For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 20, 2007
Press Gaggle on the President's Bilateral Meetings with Mexico and Canada by Dan Fisk, Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, National Security Council
Fairmont Le Château Montebello
5:38 P.M. EDT
MR. FISK: Good afternoon; good to see a number of faces again. Some of you I guess got your wish today -- you get to see me again. (Laughter.)
Anyway, let me give you a brief overview of both bilateral meetings; I'll do them in chronological order. First, the President's meeting with Prime Minister Harper, that was the first meeting.
A quick overview. They discussed Afghanistan; the border relationship, the U.S.-Canada border relationship; issues like the Western Hemisphere Initiative, land pre-clearance. Third, a bit on trade, focused specifically on Doha and WTO. And then went off on just kind of a basket of general bilateral issues, things like Devil's Lake, LNG and the arctic.
On Afghanistan, the two leaders shared their respective assessments of the situation in that country. Both leaders agreed upon the importance of continuing in sustaining the current conditions in Afghanistan and the continuing support for the Afghan people. The Prime Minister affirmed that Canada would continue with its current mission through February of 2009; explained to the President the dynamic that Afghanistan is considered within Canada.
The President expressed his appreciation for the contribution and the sacrifices that Canadians have made and are making in Afghanistan, support the Afghan people. And the President now has also a better understanding in terms of not only, again, the dynamics here, but the need that at some point the Prime Minister will need to go back to Parliament to have a decision on what the mission will be beyond February 2009.
On the border issues -- and I know this is a set of issues of particular concern to Canadians -- again, things like the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and land pre-clearance. Both leaders agreed that we need to continue to work together to implement a system that facilitates the strong relationship that currently exists between our two countries, while also ensuring the security of both countries.
There was a bit of a discussion, got into some of the details on some of the issues of documents and expectations on our part. The President -- President Bush reaffirmed that we will be going ahead and implementing the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative as required by our legislation, but they were also sensitive to the need to facilitate the travel -- the exchange and the movement between legitimate travelers and commerce. So we will continue to focus on how we can work together to make sure that whatever system -- the system that is put in place again works to the benefits of both countries and continues to build upon the strong relationship we have.
The Prime Minister and the President also briefly discussed Doha, as I mentioned. Both countries strongly support an ambitious outcome of the WTO talks that are currently underway. This I think also will be a discussion that they will pick up tomorrow in the trilateral lunch, when they talk about a broader -- or a global basket of issues.
And then as I mentioned, there were some discussion on general bilateral issue. An issue called Devil's -- an issue involving Devil's Lake, the name of a lake in North Dakota that is of concern, especially, again, here in Canada, on certain environmental issues and what is underway on that.
And then also the Prime Minister talked to the President a little bit about the Arctic and Canadian concerns of what's happening there. I think it's fair to say the President came away with a far better understanding of Canada's position; however, I will note that from the U.S. position we continue to believe that the Northwest Passage is an international waterway, that there is international navigational rights through the Northwest Passage.
Let me move briefly to the bilateral with President Calderón. Let me put this into, if I can, three I think overall, or large issues.
The first one was the hurricane, Hurricane Dean, that appears now to be headed towards the Yucatan and possibly Northern and Central America region. Second is the issue of security cooperation. And the third issue was the situation on immigration.
First, again on the hurricane, the President reiterated our willingness to help Mexico should Mexico need assistance -- and again, clearly responding to what the Mexicans see as their needs. We want to be in a position to help them as appropriate and as best we can should Dean hit any part of Mexico.
On security cooperation, an issue that I know that a number of you have already reported on, on this -- I mean, first, I need to reiterate the very positive feelings that exist toward President Calderón and a great deal of respect for the courageous acts he's already taken and the steps he's made already to take on the drug violence in that country.
I think the key point out of the meeting as I would describe it is, both leaders reaffirmed their strong interest in building a common strategy in order to deal with a common threat, recognizing that this is an issue of illegal drug trade and associated violence that impacts both countries equally, and is something that we should be working together to address -- but also recognizing that in working together that each country has its own unique and specific contribution it needs to make, so that this is not a matter of this being a United States -- this is not a United States strategy that somehow is being given to Mexico. This is a case of us trying to support -- of us supporting a Mexican strategy, and one that the Mexicans themselves define, but also realizing that we have a shard responsibility.
As many of you also know, there's been a series of ongoing discussions on this question of security cooperation. I think the talks today will give those other discussions that have been ongoing at a more technical or expert level more momentum and move this process along.
And then just finally on immigration itself, President Calderón touched on that. They talked a little bit about the executive order that the President issued -- President Bush issued on October 10th, which was a combination of measures in terms of enforcement, especially on the employer verification side, but also in terms of dealing with H2 visas for agricultural workers and then also expanding what's called the TN visa, which is the NAFTA visa for professionals.
So with that, I'll be happy to take some questions from you all, and to the extent I can talk a little bit more I'll be pleased to do so.
Q Dan, can you just clarify a little bit more about this discussion on security cooperation? I know you said that both leaders are interested in continuing to work together on security and immigration, but given what happened in Congress, I guess what I'm left wondering is what are they agreeing to do next? Where is the conversation headed?
