THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Guatemala City, Guatemala) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release March 10, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER, ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS PETER ROMERO, COMMISSIONER OF IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE, DORIS MEISSNER, AND PRESS SECRETARY JOE LOCKHART
5:40 P.M. (L)
MR. LEAVY: Good evening. The briefing will begin. We have the National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, to give a readout of the President's bilats today. Acting Assistant Secretary Peter Romero will give a sense of the commission and some Guatemala specific facts. And then they'll take your questions. Joining them will be Commissioner Doris Meissner, of Immigration and Naturalization Service. Actually, and Joe will follow with any cleanup if you guys have any, if there's some questions.
MR. BERGER: Let me briefly review the President's meeting this morning with President Calderon Sol and then his brief meeting with President-elect Flores, after the speech.
Obviously, President Calderon Sol was very grateful to the President for having made this trip. He launched into a series of issues that were very much on his mind, starting with immigration. Commissioner Meissner is here to answer questions you may have in that area. But basically he said that our policy, the United States policy was inconsistent, treated different countries differently, and that rather than bringing the hemisphere together it was creating unnecessary divisions.
He said that there was a certain irony in the nature of our law. It treated governments that -- it treated Nicaraguans in one fashion, but countries that have been the victim of repression from the right a different way. He said this was rather ironic for him, he's a right-of-center leader and did not feel that that distinction which has been drawn in our law was justifiable.
He raised the question of the deportation of those who had been convicted of crime in the United States from Central America, as well as a treaty that he sought to enact here -- well not here -- there, in El Salvador, which would enable the sentence to be of someone who was convicted to be served in El Salvador.
The second topic he brought up was trade. It has been, I think, interesting to me to hear the strength with which the leaders in each of these countries have talked about the Caribbean Basin Initiative, even more than the funding issue, because what they face now is a gigantic economic problem caused by the hurricane, with thousands of jobs decimated and the need for new capital and new investment. And he repeated what President Flores had said to us yesterday, that this is their most important concern.
There was some discussion of the sugar quota and of making credit available for agricultural sector. He talked about wanting to be a strong partner with the United States on fighting drugs. It's clear to me in the last year or two years that the nature of the drug discussion between us and Latin America has changed. As these countries have seen the ravages of drug usage, the nature of their concerns have changed -- they're not simply transit countries, they're now victim countries -- and as they've seen narco-traffickers try to corrupt their officials. And he was very forthcoming and very forward-leading in terms of wanting to work together on the drug problem.
He talked about regional cooperation, a subject that he has spoken about with us before, and that he feels very strongly about the need for a greater degree of regionalism within Central America. And one of the reasons that they want CBI, one of the reasons they want the FTAA to go forward is to facilitate that integration.
That was essentially it. The President in response said, as he has before, that he felt our laws were inequitable, that he has tried to make the changes that are feasible administratively, and that he will continue to work with Congress to try to make some other changes that would make the treatment of countries more similar.
Similarly, on CBI, he said that he had proposed what he thought was the best possible bill that had a reasonable chance of passage, that we intended to work for that bill very hard, and that he was hopeful, the President, that we would be able to enact it this year.
The only other thing I'd mention is, after the speech, President-elect Flores came by to see the President. I think he's 39 -- these guys get younger and younger. He said that the President's speech had been extraordinarily important -- as he looked across the hall and he saw people who had shot at each other and who had been at war with each other not so long ago. What the President did was to validate the process of peace and to -- his phrase -- and to make them feel as if they were on the right course, and to give them some further impetus to move forward, and he was quite passionate about that.
I will come back for questions, but let me turn to Peter, who can talk a little bit about this event, and also tomorrow. And I promised that I would not say that this is Peter's 50th birthday.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO: Thank you, Sandy, and it's always nice to share the trauma of going through 50 years with this very wide audience. Let me just say that tomorrow's summit will deal with a number of issues that are Central America-regional-specific, particularly as it relates to our policies. So it's an opportunity brought about by Hurricane Mitch, brought about by the President's travel and preceded by the First Lady and the Vice President's wife, Tipper Gore, to look at a lot of problems not so much in a specific reaction to the hurricane, but much more systemically.
They will discuss a number of issues related to Central America to include reconstruction and transformation, essentially enhancing democracy, promoting sustained growth, strengthening the rule of law, national reconciliation, human rights, strengthening judicial systems, fostering accountability and transparency, and the kind of international assistance necessary to bring that about. They will discuss debt relief and financial cooperation.
