Well, good afternoon, and it’s a great pleasure for me to be able to welcome the foreign minister of Colombia to the State Department. I’ve had the opportunity of meeting with him before on several different occasions, but it is always an important time when we are able to discuss the many issues between us. Colombia is an important ally of the United States, and our partnership is based on mutual respect and mutual interest, and it’s a partnership that enhances the security and prosperity of both of our countries.
Today, the foreign minister and I had a very productive discussion about how we will strengthen and deepen that partnership. We discussed a wide range of common concerns. I asked that we have a chance to really explore our many different agenda items, and I thanked the foreign minister for Colombia’s leadership on both regional and global issues, including their contribution in Afghanistan, where Colombian troops will soon be helping the people of Afghanistan build a more peaceful and stable country. We’re very grateful for their service and sacrifice. We also greatly appreciate the role Colombian police are playing in Haiti and Colombia’s efforts to train security forces in the region, particularly in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.
We discussed the ongoing situation in Honduras. The United States supports the peaceful restoration of democratic and constitutional order in Honduras, with President Zelaya’s return as president to finish his term. We continue to believe in the need for a negotiated solution and feel that President Arias’s plan was an excellent one for resolving this crisis. So once again, we call on the parties to avoid steps that increase division and polarization in Honduras and needlessly place people at risk.
The foreign minister and I also discussed the bilateral defense cooperation agreement that our governments hope to sign in the near future. This agreement ensures that appropriate protections are in place for our service members. It will allow us to continue working together to meet the challenges posed by narco-traffickers, terrorists, and other illegal armed groups in Colombia. These threats are real, and the United States is committed to supporting the Government of Colombia in its efforts to provide security for all of its citizens.
I want to be clear about what this agreement does and does not do. First, the agreement does not create U.S. bases in Colombia. It does provide the United States access to Colombian bases, but command and control, administration, and security will be Colombia’s responsibility, and any U.S. activity will have to be mutually agreed upon in advance. The United States does not have and does not seek bases inside Colombia.
Second, there will be no significant permanent increase in the U.S. military presence in Colombia. The congressionally mandated cap on the number of U.S. service members and contractors will remain and will be respected.
And third, this agreement does not pertain to other countries. This is about the bilateral cooperation between the United States and Colombia regarding security matters within Colombia.
Our hemisphere faces a number of pressing challenges, from the economic crisis to the climate crisis to public health concerns, such as H1N1 virus, to narcotics trafficking, terrorism, and organized crime. These all demand our attention and our collaboration. And so the United States and Colombia are committed to working together and to making it possible for us to deliver results for the people of our two countries.
So once again, I want to thank the foreign minister for his visit and invite him to say a few words.
FOREIGN MINISTER BERMUDEZ:
(Via interpreter) I want to say good afternoon to everyone, and first of all I want to thank the Secretary of State for hosting me here today along with my delegation. I thank her, as always, for the generosity she shows when we come to visit and for the goodwill in our meetings.
The United States and Colombia enjoy a very close relationship, just as our personal relationship is a close one, and we hope and pray that this will continue in the future for the benefit of both our peoples. We have discussed a very broad, very far-reaching agenda, an agenda that includes all kinds of topics like clean energy, the fight against terrorism, the fight against narco-trafficking, technology. As you all know, Colombia has suffered greatly as a result of narco-trafficking and terrorism, two issues that unfortunately go hand in hand and to a certain degree have become synonymous. This is a very serious threat that we are all facing, and we in Colombia know this full well, unfortunately.
And also unfortunately, many times in different parts of the world, countries speak out against atrocities that are committed or they speak out against the assassination of people as a result of terrorism or narco-trafficking. Unfortunately, not all of them are willing to lend the same hand when it comes to cooperation. In the United States, we have found a partner who provides us with cooperation, who also provides us with very effective friendship and leadership in this area. It is important to be able to carry out efforts such as these everywhere. Drug trafficking is something that we will make sure is going to stop, and it is only when everyone is cooperating that we will be able to achieve this. Colombia wants this completely, and we know that the United States will help us towards this goal, because this is something that is going to be of benefit to all of us, both regionally as well as on our entire continent, and eventually for the entire globe.
Colombia does not just ask for cooperation; we also offer cooperation whenever we can. As I have said, we have suffered, and we have learned from the lessons as a result of this suffering. Therefore, we want to be able to help all those through global programs and anywhere where it is possible for us to provide our experience. We are doing this in Haiti, with Mexico, with Guatemala, with Panama. We are delighted that we will soon be signing agreements with the United States on this very topic, and we hope that we will be able to embrace such agreements regionally as well in the future.
Once Colombia is free of all these scourges that we are now suffering, everyone will benefit as a result. I thank you, Madame Secretary, for this meeting today, for your kind words, and I look forward to continuing to work on our very broad agenda.
We’ll take a few questions. The first question is for Andrea Mitchell of NBC.
Thank you very much, Madame Secretary, on another subject, what have you learned since your husband’s return from North Korea about the state of that regime, of Kim Jong-il, his health, the succession, and the possibility that this could, while a private mission, become a circuit breaker and open the door towards renewed negotiations?
Well, Andrea, the briefing that my husband and those who traveled with him have provided to us is extremely helpful because it gives us a window into what’s going on in North Korea. But our policy remains the same. Our policy is consistent. We continue to offer to the North Koreans the opportunity to have a dialogue within the Six-Party Talk framework with the United States that we think could offer many benefits to the people of North Korea. But the choice is up to the North Koreans. They know that we are committed to the goal of full and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
So we’re exploring with our Six-Party partners, as well as other international partners, what additional steps could be taken to begin the framework discussions once more. But it’s going to be up to the North Koreans to determine.
