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Press Roundtable Prior to Secretary Rice's Travel to Brazil and Chile

Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Washington, DC
March 12, 2008

MODERATOR: All right, everyone. I’d like to introduce Assistant Secretary Tom Shannon. Let me make sure my own microphone is on here – okay. I’ll go ahead and make a short remark about the trip. Sir, you’ve got Anne Flaherty, Mauricio Rabuffetti and Arshad Mohammed who are going to be travelling with you on the trip.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Great.

MODERATOR: And our colleagues, Brazilian press, and also from (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Right.

MODERATOR: So a lot of familiar faces for you, so we’ll go ahead and give the Assistant Secretary the chance to make some remarks and then take questions. We’ve got about approximately 45 minutes.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Okay.

MODERATOR: Open it up.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Okay. Thank you for your time. I appreciate you all being here. Very briefly, as you know, the Secretary leaves this evening for a trip to Brazil and Chile with our first stop in Brasilia, where she’ll have the opportunities to meet with President Lula and Foreign Minister Amorim. She will sign a joint action plan against racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination with the Brazilian Minister, who addresses those issues, Edson Santos.

And from Brasilia, she will then travel to Salvador de Bahia, where she’s been wanting to travel for quite some time in Brazil, to – again, to visit an important and dynamic part of Brazil, but also highlight the commonalities between Brazil and the United States in terms of our multiracial, multiethnic democracies with a focus on the pluralism of and diversity of our societies and the importance of openness and tolerance to the well-being of our societies.

From Salvador de Bahia, she will then travel to Santiago, Chile where again, she will have an opportunity to meet with Foreign Minister Foxley and President Bachelet and among other things, will – with Foreign Minister Foxley be announcing the beginnings of a Chile-California partnership that will kind of rebuild and reestablish linkages between Chile and California that first were established in the 1960s, but at this point in time as we deepen our economic and our social and educational linkages with Chile, I think will pay high dividends both in the United States and in Chile.

We’re happy that we’re going to have the Secretary in the region, especially at a very, very busy time elsewhere in the world. We think her willingness to spend the days traveling to visit two very important partners in South America is indicative of how important she sees the region and especially how importantly she sees these two relationships. And we think this is going to be a very positive three days.

So why don’t I stop there and take questions.

QUESTION: How do you expect the recent crisis in Colombia to factor in, if at all, to her discussions with President Lula?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, they’ll certainly be, you know, part of the topics that are discussed in both stops. You know, the events of the last half-week have been important for the Andes, they’ve been important for Latin America and they’ve been important for the OAS.

And we think that we’re at a pretty positive point right now in the sense that the OAS and the Rio Group have created a – kind of a basis to resolve the diplomatic dispute or crisis that existed between Colombia and Ecuador. And now, I think we’re in a position to try to address the underlying cause of the dispute, which is the way in which the FARC has used border areas for its own benefit, either as safe haven or as bases of operation with no respect for the sovereignty of any of the countries involved. And so I think the OAS faces a larger challenge.

And we look forward to the report that Secretary General Insulza and members of his commission will deliver when they return. And so I think it’s natural that this issue will be discussed.

QUESTION: Would Rice make any requests of the leaders that she’ll meet with regarding this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: By requests, what do you mean? By --

QUESTION: For example, stating their unity with the United States of being against the FARC.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well --

QUESTION: Anything (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I think this issue will be discussed as part of kind of a broader look at the region and a broader look at consultations. And I don’t think we’re going down asking people to do anything. I think we’re going down asking them, first of all, to share their understandings with us and for us to share our understandings, and then I think to reaffirm broader commitments that have already been made, you know, through the OAS and through the UN in terms of working together to fight irregular and illegal groups, transnational actors such as terrorist organizations, drug trafficking cartels, organized crime, you know, which really are the principal security threat that the region faces today.

And in this regard, you know, both of these countries, Brazil and Chile, played, I think, very important and very helpful roles both in the OAS and in the Rio Group in helping to create a basis to solve the diplomatic dispute between Colombia and Ecuador and lay a – kind of a basis or a groundwork to address the larger issues.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, to what extent is the Administration considering the possibility of placing Venezuela on the state sponsors of terrorism list and if it were to do something – this is – I know this is hypothetical, but in terms of a technical (inaudible), I want to understand. It’s my understanding that the sanctions (inaudible) state sponsors would not necessary bar U.S. companies from importing Venezuelan oil, but I want to make sure that that’s the case.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I’d have to get one of our lawyers to answer that question for you, I mean, in term – the last part of the question. So I can’t answer it precisely or exactly right now. But declaring somebody a state sponsor of terrorism is a big step, it’s a serious step, and it’s one that we would only take after, you know, very careful consideration of all the evidence. And so --

QUESTION: Are you actively considering that?

