THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT UPON DEPARTURE The South Lawn
3:21 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. As you all know, I'm about to leave on a week-long visit to our closest southern neighbors, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. It's the first of three trips I'll take in our hemisphere over the next year. I'd like to say a few words about what I hope to accomplish and why the Americas are so important for our own security and prosperity in the 21st century.
Little more than a decade ago, our neighbors were plagued by civil wars and guerrilla insurgencies, coupes and dictators, closed economies and hopeless poverty. Now we face a far different moment, a moment of truly remarkable possibility. Every nation in our hemisphere but one has embraced both free elections and open markets. The region's growing economies have become our largest trading partners. Already we export twice as much to the Americas as to Europe and nearly half again as much as to Asia.
A partnership is emerging between the United States and the Americas based not only on history, geography and culture, but increasingly in shared interest and values and a shared commitment to a common future. More than ever before we are working with our neighbors on the basis of mutual respect to make a difference on issues that matter most to people in their daily lives, creating good new jobs by opening markets and spurring growth, improving education to prepare our people to succeed in the global economy, making our water clean and the air clean for our children, facing up to problems we cannot defeat alone like drugs, crime and corruption.
But while the trend in the Americas is positive, clearly the transition is not complete. If we want citizens to make a lasting commitment to democracy, peace and open markets, we must support them in gaining confidence that they have made the right choice.
Three years ago, at our historic Summit of the Americas, in Miami, the leaders of this hemisphere mapped out a concrete plan to lock in the democratic gains the Americas have made and to see that they work for all of the people. This week we will continue to advance that plan. Together, we can strengthen the institutions of democracy and promote respect for human rights. We can broaden the benefits of open and fair trade. We can shore up the stability of nations that have renounced war. We can combat the drugs and crime and environmental degradation that threaten all our futures. And we can open the doors of education to more so that they can have the skills they need to make the most of their own lives.
It is fitting that this trip should begin in Mexico. We share one of the broadest and deepest relations of any two nations on earth. Beyond the 2,000-mile boarder that joins us, beyond the strong bonds of trade that benefit both our people, we must cooperate as never before to find common solutions to common problems.
Our partnerships with Mexico and with the other nations should be the foundation of our own freedom, stability and prosperity in the 21st century, an engine for economic growth and jobs, a sword in the fight against transnational threats that respect no borders, an example to the world that democracy and open markets actually deliver for those who embrace them. If we continue to shape the future of our hemisphere, the Americas will prosper and so will America. Thank you.
Q Mr. President, given the frustrations of what Tony Lake when through for his nomination, are you confident that George Tenet will sail through on his nomination -- confirmation process?
THE PRESIDENT: I believe he will be confirmed. I sure do.
Q Mr. President, while you are gone the House and Senate are going to take up the legislation regarding the flood aid. Are you still threatening to veto that? Do you still feel a need to, especially with the budget deal?
THE PRESIDENT: I have no reason to change the position I adopted.
Q But people are waiting for that aid.
THE PRESIDENT: That's right and that's why Congress ought to pass it unencumbered.
END 3:26 P.M. EDT