printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Priorities in the Western Hemisphere

Roberta S. Jacobson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs

New York, NY
September 28, 2012




1:30 P.M., EDT

NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We’re very pleased to have Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson here to talk about priorities in the Western Hemisphere. This is her first time at the New York Foreign Press Center, so I want to give an especially warm welcome. Thank you very much for coming during this busy week, and I’m just going to turn the mike over to you right away, because I know everyone is pressed for time, especially the Assistant Secretary.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you, Alyson. I really appreciate that. And it’s lovely to be here. And I’m deeply grateful to those of you who are here, because I know just how busy it is, and there’s more of you than I expected, so I’m thrilled. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: We also have journalists in Washington.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: That’s right. We might have some questions in Washington, which is lovely.

Let me start off with a couple of things that I want make sure that I convey, because it’s been very a busy week. One of the things that I think most of us recognize is that the Western Hemisphere is not necessarily the part of the world that is taking up everyone’s attention this week. There are lots of meetings, lots of things going on, and most of those concern other parts of the world.


What that reflects is two things that I want to be sure to convey. One, that we have a lot fewer crises in the Western Hemisphere than we do in other parts of the world. That is a very good thing. We should all be grateful for that. Obviously, when the UN is engaged in an area of the world it is largely, unfortunately, because there is a problem, there is a crisis. And so there are, in fact, relatively few areas of this hemisphere in which the United Nations is deeply involved or needs to be.

But on the other hand, I think that what ends up being misperceived a little bit is there’s a sense that maybe not that much is going on, especially vis-a-vis the United States and the Western Hemisphere, and that is certainly not the truth. This has been a week of very intense engagement. It’s obviously very efficient to be able to come up here and see so many leaders at the same time. So let me give you just a short rundown of some of the things that we’ve done this week.

The Secretary – starting at the top, the Secretary has held meetings with her Central American counterparts and the international donor community on the situation of security in Central America. This is a meeting that she has held – she held last year. She’s been holding regular meetings on Central America as a very high priority for us, and it was a very good opportunity to review how things are going and how we may need to adjust in Central America to ensure that our strategies are working.


She had the opportunity to speak on Sunday with President Medina of the Dominican Republic, someone she had not yet met, so we thought that was very important, and that was a very useful meeting.

She also held a meeting co-hosted with the Foreign Minister of Colombia Mary Angela Holguin on energy and energy issues, a critical topic for the Western Hemisphere. This was specifically on the initiative launched by Colombia at the Summit of the Americas called Connecting the Americas 2022 on energy and electricity interconnectedness, which is, as I say, a crucial theme. And we heard from many countries in the region as to how things were going and what we can do next to try and promote electrical interconnectivity for all of the citizens of the hemisphere.

And then she attended a meeting of the Friends of Haiti Group yesterday. That was a very productive meeting. President Martelly and Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Lamothe were there, former President Clinton, many others from the international community to discuss the situation in Haiti and how both reconstruction and other efforts in Haiti were going. That too was a very good meeting.


Deputy Secretary Burns and I just finished meeting recently with Foreign Minister Holguin of Colombia, always a very productive meeting. The Deputy Secretary was in Colombia last in July and he plans to go back for the Pathways to Prosperity meeting in Cali at the end of October.

And I have held meetings during this week with Kerry Buck, my Canadian counterpart. She also held a meeting with Under Secretary Wendy Sherman as the Sherpa for the various of the processes that we work with Canada on, P-5+1 and other things.

I held a meeting with my counterpart from the EU Christian Leffler, always very productive to talk about where we’re operating and how we’re coordinating, especially in Central America. My counterpart from Spain, Jesus Gracia, and I met to talk about, really, all sorts of things in the Western Hemisphere and how we thought things were going.

I met the new Foreign Minister from Panama, Romulo Roux. Had not had the opportunity to meet him earlier, and so that was a very good meeting. I was delighted to meet him. And I was equally delighted to see the second and third, I guess, round of voting on the Trade Promotion Agreement in Panama, which will move us closer to entry into force this October.


I met with the Foreign Minister Fernandez of Paraguay. We had a very good conversation about what we can do to support Paraguay’s transition to free and fair elections in April and moving back to full democracy and support that the United States has given to the OAS in that regard.

I met with Under Secretary Antonio Simoes of Brazil, who covers Latin America and is so knowledgeable about the region. And we had a very good conversation about the situation in the region and areas that we’re working together.

