Press Round-Table on ArgentinaMarc Grossman, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Q & A with Journalists
Buenos Aires, Argentina
March 6, 2002
Under Secretary Grossman:
Under Secretary Grossman:Weíll be glad to do this on the record.
Well, first of all, thank you all very much for coming. I should probably apologize. Iím probably the only person in this room who does not speak Spanish. So I hope you all allow me to use an interpreter here this morning. What Iíd like to do is maybe give you a short statement, give you a review of all weíve been doing. And then Iíll be glad to answer a few questions.
Just to introduce myself, Iím Marc Grossman. I'm the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs of the State Department. And Iíd just like to emphasize that, on the delegation that visited with President Duhalde yesterday, I was accompanied by representatives of the White House and the Treasury Department. The schedule yesterday actually was quite a simple one. The President was nice enough to receive us for about an hour yesterday afternoon. And thanks to Amb. Walsh I had the opportunity to visit both the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister together, and that lasted also about an hour.
So, I just want to make sure that I thank all of my Argentine hosts for all the hospitality that I was shown yesterday. And I also want to take this time to pay tribute to Jim Walsh and our mission here. I think they do a great job representing the United States of America.
As my title implies, I pay my first visit to Argentina with a political message. And at Secretary Powellís request, I came to Argentina to underscore that this country is an important friend, ally and partner of the United States. In the conversations I had yesterday I think we proved that Argentina and the United States are engaged together across the board. And, my job yesterday and today is to try to let people know that we want Argentina to succeed.
In my meeting yesterday with the President and with the Ministers, we talked both about the past in our relationship and the future as well. And I conveyed, on behalf of the United States, our strong desire to continue the closest possible ties with Argentina. As in all of these conversations, we really start on the basis of values, and those are the values of commitment to democracy and promoting freedom. I also want to say that I took the opportunity, although some months later -- this is my first visit here -- to thank President Duhalde, on behalf of the United States, for the strong support that Argentina has shown the United States after September 11. One of the very first and most important resolutions after the 11 of September came from the Organization of American States. And we will not forget this.
In all of the meetings yesterday, we talked about what more Argentina and the United States could do to counter terrorism. Weíve also not forgotten that Argentina was a partner in the Persian Gulf War and has deployed peacekeeping troops in the Balkans. In fact, one of the most interesting facts about Argentina that I learned is that Argentina has one of the greatest schools for peacekeeping in the world. We also had a chance to talk about regional issues and the return to democracy in Peru, the work we are doing together in Haiti, and the opportunity that we have to promote the agenda of Quebec when we vote for a Cuban human rights resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
One of the things that I have found in my travels is that, after September 11, some people have raised doubts about whether we can both fight terrorism and pay attention to the hemisphere. We can do this and we will do this. As President Bush pointed out in his speech to the OAS on January 16, this hemisphere matters a very, very great deal to us. And Iím sure, as you have all seen, the president will travel later this month to Monterrey (Mexico), Peru and El Salvador.
Now, of course, over the past few months -- and you all have reported on it extensively-- there's been considerable attention, obviously, to Argentinaís economic crisis. And, although this was not the focus of my visit, we know there is much hard work ahead, and we are confident Argentina can overcome its problems. And I hope that you'll allow me to quote a section of that speech that President Bush gave to the OAS on January 16. I think itís very important. He said: 'America is deeply concerned about the difficulties facing our ally and friend Argentina and its great people. America is confident that Argentina will get through these troubles. The United States is prepared to help Argentina weather this storm. Once Argentina has committed to a sound and sustainable economic plan, we will support assistance for Argentina through international financial institutions.í
I'd say that we are very pleased that the IMF has a mission in Buenos Aires starting today to work with the government of Argentina. So my job here was to make clear that the relationship between Argentina and the United States includes more than the economic questions, even though they are obviously so important. Our desire is to see Argentinaís democracy thrive and for the Argentine people to again enjoy prosperity. This is a country renowned for its ingenuity, resourcefulness, perseverance and hard work. Argentina has the talent and tools needed to forge ahead. As a friend of Argentina, the United States looks forward to supporting these goals. From my perspective, Argentina is not alone. Thank you very much for listening to that statement, and Iíll be glad to take a few questions.
Daniel Santoro from El Clarin: I would like to ask about the criteria of the Department of State after the approval of the Argentine budget and the agreement made with the provinces; is there a sustainable program in Argentina in order to gain the support of the IMF and the World Bank?
Under Secretary Grossman: Would you be kind enough to introduce yourself?
