THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 4, 2000
BACKGROUND PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington. D.C.
2:44 P.M. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon to the assembled journalists here in the briefing room, and good afternoon to our colleagues up in Martha's Vineyard. I understand it's raining up in the Vineyard; it's now raining here, so all things considered, I think those of us here in Washington would probably prefer to be up in the Vineyard. We didn't exactly do this right.
We'll, at the end of the briefing, have a statement by the President for you and factsheet announcing a trip by the President, a one-day trip, to Colombia, on August 30th. And the statement also indicates that the President has signed a presidential decision directive to implement our support for President Pastrana and his Plan Colombia.
We have two senior administration officials here to give you some perspective on the trip and the PDD, and I will call them up here. What we're going to do, just for mechanical purposes is they'll have brief opening statements to give you some background and then we'll start questions. We'll just simply alternate a journalist here in Washington, and a journalist up in Martha's Vineyard, and we'll go as long as there's interest.
So, with that, I'll introduce -- and for those of you also here who need something afterwards in Espanol, our distinguished senior administration official number one does speak that language. Our distinguished senior administration official number two speaks French -- so if you want something in a different language, we'll take care of you as well.
So with that we'll introduce senior administration official number one.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much, PJ. The President announced today that he will be traveling to Colombia on August 30th, to meet with President Pastrana. In his statement he said that he wants to underscore personally to Pastrana and to the Colombian people the commitment on the part of the United States to help Colombia in its efforts to seek the peace, to fight illicit drugs, to build the economy, and to deepen democracy.
In his statement he also says that Colombia's success is profoundly in the interest of the United States. A peaceful, democratic and economically prosperous Colombia will help to promote democracy and stability throughout the region.
He will travel -- it's a one-day trip; he will travel to Colombia, meet with the President, meet with some of the top officials, and we're working with the Colombian government right now to try to arrange the particulars of the visit, which haven't been fully worked out as yet.
At the same time, the statement that was released today -- the President notes that he has signed the presidential decision directive ordering, as a matter of national priority, the intensified effort to aid the Colombian government in implementing Plan Colombia. This complements the package of assistance, the $1.3 billion package of assistance that was requested by the administration from Congress and approved in a bipartisan show of support for this initiative. And in that spirit, the President also announces that he will be accompanied by a bipartisan group of legislators, including Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senator Joe Biden, both of who have been very deeply involved in this effort.
As you know, Colombia faces very difficult interrelated problems on insurgency, a narcotic-drug threat, problems of economic challenge -- a severe downturn, 20 percent level of unemployment -- and at the same time, weak state capacity in many areas of the country. This plan of support is an integrated plan of support that addresses all of these different dimensions.
I think it's important to stress that while it is in the fundamental interest of the United States, as the President noted here, to help Colombia address the drug problem, 90 percent of the cocaine coming into the United States comes from Colombia, and this is a fundamental interest. This package is also one that addresses a broader interrelated series of problems -- building state capacity, helping the Colombians develop alternative development programs, and supporting the peace.
A fundamental cornerstone of this package is the assumption that the peace effort in Colombia is ultimately the solution to Colombia's fundamental problems. And indeed, there is substantial increases in support in these areas, as well as in the counter-drug area, for Colombia.
I think that's all I want to say right now, and we'll just open it up for questions.
Q When was the last time a U.S. President visited?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The last time a U.S. President visited Colombia was President Bush.
Q Do you know when?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not sure exactly when, what date.
Q What about this common criticism now that the U.S. aid cannot be successfully targeted between the insurgency and the drug -- and it seems like events on the ground in recent weeks have underscored that. How do we keep the United States from being dragged into the insurgency?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that we've made it very clear from the outset and in our program with the Colombians that this is a counter-drug effort. The battalions that are being stood up are counter-drug battalions. The effort is aimed primarily at southern Colombia where you have the cultivation of most of the coca fields. And in many cases, these are agri-business type coca cultivation fields, so the idea is that you're going to have springing of these fields, you're going to have counter-narcotics battalions of the army going in and helping to secure these fields, and you're going to have police going in to dismantle laboratories and to eradicate the coca production.
This is not an effort to get involved in Colombia's insurgency. Now, it is true that in some areas in southern Colombia some of the insurgents, some elements of the FARC, are involved in some ways in the drug business. And in that sense, there could very well be some clashes with guerrillas if they're indeed involved in the drug business. But the purpose of this particular support package is very, very clear -- it is not one that's aimed at the insurgents, per se; it's one aimed at fighting drugs.
I don't know if you want to add anything to that.
MR. CROWLEY: Our first question from the Vineyard. Understand that the President will be going to Cartegena. If that is true, how do you explain the fact that Cartegena, itself, is an oasis from the drug and crime problems that most Colombians are experiencing?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not sure that we have come to a final conclusion yet as to exactly where in Cartegena the President -- I mean, in Colombia -- the President is going. Whether it's Cartegena or Bogata, that's still under discussion, and a lot really depends on some of the logistics of travel.
