THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT MACK MCLARTY ON PRESIDENT'S TRIP TO SOUTH AMERICA
The Briefing Room
3:13 P.M. EDT
MR. BERGER: Since you always get to ask the questions, I thought I would begin this briefing with a small quiz. Open book exam. You can look on the person to your right and to your left. Hold your answers. Which country is America's largest supplier of oil? (Laughter.) Hold up. Which country has reduced inflation from 1600 percent in 1990 -- (laughter) -- I had a guy in my class just like you when I was in high school -- to below 5 percent today and now is the 8th largest economy in the world? Which country sent peacekeepers to over a dozen missions in the last seven years, including the Persian Gulf, Haiti, Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Central America, Western Sahara, Mozambique, and Cyprus?
The answers, as Mr. Hunt undoubtedly knows, are Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, the countries we are visiting next week. This cheap little exercise on my part has a point. In the last decade the Americas have undergone a dramatic transformation. Not so long ago, this hemisphere was marked by military dictatorship, repression, insurgencies, violent coups, inefficient command economies. Today, every nation in the hemisphere is a democracy, but one. Human rights have dramatically improved. Trade barriers have come down, and the markets of the region are expected to grow three times as fast as our own very healthy economy.
This trip is an opportunity to highlight South America's quiet and impressive revolution. To capitalize on these historic trends, President Clinton and the other leaders in the region set out a blueprint at the Miami Summit to bring our hemisphere together around common values -- democratic governments, open markets, cooperation on common problems. In South America next week, the President will seek to advance this hemispheric agenda, which includes trade, education, the environment and democracy, and highlight initiatives that we hope to develop further for the second Summit of the Americas in Santiago next April.
Now, let me take you on the magic carpet of next week. Starting on Sunday morning, we will leave in the morning and travel to Venezuela to meet with President Caldera, one of this hemisphere's most stalwart proponents of freedom over the past number of years. The President will pay tribute to the people of Venezuela for their extraordinary success in strengthening democracy and the rule of law.
In Venezuela, the President also will highlight our close partnership on developing clean and reliable energy supplies for the future. As those of you who got the first question correct know, more than half of the United States foreign supply of oil comes from this hemisphere. In Venezuela, which last year replaced Saudi Arabia as our top supplier of foreign oil, 18 percent, is poised to increase its share of the U.S. market. This has important ramifications, obviously, for U.S. security and prosperity, as does the other major item on our agenda in Venezuela -- increasing our counternarcotics cooperation by strengthening judiciaries, expanding customs cooperation, improving maritime cooperation and things of that sort.
Following the arrival ceremony in Caracas, a short meeting with congressional leaders at the airport, the President will lay a wreath at the tomb of Simon Bolivar, the hero of Venezuelan independence and a symbol of the aspiration for South American integration. He will meet with embassy staff, attend a state dinner and a reception at the President's home.
On Monday morning, the President will drop by a breakfast hosted by the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce, then hold a bilateral meeting with President Caldera and deliver an outdoor speech.
I should say that, as with all of these trips, schedules tend to move a little bit as you get each day closer to departure, so there may be rearrangements here that take place. But this essentially the itinerary.
On Monday afternoon, the President will travel to Brazil, the largest multiracial democracy in South America. The agenda there with President Cardoso will focus on trade, education and training, and access to technology, as President Cardoso continues his effort to both sustained growth and to create greater equity within Brazil. We will also address the environment as well, and Brazil's leadership, building a strong partnership with us on global and security issues.
Let me just say, Brazil is a perfect example of the economic growth that has been experienced in this hemisphere. In 1900 when Brazil had annual inflation of 1,600 percent -- question two on your quiz -- GDP growth was less than 2 percent, foreign investment was below $1 billion. Today, inflation has dropped to under 5 percent, GDP has been over 4 percent for the last three years, and the government projects investment levels will reach nearly $10 billion this year.
Monday evening the President will attend a reception, state dinner in Brasilia. Tuesday morning he will meet with President Cardoso, hold a joint press conference -- both joint in terms of Cardoso and Clinton, joint in terms of our press corps and theirs. In the afternoon, the President will pay a brief call on the leadership of the Brazilian Congress, acknowledging Brazil's dynamic democracy. He will then visit with the Embassy community before departing in the afternoon for Sao Paulo.
