For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 22, 2004
Press Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
November 22, 2004
BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
Aboard Air Force One
En route Cartagena, Colombia
8:35 A.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Obviously, we're on our way to Cartagena, Colombia, right now. We're going to spend about four hours in Cartagena. The President has got a meeting with President Uribe scheduled, and then a working lunch. Following that I believe there's going to be a photo opportunity with Edgar Renteria y Orlando Cabrera, shortstops for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox, both Colombians, with some young Colombian little leaguers. So the President will have a chance to go out and talk to Renteria and Cabrera and the kids. And then it's back on the airplane and out of Colombia.
But this is an important stop for us and the genesis of the stop was a congratulatory call from President Uribe to President Bush, in which President Uribe suggested that President Bush might want to stop into Colombia on his way back from APEC. And President Bush thought that was a great idea because it gave the President an opportunity to kind of underscore our commitment to President Uribe, our commitment to the Colombia people, but also to highlight the successes of U.S. policy in Colombia, in terms of fighting drugs and fighting terrorism and helping the Colombian people consolidate their democratic institutions and make the kind of progress on human rights and expanding the presence of the Colombian state in parts of Colombia where historically it hasn't been present. And also to begin to highlight the strong economic progress that Colombia has made -- they have about a 4 to 5 percent growth rate, and under the Andean Trade Preference and Drug Eradication Act, their trade with the United States has increased by about a billion dollars since 20003. And as you know, we're in the process of negotiating a free trade agreement with three Andean countries: Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, with Bolivia acting as an observer. And this is another way to highlight these negotiations, to show that they're an important part of our larger free trade policy in the region and kind of look to the future. And doing this at the beginning of the administration, from our point of view and from the President's point of view, is a great way to send a very strong message to the region that Colombia is important; what we're doing is important, it's been successful up to this point.
Q What's on the agenda for the bilat?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, pretty much what I just talked about. I mean, you know, President Uribe is going to kind of walk through where they've been, where Colombia has been going since the last time the President and Uribe had a chance to meet. And effectively what's been going on is kind of a second phase in what the Colombians call Plan Patriota, which is a military campaign against guerillas. The first phase was in the around Bogot. The second phase has moved out into areas traditionally controlled by the FARC, and this is actually the first time the Colombian military has been fighting in this area in a long, long time. And the ability of the Colombian armed forces to project their troops into this area and to do it successfully is a big deal -- it's a big deal for Colombia, it's a big deal in the war on terror. And so President Uribe is going to want to talk about that.
He's also going to want to talk about the success that they've had in drug eradication. For the second year in a row, our ability to spray cocoa has caused about a 20 percent drop in cocoa leaf production. We've really kind of turned the corner in our larger Plan Colombia drug eradication effort. And this is very important because we're now at a point at which we can -- if we're aggressive enough, we can spray just about all the cocoa that's out there. So we really think we're in a position to really begin to diminish dramatically the amount of cocoa leaf that's being produced in Colombia at this point.
Q Do you know how much the U.S. provides in funding for that effort?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You mean for the -- the entire amount is about --
Q Eradication --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I've got eradication figures up here. The entire amount is about $680 million. I can -- I think I can pull out the eradication figures.
Q Six hundred and eighty million for the entire drug program?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, all the assistance.
Q Is that per year, or since it began or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, since it began it's -- well, since we started Plan Colombia and then the Andean counter-drug initiative, we spent about $3 billion in Colombia. In 2004, we're spending about $680 million, total, which is -- one component of that is Andean counter-drug initiative money, which is about $480 million, and then there's about $200 million, which is foreign military financing, international military education and training and other DOD assistance.
Q What will President Bush have to say to Mr. Uribe?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What will he have to say?
Q What will President Bush have to say?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think he's going to congratulate him on, number one, on being a strong leader, on doing a great job and underscore our commitment to Colombia and to the Colombian people. From the point of view of President Bush, Colombia is a democrat state that's under assault from narco terrorists, and it's up to countries like the United States to stand with them at this moment and make it very clear that especially a country as important as Colombia, as important geopolitically, as important economically in the region, has to be able to get its act together, has to be able to take on these kinds of terrorists and illegal armed groups and create an environment in which people can live in peace and prosperity.
Q Do we have anything tangible to offer President Uribe?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, we're giving them a ton of money right now, and this is support that's going to continue over time because this is a fight that has really only begun, in the sense that only now is the Colombian military in a position where it can project itself, and as it projects itself, kind of fill in behind it with state institutions -- whether it be education, whether it be police, whether it be the justice system. And so Colombia really is at this kind of dramatic turning point, and that's one of the reasons why the President wants to go there, because he wants to let Colombians know that they have the support of the United States and that we're going to be with them in this fight.