QUESTION: Are you considering (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Are you considering the possibility of Venezuela --

QUESTION: Do you think you have this whole (inaudible) communiqués like this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: We don’t know yet. I mean, we – we have to take a close look at all of the material that is in the hard drives of Raul Reyes and Ivan Rios and that’s going to take awhile. There’s a lot of material in it. You know, we – the Colombians have posted some of it on the internet already, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. And again, as I said, you know, the information that has emerged so far is worrisome. I would even call it disturbing because it does seem to indicate a degree of dialogue and discussion between members of the Government of Venezuela and the FARC that have to be explained. But again, we’re very early in the process and it would be a mistake to jump to conclusions at this point in time.

QUESTION: The Secretary is speaking specifically about Chile on this project, the Chile-California Partnership. I wanted to ask you the specifics (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Yeah. Well, again, this is something that the Secretary and Foreign Minister Foxley discussed last year in a visit that the Foreign Minister made here at the same time that we discussed the possibility of creating an educational opportunity program. We’ve put in place an educational opportunity program working with Chile. I’m sure you’re aware of this scholarship program. And so now, we’re – we’ve – we’re moving ahead on the second aspect of the discussion between Minister Foxley and the Secretary which is building this Chile-California partnership.

And the – our Ambassador in Chile, Paul Simons, and Chile’s Ambassador here, Mariano Fernandez, traveled to California in February, met with Governor Schwarzenegger and a variety of representatives of the Government of California and key, kind of, industry and association representatives and educational representatives to begin a discussion about how Chile and California can build educational ties, commercial ties and a variety of other kind of linkages.

There is still work to be done in terms of exploring all the modalities, but it’s – but as I’m sure you know, this is not a new relationship. It’s one that’s existed for a while, largely because of the similarities between Chile and California and the complementary nature of their economies. And so it – we think that by highlighting this partnership, we’re showing the degree to which, you know, Chile and the United States are working together not only as – not only on trade issues and political issues, but how our societies are linking to each other and we think this is important, but --

QUESTION: This idea was a United States idea, a Chilean idea, it was something that both countries shared or --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: It was first – it emerged in the conversation between Minister Foxley and Secretary Rice. And it was initially proposed by Minister Foxley, remembering the important nature of this relationship and looking for ways to revive it.

QUESTION: Also, Minister Foxley was mentioning something about moving the bilateral agenda between Chile and the United States. And I wanted to ask you what points are in the agenda today? Because for example, there is one point about the (inaudible) that is being asked, so does United States plan to put that in the agenda, in the discussion with (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I mean, there are always these kind of discrete items in any conversation we’re going to have with a country like Chile, you know, whether it’s digital television, whether it’s intellectual property rights, whether it’s aspects of our security cooperation, whether it’s anticipating the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum meeting in November in Peru. And so, I mean, all of these issues at one time or another will pop up in the conversations because there’s several, you know, extended opportunities for dialogue, so I’m sure they will.

QUESTION: Going back to the Colombia crisis, I mean, what’s the role that the U.S. is (inaudible) for the Brazilian Government to have on this issue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I think the one that it played, which is kind of supporting the regional institutions that have kind of immediate responsibility for the crisis, which is the OAS, and then working through informal structures like the Rio Group, you know, to take a solution which had been fashioned at the level of the permanent council and make it real at the level of leaders.

QUESTION: But President Lula didn’t go to the Dominican Republic and the provisions for the U.S. and Brazil, (inaudible) discussions were in different, very different positions, like the U.S. (inaudible) supports in Colombia and Brazil was really condemning it. Do you think Brazil should move to another position towards, you know, the fight against terrorism if the U.S. considers the FARC to be (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: You know, I don’t agree with your assessment of what happened in the OAS. I think all of the responsible partners to the conversation in the OAS were looking for a way to resolve the immediate crisis between Colombia and Ecuador and do it in a way that then allowed the OAS to look at the larger issue with a certain degree of serenity or tranquility, without having the immediate overhang of a dispute between two countries, number one.