Similarly at the President’s reception the other night, I had the opportunity to have very good conversations with President Perez Molina of Guatemala, President Martinelli of Panama, and President Franco of Paraguay, as well as the head of the World Bank and many other institutions, the Secretary General of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza.

I had a very good series of conversations with Foreign Minister Baird of Canada, especially during the evening last night when Prime Minister Harper won the Statesman Award at the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. And we, of course, have a great deal going on with Canada, as you can see from the number of meetings we hold with Canada about the hemisphere and their strategy of engagement in the hemisphere, as well as one of my deputies meeting with the Vice Foreign Minister of El Salvador, Vice Foreign Minister Miranda, and the Foreign Minister of Honduras, Arturo Corrales.

So as you can see, in a sheer number of meetings, we’ve been engaged throughout the hemisphere, North, South, Central America, the Caribbean, in ways that highlight how much we have going on in this region. I think somebody put it earlier to me best when they said it seems like a pretty good moment in the hemisphere. And I think it is a good moment in the hemisphere. It is a moment in which economic growth has been very strong, obviously partly driven by commodity prices, but these are countries who have largely gone through macroeconomic turbulence to stability. They know how to manage their economies responsibly. Those economies are increasingly open, increasingly integrated. We see it in the alliance of the Pacific, we see it in the entrance of Chile and Peru into the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and come October 8th, the entry of Mexico and Canada into that negotiating group.

And we see it in the increasing opportunity in most countries for political participation in the democracies. It’s a critical part of our effort, obviously, to continue to broaden the aperture, to open the opportunities for people to participate in democracy who have not had that opportunity before. Whether that is indigenous communities, whether it’s women, whether it’s other vulnerable groups, their participation – or full participation integration into democratic society is part of what is so positive in the hemisphere.

I think the President’s speech the other day at the UN General Assembly, while perhaps at first glance not necessarily directed to this hemisphere, in fact was universally relevant and very relevant to this hemisphere as well. The President talked a great deal about the importance of free speech and freedom of the press, the importance of tolerance, and how one combats hateful speech with more speech and more freedom. And we think that’s an incredibly important message for all parts of the world, including this hemisphere, where at times we have seen difficulties with press freedom, difficulties also posed to journalists by criminal groups. We all have seen the reports that say that Mexico is either the most or one of the most dangerous places for journalists to operate. Unfortunately, journalists have been killed and threatened in Mexico regularly by transnational criminal organizations. And so we think that it’s very important that this message of defense of freedom of the press as a critical pillar of democracy be reiterated. And the President really did it more eloquently than I could, so I will leave his words stand.

So I think that gives you a pretty good lay-down of what we’ve been doing this week, and I am delighted to take any questions that you may have.

MODERATOR: Please indentify yourself when you receive the mike.

QUESTION: Hello. I am Ana Baron from Clarin, Argentina. Argentina has been a very good ally with the United States in the efforts to try to stop nuclear program in Iran. As you probably know, they have started now conversations to be able to reach kind of an agreement to – for the investigation of the AMIA. I was wondering if there is any preoccupation in the U.S. about a change also in the position of Argentina towards the nuclear program because of this new rapprochement between the two countries?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you. Obviously, every country has to make their own decisions. But you’re absolutely right. We have worked very positively with Argentina on issues of nuclear proliferation and the question of Iran. We have worked very positively with Argentina on issues of counterterrorism. And so we think that right now is a moment for the international community to remain united in isolating Iran on the question of nuclear material, to let the conversations that have been taking place through the P-5+1 continue to operate. And the President obviously spoke to the issue of Iran the other day.


What I will say is that Iran has had nearly 20 years to comply with requests from Argentine justice on the issues of the bombings at the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA building. I certainly hope that people can be brought to justice in those cases, but I’m not necessarily optimistic, given the fact that Iran has flouted international resolutions at the United Nations and the will of the united international community in general that they will respond any more positively now than they have in the past.

QUESTION: Hi. Fernanda Godoy from O Globo, Rio de Janeiro. I’d like to ask you, is there any ongoing conversation about a possible visa waiver for Brazilian visitors to America?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: That’s a subject that certainly has been one under discussion. Obviously, you know that we have lots of dialogues now with Brazil, more dialogues than I can possibly imagine, which is a really good thing. It’s sort of a reflection of the depth and the breadth of the relationship. Among those, obviously, is this question which has arisen about whether Brazil can get into the Visa Waiver Program.


