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Presidents Clinton and Zedillo at the Organization of American States.

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 14, 1997


Organization of American States

12:32 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Mr. Gurria, Secretary General Gaviria, President Zedillo, distinguished permanent representatives of the Organization of American States, to all my fellow Americans who are here, and especially to two members of our Congress, Senator Dodd and Congressman Gilman.

Today our 34 democracies are speaking with one voice, acting with one conviction, leading toward one goal: to stem the flow of illegal guns, ammunitions, and explosives in our hemisphere. Three years ago at the United Nations, the United States called on others to work with us to shut down the gray markets that outfit terrorists, drug traffickers, and criminals with guns.

Here at home we have prohibited arms dealers from acting as middlemen for illicit sales overseas, strengthened residency requirements for gun purchasers, banned foreign visitors from buying guns here in the United States, tightened export licenses to make sure that legally exported weapons are not diverted to illegal uses. But in an era where our borders are all more open to the flow of legitimate commerce, problems like trafficking in weapons and explosives simply cannot be solved by one nation alone.

Last May in Mexico, President Zedillo and I pledged to work together for a hemisphere-wide agreement to curb the illegal arms trade. I thank President Zedillo for Mexico's leadership. Mr. Secretary General, I thank you and the OAS member states for concluding this agreement in record time. We understand the magnitude of the problem. In the last year alone, thousands of handguns and rifles, hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition destined for illegal export have been seized in our nations.

The illegal export of firearms is indeed not just a hemispheric but a worldwide problem, and demands an international response. Last year, the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms received approximately 30,000 requests just from OAS member states to trace weapons used in crimes. Gun trafficking is an issue of national security for all of us, and a matter of neighborhood security for the Americas.

This Convention will neither discourage nor diminish the lawful sale, ownership, or use of guns; but it will help us to fight the unlawful trade in guns that contributes to the violence associated here in America with drugs and gangs.

If we want also here in America to see the powerful trend of democracy and free markets and peace in our hemisphere continue, we must also help our neighbors to fight the illegal trade in guns so that the foundations of democracies will not be eroded by violent crime and corruption.

Now, this Convention mandates four key steps to achieve our common goals. First, it requires countries to establish and

maintain a strong system of export, import, and international transit licenses for arms, ammunitions, and explosives to make sure that weapons won't move without explicit permission from all the countries concerned.

Second, other nations will join us in putting markings on firearms, not only when they're made but also when they're imported. If guns are diverted from legal purposes, we will then be better able to trace their path and find out exactly when and how they got into the wrong hands.

Third, nations will adopt laws that criminalize illicit arms production and sales as we have already done, so that those who seek to profit from illegal trade in guns know they will pay a stiff penalty in jail.

Fourth, we will step up every level of information sharing from common routes used by arms traffickers to ways that smugglers are concealing their guns and tips on how to detect them.If we work together, we can put the black market in weapons out of business.

Let me say in a larger sense to all of you that this agreement underscores the new spirit of the Americas and the new dynamism of this organization. The mood of the negotiations was not one of recrimination, but of cooperation on behalf of a common goal. We need more of that. Our hemisphere is setting a new standard for the world in taking on global challenges -- last year, with our pathbreaking convention against corruption, today with this arms trafficking agreement. Together, we're showing the way of the 21st century world: democratic partners working together to improve the prosperity and security of all their people.

I'm especially pleased to be joined today, and to join you today, with President Zedillo. The United States and Mexico are working hard to forge a true partnership founded on mutual respect, a partnership as broad as our border is long. We see it taking shape in the creation of NAFTA, in our common commitment to the Firearms Convention, in our alliance against drug-trafficking, in our work with other American nations to increase multilateral cooperation and strengthen our hemispheric institutions to combat the scourge of drugs.

Over the last two days, the United States and Mexico have reached an agreement on extradition that will allow cross-border criminals to be tried in both countries while the evidence is still fresh. We've pledged to build a new Rio Grande bridge to help link our people together. We've taken an important step to fully demarcate our common border, and agreed to promote environmental commercial cooperation. We've agreed also to work together to combat climate change, because developed and developing countries must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, together, that are warming the atmosphere.

