THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY ARTURO VALENZUELA, ON PRESIDENT CLINTON'S MEETING WITH PRESIDENT ZEDILLO OF MEXICO Presidential Hall Old Executive Office Building
3:38 P.M. EDT
MR. HAMMER: Buenos tardes. Welcome to our first bilingual briefing in Room 450. This afternoon we have Arturo Valenzuela, who is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Latin American Affairs here at the National Security Council, who will give you an overview of President Zedillo's just concluded visit with President Clinton. You're welcome to ask questions in Spanish, if you'd like, but we'll try to keep it mostly in English for our colleagues that cover the White House every day in English.
MR. VALENZUELA: Thanks very much. I will be very brief and open it up to questions. I think that might be more productive. As you know, this meeting between the two Presidents was a meeting that was scheduled for November. It was postponed because of scheduling issues.
The Presidents have had a practice of meeting, they've made an effort to meet every six months, roughly. And I'm not sure how many times they've actually -- this is the 11th time that the two Presidents have met, so there is a very strong bond between the two Presidents. They've worked very closely together on a whole range of issues, and so they know each other well. And this was, I think, a very productive meeting on the part of both Presidents.
Let me tell you a little bit about the format of the meeting. It was an unofficial working lunch. President Zedillo came in through the Diplomatic Reception area of the White House, and then from there they proceeded up to the State Dining Room. But the lunch, itself, which took place between the two Presidents and their Cabinets, was held in the Old Family Room of the White House, next to the State Dining Room -- a smaller dining room.
The conversation was very far-ranging. President Clinton, as you know, has just returned from an extensive trip to Europe, a trip to Japan. The meeting began with a discussion of global issues. The President gave an account of his trip to Europe and his recent trip to Japan for the funeral of Prime Minister Obuchi.
After that, I think it would be fair to characterize the conversation moving, in a sense, from a global discussion to a discussion of regional issues, particularly focused on the situation in Latin America and in the Andean region. They talked about the situation in Colombia; they mentioned the situation in Peru; they talked generally about the challenges of democracy to the region; they talked about the kinds of things that can be done by the countries of the region to address the problems of democratic stability.
The conversation then moved to a broad-ranging discussion of economic issues. Broadly, the questions focusing I guess primarily on the notion of free trade. There was a discussion that went, in a sense, along the lines of what are some of the challenges to achieving free trade. Both Presidents reasserted their own commitment, belief, that free trade indeed is the vehicle. It's a vehicle that, in fact, is the best vehicle not just for corporations and for those sectors of society that are better off, but in fact, it's really the answer to the situation of the poor sectors of society.
There's kind of a view that there's something of a disconnect between the criticisms against free trade and the realities of free trade. So there was a discussion of the WTO, the Seattle incidents -- some of the incidents in Washington related to the World Bank, et cetera.
And then, finally, toward the end of the discussion, the Presidents and their Cabinets discussed a few bilateral issues between the two countries. I think it would be fair to say that those were -- that part of the discussion was less than some of the others.
At the end of the luncheon they left the Old Family Dining Room. The Presidents walked downstairs together. They had a conversation among themselves, as the rest of the Cabinet and the two Secretaries of State, Secretary of Foreign Relations, moved into the Roosevelt Room. And it was in the Roosevelt Room that they greeted some other invited guests. And in the Roosevelt Room they signed this treaty.
And so that I have the exact denomination of the treaty, it's The Treaty Dividing The Continental Shelf in the Western Gap of the Gulf of Mexico. And when the two Secretaries signed the treaty, they sat at a table, and the two Presidents stood behind the two Secretaries as they signed this treaty.
I might share with you that President Zedillo, at that particular point, made a comment that he had already passed on to President Clinton, before the signing of this treaty -- he said, I'd be delighted to sign this treaty because, in effect, this treaty really does, in fact, mark the final boundary between the two countries that we are coming to an agreement on.
And this is, indeed, a very important treaty. It's a demarcation of the Continental Shelf and the Gulf of Mexico. This is underwater boundaries that we're speaking of. And there's been some controversy over these boundaries, but they've been put to rest through the resolution of this matter and the signing of this treaty.
