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Remarks En Route Panama City, Panama

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
En Route Panama City, Panama
June 4, 2007

SECRETARY RICE: I'm looking forward to this General Assembly meeting of the Organization of the American States. I think it's extremely important that this is an organization which I frankly think has done more and more good work. It's been particularly lively the last couple of years. I think that Jose Miguel Insulza has given good leadership to the organization. It's been active in Haiti. The Inter-American Democratic Charter provides a good basis for an active role in both promoting and sustaining democracy in the region, and I think we'll talk a great deal about that.

There are obviously challenges to democracy in the region as well as opportunities for democracy. I will speak in my comments about the importance of freedom of expression and press expression, and of course that is most directly now on the agenda because of what is going on in Venezuela with RCTV.

And also the importance of the transition that is clearly underway in Cuba, which is a transition that has to be for Cubans, managed by Cubans, but one in which the OAS should have a very clear -- the members of the OAS should have a very clear message to all people that all people in the hemisphere deserve a democratic future.

And so those are the some of the themes. I'll also have a chance to reiterate the President's themes during his recent trip to Latin America about the importance of democracy and development, democracy and social justice, reaching out to those who have been on the margins of society and making certain that they can enjoy the benefits of democracy.

And so those are some of the themes that I'll be expressing and look forward to meetings with my colleagues from Peru, Ecuador and ultimately to see President Torrijos this evening before we leave.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on Venezuela. Given the increasing control that Chavez has asserted over parts of the economy and the political system, do you see the closure of RCTV and the threats to Globovision, as being attacks on sort of one of the last bastions of opposition or countervailing forces to him? And how much support do you expect to get from other members of the OAS in the communiqué or elsewhere to speak out against Chavez?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, there has been across the region great concern, expressions of concern about what's happened with RCTV. I think you saw from President Lula -- in fact, the OAS Secretary General Mr. Insulza himself has spoken out about the importance of press freedom. I think you're going to see that we will have a statement on freedom of expression, freedom of the press.

Look, everyone recognizes that when you start closing down television stations because they express opposition to the leadership that that is, in fact, a strong move against democracy. It's not the first in Venezuela, but it's perhaps the most -- the sharpest and the most acute. I've mentioned the regional reaction, but of course parliaments across the world -- Europe, the United States -- I just was with the Spanish Foreign Minister and we expressed concern about it. So this is not an issue between the United States and Venezuela. This is an issue between those who stand for democratic principles and those who don't. And I think you're seeing it expressed in exactly that way.

QUESTION: If I just might -- does that mean that you (inaudible) categorically say that Chavez is not standing for the principle of democracy in any way, shape or form?

SECRETARY RICE: I do not see how closing down an opposition newspaper, literally because (inaudible) taking on your policies can be seen as anything but anti-democratic.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: An opposition TV station. Sorry. Opposition TV station.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up on that. Do you believe that Venezuela respected the Inter-American Charter in this case (inaudible)? And are you going to address this issue of RCTV in your speech at the OAS today?

SECRETARY RICE: First let me be very clear, this is not an issue between the United States and Venezuela. This is an issue between Venezuela and democratic principles. And it needs to be understood that way. It needs to be addressed that way. That's why it is so important that countries and parliaments from Europe, to the United States, countries from Spain to Brazil, the Europeans, have expressed their concern. We are not going to allow the Venezuelan leadership to make this an issue between the United States and Venezuela. This is an issue between Venezuela and democracy, and by the way between Venezuela and its own people. The people who are protesting this in the streets in Venezuela are doing so because they believe in Venezuelan democracy. And so that's how we intend to address this within the context of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and within the context of democratic states that express their concern whenever there is a countermove to democratic practice.

QUESTION: A quick one on the latest remarks by President Putin, who again is talking about targeting Europe. Two things. One, your response to his direct comments. And two, at least some of us who were on the plane with you just two weeks ago when (inaudible) ostensibly said they were going to tone down the rhetoric.

SECRETARY RICE: I still think it would be a very good thing to tone down the rhetoric. First, this is not the world as we know it. This is 2007, not 1987. And the idea that somehow the United States is, with missile defenses that are aimed at emerging threats from small missile threats but nonetheless what could very lethal missile threats like Iran or North Korea, it's just not an argument that is acceptable in a world in which the United States and Russia are not adversaries. We don't consider Russia our adversary and I hope they don't consider the United States their adversary. We, after all, are cooperating on a whole range of things -- nuclear proliferation. We're cooperating on -- really rather well on Iran and North Korea themselves. We are cooperating on terrorism. This isn't the Soviet Union and we need to drop the rhetoric that sounds like what the United States and the Soviet Union used to say about each other and realize it's the United States and Russia in a very different period.

Secondly, we have been very active in talking to the Russians about this, not just explaining it but exploring it. We're prepared to do more of that. We've had serious discussions. When you send the Secretary of Defense, the head of the missile defense program, and the Secretary of State to Moscow, I would think that those would be considered serious discussions. I don't know what much more you can do except --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the President (inaudible) invite the President of Russia to Kennebunkport, which he will be there on July 1. He's also meeting with the President in Heilingendamm. So the Russians say they want high-level engagement on this issue. They're getting it. And we're prepared to keep working on it.

But the third point I would make is that it doesn't really help anybody to start threatening the Europeans over deployments of ten interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic. And of course, everybody recognizes that the security of the United States and the security of our European allies is indivisible, and that has to be underscored. That's why we're talking about this in NATO. That's why there will be a significant relationship between whatever is done for missile defense in Europe and whatever is done for missile defense on the -- through the American program. And it's just extremely important that everybody recognize that these threats aren't helpful and they're not going to have an effect.

QUESTION: But aren't his comments kind of a step -- like two steps or three steps backwards? I mean, this is kind of the thing that we were hearing before we were in Oslo. What is it -- you just -- is this (inaudible) -- is he bluffing? What is this?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, what it is is not helpful and it doesn't contribute to the atmosphere of cooperation, recent discussion, recent analysis and potential missile defense cooperation that we've been offering. And I think everybody understands that those comments are not helpful. And again, to the degree that they're considered to be aimed at Europe, the security of the United States and of our allies is indivisible, so you cannot launch a threat at Europe that is separable somehow from the security of the United States.

QUESTION: Is there at a point at which you just say, okay, forget about it, we're not interested in cooperating with you anymore, you obviously aren't interested?

SECRETARY RICE: We're patient.

QUESTION: Latin America again, and it's related with Iran. Mr. Noriega, the President of Nicaragua, is having today in Venezuela a trip and he's going to Iran later this week. I'd like to know if you are concerned by this kind of trips to Tehran and if you are concerned by the growing relations between some countries in the hemisphere with Iran.

SECRETARY RICE: No, but (inaudible) all kinds of people have diplomatic relations with Tehran. As long as everyone who visits there realizes that Tehran is under Chapter 7 resolution -- as a matter of fact, two of them -- doesn't violate those resolutions, and recognizes the reputational and investment risk of dealing with a country under Chapter 7 resolutions, I assume that people will recognize what the right messages are with Tehran.

QUESTION: This is just a -- I don't know if you saw the -- again, it's on Iran. President Ahmedi-Nejad had some fairly intemperate things to say about Israel, talking about how the Palestinians and the Lebanese may have pushed the buttons for the destruction of the state; there’s no backing away from the kinds of things that he was saying two years ago. Do you have any comment on it?

SECRETARY RICE: (Inaudible)?

QUESTION: (Inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: No, but he is digging a deeper and deeper hole for his country.

All right, thank you.


Released on June 5, 2007

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