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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 30, 2006

Press Briefing by Dan Fisk, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, NSC
Press Filing Center
Cancun, Mexico

6:25 P.M. (Local)

MR. McCLELLAN: Good evening, everyone. I've got Dan Fisk here with us. He is our Senior Director in the National Security Council for the Western Hemisphere, and he's here to kind of give you a little bit more of a readout on the meetings today, and then maybe preview tomorrow a little bit, as well, to set that up.

Obviously, the President had very good meetings today with both President Fox and Prime Minister Harper. We have good relationships with both countries, and this was an opportunity to really build upon those relationships. And with that, I'll just turn it over to Dan, and he'll be here for whatever questions, too.

MR. FISK: Thank you. Let me talk a little bit about the set of meetings today. First, today's focus was really on the bilateral relationships we have with Canada and Mexico, and wanting to emphasize the importance that the President places on dealing respectively with the two countries, as they are our largest trading partners -- number one and number two, Canada and Mexico -- and clearly our closest neighbors.

First, the meeting with President Fox today focused on three areas: one, immigration reform overall; second, the specific aspect of border security; and then, third area on U.S.-Mexico cooperation.

Here again it was the emphasis on how our two countries can work together, opportunities to expand that cooperation, to deepen it, and most importantly, given that this is probably one of the last times that President Fox and President Bush will meet as -- with President Fox as President, talking about how to institutionalize the cooperation that has grown and deepened over the last five years.

The President also really saw this as an opportunity -- President Bush really saw this as an opportunity to reaffirm his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform and also to emphasize as an essential element of that, cooperation on the border, doing more on border security on both sides. And that's something that the two Presidents share, is the dynamics of how we protect our borders, not only the United States-Mexico border, but the dynamics that Mexico has to deal with in terms of its own southern border and the issues there.

Clearly, on overall U.S.-Mexico cooperation, positive discussions on that, what more can be done, what we've been doing in terms of addressing alien smuggling, in terms of combating narcotics, steps to take against money laundering. The President acknowledged the important steps that Mexico has taken in terms of extraditions. There's been a great number of extraditions that have occurred under President Fox. And the other thing the President wanted to convey to President Fox was his appreciation -- President Bush's appreciation for the leadership that President Fox has taken within the hemisphere: the support for democracy, his work with the Central Americans, issues on energy security and energy diversification of the hemisphere, and also standing up for free trade and moving forward the agenda on economic liberalization.

Let me switch for a moment to the meeting that the President had with Prime Minister Harper. The day started out, just as a point of reference, with the President and the Prime Minister traveling together to Chichen-Itza. So they had an opportunity at that point to talk about a number of global issues. And one of the key themes and key topics of conversation for the President and the Prime Minister was the fact that we, with Canada, are global partners; that this is more than a bilateral relationship, it's more than a trilateral relationship. It's one in which we have global interests, we share global interests -- we're working together in Afghanistan, we're working together in Sudan, we have a presence in Haiti. And again, there's -- Canada and the United States' interests and shared values overlap; also, in terms of the Canadian strong support for democracy, not only in the hemisphere, but throughout the world.

Clearly, bilateral issues came up. Softwood lumber was raised by the Prime Minister. As the President said, Prime Minister Harper made an emphatic case on softwood lumber, and the President and Prime Minister agreed that we need to get this issue resolved and moving forward.

They also discussed the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. This is the issue of the kind of documentation, passport or passport-like that people will need to cross the border. And they talked about that and how we need to move forward cooperatively.

Also talked about their commitment to NORAD renewal and strengthening and deepening one of the oldest and longest defense relationships that exists in the world. And then also issues of energy and environment and cooperation, and how to address not just specific issues and irritants in the relationship such as Devil's Lake, but overall, how to talk strategically about more cooperation in dealing with clean air and greenhouse gases.

