Special Briefing
Arturo Valenzuela
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Washington, DC
June 4, 2010


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MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. Very happy to have with us today Assistant Secretary Arturo Valenzuela. As you know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is going to be traveling to Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Barbados June 6th to 10th, and Assistant Secretary Valenzuela will be here to answer your questions and talk a little bit about the trip.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much. I want to remind you that on the first week of March, the Secretary did a trip to the Southern Cone in Central America. She went to the inauguration of President Mujica in Uruguay and then she went to Argentina and Chile and Brazil and then to Costa Rica to the Pathways meeting and then from there to Guatemala City to a meeting with the Central American presidents.

This trip this week will begin on Sunday and it’s to Lima, Peru, for the General Assembly of the Organization of American States. So the Secretary will lead the U.S. delegation to the Organization of American States annual meeting in Lima. And in Lima, she will also have a bilateral meeting with President Garcia, who, as you know, was in Washington last week to meet with the President as well.

From – so will be arriving on Sunday in Lima, Peru – Sunday evening. She will spend the entire day in Peru on Monday in the meetings of the OASGA. And then on Tuesday morning, she will be leaving Lima, Peru, and fly to Quito, Ecuador, where she will have a meeting with President Correa. And the meeting with President Correa will be also followed by a speech that the Secretary will give at a cultural center in Quito, where she will lay out the broad outline of the Obama Administration’s policies towards the countries of the hemisphere to the Americas.

At the end of the day in Quito, she will fly to Bogota, Colombia and arrive in the evening. And then the following day – I’m talking about Wednesday, then – she will be meeting in the morning with the two presidential candidates because, as you know Colombia is going through an electoral process. The first round of the election has already taken place, took place last Sunday, and so she will be meeting with the two presidential candidates, Santos and Mockus, and then having a meeting with President Uribe.

And then towards the end of the day, she will travel to Barbados, arriving in the evening in Barbados. And Thursday, she will be meeting, then, with countries of the Caribbean, CARICOM, in Barbados.

Let me just – I’ll start in reverse order. In Barbados, she will be discussing some of the security issues that the Caribbean faces, as well as other items on the agenda with the Caribbean countries. This is in some ways a follow-up to the recent meeting that we had here in Washington of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, which was the Administration’s effort to work with countries of the Caribbean to address the problems of crime and violence and narco-trafficking that the Caribbean countries face. But there will probably be other items on the agenda.

And then in Bogota, of course, she will be discussing elements of the bilateral relationship with Colombia, as well as with the two candidates, one of whom will be president of Colombia.

In Lima, at the OASGA, the Secretary will be participating in a meeting that has as its primary theme security and cooperation in the Americas. In fact, the declaration for the meeting has already been worked on by the members of the Organization of American States. They’ve come up with a draft declaration that will be issued in Lima. This is an effort on the part of the countries of the Americas at the suggestion of the Peruvians, who are the hosts, to address questions of security in a broad sense in the Americas.

So among the elements that are incorporated in this declaration are such things as the importance of confidence-building measures between countries, ensuring that there’s peaceful relationships between countries. There is a section in the declaration that also makes note of the fact that there has been a decline in military spending in the region. It calls for a greater investment, of course, in programs that are aimed at economic development and social reform, and less funding for military kinds of activities and that kind of thing. So it’s an effort to look at the state of security relationships across the board that focuses not only on interstate security questions but also on matters that affect the states in terms of internal security, questions such as crime and violence.

And I suspect also that the agenda will discuss OAS reform and steps ahead, questions of the OAS’s budget, which is a challenge right now. There are going to have to be some cuts on that and so-- and listen to the priorities of the secretary general at the OAS.

So without further ado, that’s kind of the broad outline for the trip, and I’m happy to take your questions.

Yeah.

QUESTION: (In Spanish.)

ASSISTANT SECRETAR VALENZUELA: (In Spanish.)

