Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 12, 1999


The Briefing Room

9:10 A.M. EST

MR. BERGER: Good morning. Since I know this is the story of the day, we decided to do this early. The President is going to Mexico Sunday night and Monday because this is arguably the most important bilateral relationship the United States has. It involves the issues that in many ways the foreign policy issues which are the least foreign to the American people -- trade and jobs, the environment, drugs, migration.

President Clinton and President Zedillo will begin the visit with a private dinner with the First Lady and Mrs. Zedillo Sunday night at Palacio Canton in Merida. The next morning they will move to an historical hotel outside the city where they will have a private meeting and then a larger meeting which will include Cabinet officials.

They will then return to Merida to sign a joint declaration, make some remarks and meet with both the U.S. and the Mexican congressional delegations. While there, members of our delegation will meet with members of the Mexican Congress. This is, of course, the first Mexican Congress in the modern era with an opposition majority in the Lower House. This is a reminder -- something that we're familiar with. This is a reminder of what President Zedillo has done to deepen Mexican democracy and to make Mexico a more pluralistic society.

It means their government, like ours, must deal with domestic concerns and be responsive to the needs of its citizens, which largely coincide with the needs of our citizens -- cleaner air, safer streets, sustainable growth.

The focus of the trip will be on steady, practical progress across the range of common interests that we have with Mexico. It begins with economics. Mexico now is the second largest foreign market for U.S. exports, after Canada and now exceeding Japan. Five years after NAFTA, four years after the President led the international rescue of the peso, which enabled Mexico to overcome a financial crisis and resume growth, cross-border trade is expanding. U.S. exports to Mexico now are $79 billion a year, more than twice the pre-NAFTA figures. Mexico accounts for nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. merchandise export growth in the last five years.

A key point I think is this: this has helped insulate, NAFTA has helped insulate, both countries from the impact of the global financial crisis. U.S. and Mexico's overall exports, our global exports, are down this year, about one percent for the first 10 months of 1998, for which we have statistics. But our exports to one another are up -- U.S. to Mexico by 11 percent; Mexico to U.S. by 10 percent. And our economies are growing.

So it's worth remembering that our trade relationship with Mexico has protected a lot of American workers from losing their jobs at a time of tremendous uncertainty and upheaval in the global economy. This is a powerful argument for continued liberalization of trade in the hemisphere, including the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. We still have a number of specific trade issues with the Mexicans which the Presidents will address.

Drug control is also an important part of our agenda. Two years ago, the Presidents signed an Alliance Against Drugs, which established a set of common objectives. Since then we've seen Mexico extradite fugitives, eradicate thousands of acres of opium, criminalize money-laundering, and institute a new screening process for law enforcement officials.

Still, obviously, this is a tremendous problem for Mexico, but one that they are tackling head on. The focus in Merida will be on finalizing clear goals that will drive progress and allow us to measure results over the coming years. We will agree on some specific initiatives to improve procedures for cross-border undercover operations and to strengthen Mexico's law enforcement institutions, including Mexico's new federal preventative police. This is the first consolidated national police force dedicated, among other things, to protecting borders and airports and seaports.

Clearly this issue will receive a great deal of attention here in light of the certification process, which is upcoming March 1st. The President has not made a decision, nor has he received a recommendation from the Secretary of State. We will look to -- whether the extent of the cooperation between us, we'll look to it fairly without either inventing or inflating progress.

It's important to remember what the purpose of certification is and what it is not. It is not to measure the extent of Mexico's problems. It's intended to assess the extent of its cooperation with us in overcoming them.

President Zedillo is clearly trying to establish a clean government and respect for the rule of law. He has described drugs as the number one national security threat to Mexico. Last week he announced increased funding between $400 million and $500 million for counternarcotics efforts. The investigation of key figures for corruption of violence is a stark reminder of the problem that exists and the corrosive effect that this has on a democracy, but is also a sign that the Mexican government is confronting this with remarkable candor.

Indeed, much of what we know and much of what troubles us about the extent of corruption in the Mexican law enforcement effort has emerged from Mexico's own efforts to uproot it. And that's something we need to acknowledge and encourage.

