THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:13 A.M. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: It's been a while since we've done this, a couple of weeks, anyway. Sandy Berger has reminded all of us on the NSC staff that we have a sprint to the finish line. And, certainly, the President's schedule for the next couple of weeks from a foreign policy standpoint, reflects that -- today, receiving President-elect Vicente Fox of Mexico. Tomorrow, he departs for Nigeria and Tanzania; next week, a trip to Colombia, and right on the heels of the Labor Day holiday, a trip to New York for the Millennium Summit.
Joined by members of the national security staff -- Gayle Smith, Susan Rice of the State Department, Arturo Valenzuela -- Mike Hammer now is not a spokesman, but a man of substance, as responsible for our Colombia policy -- a pleasure to introduce our National Security Advisor and our White House candidate for "Survivor," Sandy Berger. (Laughter.)
MR. BERGER: Before you said that, PJ, I was going to
vigorously reject the distinction between spokesman and people of
since -- (laughter) -- since you made that comment at the end, I'm not sure.
Let me speak briefly about the two trips that PJ has mentioned, which the President will be taking in the next week. First, to Nigeria and Tanzania, and then to Colombia.
The visit to Nigeria signals our strong support for the most important democratic transition in Africa since the collapse of apartheid and underscores the opportunities opened by Nigeria's shift from pariah to partner. Two years ago, the President last went to Africa. Nigeria was at that time ruled by a general who stole more than $5 billion from the state, protected drug cartels and crime syndicates, arrested his adversaries, including the now-President Obasanjo murdered others and turned Nigeria into the poorest oil-rich country in the world.
After a generation of mis-rule, daunting challenges remain for President Obasanjo: rebuilding trust in government, fighting corruption, managing ethnic and religious diversity, making sure the oil wealth of the country benefits all of its people. But for the first time in 20 years, Nigerians are truly addressing these challenges. Of course, only the people of Nigeria and the government of Nigeria can undertake these challenges. But we have a significant interest in their success and, therefore, a significant interest in assisting them.
This is a make-or-break transition, not just for Nigeria, but for Africa. If Nigeria succeeds, this can help lift the whole region to prosperity and peace. If it fails it can swamp the whole region in turmoil and misery.
During the visit the President will convey tangible U.S. support for Nigeria's democratic transition. In two years our assistance program in Nigeria has increased from $7 million to $108 million, and the President will announce some additional support, particularly in the areas of primary education and the fight against infectious diseases. He'll stress the importance of supporting Nigeria's leadership in West Africa and beyond, for democracy, against infectious diseases, against crime, against drugs, and most importantly, for peace.
Nigeria has spent $10 billion on peacekeeping in the last 10 years. We have an interest in helping Nigeria bear this burden and to do it in a way that helps to build a professional army for Nigeria, not a political army. Therefore, this week the United States will be commencing training and equipping five Nigeria battalions who will eventually serve in Sierra Leone, which, by the way, is the 27th peacekeeping mission in Nigeria's history.
So we consider this to be a very important visit, even though a brief one. Now, let me quickly go over our itinerary. We'll be leaving tomorrow afternoon and arriving in Abuja Saturday morning. President Clinton will meet with President Obasanjo at noon and then do a joint press statement. That will be followed by a speech to a joint session of the Nigerian National Assembly that will express our support for the democratic transition, address the challenges that Nigeria faces, encourage them to take the long view, recognize that this transition requires time and patience, as well as determination, and speak about the partnership that we are seeking to build. That evening he will meet with the 36 Nigerian state governors before attending a state dinner.
On Sunday morning we'll leave Abuja for the village of Ushafa. Seventy percent of Nigerians live in villages such as this. This provides the President a chance to talk informally with the residents of a Nigerian village about the day-to-day challenges of their lives and of rural development.
With President Obasanjo, President Clinton will then visit the Abuja Women's Center where he'll meet with and talk to representatives of several health NGOs and talk about efforts to fight and delegitimize infectious diseases, particularly AIDS. And I should note that President Obasanjo is a leader in Africa in this life or death battle.
On Sunday, the President will attend a reception with American and Nigerian business people and speak about the potential for increased trade and investment following passage by Congress this year of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which the President spoke about when he was in Africa two years ago and proposed.