Q Isn't there a risk in going to a country where, when you talked about successes -- which are very real -- and then you talked about a turning point, which makes a lot of sense, but there is still so much wrong in Colombia and it's such a complicated situation. Is there a risk in the President going and talk about successes so publicly? Are you guys worried about that at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we're obviously talking about successes we've made up to this point; but we recognize there are big challenges in front of us. But the challenges aren't something the President is going to shy away from, they're not something that Uribe is going to shy away from, because the stakes are so high and the outcome is so important. So in that regard, you know, this is something that we're prepared to face head on.
Q Is Plan Colombia going to be renewed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Plan Colombia was kind of a -- how many years are we talking about? -- a seven-year program with about $7.5 billion, the vast majority of it being paid by Colombians. And the U.S. portion was relatively -- it started about $1.3 million, and then with the Andean counter-drug initiative it's gone up to $3 million. Obviously, one of the things we're going to be talking about with President Uribe is kind of what comes next, what are our aid profiles going to be like. So we're still in the process of discussing that with the Colombians.
Q -- more aid, specifically, this trip, this visit?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, they have needed the $3billion that we've given them. They're going to need more money in the future. So it would be natural to assume that aid is going to be something we're going to talk about.
Q The three hostages by FARC, are you going to talk about that? And, also, how dangerous still is Colombia? Some of the reports out of there make note that the President is not taking a walk outside, as did President Clinton when he was there; that there is 15,000 police on the ground, more than we used to invade Fallujah. How dangerous is Colombia still?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, Cartagena is a great place. It's one of my favorite cities in Colombia. I mean, I'll leave the threat assessment to Secret Service. I'm sorry, what was the first part of your question?
Q The hostages, FARC.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, the hostages, of course, will be a subject. Their well-being is a big issue for us and we've been spending a lot of time and effort on those guys.
Q Was it too dangerous for President Bush to go to Bogot and have the meeting there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Cartagena is very convenient because we're on our way back from APEC, you can drop in easily because of where the presidential compound is in Cartagena, it makes for a very compact, tight trip. So in terms of managing logistics of the trip, Cartagena just made a whole lot of sense.
Q But Bogot is not more dangerous?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know if it's more dangerous or less dangerous. And, again, I'm going to leave the threat assessments to somebody else, but Cartagena just worked really nicely.
Q When you brought up the trade number, the $1 million since 2003, that's trade, total, between the two countries, the amount that it's increased?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Correct.
Q What is the total number, total amount of trade?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's about $6.3 or $6.4 billion, and I can try to get the figure for you. (*see below)
MR. McCLELLAN: Anything else?
THE PRESS: Thank you.
Q Scott, can we ask you about --
Q -- the caps right now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know the exact number, because it's always fluctuating. But you know that the cap has been raised on military advisors to 800, and on civilian contractors to 600. But I don't know exactly where in the cap they are right now.
Q Is it close to the caps?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the caps have been raised. It was 400 and 400. My guess is it's still around the 400 to 400 level, I don't think it has pushed up above that yet.
Q Does the U.S. accept Iran's claim that it has stopped processing activities?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, part of that is going to be based on what the IAEA inspectors report to the board later this week. I saw the indications from the IAEA that they believe they have suspended their activities. But they are still working to verify that and they will be reporting to the board later this week. You know, the recent reports, as the President pointed out, have underscored our concerns about Iran and its intentions to continue to pursue nuclear weapons. We always said that the proof of the agreement they reached with the Europeans would be in the implementation. And so we look forward to seeing what's reported at the board meeting later this week. And we will be discussing the matter at the board meeting.
Q What if you don't like what's reported?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to speculate. Let's let the verification process go through. We'll be talking about this, obviously, at the board meeting later this week. It remains a real concern to the international community; Iran's nuclear program remains a real concern to the international community and we're all working together to make sure that Iran fully complies with its obligations.
Q Can I ask you about the Ukrainian elections? There are reports out of there that early returns are favoring the Prime Minister, but the exit polls are showing a victory for the opposition candidate. What's your reaction?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the elections -- the full returns aren't in yet, so we need to let that process continue. I've seen the media reports like you all have. There are some concerns being raised about the election process. We will continue to monitor the situation and see what the results are and see what the next steps are going forward.
Anything else? All right, thank you.
END 8:49 A.M. EST
*SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The $6.3 billion is Colombian exports to the United States. Total trade between the two countries is $11.2 billion.