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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs > Releases > Remarks, Testimony > 2003

Press Briefing: U.S. - Mexico Binational Commission

Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Washington, DC
November 10, 2003


(10:00 a.m. EST)

MR. ERELI: Good morning, everybody. We are very pleased to be kicking off our week this week with an on-the-record, off-camera briefing by Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who will be speaking about the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission meeting, which will take place at the State Department this Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary Noriega will open with a brief statement, and then be available to take your questions.

Thank you, and Assistant Secretary.

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Thank you very much, Adam. Good morning, everyone.

Most of you are familiar with the U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission, which is a unique forum, whereby, representatives of U.S. and Mexican government agencies get together on a regular basis, annual basis to compare notes on the full range of issues confronting our two countries in our bilateral relations.

This year's meeting is on Wednesday; it's the 20th. Since it's the -- since the inception of the BNC in 1981, each year, each country's delegation includes cabinet officials and other agency chiefs. Participants meeting in working groups in various specific areas of interest such as law enforcement, counter-narcotics cooperation, homeland security and border cooperation.

Nine U.S. cabinet secretaries will participate in the meeting, and eight of their counterparts will also join. There are 14 working groups that make up the BNC, most of which will be meeting in the context of this year's meeting. Also, on the margins of the BNC, there will be a meeting of the Partnership for Peace process, which is a process established in 2001, during the State visit of President Fox to Washington.

The objective of the Partnership for Peace or "P for P," as it's known, is to establish a public-private alliance to spur economic growth in Mexico, to bring development to all parts of Mexico, some of which have benefited less from NAFTA, and to address the root causes of migration by creating new economic opportunities in these countries.

Under Secretary Alan Larson will host his counterpart, Eduardo Sojo, to discuss progress made since the last meeting, which was highlighted by a workshop in San Francisco in June 2003, that brought together 800 private sector leaders to talk about their interest in economic development programs in Mexico.

The Secretary's participation will be as follows: At 9 a.m., he will participate in the Working Group on Foreign Policy, which he co-chairs with his counterpart, Foreign Secretary Derbez; at 9:40, he'll move to the Migration Working Group; at 10:30, he will be participating in the Working Group on Homeland Security; at 12:30, he will be hosting a luncheon here of about 150 participants on the U.S. and Mexico side, including most of the cabinet secretaries who are taking part in the meeting; at 2:15, there will be a press walk-out with the Foreign Secretary of Mexico, Luis Ernesto Derbez.

I should note that the meetings are held in the Meridian House here in Washington, but the luncheon will be the only event here in the State Department. With that, I'll stop and address -- but let me talk a little bit about some of the areas where we want to do some -- make some progress, quite explicitly, in terms of deliverables. Secretary of Homeland Security Ridge and Mexican Secretary of Interior Creel will be making progress towards securing a hotline that will allow them to pass time-sensitive information, in the case of emergency circumstances.

The Peace Corps and Mexican Council on Science and Technology, we hope will make meaningful progress toward an agreement that will allow the posting of volunteers in Mexico, in a sort of high tech field, rather than sort of a traditional or what is known as -- commonly regarded as a traditional role for the Peace Corps. And the Secretaries of Labor will issue a joint statement, we hope, reaffirming their ongoing efforts to protect workers on both sides of the border.

With that, I'll answer any questions that you might have.

QUESTION: On water, which was not one of the things you mentioned, back in January, I believe, the United States and Mexico reached an agreement, under which Mexico was going to deliver 400,000 acre-feet by September 30th of this year; 350 was a firm commitment, 50 depended on rainfall. Did they deliver that by September 30th, one?

Two, have you made any progress this year on settling the large outstanding water debt that Mexico owes the United States, and do you expect to discuss that this week?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Water will, no doubt, be discussed in these meetings. The Mexicans did meet their obligations for this last year, and so at least there wasn't an additional increase in the deficit that we record under the water treaty. Water, of course, is an issue that we discuss continually during the course of our normal contact with the Mexican Government, and it will be raised at this issue -- at this -- at this BNC meeting.

The accord contemplates a certain amount of water that is -- that Mexico must provide to the United States. As you know, as you've alluded to, there is a deficit in what Mexico owes the United States; that is, in a matter -- is a matter of fact, a matter of contention. But we do believe that Mexicans are working with us in good faith, and we continue to press on the need for them to meet their treaty obligations and to make additional water payments that will bring down the deficit that's owed to the United States.