The second part of this trip is a stop in Arusha, in Tanzania. The President is going there at the invitation and request of Nelson Mandela, who has been facilitating, shepherding talks to seek a settlement to the conflict in Burundi. The President will be going to support President Mandela, to urge the parties in Burundi to work toward an agreement and to show that engagement with the world can be one of the dividends of peace if such an agreement is actually reached. While in Arusha, the President will also meet with President Mkapa of Tanzania, and express our appreciation for the role that he has played by Tanzania's leadership and example as a force for peace in central Africa.
We'll be back home quite early Tuesday morning. And on Wednesday, the President will travel for the day to Cartagena, Colombia. The purpose of this trip is to underscore America's support for Colombian democracy, for President Pastrana, and for his Plan Colombia. He'll be accompanied by Speaker Dennis Hastert, Senator Joe Biden and a bipartisan congressional delegation who were critical to the passage of U.S. assistance this year to Plan Colombia.
Colombia's people are engaged in a life-or-death struggle to preserve their democracy in the face of kidnappings -- 2,500 in this past year -- extortion; massacres by paramilitaries and insurgents; drug trafficking that funds a conflict, insurgent conflict and feeds crime; an economy in recession with unemployment at 20 percent.
President Pastrana, who has fought drug traffickers for decades, was kidnapped, as many of you know, by the Medellin Cartel in the 1980s, ran for president after other candidates have been assassinated, was elected on a platform of peacemaking. He has launched an approach he calls Plan Colombia, a blueprint for seeking peace, fighting drugs, building the economy, protecting human rights, and strengthening democracy.
The cost of Plan Colombia is roughly $7.5 billion. President Pastrana has proposed that the government of Colombia undertake $4 billion of that. The balance will be made up by the international financial institutions, by other donors, some of whom have already made commitments in a donors' conference that was held in Europe recently, and by the United States. And as you know, with strong bipartisan support, we have appropriated or committed $1.6 billion over two years to support this Colombian plan.
Our contribution includes a tenfold increase in our funds, from $20 million to over $200 million, to promote democracy, judicial reform, human rights and economic development. It includes funds to help farmers make the transition from illegal to legal crops, and it will help train Colombia's counterdrug battalions to assist Colombia's national police fight the drug trade. It will not support a counterinsurgency effort. It is designed to help defeat the traffickers whose profits fuel the conflict.
This is a plan that is pro-peace and anti-drugs. The President is going to Cartagena to deliver a message of solidarity to the Colombian people and to make clear to them that as they struggle, at tremendous cost to make peace, build their economy, fight drugs, promote human rights and deepen democracy, the United States will stand by their side.
The President will have a chance to express that message directly in a televised address that will run in Colombia the evening before we leave -- that is Tuesday, August 29th, the night before he arrives -- and certainly will be made available to you all. The visit itself will begin with a tour of the Port of Cartagena, where the President will be briefed on drug interdiction efforts, meet some members of the Colombian National Police, talk with others involved, including some widows of police officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
The President then will have a meeting with President Pastrana, and he will be joined for most of that meeting by the congressional delegation, Speaker Hastert and others. And there will then be a press availability.
After lunch, hosted by President Pastrana, the two Presidents will go to a low-income neighborhood to tour the new Casa de Justicia in Cartagena. This is one of 20 Plan centers, funded by USAID, that gives low-income people greater access to the justice system. People can walk into these centers, get access to ombudsmen, social workers, public defenders, public mediators and others who can help address the problems that they face in both civil and criminal matters. This is part of the general effort to strengthen the rule of law in Colombia, which is ultimately the purpose of this entire effort.
Let me just conclude by saying that this is a pivotal moment in Colombia's struggle to defend and preserve its democracy, just as it is a pivotal moment in Nigeria's effort to build its democracy. In both cases, more is at stake than the fate of one country. At stake are the prospects for entire regions and important American interests. And our support, both moral and financial, can, we believe, make a difference.
Now, let me take your questions.
Q Sandy, how big a military operation is envisioned here? I understand like 15 troops arrived this week in Nigeria to help train. How large is this going to be, and how much American involvement militarily there?
