Office of the Press Secretary
January 9, 2004
Dr. Rice's Briefing on President's Trip to Mexico
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:53 P.M. EST
DR. RICE: Happy New Year. On Monday, the President
and the First Lady will travel to Monterrey,
Mexico for the Special Summit of the Americas.
There, the President will meet with the other
democratically elected leaders from the region to
build on the progress we've made in strengthening
democracy and promoting greater prosperity in the
The leaders will discuss their commitment and
support to economic growth, especially as it
pertains to the private sector and small
businesses; ways to reduce the level of poverty in
the hemisphere; how to improve the lives of
citizens, specifically focusing on education; and
also, how to address critical health issues, such
as the pandemic of AIDS.
In a hemisphere where only one country, Cuba,
remains uncommitted to the principles of democracy,
President Bush will have an opportunity to remind
his fellow leaders of the benefit of free and open
markets and open societies, and the importance of
transparent elections. He will also emphasize the
need for countries to fight corruption and to
consider concrete actions against those corrupt
individuals who seek safe haven in their countries.
Efforts to fight corruption will help strengthen
democracy in the hemisphere.
The President will begin the official work of the
summit by a meeting with President Vicente Fox of
Mexico. Among other topics, I expect that they
will discuss immigration, initiatives to make our
borders more secure, and the economic relationship
between Mexico and the United States.
Following the meeting with President Fox, the
President will meet President Lagos of Chile, and
then attend the inauguration ceremony of the
Special Summit. At the inauguration ceremony, the
President will deliver remarks addressing the
strategic areas that I've outlined above. The
inauguration ceremony will be followed by a
plenary session. And later in the day, the
President will meet with President Lula of Brazil.
That evening, the President and Mrs. Fox will
attend a dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Fox.
Tuesday morning, the President will have a
breakfast meeting with the Prime Minister of
Canada, Prime Minister Martin. The President looks
forward to his first meeting with the Prime
Minister and to discussing a wide range of issues
important to both our countries. The President
will attend the second plenary session on Tuesday
morning, and will later meet with President
Kirchner of Argentina.
The President will conclude his work in Monterrey
with a final plenary session and a meeting with
President Mesa of Bolivia. The President and Mrs.
Bush will then depart Monterrey for Washington,
Now I'm happy to take your questions.
Q The meeting with the President of Mexico, could
you describe how you -- the state of relations
between the President and President Fox now, after
the strains over Iraq and tensions over
immigration? Do you think that this is a meeting
to repair relations?
DR. RICE: Oh, Terry, I think we're well past that.
They've had a couple of very good conversations,
including one just the other day. Obviously, we
went through a difficult time about Iraq, but the
relationship with Mexico is one of our most
important, one of our closest. We are cooperating
daily on border matters, on fighting narcotics, on
fighting to make the borders more secure. We've
just had an extraordinary period of cooperation in
this period of heightened threat with Mexican
officials. I think Tom Ridge meets very often with
his Mexican counterpart.
And, of course, they will have an opportunity to
talk about the President's immigration proposals
for a temporary worker program, which I think
fulfills many of the principles that they first
enunciated when they first met here in Washington
a couple of years ago. The President said then --
in fact, they had talked when they were both
governors about the importance of recognizing the
economic contribution of these people. The
President believes that it is a proposal that
makes economic sense for the United States and
that is also humane.
So we have a big agenda with Mexico. Of course,
NAFTA has been an organizing principle for not
just the relationship with Mexico, but also a
trilateral relationship with Canada and Mexico.
And so we have a lot of work to do. The relations
are good, and I expect the meeting to be as
fulsome as their meetings have been in the past.
Q What can you tell us about the reception that
the Mexicans have given to the immigration
proposal? We know what you're saying about it. It
was not clear to the extent to which they thought
it was a workable solution and would meet their
concerns, aside from the humanitarian aspect,
which seems to be fairly apparent.
DR. RICE: What the President is doing with this
proposal --and we all have to remember that there
is -- most of this has to be worked out with the
Congress. This is not something that the executive
branch does by fiat. And the Congress will have
views. There are lots of proposals on the Hill
that people will be working with, and so we also
have to work with Congress. But we do have to work
with the Mexican government, as well, to make
something like this work.