QUESTION: What is the deficit now? Our figures say about 1.5 million acre-feet. Is that right?


QUESTION: 1.4. And how much did they actually give you in the last fiscal year? Was it 350,000 or was it the whole 400,000 that you talked about?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: I think they gave the full 400,000. There was a last payment.

QUESTION: And last question. Do you have any reason -- you said that you would continue to press them to keep making their -- meeting their commitments, as well as to make additional payments to reduce the deficit. Do you have any reason to believe that they will meet their obligations for this current fiscal year under the treaty? Have they said they'd do that?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: We're very hopeful that they will. You know, as well as I do, since you seem to be conversant on the issue, that we spend a lot of our time praying for rain in Mexico, and so these things depend on the weather.

And, however, I should note the abiding interest on the part of both governments that Mexico will do a better job in the stewardship of water resources by virtue of avoiding leakages and having a more effective system of irrigation so that water isn't wasted. It's a precious resource for both Mexico and the United States, so we have every interest to believe that they are working with us in good faith to meet their obligations.

QUESTION: On the Peace Corps, first of all, can you confirm this is the first time Mexico has accepted Peace Corps volunteers in over the 40-year existence of the Peace Corps? And I believe that's true. And if -- could you speculate as to why it took this long for them to accept Peace Corps volunteers?

And the second part of the question, as Secretary Powell indicated a number of weeks ago, that he was looking toward this meeting as, perhaps, an opportunity, whereby the U.S. could take some limited steps toward migration reform. Is there anything you could say about that?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Well, on the Peace Corps thing, if I'm not mistaken, there might have been Peace Corps volunteers -- never have been Peace Corps volunteers, so I am mistaken. You're correct, as usual, George. I blundered by doubting that.

No, I think what's particularly interesting about the expected agreement is a focus on a new role for Peace Corps volunteers. We're not talking about what people -- a role that people generally associate with Peace Corps volunteers in the underdeveloped world. We're talking about Mexico, which is a highly developed, significantly developed country.

And for that reason, there are some specific interests on Mexico's part of having volunteers that can come in and affect, essentially, a technology transfer in computers and technology by -- and so therefore, we're contemplating volunteers that would be -- have that particular skill and knowledge and talent and expertise to be imparting with the Mexican partners. I think that is a focus of the Government of Mexico on improving its competitiveness for the new century, and I think it's a very positive hopeful sign.

On migration, we continue to consult with our partners in Mexico on ways we can make progress on this issue. Obviously, it is something that is very high on Mexico's agenda, and I should note that it's important to us as well. President Bush has made it very clear that we need to find ways to make the migration safe and legal and orderly and humane; and that is something that we will be discussing in general at the BNC meetings on Wednesday.

And we look forward to principles, sort of, pointing a way forward, but I do not want to raise expectations. As you all know, of course, our immigration laws are made by Congress; there's been some activity in our Congress that has gained a lot of interest. But I want to take particular care not to raise expectations, particularly in advance of this meeting. I think we need to wait and see what the ministers agree, how to go forward.

QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about --

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: I'll tell you what -- I'm sorry. I'll just take them in the order.

QUESTION: Just one thing. I think you meant to say Partnership for Prosperity, not Partnership for Peace process.



QUESTION: You said peace process.

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: I did say -- as soon as I said peace, I thought, that doesn't sound right.

QUESTION: And you said peace process.

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: It's Partnership for Prosperity.

QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to, you know, correct that.


QUESTION: In the last two years, the BNC meetings or agenda have been heavily focused on what we consider in Mexico non-traditional issues, such as security. Today, you just said that the big announcement will be this hotline. I wonder if you agree with many in Mexico that the U.S. after 9/11 has pretty much imposed this agenda on Mexico to the affect of other issues such as -- traditional issues such as trade.

My understanding is that this year, the trade group is not even meeting. I wonder why, since there's a lot of issues on the trade agenda, even disputes, and if the attempt is not to address issues that are, you know, difficult for the relationship, since President Fox and Bush met last month in what was pretty much described as a reconciliation of the Mexico, post-Iraq war. And if you can just give us your views on the status of the relationship after the tensions in March -- in past -- in March of last -- of this year.