What I can tell you is that those conversations have really boiled down to – the Visa Waiver Program has in the law some very specific criteria that have to be met. When those criteria are met, then I think Brazil will probably be able to enter the program. But it’s not a question of a political decision. It’s a question of when a country reaches all of the requirements posed by the law. And so --

QUESTION: Which are?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, there are requirements for biometrics in passports or visas and in terms of machine readability and identification. There is a particular – and you’re going to test my knowledge on what the return – the overstay rate – it’s either the overstay rate or the refusal rate, I apologize – but there’s a specific rate that countries – I think it may be the refusal rate and countries have to get below a certain level before they can be considered. So these are the kinds of things that are enshrined in the law, and our consular folks work very hard to make sure we have good data on them. And we will be able to move ahead when Brazil is able to meet all of those requirements.

But we – I will say – the one thing I will add is we are very excited about the opening of two new consulates in Brazil. You may or may not know that there are only two places in the world right now that we are opening new consulates and those are China and Brazil. We are excited about being able to serve more Brazilians in their desire to come to the United States. We are excited about making it easier for people in Bel Horizante and in Porto Alegre to have access to a U.S. consulate. So we’re going to be working as hard as we can to open those consulates and be able to serve more Brazilians and stimulate more exchange and tourism and travel between the two countries.

Sorry. Over here and then I’ll get over there.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Richard Hetu from La Presse in Montreal. I’d like to know what is your assessment of the political situation in Canada following the election of the government led by a party that remains – or whose ultimate goal is still the breakup of Canada. And also if there are concerns on your part about potential for violence, given that there seem to be – there seem to have been an attempt on the life of the woman who was elected Prime Minister.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, let me start off with your second question, only to say that we have no real concerns about violence in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada in the sense that we are certainly hopeful, and all indications point to an isolated incident in that incident after the elections, and every confidence, obviously, that the authorities in Canada at every level are able to manage that effectively. It’s obviously never something that we want to see, and we always regret very deeply the loss of life. And that’s not, obviously, ever the way to get political agenda advanced. But there’s no real indication that this was more than an isolated incident.

This issue of the elections in Quebec and the continued relationship with Canada, I really think this is not something that changes the dynamic in our relationship with the government of Canada. Obviously, we certainly did congratulate the people of Quebec on the elections, on the process, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Government of Canada as we have.

The issue of separatism and the question about Quebec has always been and, for us, will always be one for Canadians to decide and not one for the United States to pronounce on. So we see little difference in our relationship with the Government of Canada, which remains extremely strong and very intense.

Let me just go to Washington, because I’ve been told that when I see someone on the screen it means that they want to ask a question. And then I’m going to come back because I know there was someone else here. So go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mrs. Jacobson. Sonia Schott with Globovision, Venezuela and Blue Radio Colombia. This week, when President Santos was at the United Nations, he said something like more or less that he think we have reached a point in which we should think of other ways to fight the narco-trafficking. I was wondering what was the – how the U.S. take this comments? And my second one will be, any comments on the coming elections in Venezuela? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Let me start out with the question you asked about President Santos. We obviously had heard President Santos both in previous statements and in this statement talk about the need to reexamine and look carefully at how we are pursuing transnational criminal organizations and drug traffickers. The President said in Cartagena that we are always open to having that conversation. We are always open to looking at the way we go after criminal organizations and how to make them more effective. And so we are welcoming that debate.

We think that there are more effective ways of pursuing transnational criminal organizations and there are policies that may not have been as effective, but we’re always willing to listen and we know very well – and the President has also been clear about this – that it’s a shared responsibility. Each of us has our part to play, and therefore we have to be in a constant conversation. These are, by definition, transnational organizations. And if we don’t work together transnationally, we can’t confront them, because we allow them to exploit our differences.

So we continue to engage with counterparts throughout the hemisphere. President Santos has certainly been one of the most outstanding of those counterparts. We continue to work closely with the Colombian Government. But we are more than willing to have a conversation about what works best and to look at our own strategies and ensure they’re working effectively because the criminal organizations adapt and they change. And if governments are stuck in one route, we can’t effectively fight those organizations.

So by definition then, we are willing to have the conversation, and most importantly, comfortable with the idea of adapting to make sure that our strategies are the most effective that they can be.