We have proposed a package that will include a debt reduction for Honduras and Nicaragua: for Nicaragua, we're talking about 90-percent debt forgiveness. For Honduras, we're talking about 67 percent, a two-year moratorium on debt payments and some other things to include the establishment of a fund to enable these countries to pay back their loans to the international financial institutions.
We will talk about migration. Sandy covered that issue, I think, pretty well in terms of the disparity of treatment and the President's commitment to do what he can within the existing law and to move perhaps to get an amplification of the so-called NICARA Act so that it applies to all countries of the isthmus uniformly.
Finally, democracy, human rights and the rule of law will be discussed, essentially enhancing the sustainability and progress already made on such things as workers' rights, law enforcement issues, transnational crime, drug-trafficking and mutual legal assistance measures.
Trade and investment will be discussed, including, as I mentioned, the enhanced CBI, free markets, bilateral investment treaties, free trade in the Americas, and finally sustainable development, emphasizing the rebuilding of domestic and foreign investments in Central America and emphasizing disaster mitigation, and endorsing efforts under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, including clean development mechanisms for climate-friendly projects, et cetera. Thank you.
Q Was the President's acknowledgement a short time ago at the roundtable discussion that the U.S. was wrong to support the military forces here in Guatemala and the United States must not repeat that mistake, was that meant as an apology or merely an acknowledgement?
MR. BERGER: I think the words speak for themselves. I think the President was saying that some of America's activities during this period were wrong and we should learn from that experience and we should not repeat it. You can characterize it any way you like. I think the words are pretty clear.
Q The Revolutionary Armed Forces in Colombia said today that one of its rebel officers, acting on his own, killed the three Americans in Colombia and may face the death penalty. Are you satisfied with this? Are you going to insist on extraditing this rebel officer to the U.S., to stand trial here?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO: I don't think that there was any question even preliminarily that the guerrillas of the FARC in Colombia were responsible for these absolutely brutal and senseless murders of innocent American citizens. I think we are cautious in our optimism that the guerrillas have admitted that one of their members so ordered these executions. We will be following up to ensure that justice is done, either in Colombia or in the United States.
Q Sandy, do you have a response to the calls by some of the Republican presidential contenders for your resignation?
MR. BERGER: I have no intention of resigning. The actions that we took as a government, starting in the mid '60s when we learned of this alleged espionage -- which took place, by the way in the '80s, under previous governments -- I believe were appropriate and I believe they were in the national interest and I believe we acted swiftly. Let me just take a second to explain that.
First, the FBI undertook a thorough investigation -- that investigation continues -- to try to determine whether they could establish responsibility. Number two, we asked the CIA to look at this information. They made a preliminary analysis of it, somewhat at variance from the DOE analysis, although still expressing concerns. We are now conducting an interagency review of what may have been the consequences of this.
Number three, when I learned of this in July of 1997 -- I had had some briefing on an individual spy case in '96, but essentially was briefed on the scope of this in '97 -- I acted immediately to initiate the most substantial review and reform of security at our labs that I believe has ever been undertaken. And we had recommendations within a month. We had actions teed up over the next two or three months. The President signed a directive ordering a series of steps be taken to deal with what was clearly a serious problem -- and that was security in our labs.
Four, we continue to enforce the tightest possible restrictions on technology transfers to China, with no illusions about China and other countries that seek to gain unauthorized access to our sensitive information. China is in the tier three category of the countries on which we have the strictest controls. We sell nothing to their military. We sell no dual-use equipment to their military. We sell no dual-use equipment to the civilian sector in China that may be usable by their military. And there are a series of other controls.
Now, finally, we continue to deal with China; that's true. We continue to deal with China because we believed it was in our national interest to do so -- and I believe today is in our national interest to do so. That is not a favor we do for China. It is something we do because we seek to advance our own national security interest.
So as a result of the last two years -- just take nonproliferation, for example. As a result of our engagement with China, China has signed the Chemical Weapons Convention; China signed the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty; agreed not to sell anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran; agreed to cut off nuclear cooperation with Iran; agreed to cut off cooperation to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities in Pakistan. None of those things would have taken place had we not been dealing with China over this period.
