Counterterrorism Efforts in the Organization of American StatesAmbassador Cofer Black, U.S. State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Ambassador John Maisto, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States
Remarks at Foreign Press Center Briefing
January 23, 2004
(9:30 A.M. EST)
MR. PRINCE: Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. This morning, we are pleased to offer a briefing on the Organization of American States' fourth regular session of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism, also known as CICTE, for its Spanish language name, Comité Inter-Americano Contra el Terrorismo. The CICTE meeting will take place in Montevideo, Uruguay, from January 28th through 30th, 2004.
Our briefers this morning are Ambassador Cofer Black, the Department of State's Coordinator for Counterterrorism and the head of the U.S. delegation to the CICTE meeting, and Ambassador John Maisto, the United States' Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States. Ambassadors Black and Maisto will each make an opening statement. Ambassador Maisto will go first.
MR. MAISTO: Thank you very much. Good morning, everybody. I'm really pleased to be here to talk about the participation of the United States in this fourth annual session of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism, CICTE, which is an entity of the Organization of American States, which we will be held at the end of the month next week in Montevideo, Uruguay.
CICTE was conceived in the mid-1990s in the wake of the twin bombings in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1992 and in 1994. And OAS and CICTE really sprang into action at the direction of the OAS General Assembly after the September 11th attacks against the United States. You'll recall that Secretary Powell was in Lima that day. There was immediate OAS condemnation. There was an invocation of the Rio Treaty, which means an attack against one is an attack against all.
And since September the 11th, CICTE has established itself as one of the foremost regional anti-terrorism bodies in the world. In fact, CICTE has been recognized by the United Nations as a model to emulate. What does it do? It's a capacity-building organization, to meet counter-terrorism commitments in a practical way and to carry out the agreed-to responsibilities under the convention.
So this is multilateralism in action in a way that really deals with the issues of our time. Earlier this year, CICTE and the United Nations' 1373 Counter-Terrorism Committee sponsored a joint meeting of regional and sub-regional organizations to talk about ways to increase cooperation.
At the special Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, Mexico, which just occurred week before last, hemispheric leaders adopted the Declaration of Nuevo Leon, where they agreed to intensify efforts and strengthen cooperation to confront terrorism. In that Declaration of Nuevo Leon, the heads of state and government of OAS member states reiterated that terrorism, as well as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, constitute grave threats to international security, to the institutions and the democratic values of the hemisphere, and to the well-being of our peoples. And states there, leaders there, committed to fighting all forms of transnational crimes including illicit trafficking in drugs, arms and persons, particularly, when they generate funds used in support of terrorist organizations.
In the declaration, leaders called upon all countries that have not yet done so, to ratify the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism, which came -- which was negotiated in record time following September the 11th -- it was signed at the OAS general assembly meeting the following May of 2002, in Bridgetown, Barbados --, and, as well as the need to ratify 12 United Nations conventions and protocols on terrorism, as well as other related instruments.
We, United States, further called upon countries to urgently consider the signing and ratifying the Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and to participate actively in the network on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.
So you can see that CICTE is an important tool to facilitate compliance with all our hemispheric commitments and that they all fit together. It is CICTE [that] is charged with helping to bring member states into compliance with the new convention that was signed nine months after 9/11, and CICTE has adopted an ambitious program focused on strengthening border and financial controls and developing sound counterterrorism legal regimes.
CICTE has a detailed workplan on projects and programs and makes recommendations to member states. And, for example, in the CICTE meeting coming up, there is going to be a focus on aviation and ports and cybersecurity. So during this upcoming CICTE meeting in Montevideo, we anticipate that a workplan will be approved to deal with all of those issues.
El Salvador is to be congratulated for its successful term as chair of CICTE, and the United States supports the nomination of Uruguay, a great partner of the United States, in our international counterterrorism efforts, to be the next chair, and Trinidad and Tobago's nomination for vice chair.
As you can see, the United States is fully invested in CICTE's future development. It promises to be a fruitful and productive meeting next week.
And now, Ambassador Black.
MR. PRINCE: Ambassador Black.
MR. BLACK: Thank you very much, Ambassador. Thank you for coming. There is an active political season underway in the United States. Many of your colleagues are elsewhere in the country covering elections. I'm very grateful that you're here.
