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Remarks En Route to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Remarks En Route to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Secretary Condoleezza Rice

En Route to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

October 22, 2008

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me just start with why I’m going to Mexico. I really strongly believe that if you look at the last eight years, that President Bush, and first, President Fox and, now, President Calderon have built a fundamentally transformed U.S.-Mexican relationship. We are doing things together with Mexico, things together with Mexico and Canada that I think would have been really unimagined a number of years ago. Merida is one of those initiatives.

But if you look at all the work that’s been done in the SPP, if you look at all the work that’s now going to, I think, be done through the pathways process, and the fact that Mexico is about to become a member of the Security Council, and we therefore will have shared global interests, I think it’s really been a relationship that’s developed and broadened and deepened very noticeably over the last several years.

So I’ll go and have a chance to talk with Patricia Espinosa, my colleague, about that and about various specific issues on the agenda. But really, if you just step back and look strategically, the U.S.-Mexican relationship, I think, has never been better, and it’s never been broader in the questions that we address together, and it’s never been deeper. So that’s the reason for going, and it gives us a chance to go outside of Mexico City, outside of Washington, to a more relaxed place where we can sit and have discussions about the broad issues.

You know, we deal with the daily issues of the relationship all the time, Tom and his counterparts do. But I think this will give us a chance to step back and reflect on some of the broader issues now.

QUESTION: Just on the – yeah, broader issues, just about what (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, as I said, Mexico’s global role now as it becomes a member of the Security Council, the work that we’re doing together in the development agenda, in the trade agenda, in the law enforcement and security, which of course is a major concern. We’ll talk about Merida in a minute. But it’s a very broad relationship.

QUESTION: When will you start funding the Merida Initiative?

SECRETARY RICE: This is an initiative that we consider to be of the utmost importance. We consider it to be an initiative for which there is urgency. It got through the Congress really very, very quickly. We were working out some letters of agreement, which I think will be done soon, and the money will start to flow because this is a national security priority for Mexico and it’s a national security priority for the United States.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) of the letter of agreement? Who does that and how does it happen? Do you eventually have to sign it with them?

SECRETARY RICE: We’ll let Tom talk about the details of the --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Letters of agreement between governments, so these are worked out between the Mexican Government and the U.S. Government. We’re currently working on two letters of agreement: one to cover the Merida spending and one to cover the 2008 spending. Remember, the Merida spending comes through a supplemental, so it’s separate from the normal 2008 spending. And so we’ve got one which will cover the 400 million in Merida and the other covers – I don’t know the exact figure – it’s between 30 and 40 million in the normal 2008 funding.

Those are going to be completed very, very soon and we’ve been working really hard with the Mexican Foreign Ministry on this. These are important letters because they deal with the nuts and bolts of exchanges of equipment and assistance, and therefore, they need to be very carefully worked. But we feel very good about how we’ve been working with the Mexicans, and it should be done shortly.

QUESTION: So in a matter of weeks or --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Yeah, I mean, again, these are working through a bureaucratic process, so I think it’ll be sooner than weeks, but --

QUESTION: Okay.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: But it’s hard to put a timeframe on it. And it’s important to note that the LOAs only cover part of the money. There is money, both our FMF and our ESF money, that can start moving now that we have our spending program agreed on by the Congress, so that the letters of agreement only cover about half in total of the money.

QUESTION: Is there an issue with the transition and this program? You know, I mean, here we are in October – late October. Do you think it needs to be managed in terms of --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, I think this program is going to be – is and will be on very sound footing when President Bush leaves office. And there are a number of months still to make certain that the program is really on firm footing and moving forward. We’re going to have, for instance, a high-level consultative group to bring together, at the cabinet level, the principal officers who will be responsible for this program sometime in the next few weeks. We don’t have a date just yet.

And I also know that this is a program that has strong bipartisan support, because as I said, it’s a national security priority for both Mexico and the United States. And so I don’t expect that there will be any difficulties, but it will be on a firm footing before the President leaves office in any case.

QUESTION: Can you spell out more why it’s very urgent? I mean, obviously, we’re seeing unprecedented violence and it’s spilling over the border.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think it’s urgent because of the security situation. I mean, that’s really its origin. And by the way, I would just --

QUESTION: What are the risks, though, in terms – if you don’t stop it now, what are the risks?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the case for Merida was made, and I think was supported in the Congress, which is that we do face, with Mexico – Mexico faces unprecedented difficulties in terms of crime and the links between crime and drugs. And obviously, that has, given our long shared border, significant implications for the United States as well.

We also, I would remind you, have a portion of this that is Central American as well, where there is an integrated program for Central America. Because if you think of it as sort of flowing upward. There’s been well advertised, well known cases, for instance, what happened in Guatemala, just as an example of the problems in Central America.

So it’s a total package, and we fully expect that it’s going to be implemented and implemented soon. And the (inaudible) with the CARICOM countries a couple of weeks ago, we talked to them about how they might fit into some of the prevention mechanisms or prevention measures that need to be taken.

QUESTION: What about the – isn’t there like, 15 percent of the money that can’t be released until you have to report that certain conditions have been met by the Mexican army, I think?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the concern has been about human rights issues with the Mexican army, but I know the commitment of the Calderon government to professional behavior on the part of the Mexican police and the Mexican armed forces. And I think everybody understands that this is a Mexican Government that is absolutely committed to the rule of law, absolutely committed to the professionalization of its security services, and I’m confident that I and my successors are going to be in good shape on that that piece of it.

