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 Home > News & Policies > September 2001

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 5, 2001

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice Discusses State Visit
Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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3:12 P.M. EDT

    MS. PEREZ: Good afternoon and welcome to the White House Briefing Room. Joining us here today is Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor to President Bush, who will brief you on the meetings held thus far between Presidents Bush and Mexican President Fox. Her briefing is on the record and on camera. She'll be happy to take questions at the end.

    Dr. Rice.

    DR. RICE:   Good afternoon. Well, any way that you look at it, this has been a remarkable day as President Bush and President Fox have had an opportunity to celebrate their remarkable and dynamic relationship. It's one that has become really one of the most important for the United States in the eight months since we've been here. And it's one that has a great bearing on the well-being of our people since this is our neighbor.

    After the arrival ceremony on the South Lawn this morning, the President met privately with President Fox in the Oval Office. The two Presidents then presided over an historic joint Cabinet meeting. They heard reports from various Cabinet officers about what we've achieved together and what we still hope to achieve.

    They covered fields as diverse as education, science, energy, law enforcement, the environment and migration. The reports painted a vivid and colorful picture of this very practical relationship, a relationship that goes on 365 days a year.

    As the President has said, this is not a moment in time, this is a commitment. I would put it a little bit differently in that I once heard that someone said that international politics is inactivity punctuated by summits. Well, this is, in fact, a summit that celebrates the fact that there is constant activity in this relationship at all levels.

    When he arrived this morning, President Fox emphasized the importance of trust and respect as the foundation of the new levels of cooperation between these two countries, and he's absolutely right. I think that attitude reflected by the two Presidents has been the key to what we are achieving and hope to achieve in the future.

    Thank you very much, and I'm happy to take questions.

    Q    Did the President, or his staff, know before this morning that President Fox was going to challenge you to have an agreement by the end of the year? And what do you think chances are that an agreement can be reached by the end of the year?

    DR. RICE:   We were aware that President Fox had this objective. And, indeed, we think that it would be terrific if we were able by the end of the year to achieve agreement. The two Presidents have said that they believe that over the term, their own terms, their respective terms, that they can make substantial progress in this important area. They already have made some progress in this area. And we're going to work as hard and as fast as we possibly can to achieve the goal.

    I should just note that there have already been more than five -- about five to six meetings between Attorney General Ashcroft and his counterparts, and Secretary Powell and his counterparts. So they're working the issue very, very hard, and we're going to get there as quickly as we can. But as the two Presidents have said, we also have to get there right; it has to be done right, not just quickly.

    Q    What are the chances you'll get it done by then?

    DR. RICE:   Well, we would be delighted if we can get it done by the end of the year, and we're going to work very, very hard at it.

    Q    Dr. Rice, can you define what agreement means? Does President Fox mean an agreement in principle between the two nations, with legislative processes to move forward after that? Or is he talking about not only an agreement in principle, but something the Congress deals with and passes and the President signs by the end of the year?

    DR. RICE:   Well, we're going to now have follow-on discussions with the Mexicans about how we proceed from here. But it's very clear they already have some principles in place on which they agree about the importance of the safety of the borders, about the importance of recognizing in an humanitarian way the contributions of people who are living here in the United States and working, about the importance of matching willing workers with willing employers.

    And so there are some principles from which they can start working, but I don't think that we want to try to pre-guess what final form we're going to have here. We're just going to work at it as quickly as we can, and over the next several weeks we'll be starting that process.

    Q    There's a crucial distinction, would not you agree, and don't you have any sense what he's really driving at here?

    DR. RICE:   President Fox has made very clear that over their terms -- and President Bush has made the same commitment -- that over their terms they hope to make substantial progress on this extremely important issue.

    It's obviously a complicated issue, as President Fox said in his interview the other day. It's got a lot of elements to it, including the involvement of the legislature. It has a lot of elements in it, including the involvement of the states. So there is a lot of work to be done here, but they are committed to doing that work and to moving as fast as possible to a system that will work better than the current system that we have on migration.

    Q    Condi, some administration officials have been talking about trying to do this -- I hate to use the phrase "piecemeal," but doing it in a part -- sort of locking in progress along the way. President Fox seems to be thinking of this as a grand agreement, or what Minister Castaneda calls "the whole enchilada." Can you tell us, is there a difference in the sense at which this agreement should be arrived and how it would be structured?