The business of counterterrorism is extremely important to us. There is no region that has more significance and more importance than this hemisphere. It is a pleasure to be here to talk to you about the U.S. commitment to, and participation in, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE), as well as our goals for the committee's fourth annual session being held at the end of this month in Montevideo, Uruguay.
We congratulate El Salvador for its successful term as chair, and support the nomination of Uruguay, a great partner of the U.S., in our international counterterrorism efforts, to be the next chair.
I have the honor of leading the U.S. delegation in the next session. Our delegation includes our Permanent Representative to the OAS, Ambassador John Maisto, who is, as you know, extremely accomplished in the affairs of this hemisphere, Ambassador Cris Arcos from the Department of Homeland Security, and the Deputy Attorney General, John Malcolm. We hope to announce our contribution to CICTE next week, and encourage all members to contribute staff and resources to strengthen CICTE to help meet its goals.
Investment in counterterrorism cooperation, prevention and detection, and eradication now will pay off in a secure homeland, safe trade and expanded tourism throughout the entire hemisphere. The Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism entered into force in July 2003.
We are committed to strengthening hemispheric political will on counterterrorism cooperation through CICTE, one of the foremost regional anti-terrorism bodies in the world. We strongly support advancing CICTE as an effective technical body of counterterrorism and homeland security experts; secondly, as a capacity-building provider; and, thirdly, as an information-sharing vehicle.
This fourth session will give the United States and the other 33 members an opportunity to include transportation security, particularly ports and airports in CICTE's mandate. We'll also focus on strengthening counterterrorism, legal regimes, border and financial controls, and contributing to an OAS cybersecurity strategy and OAS mandate.
We encourage OAS member states to implement the counterterrorism recommendations made in the Declaration on Security in the Americas adopted in Mexico City at the OAS Special Conference on Security conference in October. Participants at this special security conference identified the links between terrorism, illicit trafficking and arms asset laundering, organized crime and drug trafficking as composing a threat to hemispheric security.
The states pledged to strengthen every state's capacity to prevent, punish and eliminate terrorism. The states will cooperate to deprive terrorists of the resources, means and safe havens they use to carry out their activities. We will cooperate to prosecute all terrorists and bring them to justice.
We encourage member states to stand with Colombia and support the efforts of the Uribe administration to eradicate terrorism in Colombia. We fully support Colombia's democratic security policy because it protects the people of Colombia from threats posed by terrorism and fosters an atmosphere in which reconciliation and peace are achievable.
CICTE is an outstanding, perhaps the best, example of a region pulling together to defend itself. It's a democratic way of life. It's freedom to live and develop peacefully -- all shared values among the members of the OAS. The United States is fully invested in CICTE's future development and proud of its stewardship of CICTE in the early years, and has the greatest confidence in Uruguay as the next chair.
I think, if you wish, should we open to questions?
MR. PRINCE: Certainly. Thank you, Ambassador Black, and thank you, Ambassador Maisto.
Please state your name and news affiliation. Sonia, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sonia Schott, Globovision, Venezuela. I just want to know how you will characterize the cooperation of Venezuela, considering there were some comments coming from Colombia accusing the Government of Venezuela of having some ties with the Colombian guerillas? Thank you.
MR. BLACK: Well, I think Venezuela has considerable room for improvement in terms of cooperation on counterterrorism activities.
MR. PRINCE: Javier.
QUESTION: Excuse me. I'm Javier Garza from Mexico. How concerned is the United States, sir, that the rest of the continent might be used as a launching pad for terrorists? And how have these conventions worked to prevent terrorist attacks to the United States?
MR. BLACK: We in this hemisphere have to consider the entire spectrum of the terrorist threat. And in this, I would include, you know, terrorist groups that are particularly in the national context, such as the FARC [Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] and the AUC [Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia -- United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia] and the like.
There are strategies to deal with those. I think we all need to support Colombia and the Uribe administration. If I understand your question, you're particularly interested in threats that come from other areas of the globe into the hemisphere. In fact, before, as we came in, the Ambassador and I were talking about that.
In this job, my job here at the State Department, I look at the counterterrorism issue in a global context and I report to the Secretary of State for the entire planet. Counter-terrorism is what I do. And we do spend a lot of time looking at the terrorist threat emanating from areas such as the Middle East, increasingly the Far East. We even have significant concerns in Africa.
