THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JIM DOBBINS, NSC SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR INTER-AMERICAN AFFAIRS The Briefing Room
1:00 P.M. EST
MR. DOBBINS: There will be a written statement by the press spokesman, which, if you haven't gotten it already, you should get by the time the briefing is finished, which will repeat some of what I've got and maybe go into more details on a couple of things. But let me just go through the meeting.
As usual, it occurred in two sections, restricted in the Oval and then a large session in the Cabinet Room. Menem opened by expressing his strong support for President Clinton and for the leadership he's provided. President Clinton responded by expressing similar appreciation for Argentine leadership on a number of issues, noted that Argentina will be on the Security Council for the coming year which provided an opportunity for them --
Q Did this take place in the bilateral?
MR. DOBBINS: Yes, this is in the Oval Office. I'll let you know when we move to the next room.
President Clinton noted that Argentina would be on the Security Council for the next year which would give them an opportunity to intensify their partnership. He talked a bit about the situation with respect to Iraq and the Security Council and the need to ensure that we didn't face the situation in which the inspection regime was a sham. President Menem promised full Argentine support on that and other issues.
President Menem briefed the President in some detail on his visit to the United Kingdom and on the state of the UK-Argentine relationship, noting in this connection the importance Argentina attached to progress which they hope to see in discussions with the United Kingdom regarding the Malvinas-Falklands.
There was a brief mention of the importance of U.S.-Argentine cooperation in the areas of terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering. President Clinton noted -- asked President Menem whether he had met the newly-elected President-elect of Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez, and if so, what he thought of him. Menem said that he had indeed recently met with Chavez, had been favorably impressed, thought he wanted to do well, but would need external support and urged that the United States also talk to Chavez.
President Clinton noted that Venezuela was very important to the United States as our principal external source of energy. Both the President and the Vice President thanked President Menem for leadership he and Argentina have played in the issue of global climate change.
Secretary Rubin came in to the meeting a little late, and there was a discussion at this point of the global economic situation. President Menem expressed satisfaction that despite the global economic slowdown, the growth rate in Argentina would be 4.5 percent this year. He noted also that the inflation rate was down to 1.1 percent over the last three years, which stood in contrast to the inflation rate when he took office, which was 5000 percent.
There was a discussion about the importance of external support for Brazil in this situation, in order to ensure that the Asian economic crisis didn't spread to Latin America. And at that point the smaller meeting broke up and the Presidents moved to the Cabinet Room, where there was a broader discussion with a number of additional Cabinet members.
There, there was a mention of the goal of an open-skies agreement. And as you'll see in the written statement that we will circulate, the two sides have agreed to a timetable for establishing an open-skies agreement between the two countries. President Clinton mentioned -- talked about the Argentine role as the coordinator, beginning in 2000, of the free trade area of the Americas negotiation -- Argentina will be in the chair -- and said that he would be seeking congressional fast track authorization in the coming year.
He asked Ambassador Barshefsky to say a few words on trade. Ambassador Barshefsky mentioned the issue of intellectual property protection, particularly as regards pharmaceuticals. This is one of the few areas where we and Argentina have had differences, and we went over that issue once again. The problem, frankly, tends to be not with the Menem administration, but with the Argentine Congress which has resisted passing adequate legislating safeguarding pharmaceutical patents.
There was also a discussion of intellectual property changes in the Argentine customs code which would create categories by which intellectual property and electronic commerce could be subject to customs duties. The Argentine side made clear that they do not intend to apply such customs duties to these categories of commerce and that they thought that they could fully respond to Ambassador Barshefsky's questions when the two ministers -- that is their Foreign Minister and Ambassador Barshefsky -- met tomorrow.
The President asked Deputy Secretary of Defense Hamre, who is representing Mr. Cohen who is -- Secretary Cohen is out of the country at the moment -- to talk a bit about the security and peacekeeping relationship. Mr. Hamre said that he had been surprised when he went over his briefing material at the depth of the U.S.-Argentine partnership. He noted that in the peacekeeping area, Argentina was actually the senior partner, having made a greater contribution to international peacekeeping than even the United States. Argentina is, in fact, the largest contributor to international peacekeeping in the Western Hemisphere.
He also talked about the leadership of Argentina in providing police to --
Q Over the years or --
MR. DOBBINS: At the moment. And over the last several years. I mean, it's not just an aberration. But the figures are current.
He also expressed appreciation for the Argentine lead in providing police to U.N. peacekeeping operations, which in many situations are even more valuable than troops, since, in many cases it is the police -- it's the absence of adequate police protection and adequately-trained police that create the instabilities. And, finally, he expressed appreciation -- Mr. Hamre -- for Argentine leadership in promoting transparency and openness in global arms transfers. In this connection, he was praising Argentina's leadership in promoting a hemispheric convention on transparency in arms transfers.
And, finally, General Shelton said that he simply wanted to second what Secretary Hamre had said and also add appreciation for the two agreements which Argentina and the United States would be signing during this visit. One of these has to do with the transfer of classified information, an agreement that provides mechanisms for transferring classified information; and the second is a cross-servicing agreement -- that is an agreement which allows the United States to support logistically, Argentine peacekeeping deployments. And that, I think, pretty much --
Q Did impeachment come up?
MR. DOBBINS: Not directly. I mean, you could -- Menem opened by expressing close, personal support for the President in this difficult situation. And the President said he hoped that the situation would be over soon.
Q Why is there no joint press conference today, that the President has always held with visitors in official state visits before?