But the -- it is a very sound and feasible and
reasonable proposal that finally addresses what
has been a festering problem in the United States
for a very long time. And the President comes to
this, I think, with the understanding of a border
governor, as governor of Texas, of how corrosive
this kind of problem can be. He comes to it with
an understanding that the American economy, in
effect, has been helped by these people, and that
if you can match willing workers with willing
employers, that you are both doing a good thing
for the employee, but also for the employer,
because these are jobs that Americans have not
been willing to take.
And, finally, with the Mexicans, the broader
discussion always has to be about why people are
risking life and limb in the way that they are to
come to the United States. And that's why the
progress made in something like NAFTA is so
important, because, ultimately, these people who
are clearly ambitious and want to feed their
families ought to be able to feed their families
in Mexico as that economy improves. And so the
growth of the Mexican economy, the ability for
Mexico to keep its own workers home, the ability
for people to circulate in the meantime between
the Mexican and American economies -- these are
all things that I think they share in common. And
so we've gotten good response from the Mexicans,
and obviously, there's a lot to work on to make it
Q Argentina still hasn't exactly taken the advice
of the IMF, in terms of restructuring its debt. Is
the administration satisfied with the pace of
reforms in Argentina and its efforts to
DR. RICE: Well, we are in constant discussion with
Argentina about the need to be very careful to
meet the terms that it had signed on with the IMF
for and that they're now working on this second
letter of agreement. I believe that there's a good
chance they will get there, because everybody
wants to see the Argentine economy recover;
everybody wants to see Argentina deal with the
very difficult debt overhang that it has. But
there have to be some difficult decisions and some
difficult steps taken by Argentina. And the
President will say that again when he meets with
But there are ongoing negotiations between the IMF
and the World Bank -- I'm sorry, the IMF and
Argentina, and we are monitoring them. But I don't
want to comment specifically about them, they are
between Argentina and the IMF. What we're doing is
encouraging Argentina to take the difficult
decisions that it needs to take.
Q Dr. Rice, the Canadian government was unhappy
when the list of countries that were eligible for
the prime contracts in Iraq came out, and then the
former Prime Minister, Mr. Chretien, said that
when he spoke to the President, he was told not to
worry, leading to the impression that this somehow
would be changed. Do you see any progress or
change on that front when the President meets with
the new Prime Minister?
DR. RICE: There are several aspects of the
contracting that is going to -- there will be
about $5 million let -- $5 billion let in
contracts very soon. And that will go with the
list that is there. But, of course, subcontracts,
which will undoubtedly make up a good part of that,
are open to everyone.
Moreover, not everything is going to be let at
once, and as further contracts are let, as further
funds are released over the next several months,
then we can review in some detail the
circumstances and the changed circumstances for
different countries. And I think that we will talk
to the Canadians about this. I think there's some
understanding of where we're going.
Q There is criticism that the President's plan for
temporary immigration aids employers more than
workers, and that it's merely a means of deporting
millions of foreign workers after three years. How
do you think the Congress will deal with this
DR. RICE: Well, first of all, remember that this
is expected to be a status that is renewable; as
long as you have a job, it would be renewable. We
would fully expect that eventually people will
want to go home. People tend to want to do that.
The President has talked about letting people be
able to keep some of their own money so that that
can be a reality.
And I can't think of anything better for a worker
who has worked under these circumstances, kind of
in the shadows in the United States, to finally
have a way to come out of the shadows, to have
certain protections that are not there now because
they're having to live in the shadows, to have
recognized that they are an important part of a
strong American economy, and to get that kind of
Now, the important thing about this is that it
strikes an important balance, because there are
some who talk about amnesty -- the President
simply believes that an automatic path to
citizenship out of illegal behavior is not
appropriate, but to recognize these people's
status, to give them a way to come out of the
shadows, to give them a way to play a role in the
American economy, and most importantly then,
making a living for themselves, and the dignity --
of themselves and their families -- and then the
dignity that goes with that, I think it's a great
opportunity for the workers and, of course, it
benefits the American economy, as well.
Q Dr. Rice, is one part of your agenda with
President Fox talking about dealing with or
preventing a rush of illegal immigration in
anticipation of this opportunity? And, also, do
you mind elaborating on what the President will
ask other leaders to do, as far as fighting
DR. RICE: On fighting corruption -- which, by the
way, I think it's the World Bank that has called
corruption a tax on economic growth, and therefore,
a tax on the poor. I mean, the fact is when you
have the kind of situation in which things are
being skimmed off, you really are taxing economic
growth. And so good governance has been a part of
the President's agenda for development and growth,
and he will talk to people about that.
