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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
November 3, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan and Tom Shannon Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere
Aboard Air Force One
En route Mar del Plata, Argentina

     Fact sheet Trip to Latin America

2:05 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good afternoon, everyone. I want to mention a couple of items, and then I'm going to turn it over to our briefer for the day.

First Judge Alito is meeting with an additional five senators today; this is part of his continuing courtesy visits with senators. As of the end of the day he will have met with 21 senators.

The second item I want to mention is that the President is dispatching Mike Gerson, our Assistant for Policy, to Sudan to review the situation in Darfur and Southern Sudan, as well. He is going on the trip with Deputy Secretary Zoellick and some other NSC - some NSC and State Department officials, as well, will be on that trip. And part of what Deputy Secretary Zoellick said earlier this week is that he's going there to review the situation in Darfur and also to see how the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement is going in Southern Sudan, as well. And then from there, they're scheduled to go on to Uganda, and this will give Mike an opportunity - Mike Gerson will have the opportunity to review the planning for the President's malaria initiative in Uganda as well. So Mike Gerson will be going as part of this team. The President has asked him to go and then review the situation in those areas and then report back to him when he gets back.

And I think that's all I have to begin with. Tom Shannon, who is now the Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere at the Department of State, formerly our NSC Director for the Western Hemisphere, is the briefer for the day, so he can talk a little bit about tomorrow's visit and the Summit of Americas in general.

Q Scott, before you go, can I ask you one question? There was a report today in The Washington Post that there is some planning for Karl Rove maybe to leave the White House. Can you comment on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me come back to it after he briefs.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: We'll start with the summit. This summit to us is an important event. This is the third summit the President will have participated in. He started in Quebec City in 2001, and then followed on in Monterey, Mexico, in 2004. The President's participation in these summits has helped this hemisphere, the Americas, kind of build a common agenda around democracy, free markets and economic integration. And from our point of view, this is an opportunity to kind of help governments in the region and make it a reality. And the big challenge we're facing is trying to find a way to deliver the benefits of democracy to people throughout the region.

Why don't we just take your questions.

Q Can you talk a little bit about going to Argentina and the protests that are there? It seems that a lot of people, in that country in particular, are skeptical of civilized trade. Is it a challenge to go into a country like that, where they've recently suffered an economic crisis, and push for that kind of policy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Actually, we'll see how the protests work. My guess is that they're going to be less than the protests we faced in Quebec City - I don't know if you remember the Quebec City event, but at that event, I mean, and that was just after - in the previous administration, the WTO talks in Seattle had collapsed and the Quebec City summit was one of the first major events, global events, that happened after Seattle, and there were huge demonstrations in which barricades were broken down, tear gas was fired, leaders' caravans were interrupted. My guess is that the kind of demonstrations we're going to be facing in Argentina are going to be much more choreographed and aren't going to have the same level as what we faced in Quebec City or in Sweden or in Milan in that same year.

But from our point of view, these kinds of events are expected. For us, the Americas has a broader commitment to democracy. These are really important issues that are being discussed at the summit, and therefore we expect people to express themselves. But at least in terms of what's taking place inside the summit, we're dealing with elected representatives and so we think that the people that we're dealing with are the ones who are reflecting the aspirations of their people.

Q What about the fact that some of U.S. factory forums of the '90s really didn't alleviate poverty the way they were designed to and has created a lot of concern about the United States?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: This is part of the larger challenge we're facing in the hemisphere right now. If you look at the region, the region has actually done very well on a macro level - I mean, if you look at the economic growth levels, if you look at employment levels, inflation levels, they've done well. Where the regions have had trouble is at micro levels, and especially at generating trade or getting enough trade going to push economic growth. I mean, if you look at the region, trade is about 25 percent of its GDP, and it really has to be much higher than that. And that's one of the reasons why, for our point of view, for the region to get the kind of growth it needs to really begin to address some of the social problems that it needs a stronger trade base, which is one of the reasons why we've been pushing economic integration.

But it also needs to address issues like corruption and labor market issues, especially labor market flexibility. So one of the things we hope to get out of this summit is to begin to identify some concrete steps that we can take, you know, throughout the hemisphere to attack those kinds of issues.

Q Are you going to propose any steps?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: We've got some stuff in mind. I'm afraid I can't talk about them a lot right now because the President is going to talk about them. But, effectively, the whole theme of the summit is job creation and how job creation affects both poverty and democratic governability. And what we're looking to do is find ways to unlock some of these economies so they get the kind of investment they need, they get the kind of trade they need and they have the flexibility within their labor markets to generate employment.

Q Do you expect the antagonism between the U.S. and Venezuela to come up during the summit? And, if so, how?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I mean, President Chavez has been pretty vocal about how he sees the summit and what he hopes to achieve at the summit. I mean, he's going to behave the way he wants to behave. I mean, we're not focused on this right now. What we're focused on is trying to preserve this common agenda because, again, from our point of view, the leaders have laid out a really ambitious agenda. But the only way for that agenda to be met is if the hemisphere has some kind of unity of purpose. If there is division, then the hemisphere isn't going to be able to meet its agenda.

Q Will there be a mention of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas in the summit communiqué?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I certainly hope so. I mean, the declaration isn't done yet; it's still being negotiated. But from our point of view, the free trade area of the Americas has defined the summit process. The summit process began in 1994 with the declaration that the countries would work towards a free trade area of the Americas. And we think that a free trade agenda is still a vital part of the summit process.