MR. BERGER: There will be -- I don't know what the numbers will be, there will just hundreds, not more than that, of Americans involved. We'll be training seven battalions in all in West Africa, five in Nigeria, one I believe probably in Ghana, and the seventh as yet to be determined. The purpose in the short-run -- these training programs will last roughly four months. The purpose really is twofold, perhaps even threefold--number one and the immediate purpose is to develop a stronger professional military that will be able to deploy to Sierra Leone and strengthen the U.N. mission there. This is extremely important, obviously.
Second of all, in the course of doing this we will be professionalizing Nigerian military. To the extent the Nigerian military becomes a professional military, not a political military, it is good for stability and democracy in Nigeria. And obviously, over the long-term, the extent to which Nigeria has a capable professional capacity to continue to participate in peacekeeping missions, that will be important for stability in the region.
The last thing I would say is all of these units will be fully vetted for human rights abuses. No units will receive any -- no units where there are credible allegations of human rights abuses will receive any American assistance.
Q -- American trainers -- will the President meet with the American trainers?
MR. BERGER: No, not now while were in Abuja.
Q The President meets with the governors of the states in Nigeria. Is he going to discuss in any form the introduction of sharia, Islamic law, by the state governors in several of the states that has threatened to split the whole Nigerian country apart?
MR. BERGER: I don't know that he will address is specifically. I'm sure that he will address the importance and challenge of diversity in a country as much a quilt as Nigeria. There's something like 260 different tribes in Nigeria; there are hundreds of languages; there are regional differences; there are religious differences. And I would be surprised -- I have not discussed this with him -- I would be surprised if he didn't talk about strength from diversity, obviously a theme that he's talked about in the context of the Balkans and other places -- the Nigeria can be enriched by that diversity.
And in spite of all these differences, Nigeria has managed to stay together as a country, with some tensions, obviously, over quite some time.
Q One other question about the oil. Is he hoping to increase imports, U.S. imports of oil from Nigeria?
MR. BERGER: Well, that's not the purpose of the trip. Obviously, bringing a greater degree of efficiency to the Nigerian oil sector is quite important. This is a huge oil producing country that imports energy. This is a pretty good, I think, reflection of the plunder of previous regimes. So I'm sure he will talk to Obasanjo about how to address that, how to make the oil sector work better.
There are, obviously, also equity issues in that region, and how the people of the oil producing areas can benefit more directly in the wealth of the nation.
Q Sandy, what's your response to this new GAO analysis of the President's foreign travel that shows that over the last three years he ran up nearly a quarter billion dollars just in travel expenses alone? Are the expenses ever considered when you plan these trips, and is the President conscious of this and do you think this is an accurate reflection of the expense of his travel?
MR. BERGER: Well, there's always attention to trying to hold the numbers of these trips down. There's a kind of irreducible minimum number of people that go with the President.
I think the United States has benefitted enormously from the President's travel over the past seven years. I think that those of you who were with us in India, for example, I think would recognize that that trip transformed, I believe, the relationship between the United States and India. And all of the data that I have seen, both anecdotal and quantitative since show that that trip has brought about a sea change in the way the largest democracy in the world views the United States. I think that was a valuable trip.
I think the President's travels -- last trip to Africa, the first trip -- extended trip the President ever made to the continent of Africa -- to say to Africa, we want a new partnership with Africa, not based upon dependency, but based upon partnership -- I think was enormously valuable to the United States.
So I think that these are considered travels. I think they're worthwhile. Obviously, there is an effort to keep the costs down. I don't know how, for example, the cost of a trip by President Clinton compares to the cost of a trip that might have been taken by previous Presidents when adjusted for inflation. There's obviously the security involved, but I think we've benefitted very substantially from those trips.
Q On the trip to the Arusha section, apparently Mandela hopes to have a final agreement to sign when President Clinton is there, but it looks like there are a lot of problems still finding an agreement, a peace deal. Is the President worried that this may fall through and there won't be any peace to witness?
MR. BERGER: Well, there continue to be issues that need to be resolved among the 19 Burundi parties. This has been an undertaking that President Mandela took over from President Nyerere. He's gone about it in a very determined way, as only President Mandela can do. And I think when President Mandela asked the President to come, knowing that he would be in Nigeria, I think the President felt that that was important for him to do that.
We recognize that this problem is not going to be solved in a day or a week, but I think it's important that we support what President Mandela is doing, that we support the peace process in Burundi, and we demonstrate that the international community cares about what happens there.