    DR. RICE:   Well, Jim, I don't want to try and put words in President Fox's mouth on this, but let me just say that I heard him to say that over their terms, he hoped that they could make substantial progress on this extremely important issue, and leave something in place that gives us a more humane system than we have now, a system that recognizes the contribution of Mexican workers in the United States and so forth and so on.

    The progress that we're making is obviously going to be step by step. And we've already made progress in putting some principles together from which we could work. Let me just remind everybody that the very thought that you have the Mexican President and the President of the United States sitting down to systematically talk about migration and how to deal with this issue is a breakthrough in and of itself.

    This is an issue that has not been comfortable in the bilateral relationship. You have here two men who are comfortable talking about this issue, who recognize its importance, and who are committed to doing something good during their terms. That in itself is a breakthrough.

    Q    People who oppose this whole concept you're working on say it's amnesty. And for folks who may not have followed it that closely, how do you say it differs from amnesty, and what do you say to their argument that whatever you're doing might reward people who have broken our laws?

    DR. RICE:   The principals recognize that it is important to have a legal structure. You might have noticed, for instance, that President Fox also said that he thought it was important that we stem the flow of people coming from Mexico into the United States illegally. So I do not think this is someone who is saying, we just want to open up the gates; that there is a recognition that there is a legal way to do this.

    President Bush has also said, family values don't stop at the Rio Grande. You have to recognize that there are people in this country who came because of poverty and the desire to work, and that their contributions need to be recognized. But nobody is suggesting that we simply throw away the legal framework here.

    It is not -- there is no conception here of a general amnesty. Neither President is talking in those terms. I think that's extremely important to put on the record, that this is not talk of an amnesty. It is talk of finding ways to recognize the contributions of people who work very hard. It is a humane treatment issue. And President Bush is going to work hard within the administration and with the Congress to find a framework that serves us better than what we are dealing with now.

    Q    Tell us about the precedent-setting nature of whatever deal you strike. Obviously, there are some groups, non-Mexican groups, that feel that the United States immigration policy should not have preferences for Mexico simply because it shares a border. Do you feel that whatever deal you strike, you openly have to be prepared to spread to other countries that also seek to send their workers here?

    DR. RICE:   Well, David, one of the complexities of this is that, of course, the United States is a magnet for immigrants worldwide. So it is a complexity to figure out the relationship of what we do within our NAFTA zone here, and what we do with other countries. But I think those are exactly the kinds of issues that have to get worked through.

    I think that it is obvious that, with a border, the issues are sometimes more intense and more immediate than with countries with which we do not share a border. But it's obviously an issue that's going to have to get worked through. And, no, we're not thinking of precedent, per se; but, of course, it's important to think of this in a worldwide character, too.

    Q    If I could follow that up. You said, "thinking in the NAFTA zone." Of course, one of the other initiatives you have is to spread NAFTA, essentially, through the free trade area of the Americas. Would you foresee that in time the immigration policy would also be spread with the free trade area of the Americas?

    DR. RICE:   Well, David, I think that's jumping a little far ahead, at this point. Right now, the two Presidents are dealing with what is really an extant problem, and they recognize that the system that we've had in place, that the patterns of migration that we've had have serious problems associated with them.

    And they're both committed -- and I want to emphasize both committed -- to trying to work through those. After all, for Mexico, also, Mexico and President Fox have laid out a vision that says one day people ought to find work in Mexico -- if NAFTA really takes hold, if free trade really takes hold, if the Mexican economy improves, Mexico would like to have circumstances in which it's able to take advantage of its own talent. So this is a larger issue, but they are dealing with a migration system that they both recognize has problems.

    Q    Two questions. What did the Presidents say to each other about migration in their meetings, and what were they told in the Cabinet meeting? And secondly, this phrase, recognizing the contributions of undocumented workers -- does that imply that they have earned some special treatment by virtue of the fact that they're working in the United States?

    DR. RICE:   No, it does not imply special treatment. What it implies is that there are people who, as the President said, came here for reasons with which everyone can sympathize and have been working here in the country, many of them taking jobs that Americans will not take. There needs to be humane treatment and humane understanding and compassion for that. But as to what that means within the structure of any program that we might be able to come up with I think is something that still has to be worked out.