Q Will you have any time to talk to the Canadians about soft lumber?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: We always talk to the Canadians about soft lumber.

Q I mean during this summit.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Right now we have no formal meetings set up with Prime Minister Martin, but they're in the same room, they talk a lot, they've been on the phone. So I'm sure if they have a moment together, softwood lumber will come up. It's their favorite theme.

Q Can you go back a little bit to the FTAA, because the President, when he had his interview earlier this week seemed to indicate that this has stalled and he's switching his focus to the Doha round. So I'm wondering how much of an input, emphasis he'll have on the FTAA compared to maybe trying to get these countries onboard with Doha.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: In terms of our free trade agenda in the hemisphere, we've really kind of had a two-track policy. On the one hand, we've been pushing along FTAA trying to keep negotiations more or less moving. And on the other track has been using bilateral and regional agreements to push the free trade agenda. I mean, you all realize we've been pretty successful on the bilateral and free trade agenda with free trade agreements with Chile, the Central Americans and the Dominican Republic, in negotiating agreements with Panama and the Andean countries.

Where things have slowed down is in the FTAA track. And the reason they've slowed down is because of the Doha round, and especially because of agricultural subsidies. And what the President was trying to indicate is that the best way to get FTAA moving is to have a successful meeting in Hong Kong, and press the agricultural subsidies issue. And that will kind of remove the larger obstacle in the world trading system that Brazil and Argentina and others have been kind of using as a reason not to move forward more quickly on FTAA. But we still think FTAA is very viable and important goal for the hemisphere.

Q Have any countries in South America qualified for the Millennium Challenge Account?


Q Yes.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: As opposed to Central America? Because right now, I mean, Nicaragua and Honduras have five compacts for the Millennium Challenge Account. We have some second tier countries which are being considered for eligibility right now: Paraguay, El Salvador and Guyana - and Bolivia, also, I believe - no, actually, I think Bolivia has qualified, but we don't have a compact yet. So we're got five or six countries in the mix already.

Q Has that process been expedited at all? Seems like it was moving kind of slow for a while.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: First it had to be funded, and then it was a question of putting the compacts together. But it is moving forward in a good way. And, as you know, John Danilovich our ambassador in Brazil, has just been confirmed as the new head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. And as soon as the President leaves Brazil, Ambassador Danilovich will be on his way to Washington to take over the MCC.

Q We know you're kind of between jobs right now. How should we identify you, title-wise?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: I'm the Assistant Secretary right now. I've been functionally sworn in, I'm still waiting for my celebratory swearing in, but, yes, I'm the Assistant

MR. McCLELLAN: Anybody have any other questions?

Q Can you comment on The Washington Post report that there is some considerations that Rove should be leaving the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, there's a lot of speculation going around at this time that relates to an ongoing investigation and an ongoing legal proceeding, and I'm not going to get into speculating about anything relating to that. You know, I will reiterate what I said the other day: there is no discussion of staff changes, beyond the usual vacancies that occur and beyond the ones we just announced relating to the vacancy that occurred in the Vice President's Office. And I also pointed out that it's always the prerogative of the President to have a team in place that he feels best helps him advance his agenda and meet his needs. And we all always serve at the pleasure of the President, but that's just speaking more broadly and that's why I wanted to reiterate what I said the other day, that there is no discussion of staff changes, beyond typical vacancies and beyond the ones we've just recently filled.

Q So Rove might leave is part of a, sort of, natural staff turnover?

MR. McCLELLAN: See, this is a question trying to get me to play into all the speculation that's going on, and I'm just not going to do that. But that's why I reiterated the broader points that I've already made to you all earlier this week and those comments remain the same.

Q Well, The Post story, are you - I'm not hearing a denial here.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm telling you I'm not going to get into all the speculation. Karl Rove is the Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President. He continues to carry out his duties. But that's why I pointed out that, in terms of the question came up in the context of any discussion of staff changes, and that's why I reiterated what I said earlier.

Q Any discussion of an apology by him to staff?

MR. McCLELLAN: I've already addressed that question; I don't have anything else to add to it.

Q Just one more thing, did anything in particular trigger the Gerson mission to Sudan?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just wanted to update you, it's something that I thought is of interest and that you all should be aware of. Deputy Secretary Zoellick met with the first vice president, I guess, of the national unity government of Sudan earlier this week. I think that was on Monday or Tuesday -- maybe Tuesday. And he talked about his upcoming trip to Sudan. The situation in Sudan is a high priority for the President. The situation in Darfur is something that we are concerned about. There has been recent increases in violence there. And it's been a priority for this President from day one, that's why he tapped Senator Danforth to lead our efforts there and help bring about the comprehensive peace agreement between the north and south, and we want to see how that - you know, Deputy Secretary Zoellick has been tapped by Secretary Rice to be kind of point person within the State Department to address these issues. He's been to the region before. Our Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer, has recently been to the region. And it remains a high priority for us and we want to - the President wants to get a firsthand report from Mike about the situation, both in Darfur and how the peace agreement is being implemented.

We continue to urge all parties to refrain from violence as the Abuja talks are in recess. So we want to see them move forward on the peace talks for Darfur, as well.

Q Thanks.

END 2:20 P.M. EST