On Wednesday morning, the President will address 1,600 business leaders and stress the importance of open markets which have put the hemisphere squarely on the path to improving economic growth -- more jobs, more widespread prosperity. And he'll also discuss the policies embraced here and in Brazil to try to make sure that no one is left behind in this emerging new global economy.
The President then will fly to Rio de Janeiro, coming from the business meeting in the morning -- in the afternoon, to Rio de Janeiro to a poorer area of the city where he will speak to students and teachers at a model public-private educational partnership in the shanty town of the city. And there he will emphasize that as we open our markets, we have to also open education to all of our children and give them the tools to succeed.
Finally, Argentina. The President will arrive there on Wednesday evening and highlight our joint efforts to promote international peace and security and protect the environment.
As another reflection of how far these countries have traveled in a short time, the last American President to visit Argentina was President Bush in 1990. He went at a time right after a failed military uprising against a civilian government, a time of great instability. Since then, the administration and the Argentine Congress have cut the armed forces to a third of their former strength, deploying them largely to the international peacekeeping exercises, missions I mentioned earlier.
In 1990, the Argentine economy was suffering runaway hyperinflation, GDP spiraling downward. Menem embarked on a dramatic stabilization program resulting in near-zero inflation, expanded trade and foreign investment. As a result, the Argentine economy is expected to grow 8 percent in 1997.
On Thursday, the official schedule in Argentina begins with a wreath-laying at Plaza San Martin. The President will make brief remarks there, highlighting Argentina's contribution to international peacekeeping. After the bilateral with President Menem, the President will go to a television studio for a town hall conversation on the Americas, which will be broadcast live by the Univision network to the entire hemisphere. The President will take questions from young leaders in three cities -- in Buenos Aires, in Los Angeles, and in Miami. And the audience will be comprised of young leaders in education, business, the environment, antidrug efforts, poverty groups, arts, et cetera -- a very broad cross-section.
Before the town hall, the President will meet with Jewish leaders in Argentina, relatives of the victims of the terrorist bombings of the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish Community Center in 1992 and 1994, respectively, which, combined, killed I believe 115 people. He'll also meet with leaders of the opposition alliance to demonstrate our support for the democratic process and indicate our neutrality in the upcoming congressional elections in Argentina. He has a state dinner and a reception that evening.
On Friday morning, the President will drop by a business leaders breakfast hosted by the Argentine Chamber of Commerce, visit the embassy, then depart for Bariloche, where on Saturday morning, President Clinton and President Menem will participate in an environmental event to highlight our commitment to protect the environment we all share.
We then get back on the plane and fly very late at night and get back in Washington, D.C., some time Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Let me now ask Mack McLarty, who has been all four horsemen of this Latin American effort to add a few comments.
MR. MCLARTY: Well, Professor Berger, thank you very much. You're a great trip director as well as a great academician.
Let me just reinforce a couple of points that Sandy made, and instead of beginning with a pop quiz, let me begin with a commentary made by James Reston, that Americans would do almost anything for Latin America, but read about it. So, hopefully, this trip will be positive and helpful in that regard.
Sandy underscored the profound change that has taken place, and I have seen that firsthand in my visits to the region in the last two and a half years. And I think those of you who have not traveled to the region will find indeed a new set of realities in that these countries have truly arrived on the world stage. I think you also will find a maturing and a confident leadership in Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil, and a maturing, more candid relationship with the United States.
Sandy has already pointed out some of the real highlights of each of the individual stops on our visit and the importance of them. I would make only a couple of points in terms of the increasing democratic governance. Throughout Latin America, you clearly find increasing political liberty, but not fully developed democratic institutions. And part of the purpose of this second of three trips to the region by the President is to support this deepening of democracy and these developments of democratic institutions that are so critical in terms of strengthening democracies as well as the economies.
From an economic standpoint, I think you will find increasingly open markets, but not a fully developed infrastructure to support those open markets. So it's important, as the fast track debate underscores, that we keep momentum in the process of open and fair trade throughout this hemisphere and beyond as we move toward our goal of a free trade area by the year 2005.
In terms of human development, clearly, I think you will see an increasing emphasis on lifting those out of poverty with opportunity, with an emphasis on education which I believe will be the centerpiece of the Santiago summit, and a developing middle class.
Now, I think finally what is at stake here from a United States' standpoint -- or what Secretary Albright calls "kitchen table issues" -- issues in this hemisphere that affect the daily lives of Americans. First, on the opportunity, the upside I think primarily is on the economic side including energy. From an economic standpoint, our exports to the region are growing at twice the rate that they are to any other region in the world. By the year 2010, our exports in this hemisphere are expected to be greater than to the European Union and Japan combined.
