Rice On-The-Record Briefing En Route to Mexico
Rice On-The-Record Briefing En Route to Mexico
En Route to Mexico
March 10, 2005
SECRETARY RICE: Well, welcome. This is our first trip to Latin America and I'm very much looking forward to going to Mexico, our close neighbor and friend. This is an opportunity, first and foremost, to speak with my Mexican colleagues and President Fox in advance of President Fox's meeting with President Bush in Texas on the 23rd when they will also be joined by Prime Minister Martin of Canada.
This is also an opportunity to begin a dialogue on a number of issues that are of interest to our close neighbors, on immigration, on border security, on trying to make North America as prosperous and competitive as it can possibly be.
This event that will be held in Texas on the 23rd is, for me, the first of several that will be held on Latin America this spring. We will go, for instance, I hope to the Community of Democracies meeting that will be held in Chile at the end of April and, of course, the United States will host the Organization of American States foreign ministerial in June in Fort Lauderdale.
So this is the first of several trips. I look forward to going there. There is an awful lot that this hemisphere can do and we are always better when we ware working together on matters of trade, on matters of security, and especially on matters of democracy and making certain that the trends toward democracy that began in the 1980s and accelerated to the point that when we're at the Summit of the Americas there was only one empty chair, and that is Cuba, to make certain that we continue to press those democratic trends.
And as was said at Monterrey, that the process of democratization and economic growth also has real benefits for the people of the region, and so concerns about education and health care and providing entrepreneurial activity for the citizens of Latin America. One of the places that I'll go on this trip, for instance, is to a micro-finance event at which I'll have a chance to see the efforts that are being made to provide financial and banking services for Mexican citizens as well as providing loans for small business people, for Mexicans who want to engage in entrepreneurial activity. And I'm told that the one place which we will go, that about 80 percent of the clients are women. And, obviously, micro-finance has been a very important mechanism by which women have been brought out of poverty and then enhanced the economic prospects of their villages and their cities and of their countries ultimately.
So I'm very much looking forward to the trip and I'll take a few questions.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice, could you explain to us your decision to withdraw from the protocol that would have allowed the ICJ to judge those cases? Have you gotten any complaints? I'm well aware that you're going to respect the decision on the Mexicans, but have you gotten any complaints from foreign countries about your decision, notably Mexico, and do you think this may make it harder for people to get consular access in the future?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, you rightly say that we are going to comply with the ICJ ruling, and the President has directed that the states review the 51 cases that were cited in the ICJ decision.
Secondly, we remain committed to and party to the Vienna Convention, which includes the principles of consular notification. We consider it extremely important.
This was an optional protocol which gave jurisdiction to the ICJ. It is not a question of whether we believe in consular notification. It's a jurisdictional issue and, I might underline, optional. Only about 30 percent of the countries that belong to the Vienna Convention actually belong to this protocol, such notables as Canada, for instance, not a member of this particular optional protocol.
So we will continue to live up to our obligations under the Vienna Convention. We will continue to believe in the importance of consular notification. But this particular optional protocol was in our federal system being interpreted in ways that we thought were inappropriate for a system in which there is a jurisdictional issue between the federal government and the states. And that's really what this is about.
And no, we have not heard from others, to my knowledge.
QUESTION: The recent violence along the border where two Americans were killed prompted the U.S. to send out a Travel Advisory and the Mexicans were very upset about that and the accompanying letter by the ambassador. You talk about wanting to strengthen border issues, security, trade, but how much of a concern is it for you that this recent violence could impede some of the progress that you want to make? What do the Mexicans need to do to work with you on those type of issues?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we're going to continue to work with Mexico on issues of border security and I, frankly, think we've made progress. We've made progress particularly since September 11th when we've all been able to look at border issues in a new light, including with new technology, with better training, with better coordination. And so we have made progress.
When we have concerns, as we did that provoked the Travel Advisory, we have an obligation to make them known to American citizens and we will have to continue to do that. But we and the Mexicans have a robust dialogue about border security and I believe we're going to continue to have that. We've talked about proper training, we've talked about the use of technology, and we're going to continue to have that dialogue. This is not a matter of pointing fingers. This is a matter of really trying to get the best possible coordination and work that we can so that there is safety for citizens of both countries on both sides of the border.
QUESTION: A bit of a follow-up on that, and we've had -- you've mentioned successes in border security and apprehending those trying to cross illegally. Recently there was an article talking about ranchers and people along the New Mexico-Mexico border that basically are trying to form their own efforts to stop illegal cross-border movement. How does that complicate things for border security people and so forth? How do you react to that?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, obviously, from our point of view, the U.S. Government is not supporting these activities and it is obviously best if these matters are left to officials. The United States can't intervene in activities of its citizens in all cases, but you can be certain that if there are any laws broken that people are going to be held accountable for any breakings of laws. But these people are not being supported by the United States Government.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice, U.S. is -- I mean, European countries are continuing their talks with Iran on the nuclear matter and it's reported that the U.S. is considering some economic incentives to Iran. Would you please tell us what is your assessment of the chances of the diplomacy given Iran's insistence to continue the enrichment program?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we very much have appreciated the efforts of the EU-3, of the IAEA, to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue and to make certain that Iran is living up to its obligation. And that obligation, by the way, is not to seek a nuclear weapon under cover of a civilian nuclear program.
