Summit of the Americas: Background on U.S. Government Priorities
The Washington Foreign Press Center
March 28, 2018
MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. We’re pleased this morning to welcome [Senior State Department Official]. A reminder: This briefing is on background, so he will be referred to for reporting purposes as a senior State Department official. He’s here to discuss the upcoming 8th Summit of the Americas, which will take place in Lima, Peru. President Trump will attend, and this will also be his first trip to Latin America. Our briefer will be part of the official delegation accompanying the President, and will discuss the U.S. Government priorities going into the summit. He’ll make some remarks, and then take your questions. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Thank you very much, Jean. Good morning, everyone. I’m very happy to be with you today, as Jean mentioned, to discuss the 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru. And you all have seen that President Trump is planning on leading the U.S. delegation. As Jean also mentioned, it is the President’s first trip to the region. And it’s also part of what we are looking at as the year of the Americas from the standpoint of the White House, which will also include events in June – the G7 meeting that’ll be taking place in Canada – as well as later in the year, the G20 meeting in Argentina. All of these meetings happen to be occurring in the Americas this year, so it offers a terrific opportunity to deepen U.S. engagement.
I would also note that the OAS will be celebrating – the Organization of American States will be celebrating its 70th anniversary in June at their general assembly in Washington. That is normally an event at the cabinet level.
The President will be traveling to Lima, we believe, with a robust delegation of senior administration officials who will be able to have substantive conversations with our partners in the region. And I would also note that in addition to the interactions amongst leaders in the summit itself, the Summit of the Americas has now grown to include a CEO summit of business leaders as well as forums for civil society and youth.
The summit this year will bring democratic leaders of the Americas together to focus on shared challenges and to create opportunities for all of our citizens. The U.S. objectives for the summit are first, safeguard the security of our peoples; second, increase government accountability and respect for democracy while combating corruption; and third, strengthen our economies and expand market opportunities.
The United States is an enduring partner for countries in the Western Hemisphere, and we hope through the President’s participation in this summit to strengthen and expand the bonds of partnership, working together to make our hemisphere and our countries more secure, more prosperous, and more democratic. Since the Summit of the Americas began in 1994 in Miami, it has contributed to some landmark achievements in our hemisphere. For example, in recent summits we’ve seen the development of business and civil society dialogues with governments, as I mentioned; partnerships on energy security; cooperation on strategies to fight poverty; regional networks that expand economic opportunities, including for small- and medium-sized businesses; and joint efforts to strengthen citizen security and to promote educational opportunities.
The 2018 summit will advance our shared objectives on security, prosperity, and governance in the Western Hemisphere. We strongly support the Government of Peru’s chosen focus on democratic governance against corruption. They’ve indicated that that’s the theme of the summit, and we’ve been working together with them to move that agenda forward. We expect the countries will be discussing how corruption and transnational crime threaten our region’s security. We believe these topics can and should be addressed, both at the national and the regional levels.
At the 2018 summit, we will mobilize the potential of our hemisphere by making concrete commitments to combat corruption, strengthen the rule of law, and fight transnational crime. We’ll also seek to make progress in leveling the playing field for U.S. businesses. The United States is the top trading partner for more than half of the 34 countries in the hemisphere, and we sell more goods to the Western Hemisphere than we do to all of Asia combined. A level playing field will allow businesses from all of our countries to compete on commercial terms that benefit all of us. The United States will also call on governments to uphold our collective commitments to democracy. Protecting democracy and improving governance are what defines this hemisphere, as one of our unique characteristics.
The summit provides a space for our leaders to address the most pressing issues of the hemisphere, and we believe that the ongoing political, economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is this hemisphere’s most pressing issue at this time. Countries in the Americas have a responsibility to work together to address the humanitarian crisis that’s been created by the Maduro regime in Venezuela. This has now become in our view a regional crisis, with hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing into neighboring countries. The United States strongly supports the restoration of democracy in Venezuela. We stand firm in supporting the Venezuelan people and promoting democracy and freedom for all peoples in the Americas. We hope that the region will continue to take action to get Venezuela back on the path to democracy, security, and prosperity.