At any rate, that's roughly the way the meeting went. After the signing, the Presidents -- President Clinton accompanied President Zedillo to the entrance to the West Wing and bade him good-bye.
I'll be happy to take your questions.
Q I just wondered if they talked about sugar at all in their bilateral discussions.
MR. VALENZUELA: It was mentioned, but it was not something that was discussed in any great length.
Generally speaking, when bilateral issues like these were discussed, they were discussed within the context of continuing cooperation on these issues. I think it was fair to say there was nothing contentious that they were talking about. They were talking really about bilateral issues in which there is a proclivity and a disposition to work on their resolution.
Q To follow on that, did President Zedillo ask for an increase in the sugar quota?
MR. VALENZUELA: No, there was no specific -- it didn't get into that kind of level of detail.
Q Was there any discussion of the 1944 Water Treaty Act?
MR. VALENZUELA: Yes, there was discussion of the Water Treaty, briefly. President Clinton raised it. And I think I can characterize it best by answering it the same way I answered before: this was something that was discussed briefly in which the President of Mexico said that, we're working on a difficult issues which is affected by the droughts in that particular area; and an effort is being made to come to some kind of closure on the matter.
Q What kind of discussion was there on the Mexican election? And can you tell us what are the main concerns of the United States as Mexico approaches one of the most -- the tightest race in its history?
MR. VALENZUELA: There really wasn't a discussion of the Mexican election. I think there was a general discussion of the importance of democracy to the region. There was an expression on the part of several of the members that Mexico is going through a strengthening of its democratic process; but it didn't get into specifics on the election.
Q Have they discussed the issue of violence in the border against the Mexican workers, especially in the Arizona state?
MR. VALENZUELA: No, that was not brought up by the Presidents. But let me say that since there were members of both Cabinets there, that this was one of the issues that was being discussed by some of the Cabinet members. So it's not something that got on the agenda of the luncheon, but it's something that was discussed.
And one of the things that was raised at the margins of the luncheon, itself, by people in the Cabinet -- refer to the incidents that took place on the border yesterday. But this was not part of the formal conversation.
Q Did they discuss the Peruvian election in any detail, and the role of the OAS?
MR. VALENZUELA: They didn't discuss it in any detail, but it was an issue that was discussed. It was discussed within the framework of what I described earlier as the concern that both Presidents expressed over the issue of the strengthening of democracy or, put it the other way around, as well, the dangers to democracy in the Andean region.
They mentioned that it was a positive thing, that the OAS has engaged in this matter and that a consensus was reached in Windsor on how to proceed. President Zedillo mentioned and stressed -- and President Clinton agreed -- that these are elements that are well discussed and dealt with in multilateral fora, including the upcoming, perhaps, meetings of the Rio group.
Q Can you explain a little bit more about why this underwater boundary is of significance? You said there had been some controversy before.
MR. VALENZUELA: The controversy has to do with trying to limit the actual boundaries of the Continental Shelf, with some concern on the part of Mexico that when you de-limit the boundaries, since there is oil wealth here -- this has to do, really, with oil reserves in the area. It's known as a doughnut hole, an area which is not quite clear.
So Mexico is concerned that U.S. might be drilling on its side, but taking oil, essentially, from the Mexican side. So what the treaty does, really, it sets up a buffer zone within this demarcated area, so that it's clear that each side is protecting its own underwater resources, subterranean resources.
Q Mr. Valenzuela, did either of the two Presidents, or Secretary Richardson and his counterpart, discuss current oil market --
MR. VALENZUELA: Since I was one of about, let's see, 23 people in the room -- I mentioned earlier that I heard the discussion of some of the border issues as in the margin. This is something that I did hear being discussed among Cabinet members, but it was not something that was discussed in the formal luncheon.
Q I'm sorry, are you saying they did not discuss oil production --
MR. VALENZUELA: The two Presidents did not get into that issue in the formal discussion in the lunch. But it's the kind of thing that was discussed by members of the Cabinet in informal conversations.