And number two, I think we and Brazil also were in agreement with the importance of the OAS showing, in the very short term, that it could come to grips with this problem. And you know, the kinds of conversations that we had with the Brazilian delegation and -- you know, were very positive. So –

QUESTION: The underlying issue of terrorism was that there is some (inaudible) from the – you know, Ambassador (inaudible) and that was clearly, you know, stressed more than in other countries. So I’m asking in that sense. So my question is, will this be part of the agenda that the U.S. is taking to the region to – from the region asking partners to embrace more openly? Is the regional fight against terrorism?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Oh, I think it’s already there. We don’t have to take it to the region. I think it is already being discussed in an important way by all the countries in the region. And I think it was discussed in the Dominican Republic. I mean, if you look at the declaration that came out of the Rio Group, one of the specific paragraphs focuses on the need of all the countries to cooperate in the larger struggle against illegal or irregular groups. And I think that was a very important point. And the fact that it emerged in a Rio Group setting where we’re not present, I think, indicates that this is an issue that is understood in the region and we don’t have to take it there.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Do you think that -- do you think they are engaged as they should be?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, we’ll know soon. I mean, assuming the Council of Ministers meeting, you know, is held on Monday the 17th, you know, that will be, I think, a good indicator.

But again, this is – there are two distinct issues here. One is the – kind of the diplomatic dispute between Colombia and Ecuador. That’s kind of more immediate, it’s – and can be fixed in a fairly short fashion, restoring diplomatic relations. But the larger issue that we were talking about which is, you know, getting democracies to commit to protection of democratic states and in getting democracies to show solidarity among themselves in standing up to organizations like the FARC is a larger process and it’s a process that the OAS has been grappling with for a bunch of years, I mean, since the creation of (inaudible), the Inter American Commission on Terrorism, and since 2000 – the 2003 declaration of security in the Americas in which all the members of the OAS identified the very new kinds of security situations that the Americas face today and the new security threats that the Americas face with terrorism being an important component of that.

And so it’s a balancing of this new understanding of security with an older OAS structure, which was all about territorial integrity and sovereignty and in managing conflicts between states. But the OAS, over time, has come to recognize that it’s done quite well in managing conflict between states, but it needs to do more in terms of addressing the larger issue of threats posed by transnational or non-state actors. And that’s where I think this specific incident and dispute can actually be a motivator for a broader discussion that ultimately will be for the good of the hemisphere.

QUESTION: Sorry. What about this Brazilian initiative and the Latin American Security Council they proposed last week during a trip to Argentina? In your work, are you familiar with that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: No.

QUESTION: What do you think about it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: No, I’m not familiar with it.

QUESTION: You said that (inaudible) gathered so far for the (inaudible) is worrisome and disturbing, but we haven’t seen anyone from the Brazilian Government say -- using similar words (inaudible). Do you think they are too soft on the FARC?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I mean, again, I can’t comment on other people not commenting. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, what would you – would you expect more affirmative stance?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: My experience with Brazil is that they’re very hard on the FARC when the FARC comes into Brazil, so – but again, we’re at – it’s important to understand we’re at a very early stage right now. Raul Reyes has only been dead for less than 10 days. You know, we’re only now getting access to the hard drives and to the material that was in them. And then it’s going to take a long time. And it’s going to take a long time, I think, for people to understand the import of everything that’s in them.

QUESTION: Basically, if the worse comes to worst and the U.S. considers Venezuela a state sponsor in terrorism, what are you going to do with the (inaudible) trade between the two countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, and –

QUESTION: And I’m sure that’s an issue that you guys think of.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Again, it’s a hypothetical. I mean, in my business, worse never comes to worst. But we really can’t talk about that.

QUESTION: How will you assess the situation of the FARC right now after the recent events?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I think they’re in a really bad place. I mean, two FARC secretary members have been killed in the course of a week. And the – the FARC’s presence beyond Colombia’s borders in neighboring countries has been highlighted in graphic fashion. Again, it’s going to take awhile to analyze and understand all of this with clarity. But the FARC is obviously struggling at this point in time. It doesn’t move easily inside of Colombia. It has trouble kind of meeting some of the requirements in the most kind of recent batch of release of hostages.