A couple of examples are noteworthy. We export more to Chile, a country of 14 million people, than we do to India, a country of over 900 million people. We export more to Central America than we do to all of the former Soviet states combined. The point I am making, this is a natural market -- it's an extension of Main Street -- but not a market that we can or should take for granted.
In terms of energy development, I think Sandy covered that in a comprehensive manner, but I would underscore to all of you today how important energy is to our overall economy, as well as our economic and energy security.
Finally, I think, in terms of affecting U.S. citizens' lives on a daily basis, we will see areas of, frankly, challenge and problems, whether it be increased cooperation on narcotics and narcotics trafficking, increased cooperation on the environment and environmental degradation or environmental stewardship, and increased cooperation of terrorism.
The real challenge of what the President will, I think, demonstrate in this trip is to make cooperation work on a sustained basis. That is what clearly is the key from the road that began in Miami at the Summit of the Americans where an architecture was put in place for the road to Santiago in April of 1998.
I think we will hope to accomplish a deepened partnership throughout the hemisphere, a partnership increasingly based on mutual respect and mutual trust. This is not only a discussion of the near-term, but the longer-term. Latin America is a young hemisphere in terms of its demographics. Half of the population in South America is under 17 years of age, and that's really what's at stake here in terms of the longer-term of our relationship. What we hope to accomplish is to deepen not only the partnership, but a true family of the Americas that will impact the families of the Americas in a positive and meaningful way.
With those comments made, Sandy, I will open it up to questions.
Q Sandy, neither one of you specifically mentioned fast track. Do you expect the President to use this trip to build a case for the fast track legislation? And also, on that topic, the Brazilian Ambassador, at a briefing last week, said they really don't care if fast track passes because if it does, that would probably just make them open their markets more. Where does that kind of a reaction play into this whole debate?
MR. BERGER: Well, let me answer the first part and then Mack on the Brazilian question. First of all, Mack -- I specifically heard him talk about fast track, mention fast track. Fast track is extraordinarily important. It is important to our continued growth in a global economy, and whether that's in South America or whether it's in Asia or whether it is sectoral agreements like the recent telecommunication agreement, a mature economy grows by exports and creating jobs through exports.
It is also extraordinarily important in terms of America's leadership position in the world, because the patterns of commerce that are developed through trade also become the patterns of influence and importance in other areas. And as we step out of the game of trade agreements in the past year or two because we haven't had fast track, we've seen South America increasingly looking to Europe, looking to Asia, and economic and political relationships getting developed, which ought to be instead deepening American relationships.
So it's extremely important to us, extremely important to the United States. I'm sure the President will talk about it with each of these leaders. Obviously, the problem we have right now is one that lies with the Congress -- the challenge we have now is one that lies with the Congress, and so he's not going to sit in Buenos Aires and talk about a political debate in the United States. But it is clearly something that is on the mind of Latin American leaders as I think, in part, they see as a reflection of whether or not we are going to continue to lead or whether we are going to withdraw and retreat. And so, I think it has an important symbolic, as well as a very important economic, basis to it.
On the specific Brazilian comment, I think that's not an accurate quote, but let me --
MR. MCLARTY: Terry, let me try to tie the two together very quickly. I think we believe that open markets clearly reinforce open society, so we see the two pillars, two of the three pillars of the Miami Summit -- that is increased democracy and economic integration -- mutually supportive of each other.
We have a region in the hemisphere that wants to move toward economic integration, and it is a natural integration. Fast track is the needed authority to move forward with the next bilateral trade agreement, which is Chile. But I would emphasize that broad fast track authority, as important as it is for leadership in this hemisphere and to preserve and increase our position of leadership, it is broad fast track authority that's also important, as Sandy said, in the Asia Pacific region, as well as from a sectorial and WTO standpoint.
In terms of Brazil, I met with President Cardoso last week, and I had a discussion last night with Ambassador Flecha de Lima from Brazil. I think the comments were some in Brazil would not be disappointed to see that fast track would not be passed. I think President Cardoso will be very supportive of moving toward a free trade area of the Americas by the year 2005. I think Brazil will be supportive of launching negotiations at the Santiago Summit in April. There are obviously some differences of views about how to get there, and we have been consistent, as I was two weeks ago in Sao Paulo, that there are multiple paths, different ways, either bilateral agreements, regional agreements, other mechanisms toward achieving a deepening economic integration.