We also expect to make progress on border environmental issues, to discuss climate change, address the problems of illegal migration and migrant smuggling, strengthen our cooperation against trafficking in human beings, and ensure that complaints of violence at the border are dealt with in a just and fair way.

Finally, we will want to use this visit to coordinate our efforts to help Central America recover and rebuild after Hurricane Mitch. As you know, we'll be going to Central America in March. Mexico has been a leader in providing relief to the region.

All in all, what you see is a broad and multifaceted partnership based on shared interests and mutual respect. It's a partnership that President Clinton has invested a great deal of time and energy in over the years. He stood by Mexico at many difficult moments in the past six years, made some tough decisions, but each one I believe has paid off for the American people. We expect to get a good deal of business done in Merida; that will also pay off in the long run and demonstrate again the value of our partnership.

Now let me ask Jim Dobbins to talk about more specifically what we expect the actual agreements in Mexico to be.

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think Sandy has run pretty well through the agenda, so I won't go through it one more time. I think and my colleagues would be happy to take questions about what we expect from this, which has become part of the regular and intense dialogue with the Mexicans. The two Presidents have met approximately every six months for the last several years. Large numbers of their Cabinets have been involved and had their own dialogue, and in this case we also expect substantial congressional involvement, which reflects the degree to which the relationship with Mexico has become increasingly unique to the degree that it involves all the branches of our government and every level of our government, from the state and local to the federal.

Q It sounds like Sandy has already presented a rationale against decertification. Even though the problem is so bad, he pointed up how they're trying to cooperate. He says they're tackling it head on. It doesn't sound like that really from everything we've been reading.

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I'm going to ask Tom Umberg from General McCaffrey's office, to comment on the substance. Let me just say that the Secretary of State has not made her recommendations. The President has not made decisions. At the same time, we're going to address straightforwardly, in response to your questions, what we think about the state of U.S.-Mexican cooperation. We think we've made a lot of progress over the last year, and I'd like Tom to address that.

MR. UMBERG: Thank you, Jim. Mexico is our most important partner with respect to limiting the supply of drugs in the United States. They've cooperated in a number of different areas. Let me cite a few. In terms of extraditions, there have been 12 extradited in the last year. We've seen three Mexican nationals, pure Mexican nationals, extradited last year; one extradited for murder as well as drug-trafficking charges.

In terms of seizures, we've seen the Mexican government has maintained and in some areas increased the seizure rate. In cocaine, perhaps the figure you're citing, it is down from 1997, but consistent with 1994 and 1995 figures. In eradication, Mexico leads the world in eradication. In fact, they've made great progress with respect to poppy. Although there may be a bit larger number of hectors under cultivation, we see that the cultivation of poppy is far more dispersed now; we see that the poppy growers are using clandestine methods to hide their crops. So we note that there is some progress on that front.

We also note that there is progress with respect to the tools that are being implemented. In the past year, Mexico has authorized legislation that prohibits the transfer of $10,000 or more without reporting it. We're cooperating on a number of other levels -- military-to-military relationships, concerning training and hardware; we're cooperating with respect to demand reduction. Both of our countries have common problems and common responsibilities. We in the United States are both consumers, as well as producers of drugs, and the same thing in Mexico -- they're both consumers as well as producers in drugs.

Q What has the Mexican government done to ride herd on its military about the use of resources -- or the misallocation of resources that were supposed to be designated for drug control?

MR. UMBERG: With respect, for example, to the helicopters, there will be 36 helicopters that will be used for eradication of drugs and other drug efforts. We in the United States are monitoring the use of those helicopters to make sure that they are used for counterdrug efforts.

Q I'm sorry, but if I may. The problem that I'm talking about, where in Chiapas and some other areas, some of the antinarcotics patrols have been used to fundamentally repress the opposition groups.

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: We have no evidence that U.S. assistance has been misused or diverted to other -- so I'm not actually certain what you're referring to. But we have no evidence that U.S. equipment is used, for instance, in Chiapas.

Q But what about the Mexican government's own military?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The Mexican government has diverted its military toward the drug mission in a massive way over the last five years. So I'm not -- again, I would question the basic assumption of your question.

Q With all the progress, what is happening on the other side -- is there any evidence of backsliding that might point -- that might make a case for decertification?

MR. UMBERG: Backsliding in what sense?

