Press Briefing - January 12, 1999

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 12, 1999


The Briefing Room

9:10 A.M. EST

MR. BERGER: Good morning. Since I know this is thestory of the day, we decided to do this early. The President isgoing to Mexico Sunday night and Monday because this is arguably themost important bilateral relationship the United States has. Itinvolves the issues that in many ways the foreign policy issues whichare the least foreign to the American people -- trade and jobs, theenvironment, drugs, migration.

President Clinton and President Zedillo will begin thevisit with a private dinner with the First Lady and Mrs. ZedilloSunday night at Palacio Canton in Merida. The next morning they willmove to an historical hotel outside the city where they will have aprivate meeting and then a larger meeting which will include Cabinetofficials.

They will then return to Merida to sign a jointdeclaration, make some remarks and meet with both the U.S. and theMexican congressional delegations. While there, members of ourdelegation will meet with members of the Mexican Congress. This is,of course, the first Mexican Congress in the modern era with anopposition majority in the Lower House. This is a reminder --something that we're familiar with. This is a reminder of whatPresident Zedillo has done to deepen Mexican democracy and to makeMexico a more pluralistic society.

It means their government, like ours, must deal withdomestic concerns and be responsive to the needs of its citizens,which largely coincide with the needs of our citizens -- cleaner air,safer streets, sustainable growth.

The focus of the trip will be on steady, practicalprogress across the range of common interests that we have withMexico. It begins with economics. Mexico now is the second largestforeign market for U.S. exports, after Canada and now exceedingJapan. Five years after NAFTA, four years after the President ledthe international rescue of the peso, which enabled Mexico toovercome a financial crisis and resume growth, cross-border trade isexpanding. U.S. exports to Mexico now are $79 billion a year, morethan twice the pre-NAFTA figures. Mexico accounts for nearly 20percent of the total U.S. merchandise export growth in the last fiveyears.

A key point I think is this: this has helped insulate,NAFTA has helped insulate, both countries from the impact of theglobal financial crisis. U.S. and Mexico's overall exports, ourglobal exports, are down this year, about one percent for the first10 months of 1998, for which we have statistics. But our exports toone another are up -- U.S. to Mexico by 11 percent; Mexico to U.S. by10 percent. And our economies are growing.

So it's worth remembering that our trade relationshipwith Mexico has protected a lot of American workers from losing theirjobs at a time of tremendous uncertainty and upheaval in the globaleconomy. This is a powerful argument for continued liberalization oftrade in the hemisphere, including the Free Trade Agreement of theAmericas. We still have a number of specific trade issues with theMexicans which the Presidents will address.

Drug control is also an important part of our agenda.Two years ago, the Presidents signed an Alliance Against Drugs, whichestablished a set of common objectives. Since then we've seen Mexicoextradite fugitives, eradicate thousands of acres of opium,criminalize money-laundering, and institute a new screening processfor law enforcement officials.

Still, obviously, this is a tremendous problem forMexico, but one that they are tackling head on. The focus in Meridawill be on finalizing clear goals that will drive progress and allowus to measure results over the coming years. We will agree on somespecific initiatives to improve procedures for cross-borderundercover operations and to strengthen Mexico's law enforcementinstitutions, including Mexico's new federal preventative police.This is the first consolidated national police force dedicated, amongother things, to protecting borders and airports and seaports.

Clearly this issue will receive a great deal ofattention here in light of the certification process, which isupcoming March 1st. The President has not made a decision, nor hashe received a recommendation from the Secretary of State. We willlook to -- whether the extent of the cooperation between us, we'lllook to it fairly without either inventing or inflating progress.

It's important to remember what the purpose ofcertification is and what it is not. It is not to measure the extentof Mexico's problems. It's intended to assess the extent of itscooperation with us in overcoming them.

President Zedillo is clearly trying to establish a cleangovernment and respect for the rule of law. He has described drugsas the number one national security threat to Mexico. Last week heannounced increased funding between $400 million and $500 million forcounternarcotics efforts. The investigation of key figures forcorruption of violence is a stark reminder of the problem that existsand the corrosive effect that this has on a democracy, but is also asign that the Mexican government is confronting this with remarkablecandor.

Indeed, much of what we know and much of what troublesus about the extent of corruption in the Mexican law enforcementeffort has emerged from Mexico's own efforts to uproot it. Andthat's something we need to acknowledge and encourage.