You know, it couldn’t easily produce proof of life or transport that proof of life out. You know, it left an international delegation hanging and you have Ascencio in Colombia for a period of time at -- when they were trying to arrange the initial hostage release. It seems to have some serious kind of communications and logistical and operational problems right now.

QUESTION: What will be the U.S. stance if the Colombian military once again crosses the border to (inaudible) military operation as it did in (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I mean, that’s – I can’t kind of anticipate something that might not happen, you know. I mean, again, you know, coming out of the Rio Group, I think Colombia’s made it vey clear that this is not something it wants to do. And in fact, President Uribe has said he won’t do it as long as he can count on assistance and help from his neighbors in addressing the threat. So again, I think we’re in an interesting moment in which, as upset as some people might be with what Colombia has done, I think there’s a recognition that the burden for not having it happen again lies with Colombia’s neighbors as much as it does with Colombia. And the degree to which Colombia’s neighbors commit to helping Colombia protect itself against a threat to its democratic state, that Colombia won’t violate the borders of its neighbors.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the question of Venezuela? Is it – I want to be, you know, precise about this. I mean, is it fair to say that the Bush Administration is considering the possibility of putting Venezuela on the state sponsor list or is it too early even to say that? And is it fair, rather, to say that you are looking at the recently, you know, acquired information to see if it has any indications for whether or not to put them on the state sponsors list?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I think we just have to say that we’re looking at – we’re looking closely at the information that is being made available to us through the hard drives to understand the FARC's relationship with actors and states external to Colombia, and that we have a lot of work to do and that, you know, before we begin any serious process of consideration, we need to understand the information that's available to us.

QUESTION: Secretary Shannon, (inaudible) some position against terrorism in the OAS? So will the U.S. ask for a more strong position in (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I think the position in -- first of all, I think Brazil and Chile both have, kind of, strong positions against terrorism, broadly stated. And both of these countries have participated in very helpful and important ways as the OAS has moved to this new understanding of security in the Americas that I talked about a few minutes ago. You know, so again, it's not a question of us asking other countries to do more. I think the issue is -- it's a question of us trying to understand better how we can work more effectively with all of our partners in the region to fight a threat that is recognized as such.

QUESTION: I mean, regardless of what one might think about his policies in the region or elsewhere, President Hugo Chavez did play a role in the releasing of the hostages out in Colombia. Placing him as somewhat of an outcast in the region, doesn't it make the process go backwards in a way?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Who's making him an outcast?

QUESTION: This is the U.S. (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: In what way?

QUESTION: Well, in the way that it is condemning the role that he plays in the region as a destabilizing force and somewhat of a threat to the neighbors.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I mean, I think you're talking about kind of a variety of different issues there that are kind of discrete. But in regard to the hostages, I guess what I would say is, first of all, we've always supported President Uribe in his effort to fashion some kind of humanitarian agreement or accord with the FARC in an effort to win the freedom of the hostages. And our focus has been on -- of course, on the three American hostages, but also all of the hostages, recognizing that as Colombia has worked toward some kind of humanitarian agreement, it has always been our hope that it addresses the broad issue of kidnapping in Colombia.

And the second point is that we have also supported the efforts of third parties to play a helpful role in this when that role is coordinated with the Government of Colombia, recognizing that it's the Government of Colombia that is the legal and sovereign power in this instance. And so we welcomed the release of the hostages. We think it's -- these have been important events. We urge the FARC to continue to release hostages and we think this is important.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the things that the Secretary plans to sort of announce over time? One is the -- can you tell us anything more concrete in terms, even if it’s in general, what are the kinds of aspects of cooperation that you would like to see or (inaudible) visit between Chile and California? And what -- I assume that such a relationship lapsed during the period of the military dictatorship? And then secondly, what is going to be part of the action plan with Brazil on (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, again, on the Chile-California partnership, we're still in the process of building this. So it's not -- you know, what we'd be announcing is taking conversations that took place between Minister Fox and Secretary Rice and a trip done by our ambassadors to California and meeting with Californian officials as the basis from which to begin shaping the partnership.