So that will be one of the many issues that we deal with at the summit. And I look forward to taking your questions.
MODERATOR: Great. Just a reminder: please, wait for the microphone and state your name and outlet for the transcript. We’ll start in the back there.
QUESTION: Perfect. Wow, this is the first time I’ve been called first in a while. My name is Laura Newton and I’m with Noticias Caracol from Colombia. My question is specifically about the second part of President Trump’s trip to Bogota, as we know, and what are some of the key subjects that are going to be addressed with President Santos? Who will be traveling with President Trump in terms of secretary of state or whatever? And also, how the drug war, the addressing the narcotrafficking problem is going to, like, come up during the conversations as well.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, thank you for the question. I am focusing today specifically on the Summit of the Americas portion of the President’s trip. He does plan to travel to Colombia as well, and Colombia has been a strong partner of the United States across a range of issues. But I would defer to the White House and to others, including our mission in Colombia, to talk a little more specifically about what the agenda and activities of the President’s stop in Colombia would be.
I would say in terms of the fight against drug trafficking that the summit is focused on corruption, but we believe that transnational criminal organizations, including drug-trafficking organizations, do play an important role in corrupting governments and authorities in the region, and it’s an important issue that the summit should address as it takes on the broader issue of corruption.
MODERATOR: Great. We’ll go the second row, right there. The microphone is right there.
QUESTION: Thank you. Hi, I’m Lucia Leal with EFE. The President was planning to meet with President Kuczynski in Peru. Is he now planning to meet with the new Peruvian president, Vizcarra? And can we expect a meeting with Mexican President Pena Nieto? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The President’s activities and schedule for the trip are still a work in progress. They’re still being worked out. I can’t tell you at this point exactly which leaders he will be seeing, but he does look forward to engaging in a number of bilateral meetings with regional leaders in addition to the multilateral discussions in the summit itself.
I can say that, as the United States indicated in a statement after the transition to the new president in Peru, that we do look forward to working with the government of President Vizcarra and we support Peru’s decision to proceed with the summit. Those of us who’ve been working on summit preparations heard clearly from the Peruvian Government that they do intend to proceed with the event, and we look forward to helping them make it a success.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Gesell Tobias from Voice of America. During the past, the Caribbean countries have been the obstacle to get in a bigger agreement about Venezuela, the Venezuela crisis. Is there now any specific strategy to convince and talk to these countries during this summit? And one more question: Is Carlos Trujillo going to be leading the – one of the delegations from the United States?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure, thanks for those questions. In terms of Carlos Trujillo, as some of you may know, he was confirmed last week by the Senate to become the new U.S. Permanent Representative in the OAS. We are hopeful that we can get him on board in time to participate in the summit.
And with respect to the Caribbean, I would say that the summit offers an excellent opportunity for leaders from around the region to get together and discuss the worsening crisis in Venezuela, which particularly from a humanitarian perspective is growing graver by the day. We’re seeing that in the outflow of Venezuelans who are seeking a better place to meet their basic needs in neighboring countries, including both Brazil and Colombia, which have been discussed a lot, as well as a number of countries in the Caribbean. So we believe that Caribbean countries are beginning to feel, even in their own countries, the effects of the crisis in Venezuela.
I would also point out that in the OAS venue, we have had ongoing discussions with the Caribbean, and that in a number of votes that have occurred – to call attention to the deterioration of democracy in Venezuela. A number of Caribbean countries have already been voting in favor of OAS resolutions supported by the United States and other leading democracies in the region – Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, St. Lucia and Bahamas. And we look forward to engaging with other Caribbean countries to gain their support for more concerted action. We think that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to defend or ignore what’s happening in Venezuela.
MODERATOR: We’ll go in the front right here.
