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Press Briefing in Montevideo, Uruguay

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Thomas A. Shannon, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Sheraton Hotel
Montevideo, Uruguay
July 11, 2007

Under Secretary Burns addresses local media during a press conference held July 11, 2007 in Montevideo. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon and U.S. Ambassador Frank E. Baxter are seated to his left.[U.S. Embassy photo by Vince Alongi]UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good morning, thank you very much for coming. I would like to say that we are coming from Santiago and about our stay here we are very grateful to President Vázquez for his warm welcome to our delegation.

We have been with President Vázquez, with Minister Astori, with Minister Lepra and this has been a very interesting visit. We think that relations between our two countries are at one of their best periods. President Bush felt very much at home here and appreciated very much how he was welcomed in March, and he as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were very pleased with the results of their visit.

They will also welcome Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson who will be arriving here and the Government is hosting a major meeting of finance ministers from the Hemisphere to include the Mexican and Peruvian finance ministers so we are looking forward very much to this very strong engagement between the two countries. And I think that we have made major strives in improving our relations over the last six months and think the future will be very bright for this relationship.

We had a very good discussion on economic, commercial and trade issues and we hope that we can broaden our trade relations with Uruguay. We look forward to the importation of Uruguayan agricultural products here to the United States that had not been possible before, that is coming in the next few months, and I think, in general, we understand that we both live in a competitive global environment that both of us have to do well in that environment and we pledge to work closer together.

I congratulate President Vázquez in assuming the Presidency of Mercosur. Of course the United States wants very close relationships with the countries of Mercosur, we have them, for the most part and especially with the rapidly improving relations with Brazil and certainly with Uruguay.

We also spoke with President Vázquez and Minister Lepra and Minister Astori about energy which is in many ways the number one international issue. We understand and agree the wish of the Uruguayan government to diversify energy sources, we have the same imperative in the United States and we have agreed to try to work very hard on energy cooperation. And Minister Lepra was in the United States, we think there is potential for biofuels cooperation between Uruguay and the United States. The United States is the leading producer of biofuels in the world and we look forward to work with Uruguay in this issue as well as on renewable energy sources so that both of our countries can prosper in an era where energy is such an important factor for our economic growth.

Two more points before we go to your questions: the first is that we are very impressed by Uruguay’s commitment to international peacekeeping especially under the United Nations. And that we talked to President Vázquez and also the Foreign Ministry, we had an excellent meeting with the Foreign Minister last evening, we told them both how grateful we are as supporters of the United Nations that Uruguay is the leading contributor of peacekeeping forces in the world and per capita basis, that is quite an achievement for this country. So we very much value what Uruguay is doing in Haiti and Minusta which is such an important mission to help the poorest country in our hemisphere. We value what Uruguay is doing in Congo where Secretary Rice will be visiting next week. That’s a critical mission. And also Uruguay has also stationed troops in a very difficult United Nations mission, in the horn of Africa between Ethiopia and Eritrea, so that I can’t say enough about Uruguay being the model for all the rest of us who need to support international peacekeeping missions into Darfur, into Somalia and support the United Nations and letting the United Nations succeed in one of the most important missions and that is to keep the peace among the countries of the world.

Let me make one final point: and that is the United States understands that we live in this hemisphere and share with you, and so we want to be present in a positive way to help resolve the problems that all of us have and share together in this hemisphere. We want to work with you to resolve the problem of climate change, we want to support the efforts of countries of South America to deal with the problem of social injustice and of poverty. And we want to help you and we want you to help us to invest in the people of the United States and Uruguay and all the other countries. We would hope that we could expand the knowledge that we have about each other, we would like more Uruguayan students to come to our country, and we would like more Americans to come here.

And this morning we took a very small modest step in contributing money to help 16 more elementary schools here having English language training, there are now 20,000 young kids in this city who have English language training and we are very proud to support this. There are two great world languages in this hemisphere, one of them is English and the other is Spanish, so we hope that English language can take off but we also hope that in our country we can increase the number of Spanish speakers from 40 million to many more and I’ll try to be one of those people. So I’m happy to answer any questions you have.