The President had very good discussions about this when he was in Europe. I've had subsequent very good discussions with my colleagues. I think we're really coming to a common view of how to proceed. The Europeans have been very clear with the Iranians that there will have to be certain objective guarantees that Iran is not trying to use a civilian nuclear program to provide cover. The IAEA has asked for inspections of facilities. The Iranians need to cooperate.
And we are examining what means we might be able to use to contribute to the European Union 3's efforts at success; in other words, to support their diplomacy. We've been saying all along that we support the diplomacy. We're looking for ways to more actively support that diplomacy. But I want to be very clear that this is really not an issue of what people should be giving to Iran. This is an issue of Iran, of keeping the spotlight on Iran, which ought to be living up to its international obligations.
QUESTION: A question on Lebanon. Given the massive demonstrations on Tuesday, the pro-Syrian demonstrations, and the efforts by the opposition there to work with Hezbollah, is there also a U.S. perhaps reassessment of Hezbollah and its role in Lebanon or a changing relationship in any sense given the strength and the numbers that we're seeing there?
SECRETARY RICE: The American view of Hezbollah has not changed. What we are focused on at this point is removing what is an artificial factor in Lebanese politics, and that is Syrian forces and Syrian security personnel. When Syrian security personnel and forces have been withdrawn, the Lebanese will have the opportunity to chart a political future for themselves, to chart a political future that tries to create a government that is representative of and respectful of all Lebanese. And the way to that is to have free and fair elections.
So that's what we are concentrating on at this point. We do note that usually the people who win elections are people who are talking about better lives for their people, for prosperity for their people, and we expect that that would also be the case in elections in Lebanon. So our focus is on the implementation of 1559 and that is very clear in getting rid of what is now an artificial presence, and that's the Syrian presence, foreign presence.
QUESTION: If I can follow up on that, you talked about people who win elections tend to be ones focused on the prosperity of people. Well, Hezbollah is not just a political entity but a social entity in Lebanon and has really appealed to the hearts and minds. Is there at some point -- is the U.S. going to have to accept Hezbollah as a political force in a democratic Lebanon? And to what extent does this put the U.S. goal of spreading democracy in the Middle East in conflict with the global war on terror?
SECRETARY RICE: The goal of spreading democracy or encouraging those who want to engage in democratic processes is completely harmonious with the war on terror because it's the only answer ultimately to those who would use violence and use wanton violence against civilians to try to make some kind of statement or to spread their ideologies of hatred. So the long-term victory in the war on terror is only going to be won by the spread of liberty.
The United States is absolutely determined at this point to focus on what the international community needs to do, and that is to make certain that there is adherence to 1559 and that Syrian forces need to get out. The Lebanese people will then have a chance to have free and fair elections and they'll have a chance to chart their own future.
We're going to do one thing at a time. Lebanon is a very complex place with a lot of complex political factors, but those cannot begin to come into harmony until you have Syrian forces out and we see what the real balance of forces and the real balance of interests in Lebanon look like.
We've got time for a couple more.
QUESTION: Yes, Madame Secretary, the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Admiral Loy, testified several weeks ago that they had intelligence that al-Qaida was considering using the border to cross into the United States, possibly with the help of gangs operating along the border. How concerned are you that our border is emerging as a transit point for terrorism into the United States?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, indeed we have from time to time had reports about al-Qaida trying to use our southern border, but also about them trying to use our northern border. That's why the United States and Canada and Mexico have held joint discussions on border security, on smart borders. My colleague, Tom Ridge, spent a good deal of time with both his Mexican and Canadian counterparts trying to improve border security and I'm quite certain that that's going to be a big part of what Mike Chertoff does as well.
There's no secret that al-Qaida will try to get into this country and into other countries by any means that they possibly can. That's how they managed to do it before and they will do everything that they can to cross borders. And therefore our only -- it's not to be alarmist or to be surprised by such a thing; it's to react to it. And that's why the efforts that we have underway with Canada and with Mexico are so important in this regard.
One last one.
QUESTION: I'd just like to go back to the Hezbollah question, whether you still regard Hezbollah as a terrorist organization that should be disarmed, and how quickly are you going to press for that?
SECRETARY RICE: As I said, our view of Hezbollah has not changed. The goal in the near term is to make certain that the Lebanese people have a fair opportunity to have free elections and to determine their own political future, and that's why you see us so focused on getting Syrian forces out. When the Lebanese have an opportunity to chart their own political future, I'm certain that they'll come to an understanding of the means by which they are going to provide a better life and a freer life for the Lebanese people. But right now they can't do that and that's why we've got to remain focused.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up. What are you trying to do to ensure there is not a political vacuum or military vacuum once Syria pulls out of Lebanon?
SECRETARY RICE: Terje Larsen, the Secretary General's representative, is making the rounds. He's talking to people. What we've said is that we're quite certain the international community will be prepared to support whatever is needed and requested by the Lebanese people in terms of support for their elections and also in terms of support for their political processes as they go on further. But I think we'll need to hear from Mr. Larsen when he returns. He's going to report to the UN fairly shortly after that. 2005/ T3-2
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Released on March 10, 2005