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Sure. Specifically on the trade issues, I think that the fact is that there are differences that are relatively minor compared to the extraordinarily robust relationship we have with Mexico, our second largest trading partner. And those issues are dealt with in the context of trade dispute resolution mechanisms. And there is a very little that cabinet secretaries can do on those issues, in light of the fact that they are being treated in this normal process for resolving disputes in a transparent, orderly, mechanical way.

So I think that's the reason. I mean, we do $240 billion of trade with Mexico, two-way trade with Mexico every year, which has tripled in the last nine years. And I think that people recognize that that relationship is stronger than ever, really. And so I don't think that -- I think that is a good story, frankly, and it's not something that we would regard as a negative aspect of our relationship whatsoever. I think it's an anchor of our relationship and very important.

Since 9/11, of course, everyone in the world, I think, has recognized the legitimacy of the U.S. treating as a priority its national security and homeland security. We have been extraordinarily gratified by the attitude of our neighbors, both in Canada and in Mexico, in recognizing the importance of border security to the United States, and recognizing, as well, that we have been very forthcoming in working with our neighbors, Canada and Mexico and the Caribbean, to find ways to make the borders safe for honest crossings and honest commerce by applying new technologies and developing new infrastructure.

I think the Canadian and Mexican Governments have recognized that this is important to them too, that the fact that the United States needs to tend to its border security is a given, it's a fact of life, it's a part of doing business. And I think that they would not agree with the suggestion that somehow this is an imposition. I think they recognize it is a reality. They recognize that we're very forthcoming in working -- and very open and constructive -- in working with them on this unavoidable, inevitable agenda. And we have been gratified with the progress that we've made on that front, and regard it as a very healthy part of our relationship.

QUESTION: My question about -- is going to be about the mood and the -- I'm not sure that you fully answered that, if there's going to be -- if the relation -- the Mexicans have complained about the U.S. dragging its feet on things, although acknowledged that 9/11 changed many things. And what is the mood going to be at these talks compared to previous years?

And you said that on trade it's very good, and that's not going to be a contentious issue. And also, could you tell us more about the hotline?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: No, I can't tell you more about the hotline. Let's see what they have to say. Sounds good though, doesn't it?

QUESTION: Yeah, it does. It sounds very --

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Let's see what --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- I mean, you know, you would think that it would not be that hard --

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: In terms of secure communications between two governments being able to share information, it wouldn't, that we wouldn't want to let everyone have access to.

On the mood of the relationship, let me just say that I have a unique perspective on this, coming in in the last three months, and reviewing the relationship and making a visit to Mexico in October and visiting with my counterparts across the board here and in Mexico City, I regard it -- I find the relationship to be very healthy, very constructive, very positive and robust.

The level of cooperation on law enforcement issues, on the border and openness, on economic development in Mexico even, I think, shows a very healthy relationship. The attitude of our counterparts is extraordinarily positive and constructive, and I think it shows signs of a very healthy relationship. I think the contact between President Bush and President Fox has, in recent months, has underscored that and demonstrated their personal commitment to strengthening our ties, and this meeting will be an opportunity to do that.

In January, President Bush plans to travel to Mexico, to Monterrey, for an Inter-American Summit -- a Summit of the Americas, actually, is what it's called -- and that will be another opportunity for President Bush and President Fox to meet to discuss the common agenda with their hemisphere partners.

So I think it's moving forward in a very healthy, positive way.

QUESTION: Roger, on the -- back on the migration issue, the Mexicans have been saying they're going to come to this meeting, really trying to put that back on the table, which is -- for those of those who report, of course, seems like every time we come to these meetings that's the issue.

There are things that both people in Congress and in Mexico say that the Administration could do without Congressional approval, and I wonder if you could just give us an idea of whether you're considering some of those, such as there are steps that the President could take, for instance, even just speaking out in favor of the Ag Jobs bill on Capitol Hill, which he hasn't done; there are various executive orders.

Are you considering anything like that as a small step on the immigration issue that you can tell us about now?

And on the mood issue, if I might just say, despite all this talk of a good mood, the Foreign Secretary after you left Mexico, in fact, took the unusual step of coming out and saying publicly, "I don't agree with that guy -- with what that guy said." So, I mean, maybe you could also address that --

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Right. Right. Well, he actually did it while I was still there.

QUESTION: Did he? Sorry. (Laughter.) Even better.