It really means having a strong ethic of that at
home for all of these countries, having laws and
means of enforcement that are important, shining a
light on corruption where it takes place,
cooperating when there is information to be had
about corruption, making clear that it is simply
not acceptable to be corrupt and to be in
leadership in business or in government.
And they've had these discussions before, and what
this summit will do is to move that agenda forward
and to continue to talk about these issues. But I
think that people understand that good governance
is at the core of economic development and growth.
And, of course, when the President put up the
Millennium Challenge Account as a different way of
thinking about development assistance, along with,
over the next three years, a 50 percent increase
in American development assistance, it was to use
development assistance to reward good governance,
not just as a reward, but as a recognition that
unless you have good governance, you will not grow.
Q On Argentina, there have been some tensions
between Argentina and the United States on several
fronts, not only Cuba, recently, but also immunity
for American soldiers, and economics. How would
you characterize today the relationship between
the two countries? And what do you expect of the
meeting between Bush and Kirchner?
DR. RICE: I think that we have had a really very
good relationship with Argentina, particularly
recognizing that Argentina has been through some
extremely difficult economic times in the last
couple of years, and that the United States has
been very supportive of trying to help Argentina
emerge from those difficulties.
Of course, Argentina would benefit greatly in
terms of its growth when we make movement forward
on a free trade agreement for the Americas. And so
it's not the easiest thing to do, but it is
something that I think that we should discuss and
keep moving forward on.
In any relationship there are policy differences.
But it does not get in the way of the fact that
Argentina is an important country in Latin America;
it's a country that emerged from a very dark past
of authoritarianism and oppression, to emerge as a
democracy. And that's a great story that the
President celebrates with Argentina's leadership
whenever he sees them. We had a very good meeting
with President Kirchner here. I expect that we
will have a very good meeting with him there.
And let me just say a word more broadly about the
hemisphere. When you look back to the late 1970s
or the early to mid-1980s, and you think of the
number of juntas that were in power, the number of
civil wars that were going on, economies that were
collapsing completely, all over the place, and you
look now at the fact that with the exception of
Cuba, you have democracies in place in all of
these places, and the road, at least, the road
ahead for better economic growth and good
governance, it's quite a remarkable story. And
that's been a partnership between the United
States and Latin America.
I would note that on Cuba, it is our hope that the
fact that at the Organization of American States
there's one empty chair, and that's because Cuba
cannot fill it because of its lack of democracy,
and because at the Summit of America, Cuba cannot
go because it cannot hope to fulfill the democracy
clause, that that is recognized and talked about.
Because the people of Cuba need to know that
they've not been forgotten by their hemispheric
Q Do you anticipate a new set of agreements on
corruption emerging from the summit? And can you
-- well, go ahead.
DR. RICE: I was just going to say, this is
something that I think will be worked over time.
No, I don't expect that you're going to have --
but what you do is you establish the agenda, and
then over a period of time come to more concrete
ways to express that.
But this is an agenda, the Summit of Americas
agenda, that has been moving very effectively on a
number of fronts and this is really a new element
-- they've talked about it before -- but an
element on which they'll place more emphasis. And
I think over time, you'll see that ways of
actually cooperating to combat corruption will
begin to emerge.
Q And then on immigration and Mexico, do you
anticipate that Mexico will take steps, itself, on
its side of the border to improve border security
and corruption while the U.S. is moving -- is
there an anticipated level of change? Can you
DR. RICE: Yes. We will really need to have the
Mexican government continue and increase its
efforts in this area. And, you know, the Mexican
government doesn't like to see people trying to
cross the border illegally, particularly because,
just in even humanitarian terms, the harshness of
what faces these people when they try to walk
across the Rio Grande, so to speak, is really,
really awful. And it has been a problem that
Mexico has identified.
We have increasing border cooperation. One of the
advantages of some of the work that we've done
really coming out of the September 11th period,
post-September 11th period, is it has accelerated
some of the ideas that were there for smart
borders and for better technology on the borders
which will help with some of the larger-scale
problems, like some of the smuggling that goes on.
