THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY NSC SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS ARTURO VALENZUELA The James S. Brady Briefing Room
3:25 P.M. EDT
MR. HAMMER: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome. This afternoon we have Arturo Valenzuela, the Senior Director for Latin America at the National Security Council who will be providing you a readout with President de la Rua of Argentina. As we did with the Zedillo readout, if anyone has a question in Spanish, feel free to ask Arturo towards the end and he will gladly give you a little clip in Spanish.
MR. VALENZUELA: Thank you very much. If I were to characterize the meeting as a whole, I think what I would do is to say that this was a meeting that was characterized by an extraordinary coincidence of shared values.
Both Presidents referred to a series of different themes -- international, regional, bilateral, economic, and as I said, there was a consensus in much of the discussion that they had on all of these themes.
Let me start with the characterization of the meeting first, if you would like. The meeting began with what was supposed to be a short meeting in the Oval Office. The short meeting, however, got extended as the Presidents continued to talk among themselves. It meant that instead of having a 10-minute meeting in the Oval Office between the two leaders, it turned out to be something like 20 or 25 minutes of private discussion.
That meant that the schedule was then boxed-in a bit and they weren't able to move to the Cabinet Room for the broader meeting that was going to take place. And they agreed, the two Presidents agreed, that what they would do was just continue the broader discussion in the luncheon rather than in the Cabinet Room. So they proceeded, then, upstairs to the luncheon, and in some ways, you can characterize the wider or broader meetings as having been the working lunch.
Let me just briefly say on the different themes that they covered, both in the private meeting and the working lunch, on international issues they referred to the importance of peace, peacekeeping. On regional issues, they referred to the importance of promoting and defending democracy. With regard to the regional issues, in particular they raised the question of Colombia and the recent situation in Peru.
President de la Rua also mentioned his trip to Paraguay and the concern that the two leaders have with the situation in Paraguay. President de la Rua mentioned that he would be joining his counterparts from the region on June 16th in Cartagena, Colombia, for a meeting of the Rio Group, at which time he said that some of the issues that he and the President, President Clinton spoke about, having to do with democracy promotion and the strengthening of democracy would be also on the agenda, on the discussion that the leaders would have in Cartagena.
President Clinton underscored the importance of support for Colombia, in particular, because of his concern over the deteriorating situation there, and made the point that he is expecting the Congress of the United States to approve a package soon of support for Colombia; and asked President de la Rua to also -- for his views on that.
And President de la Rua described in some length his understanding of the situation in Colombia, having said that he first traveled to Colombia in 1967, that he knew Pastrana very well when he was mayor of Colombia, and understood there are complicated, interrelated problems Colombia has both on guerrillas and on drugs.
With regard to some of the broader economic issues, President de la Rua mentioned the difficulties that the Argentine economy is experiencing, and in particular, he stressed the importance of the recent measures that he has undertaken to help strengthen the economy's austerity measures -- both approved through the Congress, as well as through executive decree; and noted that he was grateful for the support which President Clinton has provided him in these efforts to try to address the economic problems in Argentina.
The President did tell him that it was important for him to stay the course on these, and that he was confident that Argentina would be able to weather the situation well.
Finally, I think that the meeting dealt with a series of bilateral questions. The President of Argentina mentioned the decisions that were announced on Saturday on the telecommunications sector in Argentina. It was characterized -- the President characterized it as an extremely important step -- the President of the United States characterized it as an extremely important step, and pointed to the reforms that took place in the United States in 1996 in the telecommunications field that led to the promotion of jobs in the United States. And both leaders agreed that this is an area that could give Argentina an extraordinary competitive advantage over its other neighbors in the region by heading up one of the most liberal and progressive telecommunications regimes in the hemisphere.
I think that -- I could say that a lot was discussed about this. I think that both leaders were very interested in how they can modernize their countries, and what are the ingredients to bring about modernization in the countries, and they underscored the importance of the telecommunications sector as part of this.
There was also a considerable amount of discussion of Internet technology, of educational technology, and how this is done. The President shared with President de la Rua his own travels to India, for example, and Pakistan, and his understanding of what those countries are doing with Internet technology and computer education.
On other bilateral matters, the President -- President Clinton mentioned that he was pleased that the United States was able to address the question of citrus importations into the United States, and said that this is something that is within the spirit of both countries trying to work through some of the trade matters that they have on their agenda.
I want to stress that the reference to the trade matters was done in such a way that both Presidents emphasized the cooperative nature of what they're doing in this regard. There wasn't any sense in the meeting of these being viewed as conflictual issues; quite the contrary, I think that both leaders are pleased at the progress that's being made in these areas.
Another area was the area of open skies, in which the President mentioned the importance of open skies. President de la Rua noted that he was in agreement with the concept of open skies; was in agreement with the notion that Argentina's tourism sector can use far more travelers to Argentina. He did note in his response, however, that this is something that has to be dealt with by the Argentine congress, and this is something where progress still needs to be made within Argentina.