We also expect to make progress on border environmentalissues, to discuss climate change, address the problems of illegalmigration and migrant smuggling, strengthen our cooperation againsttrafficking in human beings, and ensure that complaints of violenceat the border are dealt with in a just and fair way.

Finally, we will want to use this visit to coordinateour efforts to help Central America recover and rebuild afterHurricane Mitch. As you know, we'll be going to Central America inMarch. Mexico has been a leader in providing relief to theregion.

All in all, what you see is a broad and multifacetedpartnership based on shared interests and mutual respect. It's apartnership that President Clinton has invested a great deal of timeand energy in over the years. He stood by Mexico at many difficultmoments in the past six years, made some tough decisions, but eachone I believe has paid off for the American people. We expect to geta good deal of business done in Merida; that will also pay off in thelong run and demonstrate again the value of our partnership.

Now let me ask Jim Dobbins to talk about morespecifically what we expect the actual agreements in Mexico to be.

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think Sandy has run pretty wellthrough the agenda, so I won't go through it one more time. I thinkand my colleagues would be happy to take questions about what weexpect from this, which has become part of the regular and intensedialogue with the Mexicans. The two Presidents have metapproximately every six months for the last several years. Largenumbers of their Cabinets have been involved and had their owndialogue, and in this case we also expect substantial congressionalinvolvement, which reflects the degree to which the relationship withMexico has become increasingly unique to the degree that it involvesall the branches of our government and every level of our government,from the state and local to the federal.

Q It sounds like Sandy has already presented arationale against decertification. Even though the problem is sobad, he pointed up how they're trying to cooperate. He says they'retackling it head on. It doesn't sound like that really fromeverything we've been reading.

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I'm going to ask Tom Umberg fromGeneral McCaffrey's office, to comment on the substance. Let me justsay that the Secretary of State has not made her recommendations.The President has not made decisions. At the same time, we're goingto address straightforwardly, in response to your questions, what wethink about the state of U.S.-Mexican cooperation. We think we'vemade a lot of progress over the last year, and I'd like Tom toaddress that.

MR. UMBERG: Thank you, Jim. Mexico is our mostimportant partner with respect to limiting the supply of drugs in theUnited States. They've cooperated in a number of different areas.Let me cite a few. In terms of extraditions, there have been 12extradited in the last year. We've seen three Mexican nationals,pure Mexican nationals, extradited last year; one extradited formurder as well as drug-trafficking charges.

In terms of seizures, we've seen the Mexican governmenthas maintained and in some areas increased the seizure rate. Incocaine, perhaps the figure you're citing, it is down from 1997, butconsistent with 1994 and 1995 figures. In eradication, Mexico leadsthe world in eradication. In fact, they've made great progress withrespect to poppy. Although there may be a bit larger number ofhectors under cultivation, we see that the cultivation of poppy isfar more dispersed now; we see that the poppy growers are usingclandestine methods to hide their crops. So we note that there issome progress on that front.

We also note that there is progress with respect to thetools that are being implemented. In the past year, Mexico hasauthorized legislation that prohibits the transfer of $10,000 or morewithout reporting it. We're cooperating on a number of other levels-- military-to-military relationships, concerning training andhardware; we're cooperating with respect to demandreduction. Both of our countries have common problems and commonresponsibilities. We in the United States are both consumers, aswell as producers of drugs, and the same thing in Mexico -- they'reboth consumers as well as producers in drugs.

Q What has the Mexican government done to ride herdon its military about the use of resources -- or the misallocation ofresources that were supposed to be designated for drug control?

MR. UMBERG: With respect, for example, to thehelicopters, there will be 36 helicopters that will be used foreradication of drugs and other drug efforts. We in the United Statesare monitoring the use of those helicopters to make sure that theyare used for counterdrug efforts.

Q I'm sorry, but if I may. The problem that I'mtalking about, where in Chiapas and some other areas, some of theantinarcotics patrols have been used to fundamentally repress theopposition groups.

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: We have no evidence that U.S.assistance has been misused or diverted to other -- so I'm notactually certain what you're referring to. But we have no evidencethat U.S. equipment is used, for instance, in Chiapas.

Q But what about the Mexican government's ownmilitary?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The Mexican government has divertedits military toward the drug mission in a massive way over the lastfive years. So I'm not -- again, I would question the basicassumption of your question.

Q With all the progress, what is happening on theother side -- is there any evidence of backsliding that might point-- that might make a case for decertification?

MR. UMBERG: Backsliding in what sense?