Regarding the upcoming elections in Venezuela, the reason that I say that it is an easy question is that it’s very clear that we look forward to the Venezuelan people being able to express their views freely in a fair election. We think that the process is critically important. And what we think is most important is that we, as the United States, focus on the process. We want to make sure that all Venezuelans have the ability to cast their ballot freely and to make their decisions, and that in the end this is a decision that is not for the United States to predict or to pronounce on but one for Venezuelans to exercise their vote.

I’m sorry. Let me get to you now.

QUESTION: Hello. Glenville Ashby syndicated journalist, the Guardian, CARICOM News Network. Would you think – would you say it’s premature to say that the U.S. has lost its economic and political footing in the region? We have seen the organization of CELAC and other institutions at the expense – the purported expense of the OAS, et cetera. We have seen Venezuelan – Venezuela’s leader reaching out, and vice versa, Iranian leader reaching out to Venezuela. And we have seen what I call more or less the new socialist kind of movement throughout the region. Do you think there is this new world order at the expense of American hegemony?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, I don’t think it’ll surprise you if my answer to that question is no. (Laughter.) But I suppose you want me to elaborate.

QUESTION: Yes.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: No, I don’t think that is the case. I think that what’s important to look at is, if you look at all of these organizations that have sprung up, whether it is CELAC, or UNASUR, or other organizations that are regional or sub-regional, that proliferation of organizations reflects to me a desire for a greater voice in the world, a desire for greater integration among countries in the hemisphere. That is not a negative thing to the United States. An organization can decide to have an agenda that we may find is problematic for us, but the organization itself and the desire to have such an organization is not a negative thing. It can be very, very positive.

We certainly, for example, just became observers in SICA, in the Central American Integration System. We work very well with that organization. It’s been around for a long time. We had not previously had a formal relationship, but we thought that it was time that we do so. We have for years worked very well with CARICOM and continue to do through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, or CBSI.

So I don’t think any of us can say that the mere existence of these organizations is either a threat or a reflection of reduced United States influence or interest in the region. What I will say is there are new actors in this hemisphere. There are actors such as China. There are certainly many European countries, the UK, others, who have very, very important trading relationships with the countries of this hemisphere. And there is a desire among countries in the hemisphere to ensure that they are diversifying their trade, not necessarily only in their – the recipient of that trade or the end country of the trade, but also in the products that they’re trading. And that, of course, is very important.

And so when we look at the relevance of the existing organizations, we feel very strongly. This part I will be clear about. We feel very strongly that the Organization of American States is the premier organization in the hemisphere. All of the countries in the hemisphere are members, whether one may be suspended currently but it’s a member still. That reflects the entire hemisphere. We think that there are certain aspects of the Inter-American system that have been crucial over the decades in defending the rights of individuals, in defending human rights, in advancing democracy. The OAS has been a leader around the globe in that. The Inter-American Human Rights System is critical. We were very clear at the OAS General Assembly in Cochabamba about the importance of that system and preserving it albeit reforming it, because a lot of the criticisms that member-states have had we share. We do think it needs change and reform and updating, but not its destruction, which some have mentioned. And that’s very important.

We have seen most recently, for example, in the crisis in Paraguay the relevance of the OAS, which mounted a very important early mission. Our Ambassador was a member of that mission and is going to – he’s already engaged with the mission on the ground that will remain there and actually grow between now and the elections next April. So we think there are many organizations that serve different purposes, many of them extremely positive purposes.

But to us, the Organization of American States has well-developed institutions that have a long track record of defending open government, open economies. And we continue to see a role for the United States as a very, very critical primary partner for many of the countries in the hemisphere both politically and economically and in trade. You don’t see countries lining up – and I really do mean that, lining up – to be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership if we’re not still relevant in the hemisphere. And there are many countries who want to be part of that. It’s a very important part, I think, of their own trade strategies. And so, I mean, look at countries like those that form the Alliance of the Pacific, who are doing wonderful things integrating their own economies, lowering barriers and tariffs, ensuring that they are taking advantage of that very strong Asian economy and the opportunities.

So I think there is – a lot has been said in the premature obituary of the United States in the hemisphere, and I think the facts belie that. Forty-two percent of the United States exports go to this hemisphere. It’s critical for our own competitiveness, and we continue, we think, to be very critical for the competitiveness of countries in the region.