QUESTION: Dmitry Kirsanov of TASS, the Russian newswire service. What sort of deliverables do you expect from the summit in terms of the fight against corruption and discussion of the Venezuela crisis? On the first part, I think you mentioned specific commitments, if I understood you correctly.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right, thank you. In terms of the battle against corruption, we have been in discussions with the Peruvian Government and other governments in the region about what steps that we can take together to have an impact on corruption. I think all governments recognize that dealing more effectively with corruption is essential to the health of democracy in the region and to restoring public confidence in democratic governance.
We fortunately have a valuable tool already in the Americans, the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. And we do have a mechanism through the OAS to do peer review and follow-up on the measures that individual countries have adopted or could adopt to better fight impunity and promote transparency in things like government contracting and procurement and to fight undue influence of corrupt actors in politics. So that’s still a work in progress. Governments are discussing how we can reaffirm some of those efforts and also potentially strengthen our cooperation on law enforcement and investigations.
And we also look forward to engaging with business leaders at the summit. We are hopeful that business leaders will recognize their responsibility in changing a culture of corruption in some countries in the region and promoting more transparent contracting and other business deals that will reflect the – and will promote the interests of our citizens.
And with respect to Venezuela, we do think that this is an opportunity to address both the ongoing humanitarian crisis, perhaps through some additional regional responses, and to build support, as we mentioned earlier, for action in the OAS going forward. We are concerned about the elections coming up in Venezuela on May 20th. We believe that Venezuelan – the Venezuelan people deserve truly free and fair elections in which there are – there’s full participation by all political parties and political leaders with proper international observation, and that those elections should be run by a truly impartial electoral authority, something that we have not seen in Venezuela up till now. And we also believe it’s essential that the Venezuelan Government release all political prisoners and that – the opportunity the summit presents to raise those issues with other governments. Fortunately, we’ve seen that through the activities of the Lima Group, for example, the major democracies of the region have already spoken with one voice about their concerns and – in democracy in Venezuela, very much along these lines.
So each country comes at this situation from a different place and different countries can play different roles in promoting a solution, but we feel that the time has passed to ignore this problem.
MODERATOR: All right. Next we’ll go to Raquel.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you, [Senior State Department Official]. My name is Raquel Krahenbuhl from GloboNews Brazil. There is a – this effort that you were talk about that – to make 2018 the year of the Americas. President Trump could be the first American president to go to the region twice in one year. But at the same time, the Mexican president already canceled a second meeting with President Trump, the tariffs create discomfort with many countries in the region, and the approval of U.S. leadership in the region is at a record low.
So I just want to understand how this could be the year of the Americas and if this has anything to do with China deepening their relationship with the region when President Trump is losing confidence. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that the President’s travel to the region, his first trip, presents a real opportunity for leaders around the region to interact face-to-face with President Trump and other senior members of the administration to try and understand better what U.S. priorities are for the region, and also for President Trump to hear directly from leaders in the region – and there I would add not only leaders of governments but also leaders from the private sector and from civil society – so that we can promote the kind of partnership that the U.S. wants with the region.
We have been longstanding partners of countries in the Americas on a range of issues, whether it is economic growth and investment or whether it is promoting the rule of law, strengthening democracy, and fighting transnational criminal organizations that threaten all of our countries. And we feel that there are still enormous possibilities for us to work together on those issues. I think that President Trump is going to explain what his economic agenda is, and we’ve taken a number of steps recently to promote fair and reciprocal trade that benefits American workers and American businesses, but we see the possibilities of creating some mutually beneficial opportunities for our companies and our citizens in the region.
QUESTION: Can I just add something? How about if any – I know you were saying that there is no – you guys don’t have the agenda yet for meetings with the President, but the Brazilian side said that the U.S. already tried to have a conversation with the Brazilian president. Is this something that you could expect, a meeting with the Brazilian president? And also, are you – the two countries, Brazil and the U.S., are talking about corruption as well?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The U.S. has talked about corruption issues with Brazil and other countries in the region as part of preparations for the summit, and as I mentioned, we’re talking about what activities we can take together to try and promote the best practices in the region in terms of preventing corruption, in terms of detecting corruption, and in terms of prosecuting corruption where it has already occurred. So we look forward to seeing how far we can get with those commitments in the time remaining before the summit.