It will by no means solve the problem on what is a
huge border, but some of those efforts will even
help. And, yes, we will, I think, need to have
even better efforts on borders.
Q Dr. Rice, you have stressed that democracy is
one of the main objectives of this meeting, of the
summit. Venezuela is going through a very serious
problem on their democracy, whether the
referendums will take place or not. Venezuela is a
very important supplier of oil to the United
States. I see among the five bilateral meetings
that are scheduled -- with Mexico, Chile, Brazil,
Argentina and Bolivia; I don't see Venezuela.
What I want to ask you is, what are the present
relations between Washington and Caracas? And,
number two, what do you think of the role
President Chavez is playing in Latin America,
especially in South America?
DR. RICE: Well, President Chavez has an
opportunity to demonstrate that he believes in
democratic processes by allowing this recall to go
through unhindered, unfettered, and then living up
to the terms of it. And that's what people are
asking him to do.
Venezuela -- you're right -- is going through a
very tough period in terms of its own democratic
development. But there are other countries that
have gone through those difficult periods and
emerged. I would just point to Peru a few years
ago and what the Organization of American States
was able to do in rallying around democratic
forces in Peru to make sure that Peru did not go
off the path of democracy. And now you have, of
course, in President Toledo, a democratic-elected,
hardworking President of Peru that is trying to do
all the things for his people that any
democratically-elected government would try to do.
And so, yes, Venezuela is going through a
difficult period of time. We're working very
closely with the Organization of American States;
we're working very closely with the non-governmental
organizations, like the Carter Center, that are
there trying to ensure that this process goes off
without interference. And the best thing that
President Chavez could do at this point is to
demonstrate that he believes in a democratic
future for Venezuela by carrying out the wishes of
his people in this regard.
Q I have a follow-up question. Mr. Chavez has a
very special relationship with Fidel Castro.
DR. RICE: Yes.
Q Some people think of it as an --
DR. RICE: Yes.
Q -- and he is playing roles in various countries
DR. RICE: And not all -- there are roles that
Venezuela has played that have not been very
helpful. And we have talked to them about it. I
think the Colombians, in particular, have had some
concerns about activities that Venezuela may have
been involved in. So, of course, those are the
kinds of things that need to be raised with the
Venezuelans, need to be raised by the neighbors
with the Venezuelans, and I think will be.
And it is beyond me to understand why anybody who
believes in democracy or wants people to believe
that they believe in democracy would want to have
anything, in that regard, to do with Fidel Castro,
because that's the one truly undemocratic regime
in the region.
Q Dr. Rice, a senior Syrian military intelligence
official says that Iraq moved weapons of mass
destruction, chemical and biological, into Syria
in February and March of last year, before the war
started. He has documentation and cites three
sites within the country, says he has maps and
proof that it's there. Does the U.S. know that to
be true? Does the U.S. believe that to be true?
DR. RICE: We're going to follow every lead on what
may have happened here. I don't think we are at
the point that we can make a judgment on this
issue. There hasn't been any hard evidence that
such a thing happened. But obviously we're going
to follow up every lead, and it would be a serious
problem if that, in fact, did happen.
Q Can you press Syria to let you look at the
DR. RICE: We have a number of issues that we'd
like to talk to -- that we talk to the Syrians
about, including the borders with Iraq and what
may have happened in the past there and what may
be continuing to happen there; Syrian support for
terrorism in Damascus, particularly support for
Hezbollah and Hamas, and their relationship with
Lebanon in that regard.
And, clearly, any indication that something like
that happened would be a very serious matter. But
I want to be very clear, we don't, at this point,
have any indications that I would consider
credible and firm that that has taken place, but
we will tie down every lead.
Q But you wouldn't dismiss it, either?
DR. RICE: I can't dismiss anything that we haven't
had an opportunity to fully assess.
Q A couple of weeks after the President took
office, when he went to Mexico and met with
President Fox, he said that good foreign policy
begins with good relations with your neighbors.
Three years later, a lot of these leaders have
been disappointed with the pace of the FTAA talks,
a lot of other issues, there were strains over
Iraq that have been brought up. Does the President
have a sense that this is part of the price that
had to be paid for the post-9/11 adjustment? Will
he express that in any way to these leaders?