But it will almost certainly include education, building strong educational relationships between Chilean institutions and Californian institutions, especially at higher education. It will almost certainly involve commerce and trade, again, because the agricultural kind of climates of both countries are complementary and they can trade into each other easily on this, and they share a lot in common in terms of coastlines, in terms of issues of transportation and infrastructure and port security issues. And so there's, I think, a lot of different points of commonality that, you know, as we deepen our discussions, I think both countries and the state of California are going to recognize that there's a lot to win, plus kind of a common approach to the Asia-Pacific region and a common interest in building bridges across the Pacific into the economies of Asia.

In terms of the joint action plan, we'll be releasing that plan when it's signed, so you all will, I think, get a close look at it. But obviously, the idea is to build off of the experiences of both countries in trying to fight racism and fight ethnic discrimination and create societies that are open, tolerant and diverse. And, you know, we have our own experiences in terms of doing this. Brazil has its experiences and we hope to be able to share them. But I think one of the areas that the Secretary is going to want to focus on is education and the importance of education in addressing racism and ethnic discrimination in societies.

QUESTION: Going back to the Colombia, the Colombia issue, (inaudible) issue, based on the official statements of FARC from the U.S. Government, it's not clear what was exactly the role of the U.S. in this whole operation and (inaudible).

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: I think it was pretty clear. We --

QUESTION: You guys (inaudible) with intelligence, with military actions -- what was the role that (inaudible)?

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, what we said is that this was a Colombian operation conducted by Colombian forces; that's our statement.

QUESTION: Could you elaborate on that?

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: That's -- I think that's about as clear as you can get. The --

QUESTION: There’s talk, for example, about intelligence issues that --

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I mean, you know we're not going to comment on intelligence issues. I mean, the fact that we have a security assistance relationship with Colombia, the fact that we have intelligence relationships with Colombia are well known. But again, it's important to understand this was a Colombian operation.

QUESTION: Going back to the (inaudible) with Chile (inaudible), how important is it for the U.S. that Chile decide on the American (inaudible)?

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Very important.

QUESTION: Why?

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, because -- I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, elaboration.

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, again, David Gross is better situated to speak about this than I am, but, you know, as -- there's a battle in the world over how you process, you know, TV information, how you process – you know, how you digitalize TV signals and it has a big impact on the production of TVs and the communication industry. And we think -- we believe that we've got a better system.

QUESTION: Because, I mean, let's take, for example, (inaudible).

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) kind of system and they evaluate it as a better system for them, so --

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Yeah. And I mean, it's, you know --

QUESTION: A very competitive field.

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: No, it's very competitive, you know, and we recognize that, so -- which is why we're being competitive.

MODERATOR: We have time for one last question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) talked last week about the controversy and (inaudible) Colombia and, you know, the visit to (inaudible) FARC. Do you think that's something that should be taking (inaudible) introduced in the Latin Americans now as it is in our part of the world (inaudible)?

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Ma’am, I’m sorry, I didn’t --

QUESTION: It was said last -- during the alliance discussions that what Colombia had done in Ecuador was kind of the same strategy that the U.S. used in Afghanistan looking for terrorists. Do you think that's a valid policy to come to Latin America? Do you think it would help the fight against terrorism here? I mean, that's (inaudible).

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I mean, hot pursuit is an issue of a moment. I mean, it's a tactical decision that's made, you know, by military personnel as they pursue someone. And, therefore, in and of itself, is not a solution to a bigger problem, which is really a strategic problem of how you build relations of cooperation between countries to deny space to terrorist organizations or drug trafficking organizations. And how pursuit issues can be addressed through protocols between countries and between communication between the militaries of different countries as they operate along frontier areas.

QUESTION: So basically there needs to be a protocol for this issue? Has it --

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, unless you want to start a war. (Laughter.) And I guess what I'm trying to say is that for us, the issue of hot pursuit is a very small and discrete issue. It's not the bigger issue. The bigger issue is how do you deny use of border territories by groups like the FARC. And we think the way you do it is by, number one, enhancing the cooperation of dialogue between countries who have a common goal, which is to fight terrorism and fight drug trafficking and fight other forms of contraband and then see to what extent you can build – you know, cross-frontier cooperation between the security forces that are responsible for guarding the frontiers for the countries that share the frontiers.

And there's all kinds of ways to do that, you know, that are familiar to the OAS, to the Inter-American Defense Board and that are used in the region, you know, like on the Peru-Ecuador border. So, you know, these problems have solutions.

MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for coming.

UNDER SECRETARY SHANNON: Okay. Great. Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.



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