MR. TONER: Please, there’s a call in Spanish at 3 o’clock, so –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Okay. Thank you.

MR. TONER: And sir, you mind just giving a –

ASISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Yes. What I said was – the question was – had to do with how we see Latin American in terms – is there an armaments race? And my answer to that was that, in fact, we don’t see this as a problem in Latin America – that, in fact, if you look at the statistics, the data, that there has actually been a significant decline in expenditures on armaments in most of the countries in the region. We value that. This is a product of the fact that since Latin American countries have returned to democracy or have been consolidated in their democratic processes, we’ve also seen significant efforts on the part of many countries to resolve boundary disputes that were dangerous.

I didn’t say this in my Spanish version, but in 1977, Chile and Argentina almost went to war and they had a large number of boundary issues which were resolved. And of course, let’s remember the important agreement between Ecuador and Peru to resolve their longstanding, also, boundary dispute. So this – these are advances and we welcome them and they show that, in fact, in Latin America, it’s much better to think about the strategies that most of the countries are pursuing which is to reduce arms – armament expenditures and invest much more in education and other social areas.

QUESTION: Andy Quinn from Reuters. (inaudible) will coincide with the Secretary’s visit specifically or not, but can you tell if the U.S. plans to seek a vote on the reintegration of Honduras and do you think you’ve got the votes to get that through?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I think that this is an issue that’s going to be discussed on the margins of the OAS, but I’m not sure that it’s going to actually be part of the agenda. But I don’t have information on that. The – there’s still a discussion among countries in the hemisphere on the reincorporation of Honduras, where this is going to actually be taken up as an official part of the agenda. My understanding is that this is not going to be on the agenda, and the countries that have come to that conclusion. But at the margins of the agenda, this will be – of the discussions – I’m sure this is an issue that will come up.

QUESTION: Is it on the margins because the divisions over whether to readmit Honduras have not been –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I think that that’s fair to say, that there still are some countries that believe that Honduras should take additional steps, which is a position that’s different from that of the United States where we believe that, in fact, Honduras has taken important steps to overcome the crisis that occurred with a coup from last year. Although, we are also mindful of the fact that there are continuing concerns over human rights violations in Honduras and that certain steps still need to be taken in order to bring about a process of national reconciliation, which was the objective of the Hondurans themselves when they signed the peace accord, which is the base for much of the efforts that are being undertaken now in order to reincorporate – to resolve the problems in Honduras and reincorporate Honduras into the inter-American system.

QUESTION: One thing that is on the agenda is the Malvinas. Is the U.S. prepared to support the Argentine position?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: No, our position has always been that this is a matter for both countries to address --

QUESTION: Will you support the Argentine resolution?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: No. We --

QUESTION: No?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: What we do – our position is to encourage both countries to resolve this issue in a bilateral fashion.

QUESTION: So, wait, wait. I just want to -- so, no, you do -- so that won’t get through – there won’t be a consensus on it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I said our position is to encourage both countries. I haven’t read any of the resolutions and I haven’t seen any resolutions that are being tabled. I’m just-- but if that question is a general question on what our position is with regard to the Falkland Islands and the Malvinas dispute, it’s that both countries need to address this matter.

QUESTION: On the --

QUESTION: It’s a follow-up?

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s just a follow-up on Honduras.

QUESTION: Okay, then go ahead.

QUESTION: Just – the secretary general of OAS, he said that some countries want former President Zelaya to go back to Honduras. Do countries think that this is an absolute necessary step to keep normalizing the situation? What is the position of the U.S.? Do you think that that should be enough?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I understand – my understanding is that, in fact, President Lobo has taken steps to address this issue by encouraging President Zelaya. I think that he’s even made some efforts to say that he himself would encourage him to return. President Zelaya apparently at this particular point has not decided that he, in fact, wants to go back to – may not feel that the conditions are right for him to go back. But my understanding is that that is not a critical issue at this particular point. Now I understand that some countries are saying that he needs to go back. That’s true. But, as I said, again, President Lobo has made it clear that President Zelaya would be able to go back to Honduras.