Q Well, you've outlined several examples of progress in Mexico's drug cooperation. Is there any backsliding -- the Casablanca affair and the U.S. dissatisfaction with that, for example -- that could make a case for decertification this year, or have you seen nothing but improvement?

MR. UMBERG: I'm not going to speculate on what some would suggest would be a case for decertification. Clearly there are challenges ahead for both countries. Clearly we have a challenge with respect to each of our countries' demand problems. Clearly corruption still exists in Mexico, as acknowledged by the Mexican government. That's clearly a challenge.

Q If things aren't getting worse why would you decertify now?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I'm not clear, though, what you meant by U.S. dissatisfaction with Casablanca. That was a U.S. operation with which the Mexicans were dissatisfied. We had no dissatisfaction, and I think we've put that issue behind us.

Q But the issue of prosecution of these suspects still is open. The Mexicans want to try them in Mexico and we want to try them here. How is that going to be resolved?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: We're fully -- the Mexicans have committed themselves to try them in Mexico. We're fully satisfied with that.

Q But a year ago, when you arrested them, you had no faith in the Mexican law enforcement system. Now, a year later, you think they can be prosecuted and imprisoned properly?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I challenge the premise of that question, that a year ago we had no faith.

Q You didn't tell the Mexicans until three days before the busts that you had a year-long sting going. That is clear evidence that you had no trust in the Mexican law enforcement system. Is it -- a year later, is it now clear that the Mexican justice system is at a par with the U.S. system, and that these criminals -- or these suspects, suspected criminals -- will be prosecuted?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: The Mexicans try, convict and imprison thousands of drug suspects every year. They've committed themselves to try these people, and we are confident that they will do so. So I still challenge the premise of your question.

Q Jim, you guys are going to the Yucatan Peninsula. What about the governor of the neighboring state? There was a reference several days ago in a State Department briefing to the governor of Quintana Roo. Could you give us the U.S. views on that, and the state -- maybe Peter could talk to us a little bit about this, because Jamie mentioned it in the press briefing, I think -- the seizure of several hundred million dollars there, and reports of corruption in that state.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO: All I can say is that the investigation, the Mexican investigation, is ongoing. But I would go back to what the National Security Director said earlier, and that is that what we know about corruption largely comes from the Mexican government, and its efforts by them to uncover it. Gutierrez Rebollo, their ex-drug czar -- 30 years-plus in jail; a number of generals arrested, and some under indictment and under investigation -- these are things that are being done by the Mexican government.

I also would like to key off on a little bit of what Jim said, in terms of this new package that the Mexicans announced late last week: $500 million to fight drugs and to enhance law enforcement in their country at a time when the budget is severely taxed and at a time of all-time lows in terms of oil proceeds, which accounts for about 30 percent of their budget. They've taken scarce resources -- over the next two years, they'll spend half a billion dollars -- they'll create a new police force, and the police force will be designed to liaise directly with state and local police in order to bring about the kinds of coordination and investigations that need to be done. And I think you need to take a look at that, too.

Q Ambassador Dobbins, can you tell us whether the President is going to sort of gird President Zedillo for the possibility that Mexico will be decertified? And can you tell us what impact that would have on the relationship at this juncture?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Insofar as I'm aware, there's no intention to discuss the matter in those terms. There will be a large congressional delegation with us. There will be an interaction between President Zedillo and our members of Congress, and between President Clinton and Mexican members of Congress. I'm sure our members of Congress will be able to speak for themselves.

Q Ambassador Dobbins, can you tell us a few details about the border cleanup agreement?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: There are a number of issues regarding the border, as you would expect, including in the environmental area.

One negotiation that we are hoping to push forward during this visit is a negotiation, which is actually a trilateral negotiation with Canada in the NAFTA framework, to assure that the cross-border state has an ability to make a contribution to environmental impact statements that are being done that have cross-border implications. And this will give us, and Mexico, an ability to comment on, and influence the decision processes as they go forward on major projects that have that kind of impact. And this, I think, would be a major step forward in demonstrating that the environmental aspects of NAFTA are being realized.

There are other agreements, for instance, to work together to improve visibility in Big Bend National Park; to work together in the areas of climate change, in the protection of species. There's probably going to be a step forward in the protection of dolphins, for instance. We'll sign further agreements on cooperation against forest fires, which have presented a major danger to both of our countries over the last couple of years.