The same is true of Korea, in terms of trying to get some resolution of a difficult and dangerous situation in Korea. The same is true for South Asia, where China has joined us in calling upon the two parties there to not escalate their arms race.
So we engage with China because we believe it is in our interest, including on things where we disagree, such as human rights -- as a way in which we can assert our values and assert our interests.
Q Was the individual spy case that you were briefed on in '96 related to this or --
MR. BERGER: In '96, as I recall, I received a limited briefing which involved an espionage case involving a Chinese American, involving the labs, involving nuclear issues. I get briefings such as that perhaps once a month. There is a wide range of these investigations that are going on. It did not deal with the full scope that DOE continued to develop over the next period. And when I was briefed on that, which was July '97, we acted immediately and strongly.
Q Can I follow up on that? Obviously, the significance of 1996 is not only a presidential campaign, but the initial reports of Chinese involved in Asian campaign contributions. Was there any tie between the political side and whether this information Washington brought to you at the White House?
MR. BERGER: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Every decision we have made on national security with respect to China, and I would submit every decision we have made with respect to national security -- whether one agrees with it or disagrees with the other merits -- have been made based on our best judgment what is in the interest of the United States.
So we had nothing to do with campaign contributions; we had nothing to do with any of that activity. These decisions were made based upon our best judgment of how we dealt with the problem of this investigation, the issue of the investigation, and how we best advanced our interests with a country that both presents great opportunities for the United States, but also great dangers for the United States. And our judgment is that we are better off dealing with them not under any illusion, but because we believe that's the best way to advance our interests.
Q Some on the Cox Commission say you're trying to run out the clock on the declassification procedures so that they'll be out of business by the time any of this would --
MR. BERGER: That's simply not true. We received the Cox Report, we were able to respond in terms of the recommendations in record time. We've had people working literally night and day to declassify the rest of the report, which was sent up to the committee a few weeks ago.
The decisions with respect to what is redacted, what is not -- what is blocked out, are decisions that are made not by us, but by the CIA and by the FBI and other agencies that are the source of the information. We, in fact, have tried to facilitate the work of the committee by bringing together the committee staff and members of these relevant agencies. When the committee has said that they would like further material declassified, we have tried to facilitate that. But in the last analysis, the CIA has got to decide what is in the national security interest to declassify. The FBI has got to decide what is in the law enforcement interest. That is not something that we can second-guess.
Q Sandy, after the President signed the PDD in February of '98, what was your understanding about how long it took to implement those procedures? Did you follow up and see what the Department of Energy had done to comply with what the President had ordered?
MR. BERGER: My understanding was that the Department of Energy which, of course, had participated in the process, as had the labs, accepted all these recommendations and would implement them as quickly as possible. I think some of them are implemented immediately, some of them have been implemented more recently, but I believe -- my impression is that there's been significant implementation of the recommendations.
Q Did you follow up at the time to make sure that they were doing what the President had asked?
MR. BERGER: Well, we have from time to time and certainly intend to again.
Q When was the President first briefed on this subject? Was it when you were briefed in 1997?
MR. BERGER: Yes.
Q Sandy, one of the first, or the first story that came out on this subject alleged that at one point, the administration withheld some information from Congress and that there was a discussion about it. And the reason was it was felt by revealing this, at least to whomever it was going to be discussed with, would undermine the administration's China policy.
MR. BERGER: Let me say two things. Number one, relevant committees of Congress, the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, have been repeatedly briefed on this case and this matter going back to '96; certainly multiple times in '97 and in '98. And so those are the committees who ordinarily are briefed on intelligence matters.
Now, there were some quotes in the Times article attributed to a Department of Energy official. I'm totally unaware of those, and it certainly would not have been our policy to try to interfere with Congress getting information unless what was involved here was a question of classified information. But I have no personal knowledge of that exchange.
Q Are you going to look into, or is the administration in any way going to look into the possibility that someone at some point may have withheld something from Congress for political purposes?
MR. BERGER: We will continue to review all of this continually, and I would assume that Secretary Richardson, from Energy, would want to have a full picture of what took place in his Department.
Q In retrospect, although you were briefed, it sounds as though you're saying in a cursory way in '96, even looking back now, you don't think that there was a gap in the administration's action on this --
MR. BERGER: No, I don't think so. I think that, again, I'm briefed about intelligence cases frequently -- there is an alleged spy in NBC, just for example -- it wouldn't be NBC -- in a federal agency, and there's an investigation going on and it involves nuclear matters, potentially serious. But this was very preliminary, don't forget, back in '96. I mean, the FBI had just begun this investigation, as I understand it, in '96.