Q Does the fact that you don't have fast track before going on this trip, which is something that folks had kind of freely talked about before, does that alter the nature of this trip, does it diminish it in any way?
MR. BERGER: No, I don't think so. I think that the leaders and the press and others who will be commenting on this trip follow what's going on very carefully in Washington. They know the President is making a strong effort to get this enacted. We will have had passage to the Senate Finance Committee. Tomorrow, the House Ways and Means Committee will take up a bill in which a bipartisan agreement was achieved early this morning and we're hopeful that the House Ways and Means Committee will adopt this bipartisan bill. So I think that they see a strong effort being made here. They know it's a difficult and challenging debate here in the United States, but I don't see it -- the fact that it's not done, I don't see it having effect.
Q I mean, from the standpoint of the President. He's going there under a different set of circumstances than you had wanted. Does that limit --
MR. MCLARTY: I think -- we're going back to Chile, to Santiago, next year where we hope to launch the negotiations for a free trade area of the Americas. As Mack pointed out, that's not -- there's many ways you can get there. But the effort, hopefully, will be launched in April. I think by that time it will be important for us to have this authority because if others are going to see us as credible in engaging in that discussion beginning in April, obviously it will be important for us to have fast track. I don't see it as that critical to this particular trip, particularly since they will see the President making a very strong effort to get it enacted.
Q Mr. Berger, how will the President approach the human rights issue? Specifically, former President Carter has pointed to a number of abuses -- child labor and other abuses in Brazil, specifically. And when he gets to Argentina, will he talk about the series of murders of journalists and the disappearances of journalists and others that have still gone on there recently?
MR. BERGER: I think unquestionably. As Mack pointed out, these are countries that have come an enormous distance from --you think of what we knew of Argentina or some of these other countries just 10 years ago -- to elected governments, to revival of democracy, but there are still -- in many cases, these are still works in progress, these are imperfect. And I think in every stop the President will talk about helping to solidify democracy, helping to build civil society, helping to establish civil rights and civil liberties and human rights -- it was a very important theme in Miami and it's very important, I think, for the President to raise those issues as he travels through the hemisphere.
Q Do you consider the militaries of the countries that the President's going to be visiting to be now totally under civilian control?
MR. MCLARTY: The answer is, yes, we do. The countries we're visiting clearly have made the transition from an authoritarian military dictatorship in some cases to a civil democracy with open, I think, and fair elections. I have had the opportunity to visit with all of the defense ministers in each of the countries we're traveling to, as well a the presidents, and I think you will clearly find civil control over the military.
Q Mr. Berger, the new military status the United States will give to Argentina during the trip seems to have raised some problems with some neighbors in the Southern Cone -- Brazil, Chile, Peru. Would you care to --
MR. BERGER: I wouldn't describe it as a new military status. There is something called a non-NATO military ally. Let me just finish -- which goes under the enormously difficult to pronounce acronym, NMNA, and we can't give it to many people because we can't pronounce it. (Laughter.) But this is the first time in the post-Cold War period that we have conferred this status -- or actually at this point, we are consulting with Congress, the President's noticed Congress on it -- and this is done primarily, not completely, to recognize Argentina's extraordinary peacekeeping role.
Increasingly, we are cooperating with countries around the world in joint peacekeeping efforts, and I ticked off some of the 16 missions that Argentina has been on over the past several years, from Bosnia to Haiti, to Cyprus to Mozambique, to Cambodia. And so we are peacekeeping allies, and that is what the status means. And I think it is understood by the Argentines in that way and will be understood by others in the hemisphere in that way.
Q What comes with the status? I mean, it's a recognition, but do they get anything in addition to that recognition?
MR. BERGER: There are certain programs that traditionally have been open and available to countries that have this designation -- EDA under the Defense Department, for example. I think it is mainly a reflection of the partnership that we have with Argentina on peacekeeping around the world, and the leadership that they have shown not just in their own hemisphere, but across the world. There are very few countries that have the record that Argentina has in leading on peacekeeping. And this is something we wanted to recognize and to embrace and to encourage.