So those were the bilateral meetings. This evening, the three leaders will have a private dinner, and it's just an open agenda to talk about whatever is on their mind. And then tomorrow there will be the trilateral meetings, formal meetings of the Security and Prosperity Partnership. And first of all will be a leaders' meeting to talk about some specific initiatives, and also their vision of where they want to take this North American relationship. And then there will be a meeting with private sector representatives to talk specifically about how we can position our countries to be more competitive in today's global economy.

With that, I'll be happy to stop and take some questions.

Yes, sir.

Q President Fox said that he brought up the issue of the All-American Canal. What did President Bush say on that? Is there any softening in his support for Colorado or California on that?

MR. FISK: President Fox -- thank you for reminding me -- President Fox did raise that issue. The dynamic with the All-American Canal continues to be that this is one that overlaps and primarily is a state issue dealing with the state of California.

What we want to make sure is that there's dialogue going on between the United States and Mexico, that we're talking through the issues of concern to the Mexicans. We are very sensitive to those and, again, making sure that there's dialogue to the extent that we can, from the federal government's perspective, encourage that, and make sure that happens, but again recognizing that there are certain state responsibilities and state authorities. President Fox understands we're going to be respectful of our federalist system and division of labor on that. But we think that there's a good opportunity to at least talk through some of these issues and focus on how do we address the Mexican concerns and the population of Mexicali, who would be affected by this.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. FISK: At this point -- yes, we get the appropriate officials together to talk through what are the issues, what are the concerns, and then more importantly, how to address those.

Yes, ma'am.

Q What's the next step for tomorrow's meeting? Have they agreed to institutionalize those meetings, as well as to hold them every year?

MR. FISK: The question on tomorrow -- one of the questions that will be addressed tomorrow is exactly what are the next steps in terms of institutionalizing the Security and Prosperity Partnership at a leaders' level. At a day-to-day level, I think that the institutionalization is well underway. We have all -- we have a great deal of communication that's developed over the last year that, frankly, we didn't have even two years ago -- at the working level, the ministerial level.

So the question that the leaders are going to in part -- address and get each other's views on is, at their level, what is it they need to be doing to keep moving this forward, to keep giving it vision. So -- there has been discussion of whether or not it's an annual meeting, whether or not it's some kind of periodic meeting. So that, at this point, is still an open question, but it will be addressed.

Was there a second part to your question? Okay.

Q Between the two halves of that partnership which focuses on security on the one end and prosperity on the other, can you talk about where you're making more progress? Is it on security, or is it on prosperity?

MR. FISK: The question is, in effect, since there's two parts to the security and prosperity, where is it we feel we're making more progress. I want to be careful in terms how to judge this because the basis of the Security and Prosperity Partnership is that the two are inexorably linked. In other words, you can't talk about one in a vacuum -- although, NAFTA, clearly, was one of the dynamics and agreements that's helped generate this North American thinking and construct. In both areas, we're making significant progress. I believe that one could look back historically and say we've made more progress in the prosperity side because there's a longer history there. There's a NAFTA structure that predates the SPP by almost a decade. So, in that regard, there is one where I think you can show greater progress.

But I would be hesitant to say that it's in any way out of balance -- is that, again, the security side is important. We're overcoming a lot of institutional dynamics there. But the SPP continues -- the Security and Prosperity Partnership continues to be elemental and fundamental to this increased cooperation on the whole range of issues.

Q Can you go through the significant progress in the area of security?

MR. FISK: Significant progress in security area. I think the most significant progress in the security area, as much as anything, has been in the exchange of information, and in terms of institutionalizing that exchange so it happens by design, not by accident. Historically, our relationships, especially if you look at the southern border, the U.S.-Mexico border, the relationship in information-sharing and cooperation has been episodic. It's been driven in a lot of cases by local relationships. That continues to be the case in terms of the local relationships. But now with the Security and Prosperity Partnership, we've been able to work more and more and make this work across-the-board, across all agencies, and across a number of levels, and also to put in place mechanisms to where there is a certain automaticity to it, and that there is the obligation on the part of governments to share information so that if one side can't take action, or one side is taking action, that there is better information going to the other side -- and this, by the way, works both ways, in terms of the information flow -- so that both parties are aware of this.