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: That's fine. On migration, the Administration's considering all of these issues, and that -- on measures that we could take, and we're sizing up the legislative proposals that are out there. I wouldn't want to get too far out ahead of the ministers in what's discussed, but we'll give you a readout afterwards on the migration front.

It is something, clearly, that's very important, and we can't ignore it, and we don't. We are considering also all of the options that would be available on moving forward on that important issue. But again, the decisions are not made and not final, and so we want to -- want to see how things go forward.

On the mood -- well, all I can tell you is what I encounter in meetings. It's a very positive, open relationship, and, as a matter of fact, is more positive and operational and cooperative than it's probably ever been. So whether someone's -- I don't think it is a -- something that you would want to personalize by saying somebody's in a good mood or not. I mean, I think things between these two governments are in very good shape.

QUESTION: Last Friday, a group of 64 Congressmen from the U.S. sent a letter to Mr. Powell, asking him to require Mexican Government specific steps on the Ciudad Juarez issue, especially putting it in the bilateral agenda, requiring opening up investigations and probably the U.S. offering some help. Are you planning to make the Ciudad Juarez case a part of the binational agenda, probably at the federal level?

And I have a second question. When you were in Mexico, you know, you --

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Let me take them one at a time.


AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: On the Juarez issue, obviously it's a very important issue to us, but it's -- couldn't be any less important to the Mexicans. Obviously, they are -- they've raised that issue with me in my meetings with them. I mean, they regard this as a terrible, tragic set of crimes there on the border, and I would want to take care that nothing that I would say would suggest an impression that the Mexican Government takes this any less seriously than we do, or that somehow it's a higher priority for us than it is for them.

We have offered assistance, and the Mexican Government has accepted assistance. They know that we're fully prepared to provide any sort of support that we can, the significance being that this is right there on the border, which is essentially as much a -- it's a community for both of us, the border community, and that we all take great interest -- have great interest in what happens there, in the well-being of the people there.

But I wouldn't want to suggest in any way that somehow we have to bring this to the table, and the last thing I would suggest, is that we're going to impose any requirements on Mexico. Mexican authorities are taking this very seriously, and while it will no doubt be something that's alluded to or referred to during the course of our conversations on Wednesday, I would expect that it would be handled in a very constructive way, and where we would look for opportunities where the U.S. could maybe support their efforts.

I think you had a follow-up question.

QUESTION: Yes. As you know, during your visit to Mexico, you created this small political storm because of your comments on the relationship. You said specifically that the U.S. and Mexico shouldn't play political games with their relationship. Why do you say that? Are you perhaps anticipating any kind of participation from Mexico in the 2004 process because of the way he's pushing forward on immigration accord? What are you talking about?


QUESTION: Do you see a risk of that happening?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: No, not whatsoever. I think what's readily available from our Embassy and on the Internet is what I actually said, and you couldn't possibly read what I said and draw the conclusions that you've drawn or, for that matter, draw the conclusions that have appeared in the newspapers in Mexico.

The point -- and I'm not suggesting for a moment that you're trying to misrepresent it because I take your question as being offered in good faith, but there isn't much more that I would have to about this. I think that what's significant in my statement is noting this process of renovation in Mexico, which is a very healthy one, and which could only bode well for a better relationship between the United States and Mexico, as Mexicans come to recognize the innate value of being -- having a good neighbor in the United States.

QUESTION: Mr. Noriega, in regards to the case of the women in Ciudad Juarez, according to WOLA and the congressmen and some other organizations that are some big thing from U.S., do you have any -- are you aware of that?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: I'm not specifically aware of where the victims are from, and I don't know about the reliability of any of those reports.

QUESTION: Yes, I wanted to ask you -- I know you don't want to tell us too much about the hotline. But I wanted to ask you if there's some other country that already has this kind of hotline, for example, maybe Canada or any other country. Do you know that?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: I don't know. We'll see if we can get you an answer from Department of Homeland Security.

QUESTION: Is it related to criminal activity, either terrorism or counternarcotics activities?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: It would be to respond to any sort of events, fast-breaking events that would require urgent secure communication.

QUESTION: Yeah, back to immigration legislation for a moment. There is a bill that was mentioned before the Jobs bill in Congress. It's an incremental bill, but it has some of the elements that President Bush and President Fox were talking about before 9/11. What's your assessment of that particular approach? Would it be useful?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: I can't answer that question. It's something that -- I could answer it if it was the last thing I wanted to do in government. I don't. (Laughter.)