Q Isn't it creating a new rivalry in the region where you say there is a new harmony --
MR. BERGER: No, I don't believe so. First of all, it will be open to others, this is not something that we would not do again in other circumstances to other countries that are engaged in peacekeeping. Number two, we have very strong relations with all of the countries in the region and particularly all the countries in the Southern Cone, where Argentina resides near Brazil and Chile and others. So I don't believe that needs to be the case.
Q But, Sandy -- not disputing the premise of that, the Brazilians are upset, right? What can you do to --
MR. BERGER: I don't think the Brazilians have been terribly upset. I think the Chileans have expressed some concern about it. But I think as we've explained it to them, I think they've come to understand that this is not a security alliance, it's not a -- they're not the 20th member of NATO. This is a designation to reflect the very close partnership that we have on peacekeeping.
MR. MCLARTY: Well, I think, John, the real issue with the Brazilians has been the U.N. Security Council permanent seat. That has been their primary issue. And our position, and we think the correct one, is the position that Ambassador Richardson laid out, to expand the Permanent Council to 20 to 21 members, but to strongly support a hemispheric seat, but to have a consensus built within the region as to who would occupy that seat if it's permanent or on a rotating basis.
And we covered that in some detail with the Brazilians. I think they understand that position and see it supporting the region. And I think, going back to the earlier question in terms of cooperation regionally, I think the cooperation from a military standpoint is at an unprecedented level in the region, and we certainly have encouraged that and will continue to do so.
Q On the last weekend, will we see the President outline his position on the global climate change? It's coming up in Bonn the next day and he'll have that environmental --
MR. BERGER: I think he'll do that upon his return.
Q He'll wait until he gets back here, he won't do it in --
MR. BERGER: That's what I would expect.
Q Can I ask two questions of Mack about your tenure? One, will you continue in this role on to Santiago as the kind of specialist for Latin America?
MR. MCLARTY: I'm just hoping to make this big trip Sandy outlined and get out of the briefing room.
Q Well, before you get out of the briefing, can I ask you about your tenure to this point, both as former Chief of Staff and as a participant in some of the coffees where the videotapes show that you were one of those that --
MR. MCLARTY: Now, how are you going to tie this into the Latin America agenda, Ann? Go ahead.
Q Did it occur to you when you were a participant in some of these coffees, and you as a former Chief of Staff know how the videotaping works around here, that there would be videotapes of these events, and why they weren't discovered earlier?
MR. MCLARTY: No, I don't know anything about the last part, the videotaping -- the President normally has videotaping most of the places he goes. I, frankly, did not get into that level of detail. As far as the coffees, I understood they were political outreach events.
Q But if the Counsel sends out a memo to all White House staffers saying please come up with anything in your files having to do with these persons and these occasions, would it not occur to somebody especially who had been -- anyone who had been in the Chief of Staff's Office before that there would have been WHCA videotaping of the President's events?
MR. MCLARTY: It certainly did not occur to me. I've certainly tried to comply to any requests that have been made of my office, however, on any data that has been requested and will continue to do so.
Q Mr. Berger, you mentioned that Brazil is the 8th largest economy in the world. That makes it a fairly important participant in the Kyoto Conference. But Brazil is a developing country who has taken a position against significant and binding reductions in greenhouse gases. Do you think that the relative positions of U.S. and Brazil such as they've been formed will come up in the stop in Brasilia?
MR. BERGER: I think that there's no question that the climate change issue will be discussed in Brazil in probably all three meetings. The President has made clear that he believes that developed countries and developing countries each have a responsibility to contribute to the solution of this problem.
We're now in the quickening stages of a discussion leading to Kyoto, and we hope that there can be some greater convergence between our positions and that of some of the other developing countries.
Q Did the visit of President Clinton to South America, it's going to be here in Congress -- the date when the United States has to decide with the European Union about the Helms-Burton law. I wonder if President Clinton is ready to discuss this issue with the South American countries, especially with this clear rejection from Latin America to this unilateral action by the United States.
MR. BERGER: Well, the President has to make, under the law, his own determination. You're referring to the waiver provision of Title III of Helms-Burton.
Q I'm talking about Title IV with the issue of the European Union.
MR. BERGER: In either case, this is a decision the President needs to make. There are 34 countries in the hemisphere, there are 33 democracies. There's one conspicuous omission -- Cuba. We know there are disagreements within the hemisphere about how best to proceed, but we believe that within the hemisphere other countries share our objective of seeing a democratic Cuba. I don't imagine this will be the centerpiece of any of the discussions, but it's not inconceivable that it will come up.