Witnessing the signing of this important convention, I am especially proud of the renewed vitality of the OAS and the renewed deep cooperation between the United States and Mexico. It can make a difference for our entire community of nations -- to build a better, safer future for all our people.

And now I'd like to ask you to join me in welcoming our good friend, President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT ZEDILLO: Your Excellency, Mr. William Clinton, President of the United States of America; Your Excellency, Mr. Cesar Gaviria, Secretary General of the Organization of American States; distinguished representatives of the member states of the Organization; ladies and gentlemen.

It's a great satisfaction for me to be here in the home of our continental friendship, the headquarters of the Organization of American States. With deep conviction in the pan-American ideal, Mexico participated in the conference held in Panama in 1826, the first step toward what was eventually to become this Organization.

And since the founding of the OAS almost 50 years ago, Mexico has resolutely backed the Organization's vocation for peace and respect, harmony and cooperation. Under the leadership of its Secretary General, Cesar Gaviria, the OAS is promoting those tasks that call for continental collaboration.

Two years ago when we met at these headquarters, President Clinton spoke of his desire for the OAS to serve as a forum for the encouragement of democracy, the defense of human rights and the promotion of free trade. Mexico will continue to share that vision.

A problem that's been affecting security of many of our countries, as well as the tranquility of our families and communities, has been illicit trafficking in firearms, explosives, and other destructive materials. This commerce in violence fuels serious offenses such as: drug-trafficking that wreaks destruction and aspires to impose its code of death and corruption; organized crime that abducts, commits violent assaults, and undermines public security; and terrorism that seeks to block the path to democracy and to enshrine dogmatism and intolerance.

Consequently, on behalf of Mexico, almost a year ago I submitted an initiative to the 10th Summit of the Rio Group, proposing that an agreement be reached to establish effective controls on illicit trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean. Thanks to the interests of the heads of state of the Rio Group, a draft convention was prepared and submitted to the OAS with a view to negotiating a hemispheric agreement. The final text of the Inter-American Convention was drafted within our organization with the assistance of a distinguished group of specialists, and today it's being opened for signing by the representatives of the member states.

Mexico recognizes and appreciates the sensitivity that President Clinton has shown in regard to this serious problem, as well as the firm determination with which the United States government has supported the negotiations leading to this convention. With equal recognition, we deeply appreciate the receptivity and the unwavering support and cooperation with which each and every member state has endorsed this initiative of Mexico's.

This agreement is, in fact, as President Clinton has just reminded us, is a result of the most rapidly concluded negotiations in the history of the OAS. For Mexico, it's a reason of pride that today we're signing this convention here. This is the first international legal instrument of its sort. It's a matter of pride because this convention is based on a framework of respect for the principles of legal equality of the states, respect for the sovereignty and the territorial jurisdiction of each nation, and the cooperation for international peace and security.

Mexico places great value on this step, but we Mexicans are aware that it's only one of many steps that must be taken in order to step up the overall battle against crimes such as drug trafficking. The most promising approach to confront drug trafficking and organized crime is a comprehensive strategy designed with respect for the sovereignty of each country and capable of taking full advantage of the multilateral mechanisms available to the international community.

Mexico has, therefore, promoted a special session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, dedicated to examining ways of combatting drug production, trafficking, and consumption more

responsibly and effectively. In a spirit of respect and brotherhood, Mexico calls on the member states of the OAS to participate at the highest level in that session, which will take place in June of 1998, and to contribute to its efforts by presenting their respective proposals.

I am particularly grateful that the government of President Clinton has decided to subscribe to this Inter-American Convention at the very ceremony in which it is being opened for signing. The step that all the representatives of the American states have taken here today shows that the hemisphere of the Americas is shouldering its share of the responsibility in building a future of peace and security for our children and a better future for all. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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