Anything else?

QUESTION: Sir, we were just talking about hotlines. I remember that a few years ago Secretary Albright and Secretary Green spoke about having a hotline between them, the U.S. and Mexican foreign affairs. I wonder if that hotline ever worked or if it exists even.

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: To the best of my knowledge, they communicate on a regular basis through normal channels.

Any other questions?

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about the layout of this thing? Are there going to be members of Congress that will also be at the lunch then?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: At the -- yes, good point.

QUESTION: Are there going to be any kind of specific -- outside the working group channels -- time to discuss immigration issues? Are there any -- is there any kind of informal meeting the night before, that kind of thing?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: No, the -- good questions. I'm consulting today with Mexican counterparts on the migration issue. We will include about 6 or 8 members of Congress with particular interest in the Mexico-U.S. relationship, as well as with certain responsibilities in the Congress that would make them naturally interested in this meeting. So they will also be in attendance.

QUESTION: And they're not going to the White House or anything?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: There is not, at this point, a White House component to this visit.

QUESTION: At the end of the year, Mexico will no longer be member of the Security Council of the UN. Do you think that would reduce the irritations that Mexico's presence in that body has created bilaterally?

And specifically, can you confirm or deny reports that at one point the State Department asked for Adolfo Aguilar Zinzer's resignation?

And my third little question is, Mexico has officially invited President Bush for a State visit. They were looking on January, February. Can you say whether there has been an answer to that invitation?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Sure. I would refer you to the White House on any State visit. On the -- it would be very difficult for the United States to ask for Ambassador Aguilar Zinzer's resignation because he doesn’t work for us, and I have never heard of anything of that kind. And the first question was something also very good.

QUESTION: Well, the fact that Mexico's no longer going to be on the Security Council.

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Oh. Right. I think what we need to do is -- as Mexico moves off the Security Council's -- I think, as a matter of fact, keep up our contact with Mexico on the full range of global issues. I think that we've welcomed the opportunity to consult with our nearest neighbor, one of our nearest neighbors, about these global issues, and we should look forward to keeping that sort of contact up. I think it's very helpful.

QUESTION: So you do welcome Mexico taking a bigger role in the international scene, even though it might come to disagreements on many issues with the United States?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: That -- I think it would -- Mexico's interest in being involved in -- on the global stage, has been very healthy for Mexico, and a natural part of political renovation of that country.

QUESTION: I want to clarify something just for media purposes, could you just, very short, in Spanish, what is the expectations of this meeting from the -- you know --

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Could we do that separately?


QUESTION: On the water issue, a couple of months -- some months ago, Mr. Boucher mentioned that the U.S. was considering sanctions against Mexico, because of its -- of the fact that Mexico hasn't fulfilled its obligation on the bilateral treaty? Do you still have that sanctions ban or how is it working?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: You didn't get the press release about the sanctions? (Laughter.) I'm just kidding. I don't know -- no. The treaty has an enforcement mechanism, but we believe that the process of consultation and diplomatic contact has produced some meaningful results, and that's the track that we intend to continue to follow.

QUESTION: So there's no sanction plans or there is one?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: I'm just telling you that there is this mechanism within the treaty that we are making meaningful progress through the normal contact that we have and through diplomatic channels, and I don't know that anyone is contemplating using the enforcement mechanisms in the treaty. I don't think either side is serious about doing that at this point.

I think one more question.

QUESTION: Just wondering if you could be more precise or more larger explanation, in terms of the security contacts between the U.S. and Mexico, to what level they are doing, what are the roles of the armies, if there is any for the armies, if there was any role of -- what kind of communication is happening there?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Oh, well, we see very healthy communication across the board at all levels, both on the border and in the capitals, both civilian and military officials communicating on a regular basis on issues that confront both countries.

QUESTION: What does it involve? I'm sorry.

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: Well, it involves normal consultations and sharing of information on extradition, law enforcement, border security --

QUESTION: Satellite authority?

AMBASSADOR NORIEGA: I'm not familiar with that as a particular matter. Maybe it is, but I -- you're getting down into the weeds even when you're talking about satellites.

Okay. Thank you.

Released on November 10, 2003

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