The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 24, 2002

Press Briefing by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Press Secretary Ari Fleischer Aboard Air Force One







Aboard Air Force One

En route San Salvador, El Salvador

9:34 A.M. EST

SECRETARY POWELL:  Okay.  We're looking forward to this next stop in El Salvador.  El Salvador has come a long way in the last 10 years.  I'll never forget my last visit here, in 1992, when I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was asked to speak to the military leaders of El Salvador, and suggest to them that now that the conflict was over they needed to move on so that democracy can get imbedded in the country.  And I think we?ve seen a lot of progress since then.  They stepped aside after essentially defending their country for all those years successfully, with American help.

Salvador does have a lot of economic problems, as do other nations in the region.  And the President looks forward to discussing these issues with them.  And I look forward to discussing these issues with the Central American foreign ministers, who I'll be seeing at lunch.

I think we?ve had a good trip so far.  The conference in Monterrey I thought was very successful, from my perspective.  I think we demonstrated to all of the attendees that America is committed not only to the campaign against terrorism in a military sense, but the campaign against poverty, the campaign against illiteracy and ignorance and the other problems that we have in the world.

And I think there was a particularly solid response to the President's announcement of his Millenium Challenge Fund.  And I look forward to working with Secretary O?Neill to put that together in a sensible way.

I want to remind you that that is something new, it is not just more of the same.  We still have other needs and demands that we take care of with our normal foreign aid appropriation.  And that can also grow ? you know, the $10 billion or so that we use every year.  So that I'll also be pressing to grow, just as I have for the first two years.  And in addition, on top of that, you have this new program, which is designed in a way to encourage those nations who are moving in the right direction to continue to do so.  And for those who have not yet started to move in the right direction, that this is the time to do so if you want help from the United States.

So I think it's been a good trip so far.  The stop in Peru was quite exciting, frankly, to see all of the Andean leaders come together and share with the President their needs, their requirements.  So I think it's been a good trip, and we're looking forward to this last stop.  Questions?

Q    Is there any progress on Cheney's potential trip to the Middle East?  Is there any progress there?

SECRETARY POWELL:  As you know, the Vice President when he was over there said that he would measure Chairman Arafat by his performance.  And we still have not gotten into the Tenet plan.  We still are seeing acts of violence, although they have gone done somewhat in the last several days. And the Vice President and all of us will continue to measure that performance by how soon we get into the Tenet plan, declare a cease-fire and whether we are on our way somewhere.

And that's the judgement the Vice President will make in due course. He could go at a later time, it doesn't have to be right away.  The important point is that Chairman Arafat knows we want to engage with him as we move forward.  It's pretty  much been at my level, but now the Vice President has indicated his willingness to engage if there is the kind of performance that we believe is required to get into Tenet and to get into the cease-fire.  And we?ve made this point very clear to Chairman Arafat, and the President did it again yesterday in his press conference in Peru.

Q    Mr. Secretary, what do you see as the chief obstacles or problems that Arafat is facing?  And do you feel ? months ago the rhetoric was he wasn't making a good, conscious effort. Do you feel like he's making more of an effort now, even though it clearly is not up to standards?  Do you think he's ?

SECRETARY POWELL:  The question is are we seeing more effort on the part of Chairman Arafat as we are applying the pressure.  We haven't seen enough yet.  There is still terrorism taking place.  I think the Chairman has to speak out more loudly and in Arabic and on radio and television ? not just whenever an incident occurs, but on a regular basis, to tell the Palestinian people that this kind of violence and terrorism is destroying their dream for a Palestinian state and, at the same time, killing innocent Israeli citizens.  It is not helping their cause, and I think he has to do a better job of that, as the leader of the Palestinian people.

I do take note that there has been a slight reduction in the level of violence in the last several days.  I don't know if that reflects added effort by Mr. Arafat, but I hope it continues and goes down.  The most important thing we need now is for both sides to agree on how we can get into Tenet and get into a more formalized process for bringing a cease-fire into place, security meetings, the two security forces working together to stop terrorists moving into the region ? and to just get things under control, so that we can get, then, into the Mitchell process.  And then the Mitchell process takes you to negotiations, which is what everybody wants.