And let me, on Honduras, underscore the fact that, I guess it was a week ago or so, that the Truth Commission was stood up. I think this is an important step that needs to be taken and it has been taken in Honduras. And the Truth Commission that will be headed by former Vice President of Guatemala Eduardo Stein is charged then, pursuant to the accord that both parties signed that led to setting the terms for reconciliation in Honduras, that this commission will look into what happened and provide, as the agreement itself suggests, it’ll provide those elements – elementos – to suggest some kinds of reforms in Honduras moving forward.

QUESTION: Thank you. Sonia Schott with Globovision, Venezuela. Dr. Valenzuela, Secretary Clinton is not going to Venezuela and I would like to know what is the stand of the bilateral relations between U.S. and Venezuela. And considering that one of the major issues in the street and at the OAS General Assembly will be security. I would like to know your position regarding the letter sent by the 12 senators asking the review of the Venezuelan status as a sponsoring – a terrorist sponsor country.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Let me say that this is an Andean trip. The Secretary is not going to Bolivia either at this particular point, but this is an opportunity – your question is an opportunity for me to tell you that I was in Bolivia on Monday and Tuesday. I went down to talk to Foreign Minister Choquehuanca about the relationship between the United States and Bolivia. We’re trying to move forward and trying to overcome some of the difficulties that we’ve had.

We have a framework agreement that we’ve been working on for some time with the Bolivians in order to be able to restore our ambassadors and to normalize relationships. And I’m pleased to tell you that the meetings were extremely positive. I did a press conference with Foreign Minister Choquehuanca after our meeting, and as he expressed it, we’re 99 percent there in terms of this framework agreement. And so I think that we’re optimistic about our ability to move forward to try to strengthen the relationships between the United States and Bolivia – something that both governments want to do.

And as I say, this is-- the reason why I mention Bolivia is because this particular trip has an Andean focus. And I wanted to be sure to go to Bolivia before the Secretary traveled to Peru or Colombia or Quito to be able to sort of advance our efforts with the Bolivians. So our Andean trip is focused on that.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: The reason we’re not going to Venezuela is not an Andean country and to be more specific in terms of your – while there’s been some discussion back and forth with the Venezuelans about how we might be able to also get our – strengthen our relation and get back on track, I don’t think we’re there yet.

QUESTION: And what about the reaction on the letter –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Oh, I don’t – because I was traveling, I don’t know anything about that letter, so I’d have to find out.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m translating –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Let me go to somebody else, please --

QUESTION: Oh, sure.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: -- since you’re already had --

QUESTION: I’m (inaudible) with the Spanish service for (inaudible) press. In the first question, you said that most of the countries in the region are not increasing their military spending. Could you please talk about the countries that do – that –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I don’t have the facts there at the top of my head in terms of – what I was just giving you is a general impression that --

QUESTION: Yes.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: -- in Latin America there has been a decline of military expenditures, no. Any country, of course, any sovereign country has a right to purchase equipment and particularly to modernize equipment. And so that’s something that we understand and indeed encourage if you want to modernize this equipment. The thing is that the welcome trend that we see and that is embodied by the discussion that will be had in Lima, in this declaration on issues of security there, is that there has been a decline generally in the military expenditures across the board in the region. And this is something that the declaration, in fact, does welcome as it also emphasizes the importance of investing much more in social programs and in economic development priorities than in weapons.

MR. TONER: A few more questions.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question about Cuba? Can you bring us up to date on whether there have been any recent contacts on the oil spill issue and also any information or any update on Mr. Gross?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: On the oil spill, the Cubans were notified of the potential of the oil spill that this could be a problem. And my understanding is that they were – they appreciated the gesture of notifying them in that regard.