Q When the President meets with Obasanjo, will he address human rights abuses, either with regard to what's happening in the south?
MR. BERGER: I'm certain that that will come up, both in Nigeria and in Colombia. In both cases, to the extent we're engaged in training of military, this is a cornerstone, a centerpiece of what we want to do. We want to train battalions that have a greater degree of professionalism and a greater degree of respect for human rights. But generally, both President Obasanjo and President Pastrana have committed themselves to programs of improving human rights in the two countries, and that's something we'll talk about.
Q To follow up on that, Sandy, the Secretary of State was unable to certify that the human rights problem in Colombia have been cleared up, so the President had to sign a waiver. Did the President have to hold his nose when he did that, because we do feel that human rights abuses really are somewhat intolerable? And can you explain the national security interests that he invoked?
MR. BERGER: Well, let's understand here that this legislation just passed two months ago. And as part of the legislation, it requires certification of certain undertakings or certain performance by the Colombians.
In one instance where the issue was whether the government of Colombia would issue a directive saying that members of the military who are accused of human rights abuses would be subject to trial in the criminal courts -- President Pastrana has done that -- we are able to make that certification.
In some of the others, there just has not been time, even though President Pastrana has been deeply committed to human rights, to meet the performance requirements of a law that just passed two months ago. So I don't think that we have to hold our nose. I think that we will be talking -- I believe President Pastrana is deeply committed to human rights. He has manifest that. The complaints against the Colombian military are way down. When there have been instances, allegations, he's fired people. He's fired four generals who were accused of human rights abuses -- most recently, this terrible incident; he dismissed -- suspended 30 people from a unit that might have been involved in some behavior that was unacceptable.
I think that he -- let me put it this way. President Pastrana does not object to the requirements that are set up under this law. I think we simply need to have a little time, he needs to have a little time to meet the performance requirements that are established by those requirements.
Q Do you think that President Obasanjo shares that same strenuous commitment? I mean, he's accused of essentially ordering his military to raze a town in the oil fields that he felt wasn't cooperating.
MR. BERGER: Well, I think it is important that as he undertakes what is really an extraordinary challenge, given the abuse of government over the last 30 of 40 years in Nigeria, the thievery, the thuggery, the divisiveness that has been fostered by government -- he inherits a pretty tough situation.
Now, he has been the victim of that. He was imprisoned by the military government, so he's not oblivious to the consequences of human rights abuses. And I think that he has to, as he builds a democracy, rebuilds a democracy in Nigeria, it's extremely important that he does so in a way that is respectful of fundamental human rights. I think he understands that. I think that it will take time to completely turn around a pretty devastated situation in Nigeria.
Q There have been criticisms in this country and abroad, even inside Colombia, that the U.S. aid is quite tilted to a military component and less toward the social component.
MR. BERGER: I think that's not correct. First of all, Plan Colombia, which was developed by the Colombians and developed by the Pastrana government, provides for a range of activities -- economic development, human rights, democracy building, institution building, antidrugs. Our package, our assistance package of $1.6 billion over two years, increased the assistance that we're providing for human rights, for democracy building, for institution building, for alternate economic activity tenfold, to $240 million.
We probably would have increased it more had AID said that they could have absorbed the capacity to do more. That is, we basically took it up to the level that AID said they could use without throwing money at the problem. So we're deeply committed to that. Others will also assist that. A lot of the money from the international financial institutions and others will be for economic develop, institution building, et cetera.
But it's very difficult to sustain a democracy in the middle of a guerrilla insurgency and a corrosive drug problem. We have had experience in Peru and in Bolivia where we have worked with the Peruvian government and the Bolivian government to train the military to go in and provide the kind of security that police need to confiscate or to destroy crops and to destroy these labs. And drug production has gone way down in Peru, way down in Bolivia.
And now we're going to try to help the Colombians do the same thing. It's very hard to imagine democracy surviving over the long-term in Colombia unless there can be both some, A, reversal in the grip of the drug traffickers and, B, a peace with the insurgents.
The last thing I would say is we don't think there is a military solution to the guerilla war in Colombia, nor does President Pastrana. That is why he has embarked upon such a vigorous peace initiative. He has taken risks in doing that. There's a deeper level of dialogue and engagement than there has been before. It's going to be a long process. This has been a 40-year insurgency. But we don't see there being a military solution.