And so we'll continue to keep the pressure on Mr. Arafat.

Q    When you say that the Cheney meeting doesn't have to happen right away, that it could happen sometime later, are you pretty much acknowledging that it's unlikely he'll make it over there before the Arab League meeting?

SECRETARY POWELL:  No, I just wanted to make the point ? everybody was focusing on Monday.  Well, today is Sunday and tomorrow is Monday, so it isn't going to happen tomorrow, obviously.  And we?ve told Chairman Arafat, at the end of the week, on Friday, that it wasn't going to happen in the next several days.

But I don't want to put a calendar boundary on it, because I want to leave the Vice President's options open, depending on performance in the area an depending on General Zinni's assessment.  There is a trilateral security meeting taking place today.  I hope that will move the process forward.  We look forward to hearing from General Zinni.

Q    -- about the meeting with the Central American Presidents and the bilateral with President Toledo.  In President Toledo's remarks, although, he was very supportive of the anti-terrorism campaign and fighting against drugs, he seemed to emphasize the need to open trade agreements and to imply or to say directly that that was by far the most important thing to him.  And he indicated that that was a view that he also shared with the other Latin American Presidents.

SECRETARY POWELL:  One consistent message that came from all of the leaders who were there was that trade is the way forward.  They're with us in the campaign against terrorism, they are with us in fighting narco traffickers.  But what they need more than anything else right now are trading opportunities and investment in their countries.

They know that they need to improve their economies so that people have hope in their lives, so that people can plant crops for which there is a market, so people can grow cotton for which there is a market.  And this will take them away from narco trafficking.  This will take them out of poverty and remove the safe haven that terrorists need ? they need poverty, they need ignorance.

And so the big press that they put on the President, the big pressure that they all came forward with, that President Toledo made reference to is you?ve got to get ATPA.  And the President was very clear, we want ATPA, we have been fighting for ATPA; you need ATPA, America needs ATPA.  We?re pleased the House of Representatives has passed ATPA.  And now we need the Senate to act.

And I spent a good part of my time last week trying to get the Senate to act, but we have not been successful.  And I hope the Senate will also hear the message loud and clear, that our national interest is served by good trading relations with these countries.  We want them to stop growing cocoa.  If we want them to move down a path of democracy, we must trade with them.

And it's not like ATPA is something new.  It was something that existed and then it expired.  And all we're asking for is put it in effect again.  It seems to me to be very reasonable.  And we owe it to the people of the region.  It was an American promise that we are not fulfilling at the moment.  So I hope the Senate will listen to all of this and act as quickly as possible.

Q    Does that bode badly for a Central American free trade agreement, that the President wants to push on this particular stop?

SECRETARY POWELL:  No, I don't think it bodes badly for it.  I just think that as we move forward with our other trade agreements, we have to realize that there are some on Capitol Hill that are not favorably disposed toward these kind of agreements.  But these kinds of agreements have been shown over the years to benefit the countries who enter into the agreements with us.  And at the end of the day, they benefit American consumers, they benefit our economy.  But, more importantly, they help us push forward the values of democracy and free enterprise.

We talked to our friends in these undeveloped countries constantly about it.  But if they don't see the benefits of democracy and free enterprise and open trading, then they'll start sliding backwards.  And that's not in our interests.  And that's the case we have to make to our Congress, and that will be the case for the Central American free trade agreement.

Q    But does the President expect to make any announcements, as far as more concrete talks toward a free trade agreement?

SECRETARY POWELL:  I don't know that we have any calendar items or meetings to announce.  I think he'll want to hear from the leaders this afternoon.  And then we'll take those messages back, as we structure our overall trade policy.  There were a lot of trade issues there:  TPA, a number of bilateral agreements that we already have in queue and then how to integrate them into larger agreements, such as the free trade area of the Americas in due course.

