON, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS; AND RICHARD FEINBERG, SENIOR DIRECTORFOR INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS, NSC
The Briefing Room 1:38 P.M. EDT
MR. FETIG: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House Briefing Room. This briefing will be a readout on the President's meetings with Mexican President Zedillo. I'd appreciate it if you would keep the briefing in English. Your briefers are going to be Richard Feinberg, Senior Director for Inter-American Affairs of the National Security Council; Alec Watson, Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs; and Ambassador Jim Jones, the United States Ambassador to Mexico.
MR. FEINBERG: Ladies and gentlemen, we clearly had an excellent day of meetings and remarks between the two presidents. I think it's obvious from the public remarks from the press conference we just attended that these two men have great respect for each other. They've been tested together. Last winter they took some tough decisions in the face of considerable domestic criticism, both in Mexico and in the United States. And I think events have clearly proven that the decisions they took at that time were courageous and were correct and were in the interest of both countries.
You might have noticed the statements that both of them made about how important the relationship is, one to the other. We call your attention to the statement made by President Clinton, in which he said the he could not imagine a successful and prosperous United States in the 21st century without strong and cooperative relations between the United States and Mexico. And similarly, President Zedillo was clearly very respectful in recognizing the courageous decisions taken by President Clinton, but also the importance to Mexico of the U.S.-Mexican relationship.
I think in the tone of the discussions, both the private discussions as well as in their public remarks, it's clear that the Mexicans accept the interdependence between the United States and Mexico. And there's a mutuality of interest on working together, common problems, common solutions, be it trade, the environment, drugs, narcotics, immigration, et cetera.
Those of you who have covered U.S.-Mexican relations will know that that was not always the case. In fact, as recently as a few years ago, there was a very different tone to the relationship. Now, there clearly is a willingness to work together, common problems, common solutions. And I would say that NAFTA has clearly set the context. The agreement on economic issues creates a warm, cooperative atmosphere which then allows the two countries to work together to tackle a whole set of other problems.
In the private discussions, they covered a wide range of issues. One thing that I think was interesting and that somewhat differentiates the U.S.-Mexican relationship from other relationships that the United States had is how many members of the U.S. Cabinet have direct, personal ties to their counterparts in Mexico.
Attorney General Reno and Attorney General Lozano, Kantor and Blanco, Ortiz and Rubin -- these are individuals who are constantly on the phone to each other, have an excellent personal relationship that enables them to solve problems on a day-to-day basis.
With regard to the discussion of particular issues, President Zedillo and Secretary Ortiz reviewed the economic program, indicated that, of course,they plan to stay the course, that they will not adopt artificial, inflationary measures which would undercut everything that's been achieved so far.
They, of course, recognize the importance of the financial package that President Clinton took the leadership role in putting together last winter. And we were pleased to see that they have already begun, as you know, as was announced last week, to make repayment on those loans -- $700 million repayment of the short-term credits as announced last week.
The two leaders reviewed progress on NAFTA, reaffirmed their absolute, firm commitment to that agreement; notice that the Mexicans, despite the recession that they were in at the beginning of this year, nevertheless went ahead with reducing tariffs as required by the NAFTA agreement. The two presidents also reviewed progress on the side agreements -- the labor and environmental agreement -- and noticed that the mechanisms have been put in place as been required, and that, in fact, under the environmental agreement, there's considerable progress on the border in ensuring that as trade increases, the environment and the health of the citizens along the border is protected.
The two men both reaffirmed that the NAFTA was a building block towards the broader vision of the free trade area of the Americas 2005, as agreed upon by the entire hemisphere in Miami in December.
More specifically, one of the disputes, one of the relatively minor, but still relevant trade disputes, we can now say in principle has been resolved, which is the one regarding tire certification. Progress was made, although no definitive solutions yet reached on some of the other issues that you're aware of in the bilateral trade area.
In the drug area. Narcotics -- both gentlemen made very clear in their public and as well as private discussions that narco-trafficking is a security threat to both nations. President Clinton announced the transfer of a dozen helicopters, plus spare parts, to Mexico as well as willingness to help out in providing financing for the transfer of radars and other equipment to be used in the anti-narcotics effort; clear decision to do battle against the major drug-trafficking organizations, the cartels.
In the immigration area, a review of the Zacatecas Agreements, the very steps that Mexico has taken to reduce criminality and the illegal smuggling of migrants across the border. They also discussed the recent accord on internal repatriation, which was mentioned in the final press conference today.