I don’t have information at this point on exactly which bilateral meetings President Trump will do while he is in Lima, but I know that we very much value our relationship with Brazil and that we look forward to the two presidents certainly seeing each other at the summit in – that – I would also point out that we’ll have a robust delegation of cabinet-level officials also joining the President, so there should be ample opportunities for our two governments to interact.
MODERATOR: Next we’ll go to the gentleman right here.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Cristobal Vasquez from Caracol Radio. I wanted to ask you, given – you just said that the United States would come with additional responses towards Venezuela. Can Venezuela and the region expect a stronger position towards the region from Mike Pompeo as director of State? And how worried is the Trump administration with the growth of coca cultivations in Colombia?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, with respect to Venezuela, I would say that the United States Government for its part has already taken some very strong steps in terms of applying sanctions on the Venezuelan Government and on particular members of the Maduro regime. We have imposed those sanctions in order to address the looting of Venezuela by a number of corrupt senior officials and to try and discourage that corruption that has been – has had a very large scale. We have also used those sanctions to apply pressure on the Venezuelan Government to return to the democratic path and restore democratic order in the country. We have been encouraged that the European Union and the Canadian Government have taken similar steps to address those same concerns, and we feel that those have sent a strong signal in terms of the unwillingness of the region and other Western countries to accept what has been happening in Venezuela. I think you’ve also seen increasing levels of concern, as I mentioned, about the humanitarian situation.
I would also highlight the fact that the Peruvian Government has taken the unprecedented step of excluding the Venezuelan Government from the Summit of the Americas because of their concerns about the departure from constitutional democracy in Venezuela. It’s the first time that that step has been taken, and it was supported not only by the United States, but by members of the Lima Group. So those have already been very significant steps and we think that the summit will offer an opportunity for leaders to discuss what else could be done to convey their concerns. And in terms of the issue of counternarcotics in Colombia, I don’t have anything additional for you on that right now.
MODERATOR: Next, we’ll go to Luis.
QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning. Thanks for this opportunity. I would like to go back to the point you just made about Peru withdrawing the invitation to President Maduro. President Maduro has been saying that regardless of the withdrawal – withdrawal, he still plans to go. So how the U.S. – what’s the U.S. suggestion for Peru to handle President Maduro’s insistence to go with – should he be allowed to go into Peruvian airports or even get into the airport, or what would be the protocol in this unprecedented scenario we’re seeing now?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Peru has been a very strong host of this summit. They have run a great process to prepare for it, and they’ve taken what we think is a bold and principled position on Venezuela that’s consistent with the tradition of the Summit of the Americas. We have full confidence that they will be able to manage the situation with respect to Venezuela, and so I would refer you to the Peruvian Government as to their approach to that.
MODERATOR: All right, we’ll go to the second row.
QUESTION: Morning. I’m Chen Liu from China’s Xinhua News Agency. And almost a month ago that Mr. Tillerson, then state secretary, just delivered a speech about Latin America before his trip to the countries, and generally just mapping out the U.S. policy to the Latin America. So my question is that is there any specific change during this month for the U.S. policy to that region? And China just has been mentioned during Tillerson’s speech and it’s kind of a competing gesture between the U.S. and China for their presence in the region. So will China be among the talking points for President Trump’s talks with leaders of the region? Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think President Trump has already made clear that he continues to see the U.S. as an enduring partner of the region of Latin America – of the Western Hemisphere. And we’re looking at the summit as an opportunity to strengthen the bonds of partnership and to continue working together with the countries of the region to promote a more secure, more prosperous and democratic region. I think that’s going to be the focus of the President and other U.S. leaders at the summit. I think that’s a very positive agenda, and it’s one that the countries of the region support, whether it’s South America, Central America, North America, the Caribbean. And I think that that will be the focus of our senior leadership at the summit.