Q Could you be a little bit more explicit about the PDD? Is it calling for more resources or is it simply directing that the resources that have already been appropriated be used?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the best way to understand the rationale for and the fundamental thrust of the President's decision directive is to recognize that it is a logical next step following the recent approval by the Congress of a $1.3 billion increase in the amount of assistance going to support a Plan Colombia and related regional objectives. I think that the quick summary I would offer you of the content of the decision directive would be as follows:
As Senior Administration Official Number One has indicated, it is the President directing as a matter of national priority an intensified effort to support implementation of Plan Colombia. Secondarily, it is a vehicle that the President is utilizing to establish the coordinating network and framework for what will be undertaken across government by numerous government agencies in the overall U.S. effort to support Plan Colombia implementation.
Clearly I think everyone would recognize that where you have four or five major federal departments and numerous agencies involved, that there is a special necessary to ensure adequate coordination. And finally, the directive also specifies a number of specific roles and responsibilities for the many federal agencies involved.
Q If I could follow up, I've never heard this term, national priority program. Could you explain the significance of that to you all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In this particular instance, the use of that phrase in the President decision directive is simply intended to have the normal meaning associated with what you would expect upon reading the document. It is the President saying to his administration that he wishes to make unequivocally clear that this is a matter of national priority.
Q Was it not a matter of national priority before?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I certainly think it has been a priority for us for a long time in terms of addressing the Colombian program, but this is an opportunity to reenforce that. And it is also an appropriate signal to send following the recent approval by the Congress of the administration's request for additional assistance.
Q If I could be clear on that, that means there's no new money going under this signing today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's the best way to understand the decision directive, that it is, in fact, the organizational framework. It essentially is one part and a very important visible part of the administration's taking that additional funding and making sure that we have an adequate arrangement throughout the administration to ensure that those funds are well and effectively spent.
Q Can you tell us in terms of manpower, what will be the assistance given by the U.S. to Colombia? Do you have any idea?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At this juncture I wouldn't want to go very far in terms of specifics, other than to offer some very general comments. First, as I think most or all of you are aware, the recent appropriations that have provided the additional assistance for Colombia are subject to a number of requirements and limitations. Those requirements and limitations, of course, as a matter of law, must be adhered to by the administration.
We already have, as I think you're aware, a very significant U.S. presence in Colombia in order to implement the ongoing assistance programs that we have had there for a while. I think that everyone who is associated with the planning for implementation of the increases is well aware of the fact that we will need an increase in the number of U.S. government personnel there. I would not describe that increase, and no one is thinking of that increase, in terms of an order of magnitude. But there will be increases. That planning is underway, and I think that's a matter where we'll simply have to see that play itself out.
Q How many U.S. trainers, for instance, are there now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On any one particular day, I, frankly, would not be able to give you the number without checking. What I can tell you is that there have been instances where I have checked recently because of the discussion in Congress associated with the proposed ceilings that were discussed as the appropriations were being developed, and the number that I got in terms of military personnel was approximately 280 military personnel in country. And a good number of those personnel were associated with the ongoing effort at that point in time to train the first Colombian army counter-drug battalion.
In the pattern recently -- and this will continue into the future -- has been that the number of military personnel there will vary, depending on what we're doing in country at that particular point in time. And usually, a spike in the number of personnel will be because we have a major training evolution ongoing at the particular time.
Q Would you remind us what the ceiling is on personnel?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm informed by my colleagues -- I wouldn't have remembered that -- but the current ceiling is 500 for U.S. military personnel.
Q And is there any limit on civilian personnel?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is a limit. I think that is still the subject of some ongoing discussion in terms of how it applies to civilian contractors and others. I would have to get back to you after the briefing with an answer on that, unless one of my colleagues has the answer now.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have the answer of the actual number now. But let me remind you that one of the things that is really significant about this package is that the proportional increases in support for other aspects of the package, besides this strictly drug interdiction and the drug combatting side of the thing -- that is alternative development, promotion of governmental institutions, support for the peace, and so on -- that portion of the package has increased in a significant percentage.
For example, I'm aware of the fact that over the last period the AID mission in Colombia has been very small. With the increase in alternative development support, for example, which is a significant amount of funding -- I think it goes up to $120 million, if I'm not mistaken -- you're going to see a significant increase in some of the support -- some of the personnel dealing with those aspects of the support package.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But there's a tenfold increase in the support for those elements of the package over what we've been funding in Colombia in the past.
Q Do you think that the limited time of the trip will be enough for President Clinton to press for --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I think so. I think that the visit of the President of the United States is a very significant event for Colombia and it will be something that will rivet the attention of Colombians. And there are several events that will be planned during the period that the President will be there that will drive home the importance of the different dimensions of this support package. Because, let me reiterate once again, the counter-drug portion is absolutely critical, but it's not the only part of the package, that it involves, in fact, support for many other elements of the multifaceted challenges that Colombia faces.
Q Apart from the visit with President Pastrana, does he intend to address the parliament or the Colombian people, or can you tell us a little bit about the visit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Since we're announcing this today, and we're beginning to discuss with the Colombian government authorities the appropriate venue for such activities, this hasn't been worked out as yet. But we are looking for opportunities for engagement on the part of the President.
Q Do you know if Chelsea will join, as she's done on the last few foreign trips?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know.
Q Could you talk a little bit about security on this trip? Colombia is widely regarded as the most dangerous post for Americans -- listed by the State Department as one of them.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I'm going to just say that certainly that will be of the highest priority.
MR. CROWLEY: There are no more questions from Martha's Vineyard. Unless there are any more questions from here, we'll conclude.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:04 P.M. EDT