Press Availability With Ecuadorian Media OutletsJohn D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
Thomas A. Shannon, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Press Availability With Ecuadorian Media Outlets: Newspapers El Comercio, El Universo, La Hora, and Expreso, and Vistazo Magazine
May 9, 2007
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: First of all good afternoon to all, for me it's a pleasure to be back in Ecuador. I was the Political Counselor for this Embassy between 1973 and 1975. This is the first time I have been back since then, after 32 years. I would like to say something about the purpose of my tour and then answer your questions. For the sake of precision, I thought I would speak in English and Raul will translate for me. But I am very comfortable receiving your questions in Spanish.
I just want to say that I have only been Deputy Secretary of State for a little longer than 2 months now. One of the early visits that I wanted to make, and that Secretary Rice wanted me to make, was to the countries of this hemisphere, as a symbol of the importance we attach to relations with the Western Hemisphere. That is why I have taken this trip to visit Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Panama.
Perhaps I could say in general terms that we view our relationships with the hemisphere as very positive, we believe that we have a positive agenda with respect to support for democracy, support for expanded economic relationships including trade, and including support for common efforts against many of the transnational threats our countries face, which are really mutual problems. They are problems that we all face together. No one country can deal with transnational threats, such as narcotics and terrorism, all by themselves.
As far as my visit to Ecuador specifically is concerned, I had the opportunity to meet with President Correa and members of his cabinet this morning and we had a good exchange with respect to our economic and political relations. We also were able to hear the views of the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Defense.
I reassured President Correa that we view our relations with Ecuador in a positive light, that we want to conduct those relations constructively and want to have as ample a dialogue as possible on the various issues of mutual concern.
I was able to have a meeting afterwards with government officials who have played a role in determining the economic policy of Ecuador and then, as some of you may know, I witnessed the signing of an agreement of a USAID credit guarantee with various local banks, which would provide some $13 million in credit guarantees to support small business enterprises.
And lastly, just before coming here, I was able to meet with the entire Embassy staff and was pleased that are still some people that I worked with some 32 years ago working at the Embassy today, and I was pleased that we were able to recognize each other. So I will be pleased to try to answer any questions.
One other thing, we have Mr. Shannon here. He is Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who manages our day to day policy in the Hemisphere. So easy questions for me, difficult ones for him. (laughter)
QUESTION: I am Patricia Estupiñan de Burbano, the General Editor of Vistazo Magazine. There are some key issues in the U.S. and Ecuador relation at present. The BIT that Ecuador apparently decided to terminate, the renewal of the FOL agreement, and ATPDEA. What is the U.S perspective in reference to these issues?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: In the order that you asked the questions.
First of all with respect to the Bilateral Investment Treaty, we have not received any official notification from the Government (of Ecuador) in regards to the treaty so I do not really have any comment on the position of the government of Ecuador and I don't think we would have any comment until and if we receive some kind of official notification. But what I would say is this. The President and I spoke about that this morning and we are open to a dialogue on the issue of trade and economic relations, and we are open to a dialogue that is mutually respectful with the purpose of finding areas of convergence between us. So what I want to emphasize here is that we want to pursue a positive economic relation with Ecuador.
The question of Manta you asked me, the agreement that we have with respect to Manta expires in 2009 and we know that the President (Correa) has announced his position that he does not wish that agreement to continue beyond 2009 and, of course, we will respect whatever the decision the Government of Ecuador makes with respect to that issue.
But in addition I would want to say this about why it is that we believe that the access to the use of the airfield in Manta is very useful, and we believe useful to both of our countries. That is because it has been so helpful in intercepting drug shipments, cocaine shipments that are destined for the international market, and we believe that in addition to helping intercept these shipments it has also in that way been helping to protect the sovereignty of Ecuador, which is violated by these drug traffickers.
So again, while we are the first to recognize that it is the decision of the Government of Ecuador to grant access or to not grant access, we just hope that when final positions are reached in that regard, that both the costs and the benefits of such a course of action would be analyzed, particularly with respect to interdicting international narcotic shipments.
On the question of the ATPDEA, we recognize the importance of that Act. We strongly favor its renewal, and we are making, the Executive Branch is making that position known to the Congress of the United States and we hope the Congress will understand why it is so important that the Act be extended, or renewed.
QUESTION: From La Hora (unintelligible)
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: We have various assistance programs for the government of Ecuador and we want to be as supportive as we possible can. We have a tradition of having assistance programs for Ecuador both in the economic area and in the counter-narcotics area. We have a large section of the Embassy that is involved in supporting the counter-narcotics efforts of the Government of Ecuador and we expect that kind of assistance to continue.
QUESTION: I am Hernán Ramos, General Editor of El Comercio daily. I have two questions. One is related to the FOL in Manta. You have said that the final decision is in the hands of the Government of Ecuador, which has made clear its position of not renewing it. If that happens, we have heard that the U.S. would have the option of negotiating the establishment of a base (sic) in Peru. Peruvian authorities have denied any conversation to that respect. What is the U.S. opinion about it, is there a possibility for a negotiation with Peru?