Q Two questions. You said they didn't discuss the elections. Did they discuss the issue of international observers? Nancy Pelosi wrote a letter to the President a couple days ago raising some issues around that. Did they discuss that?
And did they discuss at all these reports in Mexico today that there is a U.S. investigation into the brother of Vicente Fox?
MR. VALENZUELA: No, they did not.
Q Either of those two?
MR. VALENZUELA: No.
Q Do you have any information about that?
MR. VALENZUELA: No.
Q Just again on sugar -- my personal obsession.
MR. VALENZUELA: Let me make clear on the previous question, so to be absolutely clear here. The United States stands ready to work with whomever is elected in the July 2nd election. We don't take any party in that election.
Q Was it just sort of an acknowledgement that there is a problem with sugar trade between the two countries and it needs to be resolved, or --
MR. VALENZUELA: There's an acknowledgement that there is a problem in sugar trade between the two countries and that more needs to be done. To do that, and one of the things that was stressed in the discussion here, was that this is one of those matters that is significant, in fact, for both sides of the border, because of the large numbers of people that are employed in this area.
Q President Zedillo said yesterday that the U.S. needs to do more to control drug demand here in the United States. Was there any further discussion of that today, and additional things the United States might do?
MR. VALENZUELA: There was a brief mention of that issue in the discussion over the luncheon. And, in fact, it came up within the context of the Phoenix meeting that just took place on demand reduction. I think that there is a strong and positive view of the narcotics cooperation and drug-related cooperation between the two countries and certainly that the demand element is something that is extremely important to factor into any sort of discussion about this. In fact, Director McCaffrey made a mention of the Phoenix meeting.
Q One quick follow up on the water issue. You had said earlier it was one of several bilateral issues that was not contentious, so there was no sort of contentious discussion --
MR. VALENZUELA: When I say that it's not contentious, I don't mean that the issues underlying are not contentious. What I meant was that they were discussed within a framework of trying to find adequate solutions to them. These are difficult issues and there are a host of other difficult issues; but when this was referred to, the response really was that we're making some progress to address that.
Q (Question asked and answered in Spanish.)
Q Can I just ask if this is the last meeting between the two, or will there be a final meeting in the fall?
MR. VALENZUELA: I can't comment on that because -- I suspect that they will see each other in international fora where the President of the United States and the President of Mexico attend. But at this particular point, we don't -- meetings of this kind are not scheduled that far in advance. I'm not discarding it, but there's nothing to announce.
Q Yes, but given the nature and the length of the relationship, as you described earlier, was there any passing of a word of, gee, it's been good knowing you, or sort of two guys on their way out?
MR. VALENZUELA: I don't think that they expressed it in those terms, but as an observer, as somebody who was present in the meetings, you could see that there's a chemistry between the two Presidents, which is a product of their having actually dealt with very complex and difficult issues, both in the bilateral relationship as well as other elements that they have discussed in the past. And I think that there's a good rapport between the Presidents.
There was, without a doubt, a sense among the Presidents that they are satisfied with what their administrations have done to improve and to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the two countries. And I think that both agreed that this is a bilateral relationship that is extraordinarily important to each country, among the most important, certainly, for the United States of any bilateral relationship in the world.
Q In the context of the rather sudden movement of the peso yesterday, did they talk about economic stability in Mexico during the presidential succession, or -- was there any talk about this?
MR. VALENZUELA: There was a general, as I said earlier, discussion of economic issues. I don't think that they got into that level of detail. But let me just simply say that there's an enormous amount of confidence in the Mexican economy.
Q While the Presidents did not talk about oil production, you said the Cabinet-level discussions did dwell on that. Did the U.S. at all express to Mexico that it would like to see Mexico increase its oil production, or convince OPEC that --
MR. VALENZUELA: I didn't hear any specifics of that kind. But I know that both countries have been working very heavily on this issue, and I think that, indeed, the United States has appreciated, as has Mexico, the close working relationship that they've had on issues like this.
THE PRESS: Thank you very much.
END 3:57 P.M. EDT