    Now, as to what the two Presidents said to each other, remember that this is not a conversation that started today. This started really when they were governors, but when the President met at President Fox's ranch, all the way back, shortly after his inauguration, they talked about this issue. And again, that conversation I think led to a series of meetings, headed by the Secretaries of State and the Attorneys General, but it also led to the principles that you will see when they release them tomorrow. So this has been steadily moving along. It's going to continue to move along in a steady fashion. But they talked more about those principles.

    The Cabinet officers then reported on the progress that they've made. Everybody is committed on this issue.

    Q    Dr. Rice, the trucking issue is still a sore spot. How deeply was this discussed, and do both Presidents see any solution to this problem?

    DR. RICE:   Well, the President thinks that the solution is to live up to our NAFTA commitments. He is someone who is absolutely firmly committed to trucking safety. And one thing that he and President Fox recommitted to in their meeting is trucking safety. As the President said, we don't want unsafe Mexican trucks on our highways; we're sure Mexico doesn't want unsafe American trucks on their highways; we both have an obligation on safety. And so this is a President who is committed to safety. He also believes, though, that the legislation which passed is not attuned with our NAFTA commitment, and he's made very clear he does not support it.

    A follow-up? Yes?

    Q    Another important subject is the economic situation in Latin America. With the U.S. economic situation not being so well, Mexico is affected, but you also have a major problem in Argentina which is causing contagion to Brazil, even to other Latin American countries. Did they discuss the economic situation of the hemisphere?

    DR. RICE:   They discussed the region, they discussed the economic situation in the hemisphere. Indeed, the President talked about his desire to make sure that we do everything that we can to regenerate growth in the United States, which, after all, is a problem for the region if the United States is not growing. And, of course, his -- both his fiscal and monetary policies are aimed at doing his fiscal policies and the monetary policy of the U.S. Central Bank is aimed at doing exactly that.

    The President mentioned the importance of fiscal and budget discipline in getting this done. He mentioned the importance of his tax cuts, and he is doing what he can to bring about strengthening the American economy. And that will obviously make it a lot better for all of Latin America.

    They have talked on several occasions about Argentina, which is in many ways the most immediate case. As you well know, the IMF made available the funds to Argentina with the understanding that Argentina is going to carry out its zero deficit program, and also that Argentina is going to look hard at its debt sustainability issues. And there was a kind of joint agreement that that is extremely important, and that they will be supportive of Argentineans trying to do that.

    Q    Dr. Rice, were you aware that President Fox today, at the ceremony, would lay down the challenge that immigration reform must be done this year?

    DR. RICE:   As I said, we were aware that this was an objective of President Fox. And so, the President shares the desire to do this as quickly as possible, but to do it right. And we're going to work as fast as we possibly can to get it done.

    Q    It sounds like while you oppose general amnesty, you are seeking a way in which at least a portion or a fraction of the illegal Mexicans in this country now will ultimately gain legal status. Now, the President has said there's a way to do that without being unfair to Mexicans and people from other countries who have followed the rules and have tried legally to immigrate. But it seems to me, by the very definition, even if only a small portion of illegals are granted legal status, isn't that unfair to those who have followed the rules?

    DR. RICE:   Well, one of the principles is that there be a sense of fairness and keeping intact a legal system for immigration. There are a lot of details to work through here. This is a very complicated set of issues. And I just want to remind everybody, this is a set of issues that, of course, the President has a deep commitment to. He also wants to work, and needs to work with the Congress on this issue, because it's an issue that's important to the American people at large.

    So there are complicated issues to work through. I'm not going to try to guess prior to exactly how this will all turn out, except to say that the principle of fairness is there.

    Q    To follow up, isn't this really more than a detail? Isn't this the very fundamental nub here? In other words, for each illegal immigrant that's granted legal status, that displaces a would-be legal immigrant from getting into this country?

    DR. RICE:   A lot is going to depend on what kind of mechanisms we design, what kind of programs we design to deal with this problem. But let me just remind everybody that the migration of structure as it is now is not functioning in a way that these Presidents are comfortable with. And we do have undocumented people in the country, and that's a reality.

    So they're going to try to deal with all the various very complicated and interrelated aspects of this to come to something that is more humane, something that works for the American economy and for the Mexican worker, and something that will hopefully put us on a better footing. And Mexico, I think, in President Fox's statement, also accepted some responsibility for trying to stem the flow the other way. And President Fox not only accepts that responsibility, but I think has a vision of how to do that by improving conditions in Mexico. We shouldn't lose sight of that, as well.