Q Well, you've outlined several examples of progressin Mexico's drug cooperation. Is there any backsliding -- theCasablanca affair and the U.S. dissatisfaction with that, for example-- that could make a case for decertification this year, or have youseen nothing but improvement?

MR. UMBERG: I'm not going to speculate on what somewould suggest would be a case for decertification. Clearly there arechallenges ahead for both countries. Clearly we have a challengewith respect to each of our countries' demand problems. Clearlycorruption still exists in Mexico, as acknowledged by the Mexicangovernment. That's clearly a challenge.

Q If things aren't getting worse why would youdecertify now?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I'm not clear, though, what youmeant by U.S. dissatisfaction with Casablanca. That was a U.S.operation with which the Mexicans were dissatisfied. We had nodissatisfaction, and I think we've put that issue behind us.

Q But the issue of prosecution of these suspectsstill is open. The Mexicans want to try them in Mexico and we wantto try them here. How is that going to be resolved?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: We're fully -- the Mexicans havecommitted themselves to try them in Mexico. We're fully satisfiedwith that.

Q But a year ago, when you arrested them, you had nofaith in the Mexican law enforcement system. Now, a year later, youthink they can be prosecuted and imprisoned properly?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I challenge the premise of thatquestion, that a year ago we had no faith.

Q You didn't tell the Mexicans until three daysbefore the busts that you had a year-long sting going. That is clearevidence that you had no trust in the Mexican law enforcement system.Is it -- a year later, is it now clear that the Mexican justicesystem is at a par with the U.S. system, and that these criminals --or these suspects, suspected criminals -- will be prosecuted?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The Mexicans try, convict andimprison thousands of drug suspects every year. They've committedthemselves to try these people, and we are confident that they willdo so. So I still challenge the premise of your question.

Q Jim, you guys are going to the Yucatan Peninsula.What about the governor of the neighboring state? There was areference several days ago in a State Department briefing to thegovernor of Quintana Roo. Could you give us the U.S. views on that,and the state -- maybe Peter could talk to us a little bit aboutthis, because Jamie mentioned it in the press briefing, I think --the seizure of several hundred million dollars there, and reports ofcorruption in that state.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO: All I can say is that theinvestigation, the Mexican investigation, is ongoing. But I would goback to what the National Security Director said earlier, and that isthat what we know about corruption largely comes from the Mexicangovernment, and its efforts by them to uncover it. GutierrezRebollo, their ex-drug czar -- 30 years-plus in jail; a number ofgenerals arrested, and some under indictment and under investigation-- these are things that are being done by the Mexican government.

I also would like to key off on a little bit of what Jimsaid, in terms of this new package that the Mexicans announced latelast week: $500 million to fight drugs and to enhance lawenforcement in their country at a time when the budget is severelytaxed and at a time of all-time lows in terms of oil proceeds, whichaccounts for about 30 percent of their budget. They've taken scarceresources -- over the next two years, they'll spend half a billiondollars -- they'll create a new police force, and the police forcewill be designed to liaise directly with state and local police inorder to bring about the kinds of coordination and investigationsthat need to be done. And I think you need to take a look at that,too.

Q Ambassador Dobbins, can you tell us whether thePresident is going to sort of gird President Zedillo for thepossibility that Mexico will be decertified? And can you tell uswhat impact that would have on the relationship at this juncture?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Insofar as I'm aware, there's nointention to discuss the matter in those terms. There will be alarge congressional delegation with us. There will be an interactionbetween President Zedillo and our members of Congress, and betweenPresident Clinton and Mexican members of Congress. I'm sure ourmembers of Congress will be able to speak for themselves.

Q Ambassador Dobbins, can you tell us a few detailsabout the border cleanup agreement?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: There are a number of issuesregarding the border, as you would expect, including in theenvironmental area.

One negotiation that we are hoping to push forwardduring this visit is a negotiation, which is actually a trilateralnegotiation with Canada in the NAFTA framework, to assure that thecross-border state has an ability to make a contribution toenvironmental impact statements that are being done that havecross-border implications. And this will give us, and Mexico, anability to comment on, and influence the decision processes as theygo forward on major projects that have that kind of impact. Andthis, I think, would be a major step forward in demonstrating thatthe environmental aspects of NAFTA are being realized.

There are other agreements, for instance, to worktogether to improve visibility in Big Bend National Park; to worktogether in the areas of climate change, in the protection ofspecies. There's probably going to be a step forward in theprotection of dolphins, for instance. We'll sign further agreementson cooperation against forest fires, which have presented a majordanger to both of our countries over the last couple of years.

