For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 5, 2001
By National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice
the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
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: 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Q Anything on
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
Thank you very much.
END 3:33 P.M. EDT