Thank you. Let me take that one, and then, Jordi, I’ll go to you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mrs. Jacobson. I’m Yilber Vega from RCN TV of Colombia and NTN 24. From your point of view, how important is it for the vision for the U.S.A. for the Western Hemisphere the beginning of the process of peace with the members of the FARC in Colombia? It’s going to start very soon in Norway.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you. I think the President’s Statement on this from the White House at the time that President Santos announced the launching of the peace process was pretty clear, but let me just reiterate. We think this is incredibly important, incredibly important, incredibly positive. And frankly, it is incredibly important not necessarily or just for the United States, most importantly for the Colombian people, for the Colombian people who’ve seen 50 years of struggle and violence and terrorism, and they too want to be beyond that.

We think that this chance of peace has a much greater possibility for success than perhaps previous efforts. Certainly, we think that President Santos and his government have launched a very positive process. We will support it in any way that we can, because it is, for the Colombian people, the way to fully realize their own potential, both to have peace for their children and for their families and for their communities, but also to realize their full economic potential and the integration of all Colombians into that economic growth that we’re seeing there.

Thank you. Jordi. Let me go to Washington.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) AFP. I wanted to come back, if it’s possible, for – to the elections in Venezuela, because I heard your answer previously, but the fact that now it seems that the polls are getting – both candidates very close in the outcome of the election and the fact that there might be some violence in the streets according to some analysts. I mean, the reason I’m asking is taking into consideration what happened in Libya – I know that you don’t have an ambassador in Venezuela right now, but the fact that there might be violence because their election is too close to call doesn’t affect your assessment? Are you considering – I don’t know – a sort of Plan B when a sort of reaction – if something like this happen in Venezuela?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Let me start by saying that the great thing about a policy that focuses on process and the importance of the process and it being free and fair and allowing Venezuelans to vote their conscience and have the results be observed is that that doesn’t change regardless of what the polls are. The policy is one of support for an open and free process in which all Venezuelans can express their desires for the next government, and it doesn’t matter whether the polls are close or the polls are far apart or the polls are all over the place. That is the position that we take. So that’s the nice thing about a consistent position, and it is the view of the United States. It does not – it is not affected by what the polls may say.

But let me also say – and let me be clear about this as well – that the answer to whatever frustrations people have with the democratic process, whatever frustrations people may have with their candidate or another candidate winning or not winning, the answer is never violence. The answer is never violence. We’ve been very clear about that worldwide, and certainly that’s our view in Venezuela as well, and we certainly hope that will be the case in Venezuela. The answer to these problems in democracy is to be able to work through a process that is nonviolent, that is peaceful, that respects the opinions of others, that has tolerance, and that comes to a resolution in accord with our Inter-American and universal responsibilities for democracy, but that does not result in violence for any segment of society.

And I would say that it would be a huge stretch, and I am – we’re not thinking in this regard to have any concerns along the lines of Libya. Obviously, as we’ve said repeatedly since the attack on our mission in Benghazi and the death of our officials, neither is that ever the answer. And countries around the world have joined us in expressing their view that the inviolability of embassies is firm and that communities and actors should never be using violence against embassies.

But we don’t have that concern at this point, and I certainly would not say there is any reason for us to be talking about a Plan B. What we hope for and expect on October 7th is a free and fair election without violence so people can vote their conscience.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Javier Borelli from Tiempo Argentina, from Argentina, Buenos Aires. And you mentioned that in regards to CELAC and UNASUR development that it was good because it was, like, the desire of the people to – or the desire of these countries to have a greater voice in the world. And you said that you might not – or you may think that – or you may say that the agenda is – can be problematic. I wanted to ask you --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: That’s a hypothetical.

QUESTION: Sorry?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: That’s a hypothetical. What is it?

QUESTION: Well, I wanted to ask, for example, in which ways – what could be problematic about that? And also, in regards to that, you also said that the OEA had important presence in Paraguay, and the presence of OEA was just one of the things that was – maybe it showed a contrast with these other organizations, because they condemned immediately what happened in Paraguay. The OEA took a little bit longer. And now, for example, you mentioned at the beginning that OEA is working in the transition to democracy in Paraguay. So there was a breach in the democracy there. I would like a comment on that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Sure. Let me start off by saying truly – and I don’t mean to be cute about this – but the question of what problematic issues could come up from these new organizations is actually a hypothetical. I’m not going to speculate on what may happen in these organizations. I will tell you that we think that the response of the OAS to the crisis in Paraguay – and I’ll speak specifically about that crisis in a second – but we think that the response of the OAS to the crisis in Paraguay was absolutely the right one. It was to take a very important look at what had happened, to send a mission to go on the ground, to speak to all of the actors including President Lula and supporters of his, and then to make a determination – which was very, very difficult, frankly – as to what the results were within the Inter-American System and the Inter-American Charter on Democracy and so forth, and try to propose a path forward.