But what have we learned from that window? What window has been opened? You used the phrase “window.”
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, right. Well, that is up to us to determine whether there are some opportunities and some insights that can be used to try to create this positive atmosphere. But it’s truly up to the North Koreans.
MODERATOR: Next question, Sergio Gomez, from La Prensa.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary and also Mr. Bermudez, despite the explanations, the agreement has generated some turmoil in the region. Specifically, President Chavez insists that it’s an aggressive plan and has announced that he will purchase even more weapons from Russia, and also place around seven new bases in the Colombian border. Do you think this agreement is, like, starting an arms race in the region? Are you concerned about it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think I very clearly described what it is and what it isn’t. I certainly hope that anyone who is speaking out about the agreement will take the time to understand that this is built on years of agreements between the United States and Colombia. Plan Colombia is a commitment that the United States made going back three administrations, if I’m not mistaken, to assist Colombia in its courageous struggle against the narco-traffickers.
And I think what the foreign minister said is really important. We all should be cooperating with one another. We should all be supporting each other in the fight against terrorists and the fight against criminal carters and drug traffickers, because they are so disruptive and damaging to the fabric of society. The assassinations, the intimidation that goes on is not just a threat to the country in which it occurs, but it’s a threat to everyone.
So I believe that any fair reading of what it is we are discussing is about our continued commitment to assist Colombia. It has nothing to do with other countries, and I only hope that people will actually take the time to understand that.
FOREIGN MINISTER BERMUDEZ: (Via interpreter) I just wanted to point out that I want to reiterate that what Colombia needs is more effective mechanisms of cooperation. And this mechanism in particular with the United States is one that we have had for a very long time already. It is building on a number of mechanisms that we have been working on, and so the principles contained therein are very clear: the principle of sovereign equality of states, the principle of non-intervention, and the principle of the territorial integrity of states. These are very important tenets, and I think it would be extremely good to have more agreements not just with the United States, but with other states in the same vein.
MODERATOR: The next question, Kim Ghattas from BBC.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much. I have two questions, if I may briefly. The first one is about Lockerbie. I was wondering how concerned you were about the fact that the man who was convicted for killing more than 180 Americans over Lockerbie may be released, and how much pressure are you putting on the Scottish authorities to convince them to not release him?
And also briefly on Afghanistan, there’s an upsurge in violence ahead of the elections, and lots of reports of fraud and ballot-buying. And I was wondering where does that leave the legitimacy of the results of those elections? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well as to the first question, the United States has made its views known over a number of months and we continue to make the same point that we think it is inappropriate and very much against the wishes of the family members of the victims who suffered such grievous losses with the actions that led to the bombing of the airline. And we have made our views known to the Libyan Government as well.
I take this very personally because I knew a lot of the family members of those who were lost, because there was a large contingent from Syracuse University. So during the time that I had the great honor of representing New York, I knew a lot of these families. I talked with them about what a horror they experienced. And I just think it is absolutely wrong to release someone who has been imprisoned based on the evidence about his involvement in such a horrendous crime. We are still encouraging the Scottish authorities not to do so, and hope that they will not.
With respect to Afghanistan, we have made a number of statements over the last several days supporting the electoral process, speaking out against the uptick in violence. I think one way you can view the violence is an effort by the Taliban to intimidate people from actually voting, to try to create an atmosphere of violence and fear that will keep people away from the polls. And there are problems with this election, as there are with any election, but we still believe that it is the right of the people of Afghanistan to pick their own leaders. And we are encouraging them to come out and vote. And we’ve worked very hard over the last months to provide the security with the help of a lot of our ISAF partners and others who are present in Afghanistan. And we’re going to hope that the election goes well.
MODERATOR: Last question to Maria Luisa Rossel.
QUESTION: Thank you. Good afternoon, Madame Secretary, (inaudible) Bermudez.
Madame Secretary, the State Department has said in different occasions that Venezuela has not done enough to cooperate in the fight against drugs in the region. Some experts believe that that’s the reason why President Chavez has criticized so much and strongly the agreement that your countries are going to sign sooner. So I wonder if you agree with that opinion, and why other governments, like the Brazilian Government for example, has – also have some concerns about the agreement? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I don’t want to speak for any other government. They can certainly express their own views. But I do want each person who speaks out about this agreement to understand what it is and to recognize what it is not. It is certainly a bilateral agreement with very clear recognition of territorial integrity and sovereignty and all of the other key principles that the foreign minister mentioned. So I hope that as more is learned, there is not just an awareness of the relationship that the United States and Colombia have had for many, many years and our continuing cooperation on what we view as not just a threat to the two of us, but a threat to the whole region.
But I would also ask that more countries actually help us, help us in this fight. Don’t just stand on the sidelines, and certainly don’t contribute to the problems by doing and saying things that undermine the efforts that our governments are taking to try to protect the entire region from the scourge of narco-traffickers.
So I think that people are free to say what they will, but the facts are very clear here. This is a continuation of a partnership that we believe and the Colombians believe have helped to make life better for the people of Colombia. That has nothing – there’s nothing more than that; that we want to make it possible, as it now is, for people to be free from intimidation and violence in Colombia, when not so long ago that was – you couldn’t say that. And I really applaud the Colombian Government, President Uribe’s leadership for what they have done against a really ruthless enemy.
Thank you all.
MODERATOR: Thank you.