There's also a number of health agreements that affect the border area. Increases in cooperation in epidemiology in the border region; cooperation against a new strain of drug-resistant tuberculosis that is cropping up in the border region. So there will be a lot of environmental and health and other things, directed to improving the quality of life in the border communities.

Let me ask Lael to address this from the economic standpoint.

MS. BRAINARD: The only other thing to note is that the institutions that were put into place to start cleaning up the environment in anticipation of enhanced trade relations are also spending quite a lot of money on the border, and right now there are infrastructure projects along the border which are doing things like waste water treatment systems, are around $500 million, and the area covered by those projects benefits roughly 4 million people, so those projects are really starting to get into gear and make a difference. But there's still a lot of challenges along the border.

Q How much money in FY2000 has been earmarked for this particular cleanup, or the agreements to get this situation improved?

MS. BRAINARD: In terms of the actual NADBANK, I'm not sure that there's an appropriation in 2000. I think it was an earlier authorization and appropriation process. I need to check on that, though.

Q Is the President going to sign these agreements? Is he personally involved? And when will they be signed?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Most of these agreements will be signed by the relevant Cabinet member in the course of the visit.

Q Is there going to be a binational commission meeting that the whole Cabinet --

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: It's not a full commission. There will be about half a dozen Cabinet members on each side, I would guess. The full commission is a dozen or more Cabinet members, and occurs annually.

Q Will you be doing anything to address the Mexican complaints of immigrants suffering as they cross the border, that it's become a hazard --

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: There is an agreement that we're working on, hope to have ready, which addresses border safety and border violence. It's designed to improve safety, to cooperate in instances of violence -- both to reduce those instances, to have a quicker response when threats of violence arise, and to ensure prompt and adequate investigation of those incidents which do arise. Do you want to add anything on this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO: Only to say that the immigrant issue has been, and the treatment of Mexican immigrants in the United States has been, a key element of our discussions over the last year. It came to a head over some very unfortunate circumstances in the killing of two Mexicans south of the San Diego area back in November. And we've gotten, basically, an agreement that will be announced in Merida that will talk about treatment of our nationals.

We have an issue, too, and that has to do with the issue of firearms. Many of the people who live along the border, the U.S. citizens who live along the border, notwithstanding signs everywhere, continue to go into Mexico not thinking that their firearms will pose a problem to Mexican law. They do. The Mexicans have passed legislation to change their law, to abridge it a little bit, but we have over 60 Americans in jail in Mexico now for having brought firearms into the country. So it's pretty much the kind of border-management issue that we continue to work through.

Q And what can you do about that? Or do we expect to announce something along those lines?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROMERO: Well, we have been working with the Mexicans, as I mentioned, and there's a major effort to publicize the fact -- you go to any border crossing and even outside of the border crossings, large signs, "don't bring weapons into Mexico." The Mexican legislature passed a law a couple of months ago basically saying that if you bring in 22-caliber, light caliber weapons and shotguns and that sort of thing, that it would be considered less of a violation of their laws.

The problem is that those who were arrested before the passage of this new legislation face up to a year in jail, without benefit of trial, and then one to 30 years. So it's a very serious offense for Mexicans.

Q On trade and economic issues, which particular items in NAFTA will be reviewed? I know there are some obstacles still remaining in the implementation of the treaty. And what does the United States see as sort of threats to Mexico's economic stability and growth from Brazil?

MS. BRAINARD: With regard to NAFTA, I think right now we're going at a time of real strength and resilience in the trade relationship. As Sandy was saying earlier, fully one-third of our growth in exports over the last five years, which as you know has been very, very significant, is attributable the Mexico. It's also quite remarkable that Mexico has become our second largest export destination, surpassing a country, Japan, that is 12 times bigger. And so it is a very rich trade relationship. There has been a lot of adjustment that has taken place over the last five years which has been quite beneficial.

In that kind of very rich and extensive trade relationship, you also inevitably, because there is so much product moving back and forth in both directions, there is always inevitably frictions. The President will inevitably want to raise some of the things that our companies have concerns about -- telecommunications access, intellectual property rights will certainly be on his list. He has some interest in some agricultural products. And I'm sure we'll hear some from the Mexicans on areas that they care about, as well.