Both gentlemen agreed that we both need to implement our own laws. We both have to protect our own borders; but in the broader context, its growth in Mexico which, in the long term, clearly is a solution to the immigration problem, which brings you back ultimately to where we started, which is the importance of NAFTA and the financial agreements.
In the environmental area agreement that the two countries will undertake an environmental survey of the border area to help better define and manage our natural resources together; that with regard to the emissions from carbon I and II, the energy plants in northern Mexico, both Presidents asked their respective environmental ministers to undertake intensive technical discussions to see what exactly is the status of the emissions there and then what can be done to ameliorate that situation.
They also discussed the tuna-dolphin issue, noting the tremendous progress that was made in Panama recently. And the President of the United States said that we will now work to seek what we need from the U.S. Congress so that we can go forward on implementing that step forward.
Border 21 was also discussed. This is an umbrella plan to protect the environment and improve health along the border areas.
So, all in all, very cooperative spirit. You could feel in the room an unprecedented level of cooperation between the two cabinets and the heads of state. They reviewed with considerable satisfaction the progress that has been made on this series of issues. Certainly, though, being realistic, recognizing that problems remain, but, I think, a clear spirit, the desire to work together to overcome those problems.
So just to review really briefly, the specific areas of progress that come out of this, these several days of buildup and the meeting itself -- the repayment of the $700 million; the in-principle agreement on tire certification; the increased cooperation in counter-narcotics with a transfer of 12 helicopters plus additional equipment, including radars; agreement on interior repatriation on the immigration issue; agreement in the environmental area to undertake an environmental survey of the border; and then, agreement to look into the problem of emissions in Carbon I and II.
Thank you all very much. Welcome to take your questions.
Q Could you elaborate --
MR. FEINBERG: Is there anything that you'd like to add?
AMBASSADOR JONES: No.
MR. FEINBERG: Okay. Thanks.
Q Could you elaborate a little bit on the trade issues -- exactly what the tire certification resolution -- comes to? But, also, can you get into the issue of wine tariffs and the UPS problem?
MR. FEINBERG: The wine tariffs -- the issue of wine and UPS were both discussed. Ambassador Jones has been discussing that regularly with officials in Mexico. They are aware of our concerns at the highest levels and are working intensely with both the private sector in the United States as well as with the U.S. government to solve those issues in a satisfactory way and promptly.
You want to add on the tire certification, Jim?
Q But that means you didn't anything on wine, right, specifically?
AMBASSADOR JONES: Well, let me add to it. First of all, on the tires, there are two components to that. One is the labeling issue, whether or not labeling had to be embedded in the tires, and the agreement is that it will be stick-on label in Spanish. The second has to do with self-certification. And even though we can't announce the specifics of that, agreement in principle was made to have a self-certification that's mutually respected.
On the other issues, progress was made. These are issues that have been in process for some time. With regard to wines, the main component there was to begin a process of accelerated tariff reductions. And while there are no specifics on that, at least it was discussed in much more frank, open and positive way than it has been in the past.
And on UPS, that issue continues. Last Friday, a meeting was held in Mexico City. There will be a continuing dialogue with our own government and the companies involved, I think next week, and we hope to be able to move toward some degree of compromise in solution.
Q There was a lot of talk about the narcotics as far as radar and as far as helicopters. No mention was made of corruption and the fact that the DEA has said they fear the Colombianization of Mexico with regards to corruption within the government, within the police. Was that issue touched, were any agreements made on how to deal with corruption?
MR. FEINBERG: I think one of the interesting developments in hemispheric relations, if you will, is that the issue of corruption is out on the table. And this occurred in the process of the Summit of the Americas. You will recall in the Declaration of Plan of Action that President Zedillo referred to in the press conference today, that the issue of corruption is right up front and it's recognized as a problem that has to be dealt with.
That does not just remain on paper. There is a very -- a series of active working groups, hemispheric-wide, that are now addressing the issue of corruption. And the OAS is working on an Inter-American convention on corruption, which would be the first such hemispheric convention -- or, I think, such a convention on corruption in history worldwide that I know of. So the issue is out there. This is a very important because it's important that democratic governments recognize the corruption problem and deal with it in a very direct and frank way.
