Press Briefing by Dan Fisk, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, NSC
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 9, 2007
Aboard Air Force One
En route Montevideo, Uruguay
7:00 P.M. (Local)
MR. FISK: I'm going to focus on the discussions with President Lula, because I think a number of you all were at the events at the ethanol, so we can talk about that.
I think an important thing to start with is what you see here is, you know, the President came down here and wanted to talk to a fellow leader who shares the same values, believes in the promotion of democracy, social justice. And this builds on a series of conversations that they've had, as President Lula mentioned in the press event, the press availability, going back to his initial election, when he was President-elect.
But, more importantly, this really builds on the visit that the President had down here in November of 2005, when he came to Brasilia, started a series of discussions on a number of initiatives, one of which you saw with ethanol coming to fruition today.
The key here is about the emerging strategic relationship between the United States and Brazil. This is focused on what we can do to advance prosperity and economic opportunity; it's a matter that doesn't look at things ideologically, it's a matter about what's in the interest of both countries, how can we move forward, a number of other issues that are out there -- again, recognizing that Brazil is the largest democracy in Latin America, the largest economy in South America. But, also, it's a matter in which they're a global player.
Doha was discussed and the importance of the United States and Brazil working together. What you had was leaders talking at a strategic level; this was not meant to be a negotiating session, it was meant to have the two leaders compare notes. You know, their respective trade ministers -- in our case, Ambassador Susan Schwab was there. And it focused on what's of strategic importance, how do we move the issue -- how do we move Doha ahead; look at the prospects for a breakthrough, where's the areas of common agreement, and then get the trade ministers to fill in the details. But, nonetheless, the fact that -- the importance of the United States and Brazil again kind of talking of this as strategic partners; the idea that we have more in common than what separates us. And, further, how to build on that.
We also have the issues related to a larger global agenda. Again, not only is this about the relationship in the Western Hemisphere, but also the fact that we have a shared set of interest on a larger horizon. President Lula is also interested in issues related to the Middle East; there is a large Middle Eastern population that lives in Brazil, so those are issues that interest him. But, also, a particular interest in Africa. And, in particular, Portuguese-speaking Africa. We have a joint initiative right now with Guinea-Bissau, it deals with training legislators, helping that young nation to see democracy develop. But there's other areas that they want to look at. Also in the health arena and how we expand those.
So, again, the whole idea here is how do we build a closer set of initiatives between, frankly, the two largest democracies in the Western Hemisphere.
So why don't I stop there and then take some questions.
Q Can you point to any specific progress on Doha that causes each side to be a little more optimistic? Was there any sort of breakthrough -- not breakthrough in the trade talks, but breakthrough in one side or the other agreeing to back down on subsidies, for example?
MR. FISK: Let me defer the detail questions to Ambassador Schwab and USTR. But I think that overall what you have here is both leaders, President Lula and President Bush have a sense of optimism, a sense that there is a possibility of a breakthrough, that there is a possibility for more progress; that it's important for them, at their level, to have sat down and got the feel of each other, where their thinking is at this time.
And, also, again, they had both their foreign ministers and trade ministers in the room, so that they understand where the leaders are, and that they've heard the exchange between the two Presidents.
So I think in that sense you've got a general feeling that this meeting is going to help give things at Doha momentum.
MR. SNOW: Roger, Sue Schwab is staying back and she's doing talking. I think you defer any other Doha related questions to her, because she'll have the insight.
Q Is she available?
MR. SNOW: Not at the moment. She's talking.
Q Do you mind looking ahead a little bit to Uruguay for us?
MR. FISK: In what way?
Q What he hopes to get out of his talks tomorrow with Vazquez.
MR. FISK: First, the meeting with Vazquez is a reciprocal visit; President Vazquez was at the White House in May of 2006. So this is, again, a visit for the President to reciprocate that hospitality.
The idea is, again, you've got a country that is taking the right policy choices. It's a country that has got a strong democratic tradition, very pluralistic tradition, a leader who, like President Lula, actually starts at a different end of the political spectrum, the one who shares very much a commitment to democracy and free markets, very outward-looking. Uruguay is relatively small to its two neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, but, nonetheless, it has a vision of itself that is much greater than that -- it's presence in the world. It definitely wants to have a trade agenda with us that is deeper and broader. It's an active global trader.
They're also involved in issues like peacekeeping, which is important. There's about over 2,500 Uruguayans who are currently deployed on peacekeeping missions -- in fact, that may be a low number, I have to check that. But you've got a large Uruguayan peacekeeping presence, given the size of the population.
So, again, you've got all the attributes of, you know, this is about democracies trying to work with each other. Presidents and leaders who are committed to bettering not only the lives of their own people, but also trying to have a positive impact in a larger regional context.
Q Is he trying to play the United States off of the Mercosur? Like, they'd have to ratify any trade agreement, a bilateral trade agreement that the United States would have with Uruguay. Is he really that interested in it, or is he just trying to use this as leverage to get what he wants from the larger trade partners in South America?