But, overall, I think the state of the trade relationship is a very positive one and I think both in Mexico and in the United States there's substantial evidence to show that NAFTA has worked for both countries.

With regard to the macroeconomic situation, it's been a very rough year for Mexico, as for other Latin American countries because of global financial turbulence. Mexico still has considerable challenges to face, and those challenges range from reforming its financial sector to keeping its budget under control in the face of declining oil prices and declining oil revenues. And, of course, continuing the pace on privatization.

But over the course of this year they've shown their continued commitment to reform and to responsible management of the economy. They have taken a number of additional budget cuts to keep their fiscal deficit in line, very closely in line with their targets despite the decline in oil revenues. And they've taken a number of other steps which have helped them weather the storm so far.

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Let me just add a couple of statistics, which I think refer directly to the question of the likely impact of Brazil.

Something in excess of 75 percent of Mexican exports go the United States, and something like two percent go to Brazil. So the decline in the Brazilian market is unlikely to have a measurable impact on Mexico, would be my guess. It's also interesting that something in excess of 40 percent of American foreign trade goes to NAFTA; that is, goes to Canada and Mexico, which is larger than all our trade to Europe; it's larger than all our trade to Asia; it's approaching the size of all our trade to Europe and Asia put together.

So that market also insulates us -- not to the same degree as it does Mexico -- but also insulates us from declines elsewhere and is an important reason why we've continued to grow so dramatically even while a lot of other economies have been stagnant or even going backwards over the last year.

Q Will the President be making some kind of statement of confidence in the Mexican economic management when he's down there? MS. BRAINARD: I'm sure the President and President Zedillo will want to talk about this. This is one of the subjects on which they've engaged a great deal, especially since we went into the financial crisis of Mexico with them in '94 and '95 and sort of stood by their side as President Zedillo took very tough steps. So this is an area where they both have a lot to say and I'm sure they'll want to talk about the state of the world economy with each other.

Mexico has been involved in the G-22 process -- I don't know how many of you are familiar with it, but it's a process that's really tried to pull some of the emerging markets into the thinking about global financial architecture and global financial management, and they've been a very active and a very constructive member of that group.

Q Mr. Ambassador, does the lifting of the impeachment cloud enhance the President's foreign visit?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: Let me just add a bit on the last question before I come to that -- and, actually, not come to that. (Laughter.) And that's to say that the President does regularly cite Mexico as an example when he talks to other world leaders about that difficulties of coping with the current financial situation.

I wouldn't want to speculate on your question, Helen, sorry.

Q Could you just answer one final question -- the agreement on the cross-border undercover operations, what's the nature of the agreement that you're trying to work out?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: There actually was an agreement, it was signed by the two Attorney Generals in Brownsville. And it commits both sides to consult in the event of either envisaging sensitive cross-border operations.

Q Nothing on the agenda between the two Presidents that --

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: I think that this may be discussed further, but there is already an agreement on the subject. It may be further developed, but that's where it stands.

Q In the past, Mexican Presidents have always said the immigration problem was our problem, not theirs. Is that still the basic attitude?

AMBASSADOR DOBBINS: No, I don't think so. I think that both of us recognize that it's up to each country -- that countries are not expected to restrict the ability of their own citizens to leave their own country. That is, in fact, a violation of international law. The illegality is in the entry of the other country. We don't prevent Americans from leaving the United States, and we don't expect other countries to prevent their nationals from leaving their countries. In fact, they're prohibited from doing so by international law which requires countries to allow their citizens to leave.

The question is whether you do it -- is the modalities of doing it, the Mexicans are cooperating in migrant smuggling. It's a crime, they're prepared to arrest and convict people for it. They're prepared to cooperate with us in returning illegal migrants to their country, whether to Mexico or to countries beyond Mexico if they've come through Mexico. And we are together looking for greater cooperation, for instance, in Central America in building multilateral arrangements, which I think will be discussed further during this visit, to combat migrant smuggling.

Additionally, both of us are trying to cooperate to facilitate legal traffic across the border and to promote border safety and prevent border violence.

Q Thank you.

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