Yes, the issue of corruption was discussed in the meetings today. And Attorney General Lozano talked about a number of the measures that he is taking in order to root out corruption that you're quite familiar with. He's put together -- he's -- a number of people have been simply fired. There's a major effort to retrain the police. He announced just recently a major reorganization of his own office. Mexico has put together a new major task force, intergovernmental wide on the narcotics issue. So, yes, the issue of corruption was discussed in a very frank way with the recognition that it is a problem and that is has to be dealt with.
Also a recognition, by the way, that corruption -- whenever there's drugs and a lot of money -- and this was mentioned in the meetings -- that the cop on the beat is susceptible to corruption. And this is a problem not only in Mexico, but it's a problem worldwide, and it's something that both countries are concerned with and are fighting to combat.
Q A follow-up. What about larger players, players that everyone in the country knows are major, major drug dealers, and yet they're out in the open, very similar to what happened in Cali? What are you going --
MR. FEINBERG: Both countries are concerned about that, and both countries are absolutely committed to going after the kingpins and the top guys in the cartels.
AMBASSADOR JONES: Let me say from being there, they're not out in the open. If they're out in the open, I'm convinced that between our two law enforcement apparatus, they would be caught. There is a commitment to do that, and I think there's going to be great progress in that regard.
So far this year, a major drug-trafficker, (inaudible) Palma, and about a half a dozen lieutenants of drug cartels have been arrested and are imprisoned. On our side of the border, we have arrested, as I recall, maybe a couple of dozen officials who have facilitated drugs across our own border, on our side of the border, and the commitment is there. And as I say, the new cooperative effort in exchanging information, I think, is going to tighten the noose considerably, and we're going to see real progress.
Q Mr. Ambassador, a lot was made of the repayment of the $700 -- (inaudible) -- million dollars, but nothing has been said, really, of the rescheduling for a later date of other payments. You, as the eyes and ears of the administration in Mexico, do you see that some of what could become an overwhelming negative publicity against President Zedillo inside the country would affect his international image as far as continued and further progress towards coming together, both as united -- closer ties with the United States and Mexico?
AMBASSADOR JONES: Let me try and make a couple of observations using the two hats of my previous experience in politics and in the world of finance.
First of all, I think the most significant thing about repayment is that the interest payment schedules have been met on time, and to this point, something like $479 million in interest has been earned by the United States government entities, and those schedules are proceeding on schedule.
Secondly, there may or may not be a rescheduling in the future. To me, the significant thing is, are the payment schedules being met, the interest payments being met? And if there is a rescheduling, as someone who was in the banking business, that is part of finance. And I'm not conceding that there will be, but if there is, it's not that big a deal.
And, second, the other point, putting on my political hat that I -- if I understood your question -- will criticism from inside Mexico of President Zedillo affect the relationship with the United States? Is that fair?
Q Meaning, is that -- would any kind of strides that the administration, the Clinton administration thinks that Zedillo is making in Mexico, not be overwhelmed by the fact that, in the short-term, that people have been affected negatively by what is going on; and whether he will be taken seriously in the United States if the situation in the interior of the country becomes such because of this negative popular opinion that he is undergoing now?
AMBASSADOR JONES: I have heard stories that there is a weakness in the presidential leadership, and as a result, there is a concern, perhaps in the United States.
I read it just the opposite. What President Zedillo is adhering to steadfastly is opening up the political system, strengthening democratic institutions, decentralizing power and authority. And, in my judgment, it would be much easier and take less courage to be an authoritarian ruler right now. It takes more courage and more skill and more vision to move forward on democracy.
Again, in my judgment, wearing the old political hat, this is the most effective way to get through this problem of a very deep -- probably the deepest economic recession in Mexico in decades, to move toward democracy to allow legitimate means to express disagreement both at elections and in demonstrations and in free speech. And to me, that is the most effective way to maintain stability in Mexico right now.
Q Have you conducted any investigation to determine how this story on -- (inaudible) -- came about? They cite a man, Pallomari, who apparently is under DEA custody, as a source of the charges that the presidential campaign of President Zedillo took money from the Cali Cartel. Do you know how the story came about? And what do you have to say about the timing of the story -- one day before the President comes here?
My second question has to do with corruption in the United States. We feel, or there's a tendency to blame corruption only on the countries southern to the Rio Grande. There was a recent report in the San Diego Union -- I think it was August 16 -- that there was a grand jury investigating top-level officials from Customs from San Diego to Miami, who are collaborating with the drug cartels in Mexico to get these tons of cocaine into the United States. Was the issue of corruption and money laundering here in the United States also addressed with President Zedillo today?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Well, let me address your first point. We have no way of knowing where the Colombian news magazine, Cambia Dieceseis got the report, which it published a couple days ago. All we could do, as soon as it was brought to our attention, is to check with the responsible U.S. government agency, which is the DEA. And they spent all day Monday checking this out extremely carefully, and at the end of the day issued a statement to the effect that it was absolutely untrue.
