THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY AMBASSADOR JIM DOBBINS, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL FOR INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
COLONEL CROWLEY: Good afternoon. Welcome to the White House briefing room. To begin this afternoon's festivities, the first day of Mike McCurry's well-deserved vacation -- to start off, we have Ambassador Jim Dobbins, the Senior Director of the National Security Council for Inter-American Affairs, to give a readout of the very successful meeting that President Clinton had today with President-elect Pastrana of Colombia.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Thank you. The President-elect Pastrana brought along his nominees for foreign minister, defense minister, ambassador to the United States. On our side, participants included Madeleine Albright, Janet Reno, Barry McCaffrey, and Sandy Berger. The meeting lasted about half an hour. It was intended purely as a get-acquainted session and in fact lasted about twice as long as scheduled.
Pastrana opened the meeting by introducing himself and talking a bit about his background. He's the first democratically elected mayor of Bogota; he had been kidnapped by drug traffickers in the course of that campaign back in the early '80s, as I recall. He ran for President in '94 and lost and he ran again this year and won. He talked about his major priorities. He said there were three. One was ending Colombia's long-running civil conflict; the second was ending drug trafficking; and the third was stimulating the economy. He noted the first two of those were inextricably linked since the drug cultivation and trafficking generally took place in the areas where the insurgency was most active.
The President expressed admiration for the courage Pastrana had shown in his election and in his steps immediately after the election. Pastrana had mentioned -- sorry, in his opening presentation, that he had met with the leaders of the largest of the insurgent groups at a private meeting, alone in the jungle about three weeks ago.
The President said that the United States wanted to support an integrated approach to the problems of drug trafficking and Colombia's -- and bringing peace, ending Colombia's civil conflict. I think the details of the sorts of things that we believe are important for such an integrated approach and the kinds of assistance that the United States is prepared to provide are specified in the press statement that was released at the end of the visit.
The President concluded by inviting President Pastrana to return to Washington for a state visit later this fall.
Q Lift the sanctions?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: There are no sanctions on Colombia. Colombia was certified with a national interest waiver in March of this year. Previously, it had been decertified. Decertification brings with it the possibility of sanctions and a few automatic ones -- the most important automatic one being that you have to vote against loans in the international financial institutions like the IDB. There were no additional sanctions put on during the period it was decertified. There were steps taken against President Samper personally in the sense that his U.S. visa was revoked.
Q Couldn't come here.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: He could come in an official capacity, but he couldn't come in a personal capacity. This is all just by way of history -- all of this was rendered moot by the national interest waiver, which was put into effect in March of this year. So there are no sanctions or steps taken against Colombia. And the fact that Colombia is now in that category provides I think both governments the opportunity for a new start. And I think both Presidents --
Q Will they withdraw the waiver if there's no need for it?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The certification process requires an annual process of certification, during which you have one of three choices: full certification, certification with a national interest waiver, or decertification. And this is done in March of each year -- and Colombia, like Mexico and the other countries --
Q But if you have full certification then you don't need the waiver. You need the waiver -- it's like China. Their human rights policy is awful, but we certified them anyway.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The legislation is subtlely different. They're basically -- the way the legislation is written there are two bases for certification. One is that they're fully cooperating; the other is that you have a national interest. You can assert either reason; the effect is identical. And you have to do that annually. So, yes, there certainly would be a possibility of certifying full cooperation next March. But you'd still have to do that a year after that. It's an annual process.
Q -- declare victory right there.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: But the issue of sanctions wasn't -- let me just clarify. The issue of sanctions was not raised -- or certification -- that issue didn't come up in the meeting.
Q Mr. Dobbins, this famous drug center we keep hearing about in talks with the Panamanian government -- did you discuss that with President-elect Pastrana?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: It was not discussed in the President's meeting. Now, President-elect Pastrana and his team are over at the State Department as we speak. He's meeting with Madeleine Albright and an interagency group from all of the interagencies that are involved in Colombia, and I would expect that that subject would come up as part of those discussions. But it didn't come up in the President's meeting.
Q How are the conversations with Panama coming along on the drug center?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: We issued some statements on that about three weeks ago after principals met. There have been no developments since then. The Colombian government has been helpful in terms of its support for the purpose -- for the establishment of such a center. They have communicated that to the government of Panama. And I would anticipate the new Colombian government would be likewise. But there hasn't been any movement in discussions with the Panamanians.
Q When does he take office?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: August 7th.
Q Does the President like him? Does President Clinton like him?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think they established a good relationship. They hadn't met previously.
Q What date for the state visit?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The fall.
Q Is there a month?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No. But essentially in the next four months.
Q Was the subject of Chiquita payoffs to Colombian officials raised at all?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No.
Q What did he ask?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Chiquita payoffs to Colombian officials? No. In fact, I'll have to go back and find out what the story is myself, The first I've heard of it. It certainly wasn't raised.
Q Did Colombia's President-elect suggest holding a drug conference in Bogota?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No. He talked about his meeting with the largest of the insurgent groups. He said that they had agreed to participate in a peace process which would begin within 90 days of his taking office. He did not talk about a conference. He did talk about discussions he'd had here, or was going to have here, with the Inter-American Development Bank to try to put together a $100 million program for alternative development, which would be important if a peace process were to move forward.
Q He did speak of a possible drug summit in Bogota, and invited the U.S. and Colombia to hold a drug summit, a meeting --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I don't think so. I mean, he said -- at one point, he said, I'd like to invite you to Colombia. The President, in turn, invited him back to Washington.
Q Well, in the statement he gave us outside, he did mention --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: He may have been more clear in his statement to you than in the meeting, then.
Q Was any possibility of crop substitution payments discussed, encouraging farmers to do that?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Yes. That's this $100 million program of alternative development. And that's -- alternative development is just a term of art for that, and we are supportive of that. It's worked very effectively in Peru and Bolivia and we would like to help participate in the program in Colombia.
Q Before Barca who was the President, do you recall?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I don't. Sorry.
Q Reagan was there and -- he was a nice looking man.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: -- was the President before Samper, who is now the Secretary General of the OAS. My background doesn't go back that far, I'm afraid.
Q But when I asked the President-elect out here about if he wants the sanctions lifted, he said, yes. So apparently, he either, A, didn't know there were no sanctions -- (laughter.)
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: If there were, he certainly wanted them lifted. (Laughter.)
Q -- something he overlooked --
Q He figured you knew what you were talking about. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
END 1:30 P.M. EDT