Comparatively -- and I can only say this comparatively -- comparatively, I think we can all be very pleased that the threat has been effectively managed and essentially mitigated to date because of the communication, the transparency and the effective professional interaction on counterterrorism subjects, among member states.
We are very concerned, in a hemispherical context, about identifying and stopping the financial flows of money from the hemisphere to terrorist groups. We are always on the lookout, in a global context, to look for indications that terrorist groups and individuals from outside are coming into our hemisphere. We follow up all such reporting. We communicate freely among ourselves. And we need to be, and so far, are in a position to respond rapidly and effectively as partners in our hemisphere to threats that come into it.
The reality of counterterrorism -- this is something that I've been doing for my life -- the reality of counterterrorism is that it is dependent upon relationships, it is dependent upon communication, free flow of information, transparency, and we're all in the business of supporting and helping each other. And I think that we increasingly do that here in the hemisphere.
I was looking into some of your faces, you know, talking about CICTE. First of all, I'm a pretty straightforward guy. I know my business, I know what works, what doesn't work, and I think all of us in the hemisphere should take some measure of pleasure and satisfaction that an organization like CICTE is developing. It is growing and I think it is a standard, hopefully, around which we all can rally over the years, [and] make sure that information, training, lessons learned and cooperation can be facilitated by this international organization whose real mission is, essentially, to assist in the process of defending innocent men, women and children from harm.
MR. PRINCE: Rubén.
QUESTION: Rubén Barrera, with the Mexican News Agency, Notimex.
MR. BLACK: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Ambassador Maisto referred to aviation as one of the three -- I don't know if there's going to be main issues that we'll be discussing in this meeting -- in Uruguay. In that regard, I would like to ask you if you can further elaborate on this issue, and specifically, if you are going to ask other countries of the region to start, like, a program, seminar, here to -- so some of the local airlines could start sharing information about passengers with U.S. authorities, and maybe it expand what Mexico is doing right now, which I don't know if other country in the region is doing, which is basically to establish the same kind of measures at airports that U.S. and, I don't know, you can tell us a little bit more about this.
MR. BLACK: Okay, well let me try. First of all, the specifics of what we're going to do, I think we should be addressing the conference. I would like to state that reflecting from the President of the United States all the way down to the Secretary of State, and particularly including myself, we are very grateful for the cooperation of the Mexican government, of President Fox in assisting us with the management of the terrorist threat issue that was developed by intelligence.
It is very important to have bilateral relationships, and please convey to your readers that the American Government and the American people are very grateful of the manner in which the Mexican Government addressed aviation security concerns over the holidays.
But what I'm really here to talk about is the future. The countries of the hemisphere enjoy excellent relationships among each other, of which the United States is one.
What CICTE is about -- what the ambition of the United States is -- is to support a hemisphere organization where are all partners, we're all equal, and we're all here for the process of making our hemisphere more concerned. The Montevideo conference will be looking at two of things that the United States, as a nation that I represent, is very interested in, which is aviation and port security.
As an element of counterterrorism, there are various ways to attack a terrorist threat. One of the ways that is extremely effective is to deny terrorists the confidence of being able to use means of transportation, lines of communication, for their purposes, in which this is aviation security issues which cover a pretty wide spectrum that I'm not going to go in right now, but are also ports. And with these two areas, you have associated issues.
Obviously, the most important thing is protecting innocent men, women and children. There are also economic issues involved that we have to address. We have to manage our futures within this hemisphere in any manner that achieves the objective of protecting every man, woman and child in the hemisphere, but also pays attention to economic implications, travel across borders, the bottom line of our hemisphere's airlines and shipping companies. So these are issues that we collectively -- this is an answer -- and that we collectively address. It is not the United States. It is the United States as a part of the whole.
MR. PRINCE: Pablo.
QUESTION: Yes, good morning. Pablo Bachelet with Reuters News Agency. I have a couple of questions. On ports, it is my understanding that there is a secure containment initiative of which three ports in the region are going to be certified in some way -- I think it's Buenos Aires, Santos, and Panama, which has raised some concern that other ports in the region might be bypassed because they don't have that certification. So my question is: Will the ports issue address this certification secure -- certification?
And my second question is that, in the past the U.S. has expressed some concern about Cuba and Venezuela, and somehow forming an alliance to destabilize the region. Will that be brought up at the conference?