There's also a number of health agreements that affectthe border area. Increases in cooperation in epidemiology in theborder region; cooperation against a new strain of drug-resistanttuberculosis that is cropping up in the border region. So there willbe a lot of environmental and health and other things, directed toimproving the quality of life in the border communities.

Let me ask Lael to address this from the economicstandpoint.

MS. BRAINARD: The only other thing to note is that theinstitutions that were put into place to start cleaning up theenvironment in anticipation of enhanced trade relations are alsospending quite a lot of money on the border, and right now there areinfrastructure projects along the border which are doing things likewaste water treatment systems, are around $500 million, and the areacovered by those projects benefits roughly 4 million people, so thoseprojects are really starting to get into gear and make a difference.But there's still a lot of challenges along the border.

Q How much money in FY2000 has been earmarked forthis particular cleanup, or the agreements to get this situationimproved?

MS. BRAINARD: In terms of the actual NADBANK, I'm notsure that there's an appropriation in 2000. I think it was anearlier authorization and appropriation process. I need to check onthat, though.

Q Is the President going to sign these agreements?Is he personally involved? And when will they be signed?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Most of these agreements will besigned by the relevant Cabinet member in the course of the visit.

Q Is there going to be a binational commissionmeeting that the whole Cabinet --

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: It's not a full commission. Therewill be about half a dozen Cabinet members on each side, I wouldguess. The full commission is a dozen or more Cabinet members, andoccurs annually.

Q Will you be doing anything to address the Mexicancomplaints of immigrants suffering as they cross the border, thatit's become a hazard --

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: There is an agreement that we'reworking on, hope to have ready, which addresses border safety andborder violence. It's designed to improve safety, to cooperate ininstances of violence -- both to reduce those instances, to have aquicker response when threats of violence arise, and to ensure promptand adequate investigation of those incidents which do arise. Do youwant to add anything on this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO: Only to say that theimmigrant issue has been, and the treatment of Mexican immigrants inthe United States has been, a key element of our discussions over thelast year. It came to a head over some very unfortunatecircumstances in the killing of two Mexicans south of the San Diegoarea back in November. And we've gotten, basically, an agreementthat will be announced in Merida that will talk about treatment ofour nationals.

We have an issue, too, and that has to do with the issueof firearms. Many of the people who live along the border, the U.S.citizens who live along the border, notwithstanding signs everywhere,continue to go into Mexico not thinking that their firearms will posea problem to Mexican law. They do. The Mexicans have passedlegislation to change their law, to abridge it a little bit, but wehave over 60 Americans in jail in Mexico now for having broughtfirearms into the country. So it's pretty much the kind ofborder-management issue that we continue to work through.

Q And what can you do about that? Or do we expect toannounce something along those lines?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO: Well, we have been workingwith the Mexicans, as I mentioned, and there's a major effort topublicize the fact -- you go to any border crossing and even outsideof the border crossings, large signs, "don't bring weapons intoMexico." The Mexican legislature passed a law a couple of months agobasically saying that if you bring in 22-caliber, light caliberweapons and shotguns and that sort of thing, that it would beconsidered less of a violation of their laws.

The problem is that those who were arrested before thepassage of this new legislation face up to a year in jail, withoutbenefit of trial, and then one to 30 years. So it's a very seriousoffense for Mexicans.

Q On trade and economic issues, which particularitems in NAFTA will be reviewed? I know there are some obstaclesstill remaining in the implementation of the treaty. And what doesthe United States see as sort of threats to Mexico's economicstability and growth from Brazil?

MS. BRAINARD: With regard to NAFTA, I think right nowwe're going at a time of real strength and resilience in the traderelationship. As Sandy was saying earlier, fully one-third of ourgrowth in exports over the last five years, which as you know hasbeen very, very significant, is attributable the Mexico. It's alsoquite remarkable that Mexico has become our second largest exportdestination, surpassing a country, Japan, that is 12 times bigger.And so it is a very rich trade relationship. There has been a lot ofadjustment that has taken place over the last five years which hasbeen quite beneficial.

In that kind of very rich and extensive traderelationship, you also inevitably, because there is so much productmoving back and forth in both directions, there is always inevitablyfrictions. The President will inevitably want to raise some of thethings that our companies have concerns about --telecommunications access, intellectual property rights willcertainly be on his list. He has some interest in some agriculturalproducts. And I'm sure we'll hear some from the Mexicans on areasthat they care about, as well.