    Q    One of the other challenges in President Fox's speech this morning was that by the end of the term of the two Presidents, there would be no more undocumented Mexicans in this country. That implies, obviously, perhaps some going back, but some process or some of the undocumented Mexicans in this country would obtain some kind of legal status. Was that, a, raised in the discussions again in the Cabinet meeting and, b, what -- is that something that the U.S. is committed to now?

    DR. RICE:   There have been discussions of all of these points by the various Cabinet secretaries and, indeed, the Presidents, themselves, have talked about how to make this work better. But what I think you really have to understand is that we understand the complexity of this issue, and we understand that there are a lot of interrelated and moving parts here.

    And so, the Presidents have set out a goal. And that goal is that they want a system of migration that is more orderly, that is more humane, that serves the interest of both countries and their peoples better, and they've made a lot of progress by putting out principles from which their folks can now work.

    The specifics of how this will work or what the end state will look like, I think we have to work through. But I just want to repeat to you: It is highly unusual in the history of the United States and Mexico to have this so high at the top of the bilateral agenda between Mexico and the United States. That, in itself, is a big step forward.

    Q    I'm just get clarification that one of the goals is to deal with those undocumented workers who are here in this country now.

    DR. RICE:   Obviously, we are going to have to do something to try to deal with what is an established fact, which is that there are undocumented workers in the United States. Exactly what that means, what mechanisms you can use, how you can deal with it, I think has to be left to the discussions. But the Presidents are committed to doing something that works better than today, and that is humane, and that does serve the economic interests of both sides of the border.

    Q    If I can shift gears a little bit, there's an article in the paper today and in Time Magazine this week that talks about the diminished role of Cabinet members in this administration; Secretary Powell, in particular, and you as a rising star and your influence with the President sort of overshadowing them. What's your reaction to that?

    DR. RICE:   I think people have too much time to sit around worrying about such things. Colin Powell is the Secretary of State, not me. Colin Powell is the person who is the chief diplomat for the United States. He is the principal voice on foreign policy. He is someone who the President respects and listens to all the time. He has been a national security advisor, so I think he understands my role in trying to make sure that the government is coordinated in what it's doing, and in making certain that the President has what he needs to make good decisions.

    But nobody should, by any means, be confused here. I'm not the Secretary of State. The President doesn't need two secretaries of state. He's got a very fine one. He's got one of stature. He's got one whom he respects, and who is respected at home and abroad. And there should be no mistake about that. Colin Powell is the chief foreign policy diplomat and chief foreign policy figure in this administration.

    Q    I just wanted to get clarification on just this one point. When you said you were aware that President Fox had this objective, in answering that way it seemed to me that you still were surprised that he brought it up this morning the way he did.

    DR. RICE:   We knew he was going to bring it up during this meeting. Do we sit and -- did he clear our remarks and we clear his? No. But I am telling you that we knew that this was an objective of President Fox's.

    Yes? Final question.

    Q    One of the principles that's been laid out or talked about is the impact that this might have on American workers as well. Can you shed any light on how the administrations are trying to figure out what sectors might be affected, what labor groups might be affected? I mean, I know you may not have reached conclusions, but can you shed any light into how you're trying to sort through that particular aspect?

    DR. RICE:   It's one of the important issues to be examined, to be dealt with. I mean, there has been a lot of work already by labor and by INS on where people end up in what sectors, what sectors are underserved by American employees. You know, we are not going to reinvent the wheel here. There's a lot of research on this, and it will be brought to bear.

    The President is absolutely determined that this is something that works for both sides. And that means that it should be something that works for the American economy and American workers, as well as improving the plight of Mexican workers.

    But I just want to say that a healthy and functioning American economy, and a healthy and functioning Mexican economy, is going to make all of this quite a bit easier. It is in the interests of the United States to have a migration system in place that can help to marry up workers with employers where that is necessary, and we're working very hard on it. But it doesn't have to be invented from scratch; a lot of this is already known.

    Thank you very much. Thank you.

    Q    Anything on drugs?

    DR. RICE:   I think that it's fair to say that there was a rather ringing endorsement of the cooperation on counternarcotics, on the changed attitude in Mexico about concerns about the high profile criminal element in drug and counternarcotics. And for our part, Attorney General Ashcroft sounded a lot of satisfaction with the cooperation that he's getting.

    Thank you very much.

3:33 P.M. EDT