And, third, if you could elaborate just a little bit more: what you would expect from Venezuela to cooperate more?
MR. BLACK: Okay, I think those are three questions, and the answer to the first question is, yes, we do look at the Container Security Initiative. The key factor here is making the program efficient and effective in such a way to maximize security. We will discuss that at the conference.
Two is, the issue of Venezuela and Cuba. I am specifically interested in issues of counterterrorism. If you want to talk about Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, I can do that. But I would turn to the Ambassador if he wishes to address anything, in terms of Venezuela and Cuba, as a political issue.
Do you wish to do that or pass?
MR. MAISTO: Why don't you complete the answer and I'll see.
MR. BLACK: What was the third part of your question?
QUESTION: How do you expect Venezuela to cooperate more? What would you expect them to do specifically?
MR. BLACK: We are always looking at our partners, regardless of who it is, effective communication, transparency, in terms of threat, and effective professional cooperation in countering terrorist groups and threats.
We, from the American perspective, have a list of foreign terrorist organizations. It's put in our publication, the "Patterns of Global Terrorism." You can refer to it. We wish to maximize our interaction in terms of being able to neutralize the threat represented by these terrorist groups in the hemisphere and elsewhere.
MR. PRINCE: Jesús. Jesús, please. Yes.
QUESTION: Jesús Esquivel from Proceso, a Mexican magazine.
Sir, in terms of transparency and financial support, I understand that some Caribbean countries are not very openly or transparently giving the information to the U.S. Government regarding some organizations that are suspected of having bank accounts in the Caribbean region. Can you please give us information about that situation, the exchange of information and the transparency of the Caribbean countries giving accounts, names and everything, in the banking situation?
MR. BLACK: The way I would prefer to answer that question would be, as outlined by the President of the United States. The identification of, and cutting of, financial links to terrorists is very important. If you can stop the flow of money, you can certainly slow down the resources that support terrorist actions. A lot of what is conducted is conducted in a way that is not public.
I'm not in a position to discuss specific Caribbean countries or banks and the flows of these types of information. I could leave it to those countries that they wish to address, and we will continue to be in regular contact with these countries and do good works.
QUESTION: But are they transparent? So giving information to you -- I know you cannot give the names and everything, but are they transparent in this situation?
MR. BLACK: Well, I would go back to that, you know, the identification of terrorist links is very important on a global basis. We look to have relationships with every country in this area, and we have a process of interaction with the countries of the Caribbean.
MR. PRINCE: Rossana.
QUESTION: Thank you. But do you think that Venezuela is working in the way that you said?
MR. PRINCE: Could you identify yourself? Rossana, please identify yourself and your organization.
QUESTION: Rossana [Rodríguez], National Radio Venezuela.
Do you think that Venezuela is working in the way that you expect, doing as much as they can right now?
MR. BLACK: I think Venezuela can do significantly more than they're doing now, and I will leave it at that. My business is counterterrorism. No amount is enough. There is always more that we all can do, you know, in the field of counterterrorism where the mission is to protect innocent men, women and children. The real issues is, how hard can you work with the least amount of sleep, I think, and Venezuela can do more than they're doing now. I'll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Like any other country, or specifically Venezuela?
MR. BLACK: You asked about Venezuela and I specifically answered to Venezuela.
MR. PRINCE: Sonia.
QUESTION: Just to follow-up the first question of Rossana.
MR. BLACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Could you be more specific, in which has to be Venezuela more cooperative?
MR. BLACK: I think that would be, but less --
QUESTION: Could you be more --
MR. BLACK: Well, I think that should be less specifically between the American and Venezuela Governments. These -- there would have to be interaction -- I can tell you the fields: interaction in the fields of law enforcement, rendering terrorists to justice, in the intelligence field, the effective and timely exchange of threat information that comes in the intelligence area, effective interaction and timely exchange of information that would identify financial links to terrorist groups. You know, the gentleman behind you was asking about that. Venezuela can improve on that. Basically, Venezuela can improve across the board. They would have a receptive willing partner, one, in the United States, and two, I think in all the membership of CICTE.
MR. PRINCE: Okay, Ambassador Black, thank you. Ambassador Maisto, thank you. And thank you, journalists for coming.
MR. BLACK: Thank you very much and thank you for coming. I appreciate it.