In '97, I received a full briefing from the Department of Energy, July of '97. And that briefing was troubling and raised serious questions and, I think, warranted a significant response.
Q Don't you think it was odd that it took a full year once the -- I mean, it sounded as though the information --
MR. BERGER: No. Don't forget, these -- let me go back and continually remind you that these events happened in the early '80s, okay? And what the FBI and other agencies were seeking to do was to try to resurrect or recreate what might have been espionage in the early '80s. We're now in the mid-'90s. That is not an easy thing to do. I think that by '97, at least the Department of Energy had a theory of the case which they presented to me.
Q In the arrival here today, what was the President told and what did you hear when you were inside arrival ceremony, of the voices of the demonstrators outside?
MR. BERGER: We could hear some demonstrators on the outside of the courtyard. What I was told -- and I say this with warning that it's hearsay and I can't verify it -- was this related to a domestic issue involving the demonstrators and the government. But I don't know whether that's true or not.
Q Will the President's policy, immigration policy regarding Central Americans also be extended to Haitians? And if not, why not?
MR. BERGER: Let me get the Commissioner up here.
MS. MEISSNER: The President asked for legislation regarding Haitians about a year ago, and the Congress did act on that proposal. So there is now legislation under which Haitians can adjust their status and that adjustment is taking place.
Q What is the status of the deportations of Salvadorans and Hondurans?
MS. MEISSNER: The Salvadorans and -- there are two separate sets of things here. Are you talking about the hurricane, the post-hurricane? Okay. Where the post-hurricane issues are concerned, we have the TPS, which is the Temporary Protected Status for those countries that were deeply hurt by the hurricane, Nicaragua and Honduras. Those people have 18 months to be able to stay in the United States, to be able to apply for a work permit. And that applies to everybody from Honduras and Nicaragua that were in the United States as of December 30, 1998, which is when we announced the TPS.
Right after the hurricane -- the hurricane happened at the end of October -- we announced a stay of deportation for all of the countries hit by the hurricane. That stay of deportation, the first one, went until the 7th of January. We then renewed that stay of deportation until March for Salvador and Guatemala. That stay of deportation for Salvador and Guatemala has now expired and we have not extended it. The reason for that is because Salvador and Guatemala were not hit nearly as badly as Honduras and Nicaragua. The relief efforts were swift and successful. Basically, those countries are stable where hurricane damage is concerned. So we are now resuming normal immigration procedures in the case of Salvador and Guatemala, post-hurricane.
Q The President said yesterday that he had gone to the limit on this issue. Is that accurate? Is there nothing that he could have done to have extended their stay?
MS. MEISSNER: What we have going here is two separate issues and two separate sets of actions. The one is the hurricane and the TPS, as I just explained. The other is NICARA, which is the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act. That is legislation that the President asked for two years ago after the Central American Summit that took place in 1997.
That NICARA legislation was an effort to try to mitigate the effects of the 1996 immigration law which were very, very harsh where people who were subject to deportation were concerned, and because of technical things in the way the law was written, would have treated Central Americans in a very, very harsh fashion.
So what the administration asked was that the rules applying to Central Americans that existed prior to the '96 law be reinstated. What Congress passed was slightly different from what the administration asked for. What Congress passed was a law that treated Salvadorans and Guatemalans in the way that the administration proposed, but then treated Nicaraguans and some others from countries that had formerly been communist countries, treated them more generously by giving them a full adjustment of status, basically in a blanket fashion.
So what we're dealing with in the NICARA situation is an effort to try to treat Salvadorans and Guatemalans as fairly as possible to try to diminish the differences in the treatment among the groups, and that's part of writing the regulations and we're writing those regulations at the present time.
Q The President said that he wanted to use all the discretion that he had and all the flexibility he had under current law to help resolve these disparities.
MS. MEISSNER: That's right.
Q Does he have any flexibility or discretion under current law?
MS. MEISSNER: Yes, that's what we're working with in writing the regulations for the NICARA law. The regulations require a showing of what's called "extreme hardship" by people in order to have what's called a suspension of deportation or to have their situation regularized in the United States. And we're looking at that issue of extreme hardship in order to try to determine how we can write a rule that interprets extreme hardship as compassionately as possible. So that's the flexibility that we are trying -- that's where the flexibility applies.