Finally, let me just mention one other issue and then I'll -- it for questions, and that has to do with climate change, that President Clinton did refer to the climate change agreements and praised Argentina for having agreed to the Kyoto regime on this. And President de la Rua's response was that he was very much in favor of this whole approach, that he considers himself an environmentalist; that he was the author, as a senator a long time ago, of some of the first regulatory regimes in environmental matters in Argentina, and that he was committed to this process, noting further that it's the Austrian countries -- that is, the countries in the south -- that in some ways are experiencing some of the more devastating consequences of global climate change.
I'll stop there and open up for questions.
Q Lockhart said this morning he was expecting three agreements to come out of this. One on --
MR. VALENZUELA: Yes. There were several agreements that were signed and the President referred to them, that were -- one of them has to do with extraditions, which was a very significant agreement. The other agreements dealt with cooperation on the part of both countries in the area of corruption. This is something where the Argentines have made significant progress recently, in terms of their regimes, providing some leadership in that -- on the issue of how you address corruption.
And then there was another, an environmental agreement which dealt with the national parks. And then, finally, there was satellite cooperation. And let me say that agreement was also concluded -- let me say that President Clinton also praised the Argentines for their involvement in an international scientific project that deals with cosmic rays, which is leading to the development of observatories in Minnesota, as well as in Mendoza, Argentina. And President de la Rua signaled his own satisfaction that they were moving to cooperate in this area. The question of scientific cooperation was an underlying -- an important theme in the discussion.
Q Can you give us a little more on the extradition deal or do you have paper that you can give us that would explain a little better?
MR. VALENZUELA: I think we can probably get you paper on the specifics. They didn't discuss these, that they acknowledged the agreements. The President said, I'm really pleased that we were able to come to these agreements and they referred to them briefly. But the meeting did not really focus on those --
Q When were the agreements made?
MR. VALENZUELA: They were concluded in this period, during this --
MR. HAMMER: -- extradition, which was an exchange of instruments of ratification.
MR. VALENZUELA: Did you get that? Exchange of instruments of ratification on the extradition.
Q On open skies, did de la Rua explain any more about the Argentines' desire to slow down implementing it because of impact on Aereolinias, or --
MR. VALENZUELA: He said that he wanted to be very frank about that, that he was very much committed to this issue; but this is something that he needs to work further with the Argentine public and with the Argentine Congress.
Q What was the nature of the comments on Peru, please?
MR. VALENZUELA: The nature of the comments on Peru was that both Presidents agreed that the situation in Peru needs to be addressed through the Gaviria/Axworthy Missions -- will be going to Peru shortly, within the context of the OAS agreement that was approved in Windsor, Canada, recently; that the issue of Peru would probably be raised by the leaders -- in fact, President Fujimori will be in Cartagena, Colombia on June 16th for this meeting with the Rio Group, and this is an issue that will probably be discussed there, as well.
I think that both leaders are concerned that Peru welcome the OAS mission, that it commit itself to democratic reforms that look for ways to try to bring about a greater sense of national reconciliation, in working through opposition sectors in Peru, as well.
Q On Peru, you mentioned that -- will be Cartagena. Is there any, from a point of view of the United States, concern of the fact that he will be meeting the Latin American leaders and might take the force away from the mission, that it would be recognized, in fact, as a legitimate --
MR. VALENZUELA: No. I think that, quite the contrary, I think that it's a useful and welcome event, that the Presidents of these 10 countries remember that the Rio Group are all the countries of South America, plus Panama and Mexico, will be meeting to discuss regional issues. And, certainly, given the strong statement on the part of the Organization of American States, through its resolution, the fact that the Organization of American States mission will have to report back to foreign ministers -- remember, they don't report back just to the permanent assembly of the Organization of American States, but they'll have to report back to a special meeting of the foreign ministers, specifically convened to hear their report -- suggests that the OAS mission will have to come up with some kind of a series of proposals and recommendations that will be of satisfaction to the foreign ministers. And the United States is very comfortable with this approach.
Q Was there any mention of possible sanctions against Peru? MR. VALENZUELA: No, there was no mention of possible sanctions.
That wasn't the tenor of the conversation. The tenor was really much more, you know, how do we address regional problems.
Q Was Cuba addressed in that session?
MR. VALENZUELA: No.
MR. VALENZUELA: No.
Q Military involvement in fighting narco trafficking?
MR. VALENZUELA: No. There was a brief discussion of cooperation in narco-trafficking, particularly when the matter of Colombia was raised. That President de la Rua made a point of saying that while the guerrilla challenge in Colombia goes back 50 years -- indeed, at one point, he said it goes even back into the 19th century, the matter of the narcotics and drug challenge to Colombia dates from the 1960s, and this confluence of events that has contributed to this much more explosive situation in Colombia. It was discussed in that regard.
And then it was, you know, both leaders praised the counter-narcotics cooperation that the two countries have been engaged in, in their own bilateral work.
Q Which kind of cooperation?
MR. VALENZUELA: They just spoke about it generally. They didn't speak about it specifically.
MR. HAMMER: All right, thank you very much.
END 3:42 P.M. EDT