Q -- that the U.S. and Brazil will be making regarding drug trafficking?
MR. BERGER: I don't want to get into the specifics of any particular announcement that we may be making on the trip. Let's wait until we get to Brazil and we'll go into more detail.
Q On the different roads to hemispheric integration that Mr. McLarty mentioned, while Brazil has stated its position, it's very skeptical regarding -- and it is at least on that time frame that has been suggested in vice ministerial negotiations. Also, in Brazil, some of those tensions have been interpreted as the United States having difficulty to adapt to a situation where now in the hemisphere there are new expressions of leadership of democratic countries around especially Mercosur. You and others have made statements to the fact that the United States supports Mercosur, finds Mercosur a good thing.
I'd like to ask you this. Do you think this trip would be an opportunity for the President to reaffirm that and if the United States finds Mercosur such a good idea, to suggest that other countries -- to President Cardoso -- to suggest to them to welcome other South American countries into Mercosur if those countries so wish?
MR. MCLARTY: I think you will find President Clinton with President Cardoso and President Menem, both countries members of Mercosur, discussing in a positive way the positive contribution that Mercosur has made. I think our position has been that as long as regional trading groups, including the Andean Pact, CARICOM, the NAFTA, the Central American Common Market, are trade-enhancing and do not divert trade or distort trade. We believe that is a positive step toward the goal of an FTAA or a free trade area by the year 2005.
I think also you will find both President Menem and President Cardoso strongly supportive of achieving this goal of economic integration by the time line. As far as additional membership in Mercosur, I do not expect that to come up in terms of our President's participation.
Q Mr. Berger, if I could I'd like to take a quick detour to another issue, and that's the Persian Gulf overseeing increased tensions. My first question is, is the U.S. stepping up surveillance flights in Southern Iraq, and why are we seeing increased tensions over this past week?
MR. BERGER: Well, there was, as you know, I think earlier this week, Sunday or Monday, some incursions into Iraq by Iranian planes, which attacked anti-Iranian terrorists bases in Iraq. In response to that, there was some activity on the part of the Iraqi Air Force, which may have violated the no-fly zone, which we enforce in Iraq, both in the south and in the north. And we've made it quite clear that we continue to enforce a no-fly zone, that it is -- was created in order to assure that the U.N. Security Council resolutions which protect Iraq's neighbors from Iraq's aggression or Iraq's people from its repression would be complied with.
And we do that in concert with allies, and we will continue to do that. And to the extent that there are future violations of the no-fly zone which are -- those planes are subject to action by coalition planes.
Q Any today?
MR. BERGER: I don't know whether -- I haven't got a report from today.
Q What about the reports that we are increasing the number of over-flights on southern Iraq? Is that -- are those reports correct?
MR. BERGER: We'll do what is necessary to apply the no-fly zone. I'm not going to, basically, get into up-tempo here, but we have always, we have since the Gulf War, and we will continue to do so.
Q I'm sorry, but one last question. Does that no-fly zone apply to Iranian planes violating Iraqi airspace also?
MR. BERGER: A no-fly zone is a no-fly zone.
Q Mr. Berger, narco traffic is going to be one of the main issues discussed on the trip. For many years, the government of the United States and President Samper of Colombia have had very cool relations, and that's calling it mildly. All of a sudden, General McCaffrey, as soon as this trip is over, will be in Colombia, will meet with President Samper. There has been an articles, The Washington Post for one, saying there was a deep division between certain agencies of the U.S. government on whether this meeting should take place. You, as National Security Advisor -- what is the logic or the reasoning behind --
MR. BERGER: There have been -- we have not changed our position with respect to President Samper. He's been denied visas to the United States. He will continue to be denied visas to the United States. And we've made very clear our position. The fact is that Colombia is a major drug supplier, that we have a very substantial antidrug, counterdrug program in Colombia, and that we have continued to maintain contact with President Samper for that purpose -- that is, to intensify the effort in fighting the drug war and preventing drugs from entering the United States. And it is in that context and solely in that context that General McCaffrey is meeting with President Samper, as other administration officials have over the past year, for this same purpose.
Q Mr. Berger, today you met the leader of Northern Ireland's biggest political party. Are you any more optimistic after that meeting that the peace talks in Belfast will come to a lasting peace settlement?