But the difficulty, of course, is that the statute itself treats groups differently, so we can go to our maximum flexibility, and we're trying to do that, in writing the regulations, but it has to be consistent with the statute which does treat the groups differently.
Q There's no possibility of parity other than rewriting the statute?
MS. MEISSNER: You would have to rewrite the statute to get total parity. The issue is in interpreting extreme hardship where Salvadorans and Guatemalans are concerned, how broadly can you interpret extreme hardship, and that's what will be ultimately described in the final regulation.
Q So is there, right now, a pending effort by the administration to have that statute rewritten, or do you give --
MS. MEISSNER: Right now, we are working with the rule. We'll have the final rule ready soon, and once we see how far that goes and how close we've been able to come, then the next question obviously will be whether there is a need for legislation.
Q Can you say how close to parity you think you can get under the existing law?
MS. MEISSNER: I think we need to wait until we actually have the final rule and are able to describe that to you.
Q Could you clear up just one more time the numbers of Guatemalans and Salvadorans who are now eligible or at risk for deportation now that the stay has expired? We've heard 15,000, we've heard 3,000 --
MS. MEISSNER: Let me try to deal with numbers here. Last year, Fiscal Year 1998, we returned about 15,000 people to all four of the Central American countries. That is basically between 4,000 and 5,000 to El Salvador, between 4,000 and 5,000 to Guatemala and similarly to Honduras. It's a much smaller number for Nicaragua. But about 15,000 to all four countries last year.
That is, just to put it in perspective, the legal immigration from those four countries last year was about 40,000, all told; the number of people who are in the United States in an illegal status of one kind or another from those four countries is over 600,000. So we are talking about a modest number in context.
This year, Fiscal Year '99, we have, prior to when the stay of deportation went into effect, we had returned about 1,500 people to all four countries. Since then, for the last four to five months, we have not been returning people by and large, and the remainder of this year, therefore, means that there will be less than the 15,000 coming back to the region. The best number that I can give you right now is that there are about 1,000 people in the United States from these countries, from all four countries together, who do have final orders of removal -- in other words, who are eligible to be removed. And we will begin to return those people to the region. We will do it in a safe and in an orderly fashion, and that is what we mean by resuming normal immigration procedures.
The most important thing, I think, for me to say about the whole subject is that we have not engaged in mass deportations, we do not intend to engage in mass returns of any kind. We work with the countries and with the consulates as we return people. We do it, as I say, in a safe and orderly fashion, and overall, the numbers are likely to be less this year than they were last year because of the stays.
Q Another 600,000 in legal immigrants from all four countries? You can't break down how many are from Guatemala and El Salvador?
MS. MEISSNER: Yes, I can. Now, all of these are estimates. Obviously, we're talking about populations that are estimated populations. But from El Salvador it's about 335,000; from Guatemala it's about 165,000; from Honduras it's about 90,000; from Nicaragua it's about 70,000.
Now, there are various groups within those numbers. The most familiar group to you will be what's called the ABC class. that is a class of Salvadorans and Guatemalans that are protected under a lawsuit from the 1980s. Those are the people that are candidates for the NICARA relief.
So there are groups of people in that more than 600,000 who we would not return even if we came across them because they're eligible for a form of relief at some point or another. But nonetheless, in strict legal terms, they do not have a -- they're in various forms of irregular status. Does that help?
Q Maybe this is my own confusion, but the White House and the National Security Council told many of us that 15,000 Salvadorans and Guatemalans, as of Monday, were eligible for deportation. And I can't figure out why --
MS. MEISSNER: But there was a confusion about that and I --
Q Is that number wrong?
MS. MEISSNER: 15,000 is the number that was returned last year.
Q They were wrong?
MS. MEISSNER: Well, not having heard the statement I don't know. But there were about 15,000 returned to the region last year, and right now there about 1,000 from these countries who have final orders of removal, which, under normal procedures, we would now begin to return.
Q When do you expect the deportations to resume?
MS. MEISSNER: They will begin to resume next week, but as I say, they will be done in a staged -- in a regular and a safe fashion.
Q Can you comment on the Miami Herald report that the leaders of Guatemala and El Salvador are refusing to sign the communique because of its language about immigration?