DR. RICE: I think that there's a perception or a
line of argument out there that somehow after 9/11
the United States lost interest in anything that
didn't relate to terrorism and 9/11. It's just not
true. If you look at the President's agenda, you
look at the fact that he was able to get trade
promotion authority so that for the first time in
five years the President of the United States
actually had the ability to make trade agreements
with a trade partner without -- in a way that was
going to make it possible, so that you didn't have
Congress trying to vote on every aspect of a trade
If you look at the fact that we have signed a
trade agreement with Chile, we've finished
negotiating a trade agreement with the Central
Americans; if you look at the fact that the Andean
initiative has been renewed and continues -- the
Andean Preferences Initiative; if you look at the
fact that on -- that the Millennium Challenge
Account, which is a -- really, there's so much
talk was always made about how important
development assistance was, but it was this
President who made the commitment to increase
American development assistance by 50 percent in
exchange for good governance, that that Millennium
Challenge Account is likely to benefit some of the
countries of this region.
If you look at the fact that the President's AIDS
initiative includes countries -- a couple of
countries from the Caribbean, which are suffering
just as the Africans are doing. If you look at the
fact that our NAFTA relationship with Mexico and
with Canada has both broadened and deepened, and
that, in fact, the -- some of the border things
that we did out of 9/11 have given us better means
of cooperation and coordination -- yes, on
terrorism, but also on drug traffickings, also on
problems of immigration. If you look at the fact
that we have supported a new strategy in Columbia,
a much tougher strategy toward the FARC that is
making inroads there.
This President has had a broad, deep, and
intensive engagement with Latin America, and a lot
has gotten done. One of the best things that will
happen to this region is the recovery of the
American economy. Because, as the American economy
recovers, so, too, will the economies of Latin
So the President came in saying that he was going
to put an emphasis on the neighborhood. He has
come with an agenda that has done exactly that.
And the Summit of the Americas will be an
opportunity to celebrate that.
Q Can I ask you a follow up on Cuba? Secretary
Powell yesterday portrayed Cuba as a real threat
to the hemisphere. What is the government of the
United States afraid of the government of Fidel
Castro right now? And second question, you are
talking why is not the free trade of the Americas
in the agenda for this summit?
DR. RICE: First of all, there is plenty of talk
going on about the free trade agreement of the
Americas. You know there was just recently a
ministerial in Miami and that relationship
continues on on another course.
This special summit was called to do some specific
things and they're mostly around issues of
governance and issues having to do with economic
development, with good governance, with education.
There's a pretty full agenda for a
day-and-a-half-plus. But to be very clear, there
continues to be work on the free trade area of the
Americas. It's not easy. There are a lot of
interests to be considered when you talk about an
area that's big and you talk about variations
between extremely small countries of the CARICOM
versus very large countries of the southern cone.
So there's a lot of work to be done. But it is an
agenda that is still very active. Bob Zoellick is
in constant discussion with his colleagues.
As to Cuba, there are really two kinds of problems
with Cuba. One is that Cuba does continue with the
very limited resources that it has. Because if you
look at the level of life for the Cuban citizen,
you have to wonder what in the world Cuba is doing
trying to stir up difficulty in other parts of the
region that shouldn't be a Cuban interest,
frankly. Cuba ought to be focused on its own
people. But Cuba can't focus on its own people
because it is an oppressive, nondemocratic state
that is an anachronism in the Western Hemisphere.
It belongs to another era. And what the President
has done is to shine a spotlight on that.
You know, more than a year ago, the President had
what he called the New Cuba Initiative, and he
went out and he said, all right, we can even begin
to change the nature of the relationship with
Fidel Castro there, if Fidel Castro is prepared to
allow his people some democratic exercise, for
instance, in the parliamentary elections.
And how did Castro respond to that? He responded
with an even greater crackdown against dissidents,
a crackdown that has earned him the criticism of
Europe and of Latin America and countries
worldwide for the kind of crackdown he's been --
Cuba is an anachronism, and it's a sad thing that
the proud people of Cuba are the only ones who
have, at this point, no hope for a democratic
future. But the President appointed, a couple of
months ago, a commission to look into what the
United States government could do, both to help
stimulate democratic development in Cuba, and to
prepare for the day when there will be a
post-Castro Cuba that is democratic. And that day
Thank you very much.
END 1:23 P.M. EST