Answer: Sorry, Daniel Santoro, from Clarin newspaper.
Under Secretary Grossman: Nice to see you. Let me try to answer your question in three ways. First, itís important that you know there is not a State Department set of criteria. There is a view of the government of the United States. And thatís why I emphasized to you that my delegation included representatives of the White House and the Treasury Department. Second, President Duhalde and the Foreign Minister informed me yesterday with some passion and considerable detail about where these things stand in all the areas that you mentioned. And I donít have the slightest doubt that they are going to make the same information available to the IMF. And so point three: you can imagine that with an IMF team here in Buenos Aires it is not my intention to step in between the government of Argentina and the IMF. Again, I emphasize the statement that I quoted from President Bush. Thatís our policy.
Stephen Brown from Reuters: There is a certain amount of concern in Argentina about some of the elements that you've expressed that are of importance to the bilateral relationship, such as the commitment to democracy, instability of the country, that they are guaranteed at the moment -- in that people think that the current President might have to make way for earlier elections because his grip on power is not strong enough. Do you at the moment consider that Duhalde has good medium term prospects for finishing his term as president, and do you think at the moment that Argentina is a sound and safe democracy and a stable partner of the United States?
Under Secretary Grossman: : We absolutely do believe that Argentina is a stable, and serious and secure democracy. I can answer the first part of your question by saying that the decision of who is the president of Argentina and when Argentines might have elections of course, is wholly, solely and totally a question for Argentines to decide.
Jorge Elias from La Nacion: In the meeting you held with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Argentina and the Minister of Defense, did you address the issue of Colombia and, if so, is there any concrete proposal on your part regarding that?
Under Secretary Grossman: On Colombia, we certainly did have a conversation with both the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister about Colombia. If I might also say, and this is of course for him to speak for himself, that this was also a topic of conversation with the President, who is clearly concerned about Colombia and urged all of us in the hemisphere to support President Pastrana. I believe that in the conversation with the Foreign and Defense Ministers, it was clear that we see the challenge in Colombia in exactly the same way. Colombia is struggling to protect its democracy. The FARC, ELN, AUC are all terrorist organizations from our perspective, financed by narcotics. So, Colombia faces a huge challenge. And I believe that the President, the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister were right to highlight this yesterday. I explained what we were doing in Colombia, our support for Plan Colombia, President Bushís Andean Regional initiative, and the extra efforts we have been making to support President Pastrana after he ended the zone. I heard from the Foreign Minister about the support that Argentina is giving to Colombia. We decided to stay in very close touch on this. But there was no kind of specific proposal that I gave them or they gave me. Itís something we both need to keep working on.
Daniel Santoro from Clarin: Going back to the question by my colleague from Reuters. For Argentina to continue being a solid and sound democracy, is it convenient for President Duhalde to finish his term in the year 2003 or is it more convenient to go to the polls before that as some of the political leaders of the opposition are urging?
Under Secretary Grossman: As I tried to respond to your colleague from Reuters, that is totally a decision for people in Argentina to make.
William Cormier - AP: What is the new policy of constructive engagement, and is there any change in the bilateral relationship between Argentina and the United States?
Under Secretary Grossman: I did not come here to start a new policy towards Argentina. What I came to do was perhaps to remind people of all the things that are going on in the relationship with Argentina since, understandably, the economic parts of this dominate the headlines. I wouldnít give it a new name; itís not a new anything. I came really to give a political message of support and to remind everybody of all the things we are doing together.
Question: What was the most telling reason why the visa waiver program has been changed now, and is there any chance - in a year or so - that they could get back on this program?
Under Secretary Grossman: Iím not sure I can give you one reason; let me give you three. First, was the question of the economic crisis in Argentina. Second, it became clear over the years that, of the number of Argentineans who arrived in the United States with a visa, a large number of them started to overstay the period of that visa. And third, we have a concern that I believe is shared by the government of Argentina about the kind of documentation that is required to get a national identity card in Argentina. And for all those reasons, the Justice Department decided we would step back from the visa waiver program. Two points. One is, although I would not put a timeframe on it, you said a year, I cannot put a time on it, it is certainly possible that at some time in the future Argentina could return to the WVP. I cannot give a time. Second, Iíd like to say that our people here have done a tremendous job in adjusting to this new procedure. Theyíve issued thousands of visas, and we are very happy with the way that this is proceeding.
Question: There is concern about the Argentinians already in places like South Florida about what would be done for those folks living there who have overstayed their visas. Any special consideration there?
Under Secretary Grossman: I donít know the answer to that question.