QUESTION: [inaudible]

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, the United States is still very much committed to free trade agreements with South Korea, with Colombia with Panama, and with Perú. It is a major priority of our administration and we intend and wish to be successful in convincing our Congress that these four agreements need to be approved.

Free trade is the best way that we know to create good jobs for people. I was in Santiago yesterday and this Chilean government told me that the trade between the United States and Chile has increased by 154% since the free trade agreement between the U.S. and Chile was implemented. Our relationship was vastly improved because of this, so we wish to see the same thing happening with Perú and Panamá and Colombia in this hemisphere. Finally, I also think that the free trade agreements are a symbol and they are a symbol of a new positive engagement of my country in the hemisphere and we intend to meet that commitment that we’ve made, to be active, to be positive and to help in generating an economic space in the hemisphere that will be good for all the people who live here, including people in your country and mine.

QUESTION: In regards to the symbol that a free trade agreement means, yesterday in Congress Mr. Shannon in some way acknowledged the demands of Mercosur to Uruguay to advance in negotiations with the US. What would be the role Brazil would play in this regard and especially since you are heading to Brazil today? Which role could Brazil play to untie Uruguay’s negotiations in this matter?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I am going to let A/S Shannon to defend himself in answering this question but let me just say one word before I turn the microphone over to Tom. By the way, the two of us stayed very late last night watching Uruguay play Brazil in football and Uruguay played brilliantly, with great courage, so congratulations. I think the trend of United States engagement in this hemisphere is that we are improving our relations with a number of countries, I talked about Chile. There’s no question that the relationship between Uruguay and the United States is closer today than it was before President Bush’s visit. And there’s no question that the strategic partnership which is global between Brazil and the United States is a reality, and this is a very important moment for the United States engagement in Latin America to have strong relationships in the Southern part of the continent.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON:In terms of our relationship with Uruguay, our goal is to strengthen it and use any means to strengthen it. At present we are working to conclude a frame investment agreement that would be very good in terms of building the economic dialogue with Uruguay in order to enhance our trade relations. At the same time we respect the political context in which our trade relations occur in Uruguay and within Mercosur so we will advance in our relations at a comfortable pace for Uruguay so we will really depend on Uruguay in this regard.

QUESTION: Which is the interest that the United States has in a small country like ours, with such a small population; what is the commercial and political interest that you have in Uruguay at this moment?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you. It is quite basic. I think we live in an integrated world. Every country is important. Especially because the great new story about international politics is that we face challenges that no one country can face alone in the world. Look at the role that Uruguay is playing in international peace keeping, the leading role per capita basis. That´s a critical challenge in the world today. And if we want to be successful and triumph as a world community or global common change or trafficking in women or the fight against terrorism we need every country to work together. I also think that countries can punch well above their weight in size and population in the world if they are enlightened countries, if they are dynamic, if they are forward looking and if they have a spirit of internationalism. And I think your President has that, and your Foreign Minister, and your Finance Minister. I think your government has that here, which is why we want to work so closely with Uruguay. And that kind of interaction allows us to do great things internationally. It also allows us to do things we haven´t done before, like have Uruguay export blueberries to the United States which we are all looking forward to.

QUESTION: I would like to ask Mr. Shannon what themes the Uruguayan President addresses with him. Which are the concerns that Dr. Vazquez has expressed to you that have been important to you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON:Well, Dr. Vazquez has not shown any concerns. We had the opportunity to talk with the President about a series of themes. The commercial relationship, how to deepen it, how to carry out everything we talked about during President Bush´s visit, but also with a view into the future, talking about the energy subject as Assistant Secretary Burns stated. We talked about the important role that Uruguay plays in the peacekeeping operations with the United National and also about our desire to strengthen relationships not only between Uruguay and the United States but also between the United States and Mercosur. We also talked about the way in which we can achieve that our economic dialogue includes a block of very important countries in the region.

Released on July 11, 2007

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