MR. FISK: Well, the conversation really does go to how do we, the United States and Mexico, build a common strategy to address a common problem -- recognizing that we have -- we feel the effects of the illegal drug trade in certain ways; in fact, some of those ways are similar in terms of the drug violence that has occurred in both American and Mexican communities. And how can we move that conversation from a very general level to specifics, in terms of what that means.
And the two leaders did not get into the details or get into the widgets, as I put it, but clearly reaffirmed their commitment that we do have a shared responsibility. We have to recognize that each country is going to have a unique contribution and role to play. We understand that the Mexicans are developing their own strategy. There are things we need to be doing on our side that are good for our country, but they also will be good for Mexico.
And so it's a matter of how to move that process forward. And I think the important point out of today's conversation is the reaffirmation of that and also, as I said, to give it further momentum, I think there's been a lot of progress made at the technical level. And it's always useful when the two leaders talk to -- it adds to everyone's interest in moving forward even faster. So I think that's what comes out of today's meeting in a lot of ways, is that this is going to give more momentum to this process and these set of discussions.
Q Is there any update on his travel plans back to Mexico because of Dean? And also, are we to understand that there's not going to be any announcement of any of the drug trafficking aid that has been reported on?
MR. FISK: On your first question, it's clear that President Calderón is watching the weather with a great deal of interest. He will need to make his own decision in terms of what his schedule is. I think that everyone on our side is completely understanding if the President of Mexico decides he needs to return early. And so again, we'll just -- we'll be flexible and if President Calderón makes a decision that he needs to cut this short, he'll make it based on what he thinks the right calculation is for Mexico. And again, we will be very understanding of that.
In terms of any announcement of specifics of the package, there will not be -- there are no plans to have any -- give it any more specificity from this location. The two leaders, again, talked about kind of what are the areas we need to think about, what are some of the areas we've covered. In one part it was a review of kind of what are some of the specific discussions that have occurred at a level that's almost a desk officer level, if you will, but actually at an implementation agency level. But there will be no announcement out of this meeting, in terms of specifics on the package.
Q Is President Bush satisfied that President Calderón has done enough to address kind of the level of corruption that has been fostered by the drug trade in Mexico?
MR. FISK: The President strongly believes that President Calderón has the political will to address criminal activity associated with the drug trade across a range of activities. I mean, we've tended to focus, and you all in the media have tended to focus a bit on the violence -- understandably so. But we also know that there are institutional issues involved. We know that drug corruption has affected both countries at various times, to various degrees.
And there is a recognition that you can't just deal with one part of the problem, you have to deal with the whole range of the challenges that the drug trade confronts, including on our side that we have to do more in terms of dealing with demand; but also realizing that there is on the Mexican side, there is a leader who has already taken concrete steps to show that he will deal with this problem in all of its manifestations. We are satisfied by that. I don't want to appear to be up here giving him a grade or judging him.
But in terms of a belief in his sincere commitment, there's no doubt about that. The President conveyed that. Again, when we use the word "courage," we mean that sincerely and genuinely.
Q Dan, on the border issues with Canada, did the President indicate he might be willing to make any specific concessions as to any of the issues that Canada is upset about? And also, was Secretary Chertoff in the meeting with Mexico?
MR. FISK: Secretary Chertoff was only in the meeting with the Prime Minister, specifically because of the border issues. He was not -- "he," Secretary Chertoff, was not in the meeting with President Calderón.
In terms of the discussion on the border issues with Canada, things like the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, we are committed to implementing WHTI, but we are committed to implementing it in a reasonable way. Again, our focus is on how do we facilitate this peaceful, prosperous, dynamic relationship that exists between the United States and Canada. So we are going to do that in a way that we think also meets our security interests. And that was the basis for the discussion.
It was an opportunity for both sides to have a very full discussion of the issue. I think that everyone on our side has a far better understanding of Canadian concerns. We're going to take those into account. I think we've taken the Canadian concerns into account consistently, in terms of our implementation. I think that it's always helpful to have the two leaders have that discussion with their two relevant ministers -- by the way, Minister MacKay was there, on the Canadian side today in the bilateral. So you had each side, you had its cabinet minister there who is responsible for this relationship on border security.
So again, the key point is, is that we understand the importance of the relationship to both countries. This is $1.4 billion of commerce a day. We want to build on that and make sure it's successful. And we also want to make sure that it's safe.
Q There have been a couple reports about this work to craft some kind of plan if there's, like, another terrorist attack or something, that -- or, like, avian flu or something. What can you tell us about that?
MR. FISK: This goes to the larger security and prosperity partnership agenda. And there has been -- for at least last year and again this year as part of that agenda a discussion of emergency preparedness. The focus over the last year has been on developing a plan on how the three countries could deal with the circumstance of avian or pandemic influenza. I don't want to pre-empt an announcement, but that is something there will be more on I think tomorrow.
But building on that, we hope to have a larger discussion amongst the three countries. And this will be, again, on a continental basis how are we prepared to deal generally with an emergency circumstance, whether it's natural disaster -- say, a hurricane -- or frankly, a man-made or man-created or person-created incident. So that is something that will be a topic of discussion tomorrow.
Q What was the trade figure between all three countries?
MR. FISK: Just for clarification, the daily trade figure between the three countries is considered about $2.4 billion. U.S.-Canada is $1.4 billion. U.S.-Mexico is about a billion dollars.
END 5:56 P.M. EDT