THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY AMBASSADOR JIM DOBBINS, NSC SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR INTERAMERICAN AFFAIRS
The Briefing Room
5:07 P.M. EDT
COLONEL CROWLEY: Good afternoon. There's no truth to the rumor starting in the back of the room that the next Press Secretary will be an elected office, in which case I'm off to an early lead. (Laughter.) But we had a very important meeting this afternoon with President Alberto Fujimori of Peru and President Jamil Mahuad of Ecuador, who asked to come here to see President Clinton this afternoon to try to bridge the remaining differences on a dispute -- longstanding dispute between the two countries. Here to give you a readout of that meeting is Ambassador Jim Dobbins, our Senior Director within the National Security Council for Interamerican Affairs.
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Thank you. The United States has been heavily engaged in seeking to broker a peace agreement between Peru and Ecuador since the last outbreak of actual military conflict between the two in 1995. We appointed a special ambassador for the purpose. President Clinton also sent a personal envoy down to the region to help begin negotiations. He himself has met a number of times with Peruvian and Ecuadoran leaders on the subject. He met, not counting today, three times with President Fujimori on this issue, and he met with three successive Presidents of Ecuador for the same purpose.
Earlier this week, the Presidents of Peru and Ecuador asked to come see President Clinton because they felt that his personal involvement in the process again at this time was essential to moving it to a successful conclusion.
On Wednesday, he spoke twice by telephone with President Cardoso, who was meeting with the two leaders that day, to ask Cardoso's assessment as to how close they were to an agreement and whether a meeting here in Washington was indeed an important part of the process, and Cardoso spoke to the two Presidents, called President Clinton back, said he thought they were, indeed, very close, that they were absolutely serious, and that a meeting in Washington was essential in his, Cardoso's, judgment, and urged that the President agree, which he did.
The two Presidents in the meeting today both expressed thanks to President Clinton for the role that the United States has played to date, which includes not just the efforts on the diplomatic front, but the dispatching of units of military personnel to a peace-keeping operation, which has operated in the disputed zone since 1995, and which continues to do so.
They both said essentially the same thing, that they had established a good personal relationship. And it was clear from both what they said and also from the personal vibes and the way they looked at each other and regarded each other and spoke of each other, that they have, indeed, established a warm, personal relationship. They've met personally six times on this issue in the last few weeks. For instance, just last weekend they met for six hours together in New York, and then for 10 hours in Washington just a week ago -- last weekend. So they clearly have put a lot of personal investment into this process. They said they have made a lot of progress. And I think the fact sheet we gave you, as well as the statement, delineates the areas where there have been progress.
There have been three of four agreements that have been signed on border integration, on freedom of navigation in the Amazon and other things, which they have been able to agree to and put aside as part of an ultimate package. What they had not been able to agree on yet is an actual delineation of the disputed territory along the border.
This is an issue of sovereignty. It's keenly felt in both societies. It's an issue of longstanding duration, going back hundreds of years to colonial times. It's led to repeated conflicts. Both societies have a tremendous amount invested in this. And the leaders are looking for a process which will help both societies get over this and reconcile them and allow them to move forward together.
Both of them said that they felt that the work of the four guarantors -- that is to say, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and the United States -- guarantors to the 1942 Rio Protocol, which last sought to settle this issue -- has been essential and will be even more essential -- and in particular that of President Clinton and the other three leaders.
They asked President Clinton, as they had asked President Cardoso earlier this week, for the guarantors to put forward a proposal designed to resolve the remaining differences over the disputed territorial zone. And they explained that it was important for their own publics to appreciate that the sacrifices, which would need to be made, and the agreement and compromise which would result, was something that was endorsed by the guarantors and personally by President Clinton and by the other leaders; and that this was essential to securing the necessity parliamentary and public support in their societies.
President Clinton said he was pleased and proud of the role that he and the other guarantors have been able to play to date. He felt that the process they had established was in many ways a model and that he would be pleased to consult with the other guarantor leaders with a view to giving them the proposal that they requested.
Q How long did their meeting last with the President?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: It was scheduled to go 30 minutes, and as usual, it probably went a few minutes over, but not much.