So I don't think that we should -- I understand why the issue is raised, but it is not either the intent or purpose or will be the way in which this program operates.
Q You said the United States is not going to be involved
in the counterinsurgency effort, as I think you've also indicated, the
two are tied in the drug trade because the rebels -- and there's more
than one outfit, but particularly the big outfit -- they're collecting
taxes on the coca crop there, that's how they sustain their existence.
So once you
attack the coca crop, you're obviously involved in the counterinsurgency. And you say a military solution doesn't work. Didn't it work in Peru? They went in there and just the beat --
MR. BERGER: After 40 years, I think our judgment, President Pastrana's judgment is that there is not likely to be a military solution to the insurgency in Colombia, that there needs to be a negotiated solution.
Listen, here's what we're going to do. We're going to send a few hundred trainers to Colombia. They are going to train two battalions. They're going to vet them for human rights, they're going to train those two battalions. Those two battalions will be used to go into areas where there are -- particular areas where the drug crops are most intense and most pervasive. They will try to create security so that the Colombian national police can go into those areas, destroy the crops and destroy the lavatories. That is the purpose of our support.
Q Sandy, what do you make of these reports that the Colombian NGOs are refusing some of the money because they've been threatened by their rebels as being military targets?
MR. BERGER: Well, I mean, I think it's -- it will be important to have dialogue with the NGOs. I think that's something that the government of Colombia intends to do. There is a risk in Colombia every day -- 35,000 people were killed in Colombia in the last 10 years. This is a very tough place. I think we can either help Colombia try to come to grips with that, help Colombia in its effort to deal with that problem, or stand back and let Colombian democracy collapse. Obviously, it will be the responsibility of the Colombian police and the Colombian military to protect the human rights organizations.
Q In sort of that same spirit, there is this sort of escalation that appears to be happening. You've heard the comparisons to the Vietnamization of Colombia. What do you make of that notion that this is happening that seems to be comparable in some ways?
MR. BERGER: I think that you can get paralyzed by the foreign policy of analogy. You should learn from what happened before, but the fact is this is nothing similar whatsoever. We're talking about a few hundred American people going to train some -- going down on a one-day trip which was all that was really possible. I think it's something the President wanted to do as soon after Congress acted as possible to manifest to the Colombian people and express to the Colombian people our solidarity -- the United States, Republicans and Democrats -- with their fight to save democracy, defeat drugs and to gain peace. I think this was just the easiest place to go.
MR. CROWLEY: One more question.
Q Sandy, to what extent is corruption seen in Nigeria as an obstacle to the rooting of democracy?
MR. BERGER: There has been a serious corruption in Nigeria over the years of military rule. And I think President Obasanjo understands that extremely well. He's taken some actions early on to deal with this, but this is going to take a sustained, systematic effort on his part to change -- to not only hold people accountable, but to change a culture particularly in the government that has very often lived off corruption.
Q Since Plan Colombia was approved, it seems like the war in Colombia has been intensified. As a matter of fact, since the President announced the visit, the guerrillas have launched more and more attacks. They say that with the implementation of Plan Colombia, things are going to get worse, because they're going to respond to a plan that they reject.
On the other hand, they are stating that if President Pastrana backs off from the Plan, they might be willing to negotiate a cease-fire. Is there room for a modification of the plan if the peace negotiations start showing --
MR. BERGER: I'm not going to get in the middle of a dialogue between, or an exchange between President Pastrana and the FARC. We support President Pastrana.
Q On the Fox visit, just one second, about this open borders plan. Is the United States interested in this, or is it just impractical?
MR. BERGER: Let me say that -- we first have an obligation to enforce to the laws of our land, including laws against illegal migration. And we have undertaken strong efforts to do that. What I understand President-elect Fox to be talking about -- and we will be interested to hear him discuss this today -- is something that is very long-term in his mind. That is that as the wage levels in Mexico rise to a level that is more comparable to the United States over 20 years or 30 years, it may enable there to be a different kind of economic integration than exists today.
But we certainly are in favor of efforts to raise the wage levels in Mexico. We will enforce our laws against illegal migration, but I'll be very interested -- I'm sure the President will be -- to hear his ideas. Thanks.
11:54 A.M. EDT