MR. FISK: Well, I think that the balance of how -- you'll need to ask Uruguayans about how they define their national interests. Clearly, our interaction with them has been very positive. We signed a bilateral investment treaty with them in November of 2005. This last month we began what's called the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, that was agreed to. That's basically a forum where a number of these economic and trade issues can be discussed. In fact, it's called a TIFA. What you do as a TIFA, you talk about everything but tariffs. So in a way it's a foundation, if both want countries want to take the discussion to another level of a free trade agreement.
But there's no doubt that the Uruguayans have conveyed to us their interest in an expanded and deepened trade relationship. We are now their number one bilateral trading relationship -- which is interesting in its own self, its own right. So I think that's going to be an important topic of discussion. It's going to be along those lines, about how do we expend that relationship. But we clearly also realize that they have a Mercosur dynamic. They have to fulfill their obligations in Mercosur. As far as we know and as far they've signaled, there's no reason we can't talk at any number of levels about how we promote trade and investment.
Q How is the Chavez rally going to overshadow this meeting?
MR. SNOW: It's not.
MR. FISK: For us, this is about the President's agenda for social justice. In fact, that's the other reason why it's important to go to Uruguay, because, again, one of the initiatives that President Vazquez has pursued is education. They're doing things there, he's pursuing things such as English language training the schools; there's a laptop for a students' program that they're initiating. So there's a number of other activities.
And, again, this all goes to, kind of, us on this trip talking about what is the positive ways government is actually helping individuals. Uruguay is unique in certain regards -- demographically, again, and, culturally, its own history is unique. But, nonetheless, it's representative of this general democratic trend in the hemisphere.
Q Did Chavez come up during the Bush-Lula meeting, the Chavez issue?
MR. FISK: In all these meetings we're going to talk about the state of democracy in the hemisphere. And the key point there is that democracies -- we need to stand together to make sure there is no retreat from democracy.
MR. SNOW: I know you want to make this a trip about Chavez -- it's not. It's about the President's commitment --
Q I'm just wondering if his name came up during the meeting?
MR. SNOW: The point is I want to stress -- because you keep sort of circling around on this, and it is to misconstrue the purpose of the trip.
Q It seems like he's trying to not to even mention his name at all. I mean, the answer he gave today --
MR. SNOW: The President has come here to talk to President Lula about ethanol and about a whole series of things -- trade and continuing relations. And Dan is laying out what we're doing everywhere else. He didn't come down here to deal with nations other than the ones that he's meeting with.
Q Tony, you're going to ignore the rally tomorrow?
MR. SNOW: I don't know if you can ignore it, but -- it is what it is. Look, the President is not going to be -- the President is going to be concentrating on his meetings with heads of state.
Q Dan, the venue -- where are we going tomorrow? It's to the President's ranch, right?
MR. FISK: Right. This is going to be a little bit of a different part of the trip. We are going to go out to basically the Uruguayan Camp David. It's called Estancia Anchorena. It is the presidential retreat. It is also a national park, its land donated specifically for the purpose that it would be used by Uruguayan Presidents. It's something that President Vazquez uses on a regular basis. It will make the meetings a little bit more informal. Again, President Vazquez will be hosting the President in one of his homes.
And so, again, the idea there is -- you know, we have an issue in which -- or we have a dynamic in which you've got the two Presidents, who had a very good relationship in Washington, wanting to continue those discussions and talk about how we advance those issues that we share in common.
Q -- wanted to take him fishing or something? Are they going to go look at fish or anything? (Laughter.)
MR. FISK: There has been talk about fishing. As you all know, the President likes to fish and there has been some talk about that. We'll see how tomorrow goes. But President Vazquez does fish at Anchorena.
MR. SNOW: We'll let you know if he does.
Q Does he mountain bike? Is there anyplace to go bike riding or anything?
MR. FISK: I don't know. It's a ranch, it's 3,000 acres, I believe. It's significant. I've not been there, so this will be a first for me.
Q Did President Lula specifically ask him about lifting the tariffs? Or did he just acknowledge that that was a non-starter with the U.S. Congress?
MR. FISK: Again, focusing on this, one of the common areas of interest is ethanol and biofuels. And that's a good foundation for a set of conversations on a whole range of other aspects of the relationship. The tariff did come up. It's logical that it would. But as the President answered in the press availability, he was very direct, is that the tariff is in place through 2009, it's going to stay in place, and that there are opportunities for the biofuel industry to develop whether there's a tariff or not.
I mean, this is a matter of -- you know, other countries ought to be looking at alternative fuels. They ought to be looking at these options. It shouldn't an issue of whether or not is the United States having or not having a tariff. It is a matter of which other countries should be looking at what can they do to improve their own energy security by looking at this source of energy.
Q How did Lula approach it? Did he specifically ask Bush to ask Congress, or how did he bring it up?
MR. SNOW: No. No. The President made it pretty clear you've got a tariff in place by law until 2009. What you heard in the press conference is what he said behind the scenes.
Q Thank you.
MR. FISK: Thank you, all.
END 7:12 P.M. (Local)
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