QUESTION: And do you expect you’ll be able to (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, you know, we’ll take the certification, and we’ll look at the facts. But I do know the tremendous commitment of this government, the Calderon government, to professional security forces.

QUESTION: Can we switch to Iraq, or is there any other question on --

SECRETARY RICE: Anything on Mexico?

QUESTION: Yeah, are you going to talk about other issues like border (inaudible) or immigration with Secretary Espinosa?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, perhaps to a certain extent. I mean, look, I think that we all recognize that President Bush had very much wanted to get a comprehensive immigration plan done, immigration law done. It didn’t happen. And it leaves us and Mexico with that concern. But we’ve tried, and Mexico, I think, has tried to be responsible in terms of our laws and the importance of upholding our laws. But there’s no doubt that there needs to be comprehensive immigration reform, and I hope the next leadership will take it up, the next president will take it up.

QUESTION: Do you --

QUESTION: Yeah. Last question. How concerned in the U.S. administration from the effects of the crisis on the Mexican economy?

SECRETARY RICE: The financial crisis?

QUESTION: Yeah, financial crisis.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, Mexico will be represented at the leaders meeting that will take place because it will be a G-20 meeting, so Mexico will be represented there. And that’s a very good thing. But it’s – the Mexican economy – the Mexicans have made some good decisions over the last several years, as far as we can see, and they’re continuing to operate from a strong position. But they, like everybody else, are being buffeted by the global financial crisis and also by the slowdown economically. And of course, the slowdown economically in the United States has an effect on the Mexican economy as well.

But I think this is, like the U.S. economy (inaudible) get through this economic slowdown. I think we’re all going to continue to see the benefits of being in a trade relationship that allows export. But no doubt about it, Mexico has been buffeted by the same financial winds that everyone else has.

QUESTION: Isn’t it perhaps just another challenge on things like the drug war? I mean, aren’t you worried that Mexico may have trouble fighting this war (inaudible)?

SECRETARY RICE: No, I think Mexico is going to do everything that they can to provide security and safety for their people, and security and safety along the border.

QUESTION: Can we switch to Iraq, Madame? Can you say what is holding up the negotiations? What are some of the – any of the details?

SECRETARY RICE: You’ve tried this question so many times.

QUESTION: I didn’t try this way.

SECRETARY RICE: No. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Anyway.

SECRETARY RICE: Look, the agreement --

QUESTION: On the serious side, on the state of negotiations --

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it’s an important agreement, and it’s an agreement that is both going to answer to questions about Iraqi sovereignty and is going to protect our troops. And we believe that the work that the negotiators have done has produced an agreement that does both.

Now, obviously, the Iraqis have a democratic system, and they’re debating this and they’re discussing it. But the fact of the matter is, this is a good agreement and it’s an agreement that will allow our forces to operate there legally. And we need to have that basis because the Iraqis themselves recognize that they are not ready to operate without coalition forces.

So there’s still some time here, but I think it’s --

QUESTION: How much time?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Security Council resolution expires at the end of the year, but I don’t think we want to get to that point. I think we want to try to get this done more quickly than that.

QUESTION: What have the Iraqis told you about what their problems are with this?

SECRETARY RICE: You know that we’ve continued to discuss issues of jurisdiction, we’ve continued to discuss nuts and bolts issues like detainees and what will happen of them. But I believe these things will get worked out because both sides have a great interest in getting this done. But we believe that this is an agreement – the agreement that the negotiators have worked out – that both protects our troops and respects Iraqi sovereignty.

And the Iraqi leadership, which after all has overseen these negotiations, I assume is making that case to the various bodies as it goes through, but part of it is that they’ve decided to take it through several bodies, and as you take it through bodies, more and more questions get raised. But I’m quite confident in the strength of this agreement.

QUESTION: Is this basically your last offer, I mean, as far as an agreement goes?

SECRETARY RICE: I think it’s a good agreement.

QUESTION: There’s some room, some flexibility?

SECRETARY RICE: It’s a good agreement, and we have done everything that we can to make certain both that our troops are protected and that Iraqi sovereignty is respected.

QUESTION: The Iraqis said that the U.S. is bullying them. There was something about maybe the U.S. would control security for Maliki. I think that seems to have hurt them. What can you say about that?

SECRETARY RICE: What I would say is that Iraq has a strong interest in making sure that coalition forces, U.S. forces, can remain in Iraq long enough to secure the gains that have been made and long enough for Iraqi security forces to be able to take up their rightful place as defending Iraq. But I don’t think that anybody believes that they are capable of doing that alone right now.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right.

SECRETARY RICE: Okay?

QUESTION: On Iran?

QUESTION: Oh yeah, just one on Iran?

QUESTION: Is there anything new on getting together with the P-5+1?

SECRETARY RICE: P-5+1? No, the political directors had a meeting. I think it was productive. They went over some possibilities. It was a phone call last week. You – it was reported to you.

MR. MCCORMACK: Monday.

QUESTION: There are apparently new sanctions today. I just caught up with (inaudible).

SECRETARY RICE: We continue these designations. Remember, these are designations that take place when we find Iranian banks that are in violation of the law. The Treasury Department designates them. That’s a process that’s going to continue.

All right.

QUESTION: Thanks.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

ENDS

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