MR. DOBBINS: You'll have to ask Joe. That's not an NSC decision. He'll be on shortly and --
Q Well, then, let me ask another question. Forgive my ignorance, but what's an open-skies agreement? In 1956, President Eisenhower proposed one with the Soviet Union --
MR. DOBBINS: I think this is a different --
Q I understand that. But what is this?
MR. DOBBINS: Open-skies is a term of art in the area of civil aviation, which means that instead of a negotiated balance in air traffic between the two countries -- you know, you have one airline that come into my country, and I have one into yours -- each side says that you can have as many airlines and as many flights to any cities you want in my country, and you give me the same rights. In other words, you go away from the negotiated tit-for-tat to something, to a free commerce in air traffic.
Q Is that still being negotiated?
MR. DOBBINS: There is a timetable in which the two Presidents asked for negotiations to be concluded by March.
Q Let me just clarify what you were saying about the remarks regarding impeachment. President Menem just said, expressed support for the President during this time of trouble? I mean, how did he phrase it, do you remember?
MR. DOBBINS: I don't even know that he averted to anything. He just said, I want to express my strong personal support and solidarity at this time.
Q And the President said something to the effect about he hoped it would be over soon?
MR. DOBBINS: Something to that effect.
Q So it was something that Menem -- was it directly in response to that Menem statement or --
MR. DOBBINS: Yes. I mean, Menem said a few more sentences beyond that, and the President responded to that effect.
Q He must have alluded somehow to impeachment for the President to --
MR. DOBBINS: The context made it clear enough, although it wasn't more specific than I've suggested.
Q What commitments, if any, were made regarding the Malvinas, the Argentine position --
MR. DOBBINS: There were no commitments. They explained their position. They expressed the hope that we would urge the UK to make progress in the negotiations, and the United States has traditionally taken the position that we very much hoped that these two close friends of ours will be able to overcome their differences, and the President said we would continue to encourage that.
Q Would you say that when President Menem said he supports the President, he was not, in any way, asking the Senate not to remove him from office? Is that correct?
MR. DOBBINS: I don't think one should read more into this exchange than what I've said.
Q I feel for you, I feel your pain and that sort of thing?
MR. DOBBINS: He just said, I want to express my strong personal support and solidarity at this time.
Q One other question. Was there any discussion of what I understand -- and I know you'll correct me if I'm wrong -- Fidel Castro was in Spain at the time they issued a subpoena for Pinochet. Did they discuss that, and the number of people killed by Castro as compared to Pinochet?
MR. DOBBINS: No, I think is the answer. (Laughter.)
Q They did not discuss that at all? They're not concerned about --
MR. DOBBINS: They did not discuss Pinochet, it didn't come up.
Q On trade, is there any sort of schedule of increasing imports of Argentine beef or any other kinds of --
MR. DOBBINS: Argentine beef now has entry into the United States. Menem expressed the hope that this would improve their balance of trade.
Q But nothing specific within the talks of improving the schedule or accelerating the schedule of --
Q At the expense of the cattle ranchers in this country --
MR. DOBBINS: No. It was Menem expressing appreciation for the fact that Argentine beef and citrus now had access to the United States.
Q And, Mr. Dobbins, when you speak of the Free Trade Agreement, the President said you mean, this year, 1999, he's going to ask Congress for fast track authority?
MR. DOBBINS: Yes.
Q Can you please elaborate a little more on the issue of external support for -- what exactly was discussed regarding -- there have been any changes in support since the state declared a moratorium. What's going on in terms of --
MR. DOBBINS: It wasn't more specific than what I said, that Secretary Rubin just expressed the importance of supporting Brazil and Brazilian reforms as a way of insulating the Western Hemisphere from the global economic turndown that's taken place elsewhere.
Q How long were the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room conversations?
MR. DOBBINS: I'd say the Oval Office probably about 45 minutes and the Cabinet Room about half an hour.
Q Did President Clinton raise the Jorge Cavesas killing? He has in the past and President Menem suggested he would look into the killing of the photojournalist Jorge Cavesas in Argentina?
MR. DOBBINS: It didn't come up.
Q When President Clinton asked President Menem about Chavez, is President-elect Chavez coming to the United States soon?
MR. DOBBINS: Nothing scheduled. I wouldn't exclude it at some point, but it's not on the schedule at the moment.
Q What about negotiations on the UK?
Q Did President Menem speak about any projected impact on Argentina's economy because of the slowdown there?
MR. DOBBINS: Not really. I mean, I think the importance of Brazil was implicit in what they both said about it, but they didn't avert to it specifically.
Q Is President Menem's daughter with him on this official visit?
MR. DOBBINS: No.
Q Are there other Latin American countries with open-skies agreements in --
MR. DOBBINS: I don't believe there are at the moment. I think if we actually conclude this, I think we're seeking them with other countries, but I don't think we've actually concluded one with anyone yet.
Q What's going on on the Falklands? Is Britain going to give up the Falklands?
MR. DOBBINS: Well, what's going on in U.K.-Argentine relations is a considerable warming. Menem visited London; the British have dropped the arms embargo on Argentina. I've seen press reports indicating that Prince Charles is planning on visiting Argentina as a formal visit, so there's been a very substantial warming of the relationship, and the British have dropped the arms embargo in Argentina, which I think has a major symbolic importance.
On the Malvinas itself, the British have indicated that this is something that they're not prepared to negotiate or decide on without -- over the objections of the islanders, and so on that specific issue, there remains a difference between the two sides.
Q But did Menem ask President Clinton that the U.S. should ask Great Britain to continue to talk on the subject?
MR. DOBBINS: Yes, that's what he sought, and our answer to that is we will continue to encourage both of these close friends to resolve their differences with each other directly.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EST