Q What about Pallomari being under DEA custody? Is that a fact, or is that a press report, not --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Well, Pallomari came voluntarily to the United States, and turned himself into the appropriate law enforcement authorities in the United States because there were indictments against him in this country. And I cannot tell you exactly whose custody he is in at this point, but it's certainly under the command of the Department of Justice.
And so we could check very quickly whether anybody in DEA had said anything like what Cambia Dieceseis said they said, and it's not true. And so the DEA issued a very, very strong and resounding negative -- just as strong as President Zedillo just did a few minutes ago.
MR. FEINBERG: Just briefly, this full recognition on the part of the Clinton administration -- the issues of money laundering, drugs, corruption -- are not at all unique to one particular country or one particular region; that these are general problems throughout the hemisphere. That was the fundamental concept of Miami; that is the spirit of Miami. These are common problems, and we have to all work on them together.
President Clinton was very clear in saying, as he often says, that the point is not to point fingers at each other or to snipe at each other. We have to work on these problems together.
Q Can you elaborate on the agreement over -- for repatriation -- what the scope of it will be? How many people are we talking about here, each year, and whether it will be voluntary or mandatory --
MR. FEINBERG: Yes, this is an agreement that, in terms of what the United States will do -- we have it -- we're thinking of it one year at a time as a model, pilot program. As I understand it, there's sufficient money in the budget which would allow for up to 10,000 people to be repatriated back into the interior of Mexico.
It is absolutely voluntary on the part of individuals who would decide that they wanted to, or preferred in fact, to return home rather than to be in the difficult situation of being unemployed in the border area far from home. So this is an issue of law enforcement, but it's also a humanitarian program as well.
Q Is the United States paying for this program in Mexico -- the repatriation?
MR. FEINBERG: The United States would pay for the transportation costs; that's correct.
Q On the narco-trafficking, could you ask another --Ambassador Gelbard has made a point that the Mexicanization of combatting drugs in Mexico brought with it some decrease in the ability to combat drug trafficking in Mexico, and has suggested that the Zedillo administration might step back from the Mexicanization enough to allow more U.S. involvement in Mexico. He said this in testimony before Jesse Helms' committee in August.
MR. FEINBERG: I think I'll leave Bob's good friend and colleague, Alec Watson, to parry that question.
Q I guess the question is, are we seeing that the U.S. is getting more involved in narco-trafficking in Mexico?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: We're certainly not involved in narco-trafficking in Mexico. (Laughter.) Look, the Mexicans, for reasons that are perfectly understandable, want to make absolutely certain that they're running their own counter-narcotics programs inside their own borders. And that's what I think the Mexicanization program is all about.
But that certainly does not mean that we can't have a fruitful level of cooperation. I think that's been indicated by the fact that we will be able to provide these helicopters on a lend-lease basis to them. We have this asset-sharing where Ambassador Jones divided up a lot of money, several million dollars last week, with the Mexicans on assets that were seized, jointly divided up the spoils, if you will, among ourselves; and also the support we're going to be giving them, hopefully, through Ex-Im Bank on the radar.
So I think it's not a question of pushing too strongly the Mexicanization point. The question is, of course, they're going to be able to run their own programs with full authority. But the fact that they're willing to cooperate with us in an appropriate way, I think, has been demonstrated by the events of the last week.
Q Do you think it's more cooperation than you were getting, let's say, last year?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I would think so, yes.
Q Did they deal with extradition? And what moved the tire issue off the stick?
MR. FEINBERG: With regard to the tire issue, there were intensive negotiations that have been occurring over time and that finally came to successful conclusion at this time.
With regard to extradition, yes, the issue was discussed. President Clinton and Attorney General Reno indicated that they thought it would be important under certain circumstances where there is more evidence to try individuals, particularly those related to narco-trafficking, in a U.S. court, that extradition might be warranted.
And the Mexicans indicated, as they have in the past, that when an individual meets certain special circumstances, as allowed for under Mexican law and under the Mexican constitution, that Mexico will consider on a case-by-case basis requests for extradition.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:03 P.M. EDT