MODERATOR: All right, we’ll go in the back.
QUESTION: David Rennie from The Economist. Just –
MODERATOR: Please state your name and outlet, thank you.
QUESTION: David Rennie from The Economist. You’ve described lots of ways in which this is sort of continuity with longstanding American policy and partnership. But we know that President Trump feels he has a very strong mandate to shake up quite a lot of foreign policy and the status quo, and in particular he’s quite impatient around multinational – multilateral organizations. So he went to things like the NATO Summit and read the riot act about ways in which he felt America’s partners had been free-riding in quite a lot of ways. What – in terms of that “America first” side of the President’s agenda, what should Latin American leaders be expecting to hear in terms of things like – and clearly the President has strong views about drugs arriving in the United States, about immigrants arriving in the United States, about free-riding and cheating in trade. Do you expect some of those themes to come up and that – should leaders understand that they’re going to hear how “America first” policy interacts with your Latin American policy?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, thanks for the question. I think the administration has made it clear on a number of occasions that “America first” does not mean America alone, and so I think that certainly the summit offers an opportunity for leaders in the region to talk firsthand with President Trump and other members of the administration about what that means and how we can work together on a range of issues. We’ve talked about Venezuela, we’ve talked about counternarcotics and transnational criminal organizations, but certainly trade and immigration issues are quite likely to come up in – certainly in the private conversations that leaders will have.
And so we think that we’re very optimistic about the degree to which we can continue working with our longstanding partners in the region, and getting together face to face is what makes the summit special. And I think we have sensed that there is a lot of interest and expectation in the region about the opportunity to have those kinds of face-to-face conversations at this event.
QUESTION: Just a very brief follow-up. Does the President think that the relationship between America and the region is currently working well, or does he think it needs to change substantially?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that the President has indicated that he has some high expectations for what the relationship with the region should be. He does have some new ideas about that. We’ve seen that in some of his policy decisions. But I think we’ve also seen the administration continue to engage with our partners in the region, whether it’s working with the Mexican Government on improving security and operations on our southern border, whether it is working with trading partners like Mexico and Canada in negotiations to modernize the NAFTA agreement. Recently on some of the trade announcements in steel, we had engagement with the Argentine and Brazilian governments. So the desire of the President to take a new look at these issues and to maybe set some new expectations from the U.S. side certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t want to engage; just the opposite. We want to continue to have productive and respectful conversations with our partners in the region because we need them and they need us.
MODERATOR: All right, we have time for just a couple more questions. We’ll go right here and then in the back.
QUESTION: Thank you. Estelita from Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paolo. You mentioned the issue of corruption, and the summit will be hosted in Peru, where a president just resigned over corruption charges. Are there any concerns about political instability, or is this the best environment to discuss this issue after what happened there?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: As we discussed earlier, we support the new Peruvian Government, and we are prepared to work with them. We think they – the Peruvian Government has been and remains an excellent host for the Summit of the Americas. What – the events at the national level in Peru over the last week or two have really only underscored the importance and relevance of working together as a region to improve democratic governance, make all of our governments more transparent, more responsive, and more effective. We think that there is still an ample opportunity in the meetings in April in Lima for our government to work with the Peruvians and other governments in the region to improve those policies and develop collaborative efforts in the area of combating corruption.
MODERATOR: All right.
MODERATOR: Oh, she asked your question. (Laughter.) All right, sir, right here.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask again: Why was Brazil and Argentina exempt from this tariffs, the steel and aluminum tariffs, and not Colombia, Peru, and other countries in Latin America, considering that approach and that effort that America wants to do to build a better bond with Latin America?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: On the specifics of those decisions, I would refer you to USTR. I think they could give you a clearer idea about the criteria that were used in the decision making on the steel issue.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for coming today.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you.