MS. MEISSNER: I heard of that report, and as far as we can tell -- we've traced back as much as we could, and as far as we can tell it's not true.
Q The Foreign Minister from Guatemala has said that they wanted to be rewritten, that they want the statement to be rewritten.
Q Is it being rewritten?
Q That -- is it true?
MS. MEISSNER: I still can't hear.
Q Is it true?
Q The Foreign Minister from Guatemala apparently said they wanted the language rewritten. Is it being rewritten? Have there been changes made since, apparently, the ambassadors worked this out in Washington. Were there changes made when it was brought back to the leaders here in Central America?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO: I know that some of you are shocked that we worked on a communique before the summit actually took place. But now that we've gotten beyond the shock and denial --
We've gone through about 37 drafts of this thing, over about a month period. They're normally not that protracted, but since this particular visit was delayed by about a month, it went over a longer period of time than normal. And as of last Friday night, we had agreement on 99 percent of it. And then while we were in the air down to Nicaragua, we got agreement on the rest.
Now, what's circulating out there about not signing, and some not signing and perhaps not being in agreement, we haven't heard, and we've been in constant touch with all of these leaders over the last several days.
Q Does the immigration document affect efforts you're making to present a new American relationship with Central America?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO: I won't pretend to speak about immigration because that's not my portfolio. That's this woman's portfolio next to me, and I think she does a superlative job. But as it relates to foreign policy, I think that every country in the world has laws regulating immigration, both legal and illegal. And I would challenge all of you here to find a country that has as liberal immigration policies, particularly to this area of the world, as the United States does.
Q So you think that Central America is seeing the United States through other eyes, like the President said today? Starting to see --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO: I would hope so. The President has made an historical visit here -- the first President in 33 years to visit El Salvador, the first President to spend the night -- let alone two nights there -- and to visit the Assembly. There's been a lot of history made throughout all of this, including the summit tomorrow afternoon in Antigua. I don't think there's any question that the Presidents of Central America have experienced a closeness with the United States and a certain empathy towards their plight probably in historic proportions over the last several weeks.
MR. LOCKHART: Any other questions for me?
Q Has the President authorized and directed any of his advisors or colleagues to try and start a legal defense fund for members of his staff that might have had incurred serious legal bills during any investigation?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that he's done anything formally. I think he has said consistently that after he leaves office and when he's in a position to help, that he looks forward to helping those who have racked up legal bills, through no fault of their own, who have been -- you know, the stories are legion of people who answered the wrong phone call or attended the wrong meeting or wrote the wrong note on a document and have run up legal bills.
Q But in terms of, say, asking Terry McAuliffe specifically to start work for a fund that might have fundraisers even this year, not before the President leaves office?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that he's done that. I haven't heard anything like that. I've heard more general discussion about later work, when the President is in a better position to help.
Is that all?
Q Joe, one thing for you. There is a report that the reason the First Lady is not on the trip is because there was a nasty confrontation between them in Park City and that the First Lady just didn't want to travel with the President.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as the First Lady's press Secretary, Marsha Berry, said, the First Lady is back in Washington because of a recurring problem with her back. And I would suggest that those who deal in this sort of rumor and gossip and innuendo should go back to journalism school and do a little more work.
Q There are so many banana-producing countries in this region. Will the current trade dispute between America and the EU be discussed tomorrow, and in the administration's opinion, how important would it be for these countries in Central America to have access to, or wider access to European markets?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's very important. I think one of the things you need to remember, some of the talk that's been coming out lately has been slightly disingenuous. The U.S. imports three times the amount of bananas from this region as Europe does. But I think the way to look at this is it's not about a particular product, this is about the integrity of the world trading rules and the World Trading Organization.
We have a situation where the United States brought a case to the WTO and has now won that case four separate times. This is the first time the European Union has lost a case in this process and it's important for them to deal with the consequences like all countries do, and accept the ruling. It would be very troubling, I think, for countries in this region, for developing countries around the world, for them to see that when a large economy doesn't like a ruling they don't feel like they have to follow it. I think this is much more about the integrity of international trading rules and free trade around the world than it is about a particular product.
Q How many regional leaders so far have indicated they would like to see the U.S. stand firm?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I haven't heard any conversation to date, but imagine that trade will be an issue tomorrow during the summit. So we'll have to give you a read out of that once the meeting is done.
Okay, thank you.
END 6:24 P.M. (L)