And I think that the Security and Prosperity Partnership has allowed us, the United States and Mexico, to talk about this kind of relationship in a totally different way, and to do away with some of the historical caricatures that existed between the two societies and those agencies that deal with the security. So, in a lot of ways, what we've been able to do is put together a framework that's increased the comfort level, but also the efficiency and the effectiveness of how we communicate, and to make it, in many cases now, real-time.

I will not, in any way, say that it's perfect. We have work to do. There are challenges out there. But we now have a framework, we now have a foundation to build on that, and every day what we're seeing is we're seeing confidence being put into that foundation.

Yes, sir.

Q What are the issues for the initiatives that you say are going to --

MR. FISK: What are the issues for the initiatives -- in what sense? I'm sorry.

Q -- agree on some initiatives tomorrow. Is that something formal, or is this along the lines of all the issues you've already touched on?

MR. FISK: No, there are going to be a specific set of issues, five specific issues in which the leaders are going to give specific direction to the respective ministries and bureaucracies that we need to move forward in terms of greater collaboration in defined areas.

So it's more -- tomorrow's meeting is more than just a report on what's happened over the last year. It's really to say we've had a year of practice, we've had a year of action; now where is it the leaders want to take this, in terms of specifics, but also in terms of the larger -- their larger vision of North America.

Q Can you comment on -- (inaudible) --

MR. FISK: I'm not sure how much I -- okay, let me just go through them very, very quickly, on the five issues. North American competitiveness -- how are we positioned to be competitive, more competitive in today's global economy. And part of that is going to be tied into the meeting the leaders have with the representatives of the private sector.

The second issue goes to how we're prepared to deal with emergencies -- natural disasters, whether they're natural disasters or manmade disasters. Again, I think we've seen with not only what happened in the United States in hurricane season, but what happened here in Mexico, that both countries responded -- actually, all three countries responded -- and so, how to better coordinate on that.

A third issue is how to deal with avian and pandemic influenza, and, again, how we can collaborate and move forward on that so we've got a trilateral system in place.

Fourth issue is energy -- energy security, what more can we be doing in terms of research and development and collaboration on clean energy and clean energy-related technologies, again, trilaterally.

And then the fifth area is smart, secure borders. And this is to expand upon what is a number of ongoing initiatives under the SPP to increase the harmonization, cooperation that exists within the security framework on borders specifically.

Q Did President Fox ask President Bush to do more to get the guest worker -- (inaudible) --

MR. FISK: The question is, did President Fox ask President Bush to do more to get a guest worker program, and what assurances or what wording -- or what did the President convey back.

President Fox clearly conveyed his interest in immigration reform overall. He again raised the interest of a guest worker program. The other thing President Fox reiterated for the President is that Mexicans and the government of Mexico understand that this is a shared responsibility, that immigration is not something that is one-sided, that there are shared responsibilities and shared obligations, and that the Mexicans are recognizing that and beginning to take some steps on that.

The President's basic message back to President Fox was a reaffirmation of President Bush's vision of comprehensive immigration reform and the necessity -- we've got to have a logical, rational, compassionate system that deals with the whole spectrum of issues with immigration that can't exist in a vacuum. You can't just talk about border security and forget the rest. You have to do border security, but it has to be combined with other things. And that was the gist of the conversation.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just add one thing to that. The President kind of walked through where we were in terms of the legislative process, and the President talked about how he's pleased that it's moving forward. And I think that President Fox recognized that and expressed appreciation for the fact that it is moving forward. And the President, as Dan said, reiterated he is committed to pressing forward with comprehensive reform. We're going to be working closely with the Senate as they move forward, and hopefully, then it goes to conference committee, and we'll continue working on it with members then.