Q    Is there any movement on the Lori Berenson issue, as the result of the President bringing that up yesterday?

SECRETARY POWELL:  The President brought it up directly with President Toledo.  And we took note of the fact that the second trial by our standards followed the kind of due process we?d like to see.  And the appellate process within Peru is finished, but there is an inter-American Commission on Human Rights that is reviewing the case.  And when they have completed their review and made their decisions known, or their recommendations known, perhaps that may offer an opportunity for President Toledo to examine the whole case and take another look at what might be possible.

But the President discussed this directly with President Toledo.

Q    Did he make an appeal for a pardon at that time, at all?

SECRETARY POWELL:  He did not make a direct appeal, and that wouldn't have been appropriate, really, because we're now waiting for the results of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  We really have to see that and see what they say about the process.  And then we'll see what we might want to say at that point.

Q    On the air interdiction policy, Ambassador Busby finished his review for the administration last summer.  Why has it taken so long for the review process to come to some conclusion on this?

SECRETARY POWELL:  This has to do with renewing air interdiction operations.  The reviews were finished last year, but there were some lingering issues we had to deal with.  We had to make sure we had new policies and procedures in place; that accountability was clearly a sign that we dealt with some of the liability issues that were left over.

And so we want to restart these air interdiction flights, let there be no doubt about that.  And I expect that we will finish the various review elements ? that we'll finish processing of this in the near future.  I don't expect this to linger too much longer.

Q    The Senate Intelligence Committee suggested that it be taken out of the hands of the CIA.  Is that something that you think will probably happen?

SECRETARY POWELL:  Well, let me hold.  You'll know how we're going to do it when we do it.

Q    Looking ahead to next week's Arab League meeting, the Arab League Summit in Beirut, what is the United States looking to get out of those Arab League members, what kind of statement?

SECRETARY POWELL:  We have been in close conversations with our Arab friends.  I met with King Abdullah the other day in Monterrey, to review the bidding.  There is a very ? there is a very positive declaration in draft form that I think could be an important step forward, dealing with the recognition of the right of Israel to exist and dealing with Arab nation relations with Israel as we go forward.  And, of course, endorsing a Palestinian state to live side by side with Israel.

There are some difficult issues having to do with refugee return and what the border of these states might look like.  And I am hopeful that when they all get together in Beirut later this week, they can come out of that meeting with a positive statement, a positive declaration that adds to some of the other things that have happened recently:  the U.N. declaration that the United States put forward some10 days ago, I guess it is now, that for the first time talked about this Palestinian state in a resolution supported by the United States and introduced by the United States.  And then General Zinni's mission, which is a tough mission. But General Zinni is a Marine and he's got his head down and he is beating away at this problem.  And we're going to see what we can do to get into Tenet.

If we can get into Tenet and on the basis of the U.N. resolution and a good declaration coming out of the Arab summit, then we have a lot of different things we can work with to provide some hope for the people of the region.

So what I?m hoping for is a good meeting with a solid declaration coming out, representing the interests of all parties in the region, both nations in the region, building on the initiative of Crown Prince Abdullah.

Q    -- solid declaration to include full, normal ? endorsement of full, normalization of ?

SECRETARY POWELL:  :Normalization of relations with Israel, which means ? there are a lot of different definitions of what normalization might or might not mean.  To me, it means you have normal relations with a country that you are not at war with; you have normal relations with a country where you exchange delegations and presents.  And you deal with them as partners, sovereign partners.  And that would be a step forward.

Okay, thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER:  I?ve got one thing I want to mention to everybody.  I don't know if people here have heard about the Democratic radio address yesterday and the message that was delivered about this trip that the President is in the middle of.

Q    About the pandering to Latino voters?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Correct.  The purpose of this trip is to represent the hope and the unity of our nation about the importance of democracy, the importance of trade, and to mark what all Americans agree has been tremendous advancements towards human rights and democracy throughout our hemisphere.