Q Mr. Ambassador, you mentioned that they asked the guarantors to put forth the proposal. Was there any commitment to whether or not they would accept whatever is put forward, or how was that left?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think that they -- they clearly intend to do so. I think the issue is securing the necessary parliamentary support. This will require ratification in both countries. And they will -- and they clearly are going to go home and consult their political constituencies.
Q Is there a chance of any kind of incentives being provided by the United States for accepting whatever proposal is put on the --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: There wasn't any discussion of incentives, but that was partially because the agreements that they've already signed -- I'm sorry -- the agreements to which they've already concluded, but not yet signed -- because they'll be part of an overall package on water integration and on freedom of navigation and there's a third in the handout which I don't recall at the moment -- do have components of international support which will be forthcoming, which haven't been committed yet, but which they know will be forthcoming from the IDB, from the World Bank, and from other donor countries -- in order to contribute to a region which has been a source of conflict, to move toward a situation where that becomes an open border, where commerce can flow, where infrastructure can be built up, where oil from one country can be pipelined to the other country and thus out.
There are a lot of very promising things -- the World Bank, the IDB -- Interamerican Development Bank -- and the United States government will be prepared to contribute to those kinds of projects. So I think they're very aware that if they can -- and they said in the conversation they recognized that this would be of enormous not only political and practical benefit to them, but of economic benefit, both in terms of the revenues which they won't have to spend on defense, and on the additional investment and profits from integration of their economies.
Q Is there a concrete proposal from the United States?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No, they asked for one and we said, in consultation, that we would consult with the other guarantors with a view to providing one. So we're not yet at the stage of providing a concrete proposal, but they have asked us to do so. And subject to the agreement of the other three guarantors, we will do so.
Q So you will negotiate it, or you have already an idea -- the United States has already an idea?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Well, we're very familiar with the issue, as are everybody. I mean, we've been negotiating over this for four years. So we have an understanding of the issue. No, we don't -- at this stage we don't have in the back of our minds that we know exactly what we're going to give as proposal.
Q Is the creation of a national park one of the options?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: That has been part of the negotiation. I mean, I can't tell you what our proposal is because we haven't formulated it. But the creation of a national -- of a sort of a binational park in this area has been one of the elements that have been talked about by both sides.
Q Mr. Dobbins, President Clinton spoke this week with President Menem --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: He spoke with Menem on Monday, that's right.
Q He spoke twice with Cardoso on the phone. Is he going to call President Frei of Chile and --
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think that President Cardoso has spoken to President Frei of Chile on this subject. And we were in touch yesterday with the Chilean Foreign Minister, who is here in town.
Q How long do you foresee it taking to consult to the point where they could come up with an actual proposal?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think it -- I mean, I think that once we've -- given this undertaking, it can happen fairly quickly. I wouldn't want to put a time limit on it, but there's been a lot of groundwork done. So I don't think that that will be a time-consuming process.
Q What's the next step? What happens next?
AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The next step will be to complete the consultation among the four guarantors and for President Cardoso, as the coordinator of the four guarantors, to respond to this request -- to respond procedurally to the request -- that is, to say, yes, we will give you a proposal. Then, obviously, beyond that is getting the proposal. But the first thing is to give them a yes or no answer to their request. I anticipate the answer being yes, but that won't come from us, and it will take a little while to get.
Q -- this a rotation for Cardoso --
MR. DOBBINS: No, the Brazilians -- the Rio Protocol, which this is all based, was signed in Rio -- obviously, as the name applies. And they have acted ever since as the coordinators of the guarantors. And President Cardoso has personally put a great deal of effort into this, as has President Clinton and the other leaders.
Q Was their any request by President Clinton to both Presidents to respect a kind of gentleman's agreement in regard of acquisition of arms during all this period? Because they have sometimes done that. They are both -- one's from Argentina and the other, from other sources, acquiring arms right now.
MR. DOBBINS: The issue didn't come up. The issue has been addressed previously. And we have urged restraint on both sides, with some success, but not complete. It didn't come up here. And, frankly, I think both leaders were sufficiently optimistic and sufficiently committed to lead us to believe that this process will not take a long time. Now, I cannot put that in words for you. I think President Mahuad one point talked about, publicly about finishing this by the end of this year. That seems to us to be realistic.
Q Is the President willing to invest more of his time as needed to bring this to closure?
MR. DOBBINS: Absolutely.
END 5:17 P.M. EDT