Q Did the President detail his optimism in -- he said he was optimistic afterwards. I assume he conveyed that --

MR. FISK: The question is about the President expressing his optimism -- and, I'm sorry, specifically regarding which? Immigration legislation?

Q -- that Congress would approve comprehensive -- to Mr. Fox?

MR. FISK: Well, the President did convey that, given the recent action in the Senate, and again reiterating the point that this is a process, expressed optimism in the sense of the system -- our system, our process is working, it's moving forward. And it's moving forward at this point in terms of a conversation on comprehensive immigration reform. It's no longer just a conversation or a debate about one slice of that issue, but about the whole range of issues that need to be addressed. So in that sense, he did express optimism.

Q How has it changed? A year ago, after a similar meeting at Baylor, he came out and said that he couldn't assure President Fox that Congress would act. Today he used the words, "I'm optimistic."

MR. FISK: Well, he used the word "optimistic" and he did not assure -- the President made it clear --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think maybe he was talking about the timing there -- I think he was talking about the timing, back then, if I recall. I may be wrong about, but -- about when it would get done. Obviously, now Congress is moving forward. And the President expressed how he's pleased that that's happening. And it's a difficult issue that we're going to continue -- we're going to have to continue working it with members as it moves forward. But he was firmly committed to it.

I think you've heard from Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader Frist. They both talked about the importance of having a comprehensive program. But the President emphasized, too, that it starts with securing our borders. And that's where Dan touched on that President Fox talked about the steps they're taking to do that, too.

Q Has the President -- in the last few days, has the President, himself, been doing any kind of outreach on the Hill, or at what level in the White House is the outreach going on?

MR. FISK: I'll refer to you, Scott, on that.

MR. McCLELLAN: We're staying in close contact with members. The President, just yesterday -- well, it was yesterday before he left, I guess, that he had some House members down and they talked about a number of legislative priorities. One area they talked about was immigration. So he continues to talk about it with members in these meetings he's having.

We can -- our legislative team stays in -- is in close contact with members. I think at this point, we'll see where the Senate goes with it and then look forward to working with them and addressing some of the details of it as it moves forward in conference committee.

MR. FISK: Yes, ma'am.

Q You said that President Fox understands that immigration reform is a mutual relationship and he has responsibilities, too. Did Fox make any specific assurances about new programs or -- (inaudible) --

MR. FISK: The leaders didn't talk specific programs in that sense. What President Fox reaffirmed was that they're going to stay on the path that they have set regarding these areas -- where we do have cooperation. What I was trying to give you earlier is just be illustrative in terms of what some of those are.

But that basically was the message from President Fox to President Bush -- was, we've got obligations, we have responsibilities, we're doing things and we're going to continue to do things; we understand that. We also understand that -- both leaders understand that there's more that needs to be done on both sides.

Q There's been some talk that Fox would also -- some kind of incentives, economic incentives, to try to lure back some of the illegal immigrants from Mexico -- from the States to Mexico. Was anything else touched upon in the talks --

MR. FISK: The question is about President Fox raising incentives to -- use the words, "lure" people back from the United States to Mexico. What was discussed was -- or one issue that was discussed or one area was what President Fox has been doing in terms -- economically here overall in Mexico, in terms of his efforts to create prosperity, create jobs, put in place economic policies that would be an incentive for people to stay or return, but it wasn't necessarily put in that term.

He also talked about the need to extend this idea of prosperity and open markets, and things like job creation and education, not just within Mexico, but to extend it throughout Central America, because one of the dynamics is, is actually Central Americans transitting -- coming through Mexico to get to the United States. So it was talked about in I think a larger socioeconomic context, of what can be -- what's being done in terms of economic terms, what needs to be done in terms of education, and how do you create that kind of environment here so that people can stay. And that's really how it was framed.

All right, thank you.

END 6:46 P.M. (Local)