And it's unfortunate that the President's message of hope, unity and democracy would be interrupted by the sounding of a partisan note in the middle of a Presidential trip abroad.  This would mark the second time that the opposition party has attacked the President on a trip abroad, while the President is focused on bringing all Americans together on behalf of a foreign policy, this fighting for democracy.

It's an unfortunate note to sound, that's not a part of the tradition that has been afforded to Presidents when they leave the country before.

Q    Which one?

MR. FLEISCHER:  When the President left for his trip to Europe in June of 2001, he was also attacked by a member of the Democratic Party.  And the interesting thing about radio addresses, of course, is the radio addresses are established by the Party leadership in Washington.  Typically, they?re given by a senator or a congressman .  In this case, a senator or a

- 7 - congressman gave up their time, by design, to afford someone else this chance to sound such an unfortunate note in the middle of such a hopeful trip.

Q    Who did the Democratic address?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Antonia Villaraisosa, of California.  And he said that the President was pandering for Latino votes and that Latinos know the difference between rhetoric and results.  And, of course, this is why the President has been greeted on this trip by such a sound of hopefulness and unity among the Latin American neighbors and friends ? because they know that the President has pushed for 245(I) passage, for ATPA passage, for trade promotion authority passage ? all of which have resulted in passage in the House of Representatives; all of which have been hung up in the United States Senate.

Q    Can I just ask, before the Cabinet meeting where the President talked about 245(I), I honestly don't remember him ever talking about it or certainly never using that phrase.  What has he been doing to pass ?


Q    Yes.

MR. FLEISCHER:  My gosh, repeatedly.  The President pushed the House to get it done.  The House worked with the President and passed it.

Q    When?

MR. FLEISCHER:  245(I) throughout last year the President spoke out publicly about the importance of passing it.  If you remember, there was an issue about the duration of 245(I)., whether it should be six months, four months.  There were many Republicans who did not even want to pass 245(I), and the President worked the House of Representatives and the majority there to get it done.  He's been vociferous on this.

Q    Maybe it's not been called 245(I) ?

MR. FLEISCHER:  It's always been called ? yes, you're missing this one, he's been vociferous on this publicly and working the Hill on it.  And the House followed up, the House passed it with some 270 votes two weeks ago.

Q    Do you feel like you?ve been undermined every step of the way on this trip?  You haven't ? when you went to Mexico you couldn't offer that. When you went to Peru you couldn't offer the Andean agreement.  Everywhere you're going it seems like Congress has undercut you.  Is that the way you feel?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think the words of the Andean leaders with whom the President met speak the loudest.  As one of them said, the Senate is ?manana-ing? this to death.  And the purpose of this trip is to show a unified nation with unified policies in an atmosphere of hope and optimism. And yesterday's radio address was an unfortunate note of partisanship in the middle of a long-standing American tradition of bipartisanship when the President travels abroad.

Q    -- announce at this stop any talks toward a Central American free trade agreement?  Powell said that he didn't know of any calendar.

MR. FLEISCHER:  No, there's nothing that formal.

Q    You're not going to start ? why won't you start formal negotiations on the Central American agreement?  That doesn't really take much to do.

MR. FLEISCHER:  That's been a process that we're working on advancing. We're going to talk with members of Congress about that, talk with trade partners about that.  There is also, of course, the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which is moving forward.  And so there is a series of overlapping circles of trade agreements in the region that we're moving on.

Q    Aren't the Central American governments already covered by CBI, under the expanded CBI from last year/

MR. FLEISCHER:  Some are, some are not.  It depends whether you?re included in CBI, specifically.  But CAFTA is a much more narrowly defined group.

Q    Ari, on another subject. The New York Times reported that two of Arafat's aides met with representatives of Iran in Moscow last year.  Is there anything to that?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I saw that.  I cannot confirm that.

Q    About the settlement, the $8 million settlement that the United States has agreed to for the family of the missionary who was killed in Peru?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I know that there had been talks about that topic, and I?m not confirming what the exact settlement is.  That will be something that I think the families will be more involved in at the appropriate time.


10:00 A.M. EST

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