And I don’t have any updates on Mr. Gross except that there have been some consular visits and that we continue to be extremely concerned about that case, and we brought it to the attention of the Cubans.

QUESTION: Can I ask about-- I understand you had a meeting this morning with the general attorney of Nicaragua. I think that U.S. has expressed some concern-- worries about the situation of human rights and political rights. And was it about that? Did you stress –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, that’s one of the issues that we discussed. We also discussed the property questions in Nicaragua; they’re still outstanding.

QUESTION: On the OAS –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Just a second. Hold on.

QUESTION: Will the free trade agreement with Colombia be ratified? And what will the Secretary tell the government, then?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Well, let me answer the second part of the question. The Secretary will tell President Uribe and Colombian interlocutors that the Obama Administration does support, as the President himself said in the State of the Union Address, in fact, the ratification of a free trade agreement with Colombia.

With regard to the first part of your question as to whether or not this is going to happen, I don’t know. And this, of course, is a matter for the Congress to decide. And – but we continue to work on this and it is something that we hope will happen soon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you, regarding the OAS and what you mentioned, the need for reform, could you please elaborate a little bit more on that? And what about the budget, how to do that without –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Right. I think that --

QUESTION: -- small budget –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: This is one of those things where, as we move forward, our countries need to continue to make their contributions. Much of the OAS budget depends on additional funding that doesn’t-- that’s not the core funding that comes into the OAS. It’s funding that comes in through projects. While those are important, it’s also significant – it’s a priority for the OAS to have a core budget that is an adequate budget to be able to cover the expenditures that the organization has. And so, as the secretary – at this particular point, the secretary general is looking at trying to do some cuts to improve some of the managerial practices within the OAS to streamline the organization. And at the same time, of course, we, with other countries, are looking to see how we can appeal for additional funding to cover some of the priorities at the OAS.

QUESTION: And while she’s at the OAS, does the Secretary have hopes of having a bilateral with the Brazilian foreign minister?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: There is, I could say, a list of bilaterals. But my impression is that we still haven’t decided yet exactly which ones were going to take place. But there will be time for a few bilaterals, and a few bilaterals will be held in Lima. But I’m not – I can’t tell you which ones.

QUESTION: Well, it’s going to be – the timing is propitious for a meeting with the Brazilians, considering you’re looking to get the resolution introduced at the UN next week. I mean, is Iran going to be a factor in these meetings, either the resolution or growing influence in the region?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I don’t think so, but – and again, I can’t comment on specifics with regard to which bilaterals are being scheduled. But there are several bilaterals that are being looked at. And so as soon as we get that information, we’d be happy to share it with you.

QUESTION: Sure. So you don’t expect, then, that the concern that has been expressed previously in public by the Secretary and others about growing Iranian influence in the –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: No, that’s certainly a concern. And that’s a concern that we’ll continue to express. But if you’re asking me to what degree this is going to become an issue in the discussions at the OAS General Assembly, I’m not sure that this is an issue that’s going to be discussed at the General-- OAS General Assembly.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: One more on – the embargo of Cuba is going to come up for sure. They’re going to keep pressing the U.S., but you will just keep repeating the same old positions. Is that right? (Laughter.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Is that a leading question? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, that’s – it’s a leading question, just to – I was helping him leave --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: I’ll let my friend, P.J. (laughter). He’s an expert at it.

MR. CROWLEY: No, but before Arturo leaves, there are many baseball fans here at the State Department. And for six and a half floors of the State Department, of course, we endorse the Boston Red Sox. But that suite in the middle is a different story. But I do think we should pay tribute to Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers --

QUESTION: Venezuelan --

MR. CROWLEY: Proud son of Venezuela. And the display of grace and sportsmanship that he has given us in the aftermath of his 28-out perfect game. We certainly salute him and what he’s done for the good of the game. And he’s a proud son of Venezuela and the Detroit Tigers.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much.



PRN: 2010/735