But, overall, I think the state of the traderelationship is a very positive one and I think both in Mexico and inthe United States there's substantial evidence to show that NAFTA hasworked for both countries.

With regard to the macroeconomic situation, it's been avery rough year for Mexico, as for other Latin American countriesbecause of global financial turbulence. Mexico still hasconsiderable challenges to face, and those challenges range fromreforming its financial sector to keeping its budget under control inthe face of declining oil prices and declining oil revenues. And, ofcourse, continuing the pace on privatization.

But over the course of this year they've shown theircontinued commitment to reform and to responsible management of theeconomy. They have taken a number of additional budget cuts to keeptheir fiscal deficit in line, very closely in line with their targetsdespite the decline in oil revenues. And they've taken a number ofother steps which have helped them weather the storm so far.

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Let me just add a couple ofstatistics, which I think refer directly to the question of thelikely impact of Brazil.

Something in excess of 75 percent of Mexican exports gothe United States, and something like two percent go to Brazil. Sothe decline in the Brazilian market is unlikely to have a measurableimpact on Mexico, would be my guess. It's also interesting thatsomething in excess of 40 percent of American foreign trade goes toNAFTA; that is, goes to Canada and Mexico, which is larger than allour trade to Europe; it's larger than all our trade to Asia; it'sapproaching the size of all our trade to Europe and Asia puttogether.

So that market also insulates us -- not to the samedegree as it does Mexico -- but also insulates us from declineselsewhere and is an important reason why we've continued to grow sodramatically even while a lot of other economies have been stagnantor even going backwards over the last year.

Q Will the President be making some kind of statementof confidence in the Mexican economic management when he's downthere? MS. BRAINARD: I'm sure the President and PresidentZedillo will want to talk about this. This is one of the subjects onwhich they've engaged a great deal, especially since we went into thefinancial crisis of Mexico with them in '94 and '95 and sort of stoodby their side as President Zedillo took very tough steps. So this isan area where they both have a lot to say and I'm sure they'll wantto talk about the state of the world economy with each other.

Mexico has been involved in the G-22 process -- I don'tknow how many of you are familiar with it, but it's a process that'sreally tried to pull some of the emerging markets into the thinkingabout global financial architecture and global financial management,and they've been a very active and a very constructive member of thatgroup.

Q Mr. Ambassador, does the lifting of the impeachmentcloud enhance the President's foreign visit?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Let me just add a bit on the lastquestion before I come to that -- and, actually, not come to that.(Laughter.) And that's to say that the President does regularly citeMexico as an example when he talks to other world leaders about thatdifficulties of coping with the current financial situation.

I wouldn't want to speculate on your question, Helen,sorry.

Q Could you just answer one final question -- theagreement on the cross-border undercover operations, what's thenature of the agreement that you're trying to work out?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: There actually was an agreement, itwas signed by the two Attorney Generals in Brownsville. And itcommits both sides to consult in the event of either envisagingsensitive cross-border operations.

Q Nothing on the agenda between the two Presidentsthat --

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think that this may be discussedfurther, but there is already an agreement on the subject. It may befurther developed, but that's where it stands.

Q In the past, Mexican Presidents have always saidthe immigration problem was our problem, not theirs. Is that stillthe basic attitude?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No, I don't think so. I think thatboth of us recognize that it's up to each country -- that countriesare not expected to restrict the ability of their own citizens toleave their own country. That is, in fact, a violation ofinternational law. The illegality is in the entry of the othercountry. We don't prevent Americans from leaving the United States,and we don't expect other countries to prevent their nationals fromleaving their countries. In fact, they're prohibited from doing soby international law which requires countries to allow their citizensto leave.

The question is whether you do it -- is the modalitiesof doing it, the Mexicans are cooperating in migrant smuggling. It'sa crime, they're prepared to arrest and convict people for it.They're prepared to cooperate with us in returning illegal migrantsto their country, whether to Mexico or to countries beyond Mexico ifthey've come through Mexico. And we aretogether looking for greater cooperation, for instance, in CentralAmerica in building multilateral arrangements, which I think will bediscussed further during this visit, to combat migrant smuggling.

Additionally, both of us are trying to cooperate tofacilitate legal traffic across the border and to promote bordersafety and prevent border violence.

Q Thank you.

The Trip of the President to Mexico - Remarks and Briefings

President Clinton Answers Questions During a Photo Opportunity in Mexico

Press Briefing From Merida, Yucatan, Mexico

Press Briefing - January 12, 1999

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