The other question has to do with the purpose of your tour. I heard from sources in Washington that your tour was very important for the U.S. foreign policy agenda because, among other things, the countries you are visiting have a strategic importance for the U.S. What is the strategic value attached to the countries you are visiting on this tour?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Regarding you first question about what we might do if we do not have continued access to Manta, it is a question that I don't think we have looked at in any kind of detail yet. This is 2007 and that is 2009. So people who speculate that we might have in mind one country or another as an alternative, I think that is just that, I think that is speculation.
As for the purposes of my trip here, there are a couple of important considerations. First of all, all countries I am visiting are democratic countries with which the U.S. has had friendly relations, and I think we wanted to send a signal of support and friendship toward these countries. And then three of the countries, not Ecuador, but three of them--Panama, Colombia, and Peru--have pending before the Congress the approval of free trade agreements that we have negotiated, so that was another reason that we took this trip. Also, in respect to each of these countries we have specific bilateral issues.
QUESTION: I am Juan Carlos Calderon, Editor of Expreso daily. You have been very critical of President Chavez, and he is part of a very active policy in reference to the formation of the FUNDASUR and also of what has been the so called oil diplomacy. How does the U.S. see this South American union? Does the U.S. consider that Chavez has too much influence in the region?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: First of all I don't think I have ever personally criticized Mr. Chavez. We make comments about his policies, some of which we have serious reservations about, but as far as our agenda is concerned with Venezuela, we have diplomatic relations, we have an Embassy there and we are always open to working on the various issues that exist between us. With respect to Mr. Chavez's ideas with respect to the Southern Hemisphere, I have no particular comment in that regard. What I prefer to focus on is our own agenda. We have a positive agenda towards the Western Hemisphere. President Bush just completed a very important visit to many countries in the region. I am visiting here. We want to have a constructive agenda that is based on common values and support for democracy. We want to base our relations on increased trade, and generally improved relations between the countries of this hemisphere.
QUESTION: Monica Almeida, from El Universo. President Correa has more or less three months in power and I think that for Washington it is still unknown if he is one of Chavez's disciples or if he represents another form of socialism of the 21st Century, as he has stated. Despite the short time of your conversation with him, I would like to know your impressions of our president. Is there room for dialogue to address this constructive agenda you talked about?
DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: First of all our meeting was not so short (laughter). It lasted one hour and a half, so I thought that was very generous on the part of the President, to make so much time available. He also assembled various key members of his cabinet, so I thought it was an excellent opportunity not only to hear from the President, but to hear from his other Ministers as well.
Secondly, with regard to the particular political orientation or social orientation, or economic philosophy, these are questions that have to be decided by the people and the government of Ecuador. This is not something that we have a view on and I think it would be a mistake for me and it would not be appropriate to make comments on that.
Except for one thing, which is that as elsewhere in the hemisphere, we think these kinds of issues should be decided on a democratic basis, and we believe that there is most definitely a democracy operating here in Ecuador and we believe these kinds of issues ought to be resolved in the context of democracy.
You asked me about space for dialogue. I think there is ample space for dialogue between our two countries. In fact one of the specific issues we discussed today was how to, or one of the issues we explored, was how to continue our economic assistance. That was one of the issues where I believe there is the possibility of continuing and expanding our dialogue on a number of issues, whether it is economic, or the war against drugs, or whatever issues the other side might wish to raise.
So, I just want to thank you very much for the opportunity this afternoon.
QUESTION: Much emphasis has been placed on a new configuration of relations between Latin America and the U.S., from the standpoint of bioenergy included in the accords signed between Brazil and the U.S. Can you give us your perspective about it? How does the U.S. see this new approach on energy?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: (Original answer in Spanish) I will be glad to respond to that. The important thing is that the U.S. and Brazil have capacity in terms of cooperation in the field of bioenergy. From our standpoint and I believe from Brazil's standpoint, it opens a new space for cooperation in the Americas --two of the biggest democracies of Americas, focusing in the area of biofuels and energy that are essential for the economic and social development of all the countries in the region. But the most interesting thing about biofuels is that with them the countries that have strong agricultural sectors, but lack energy sectors, especially countries in Central America and the Caribbean and also other countries in the Southern part of the continent, can transform part of it into an energy-producing sector, and that changes the strategic nature of those countries. It will help those countries develop some independence in terms of energy but also opens the possibility of providing energy to other countries that need it. From our standpoint this is something that has many possibilities, a lot of potential for each country, and the fact that the U.S. and Brazil have found a way to cooperate is very important.
QUESTION: Is there a second phase in this process? Where do you go from there?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: (Original answer in Spanish) The MOU has three parts. The first is a commitment to deepen the links between the two countries in terms of scientific and technological research, and that is already underway. Brazilian technicians have already been invited to visit facilities in the U.S. and experts from the U.S. are going to visit facilities in Brazil. The second part deals with cooperation with third countries which are interested in developing their own national industries of biofuels. Brazil and the U.S., during the meeting of their Presidents in Camp David, identified El Salvador, Turks and Caicos, the Dominican Republic and Haiti as the first four countries for cooperation in this process. But the U.S. and Brazil also initiated contact with Central America and CARICOM, to see what other countries would be interested.
The third part is the formation of an international forum of bio fuels with the biggest producers and biggest consumers of bio fuels from the U.S., Brazil, South Africa, India, China and the European Union, and together will start the job of establishing the rules and standards needed to secure the commercialization of bio fuels internationally. We are already working on it.
Released on May 11, 2007