MR. BERGER: I think that this is an historic and perhaps unique opportunity that exists right now in Northern Ireland. By virtue of the leadership of the two countries involved -- i.e, England and Ireland -- by virtue of the decisions that have been taken by the IRA to reinitiate the cease-fire, by virtue of decisions, Mr. Trimble, who I met with today, made to come into these talks -- the right decision -- I think there is the potential here that hasn't existed for a long time and may not exist for a long time after this to end this bloody war that has so savaged that portion of the world.
And I think when the President was in Belfast and in Northern Ireland a few years ago -- some of you were with him -- with 500,000 or 600,000 or 700,000 people coming out in the streets -- and every one, by the way, of the Irish leaders who comes to meet with me talk about that as being a defining moment, because they looked around and they said, our people want peace. There's no question in my mind that the people of Northern Ireland -- Protestant, Catholic -- want peace. And now we hope that the leaders of Northern Ireland, leaders of the various parties under the direction of former Senator Mitchell in these talks will seize this opportunity, because I am afraid it will not come back again for a very long time.
Q There is today a report in The New York Times on the front page regarding the execution, the vanishing of U.S. citizens in the border area with Mexico. I wonder if the United States government is trying to force or have some pressure over the Mexican government of the investigation of these supposed to be executions, made by the police of Mexico and also from the military.
MR. BERGER: I found that a very disturbing story and intend to look into it more fully. We have never denied, nor has President Zedillo the fact that Mexico has a deadly serious drug problem which is eating at its institutions like a cancer. And the argument that's taken place in this country is whether we should cooperate with Mexico in trying to deal with the problem, or whether we shouldn't cooperate with Mexico in trying to deal with the problem. But I think there is no -- President Zedillo is the most articulate and eloquent spokesman for the proposition that this is the number one national security issue -- the number one issue, period, that his country faces.
So there is a serious problem, and it is corrupting many of the institutions of Mexico, which is why President Zedillo, for example, is creating an entirely new drug police to replace the old. And I believe that together, through the alliance that we formed with Mexico when the President was in Mexico City, that we can make progress. And the fact is that if General McCaffrey were here rather than in Colombia, he would I think explain very persuasively how substantially our cooperation has increased even in the past several months. So it's a serious problem, we need to work on it together with the Mexicans.
As to the specifics of that report, I need to find out more about them, but they're disturbing.
Q Mr. McLarty, coming back to Colombia, it still is very strange to visit somebody you don't want to see at your own house. Could it be seen as the beginning of the end of the isolation of --
MR. MCLARTY: I think we have been consistent in trying to support those forces in Colombia who are fighting a courageous battle against narcotics and narcotics traffickers. I think Mr. Berger has spoken to the overall relationship with President Samper and with Colombia, but I think the general support of the drug efforts in Colombia have been consistent with our policy in the past.
Q Well, is Samper one of those people who is fighting a courageous battle?
MR. BERGER: I think it was a judgment of General McCaffrey that this would be a useful meeting in terms of his mission, which is fighting drugs, and his judgment's been pretty darn good so far. He's not there to have tea and coffee -- tea and crumpets.
Q You haven't mentioned at all advanced weapon sales. Following the President's decision to do this on a case by case basis, to what extent is this going to come up at these three stops?
MR. BERGER: It conceivably may come up. It's principally an issue right now for Chile, of course, which we're not going to until April -- Mack has us going to Latin America about every six weeks.
MR. MCLARTY: The President does. (Laughter.)
MR. BERGER: But I think it's important to understand what the President decided. Basically, we had a policy for Latin America that was different than our policy for the rest of the world. And as this revolution has taken place in Latin America, as they have become democracies, as they have become more modern economically, as they have established in most cases civilian control over the military, the notion that we would not entertain the possibility of helping to modernize their air forces increasingly became obsolete. All that meant was the Russians or others would sell them the planes and not us.
All the President has decided is that he is lifting the prohibition which says that we won't look at this, and we will take these on a case by case basis and look to see whether or not this is modernization, whether or not there is clearly civilian control, what it will do to the balance of power in the region, et cetera. And as we do that, we will equally press for confidence-building measures in the hemisphere through the OAS and other institutions, greater transparency among the countries of the region so that they have a greater degree of knowledge about what each of them are doing in the military modernization area. But a number of these countries have reached the point where they're going to modernize their air forces and in appropriate circumstances, we ought to consider participating in that. We have a greater degree of control over the context if we do.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:03 P.M. EDT