That’s what the OAS did. Its language was that it was not a coup, but it was, in fact, a process in democracy that was too rapid and did not necessarily offer full due process to all of the parties. So they acknowledged – and I think this is important – I think they acknowledged some irregularities in this process and concerns that neighboring countries had and that Paraguayans had. But they did not believe that there should be a suspension of Paraguay from the OAS, and they did believe – especially with a government in power right now which has committed itself to a transition to free and fair elections and has stated that the current president will not run for election in the next elections – that they wanted to – the OAS wanted to engage with the Paraguayan Government, to discuss the whole range of democratic issues that may have come up as a result of this crisis, and help strengthen institutions of government help, be there to support the elections with observation, with technical assistance, between now and next April. And we think that was the right way to go.

In my conversation about UNASUR or other organizations, I wasn’t actually drawing a contrast necessarily between the response of UNASUR and the response of the OAS. The OAS obviously includes all of the members of UNASUR, and so they’re overlapping. They did have different responses, but I don’t know that that is necessarily a surprise. You have different countries who are responding. We believe very firmly that the OAS response was the correct one. We’re pleased and comfortable with it. And we will be supporting the OAS in its efforts. I was asked just yesterday, for example, about whether Americans will participate in the electoral mission. That too is a hypothetical, but we have lots of people who are experts in this field, and I would certainly encourage those folks to be part of the mission.

QUESTION: I’d like to ask you what’s your assessment of the slow-moving process of economic reform in Cuba, and if you see any opening for changes in the bilateral relations in the coming – well, months or years if President Obama is re-elected?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: That’s a hypothetical too. (Laughter.) I’m not good at hypotheticals. Let me start off by saying that you are right, if possibly a bit of an understatement, on reform in Cuba. I think slow would probably be a bit of an overstatement. It [the reform process] is not going very rapidly, even on the economic side. But frankly, just as worrisome for us is the lack of any political reform, the lack of any indication that we’re moving towards a Cuba where Cubans themselves can make decisions about their own political and economic future, have greater rights, universal rights, whether that be the right of free expression, a free press, et cetera, right to organize and have political parties.

And so it is very, very difficult to see change that is truly meaningful right now in Cuba. One of the things that President Obama did, and we feel will be supportive of movement or exchange when it comes in Cuba, is increase the people-to-people contact between Americans and Cubans, in particular what’s called purposeful travel – travel by religious groups, cultural organizations, humanitarian organizations. I think that’s very important. Americans can often be our best ambassadors. And the Cuban people are not the target of our – whatever sanctions or policy we may have with Cuba. Those are directed to the Cuban Government. Our desire is to engage with the Cuban people as much as we can and look forward to the day when Cubans can make the decisions on their own future freely and completely.

I can’t end a question on Cuba without making reference to an American who’s been in prison for a very long time, over two and a half years, Alan Gross, for the sole reason that he was bringing internet equipment into Cuba. The sentence for Mr. Gross we think was excessive. He has a 90-year-old mother who is – has inoperable lung cancer. He has a daughter who had breast cancer. We just think that, as a humanitarian matter, Mr. Gross should be home with his family immediately. And so we’re very disappointed that there has not been further movement on that case, and we don’t see any sign of movement.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up (inaudible), because President Dilma, on her speech here at the UN on Tuesday, she mentioned again the desire that Brazil – that her government feels for the lifting of sanctions against Cuba. Is this a topic – a frequent topic of conversation between you and your counterparts in Brazil? Is this sort of – any kind of a thorn in the relations between Brazil and the U.S., you think?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I don’t really think so, and the reason is that we have known for a very long time that countries in the hemisphere don’t agree with that aspect of our policy. They have not been subtle about it. But the fact of the matter is we think this is an important part of our overall policy towards Cuba. It is not a subject that comes up all that often in the bilateral conversations with any of our partners in the hemisphere. And while I think all of us look forward to a day when we have a democratic Cuba and can have full and normal relations with them as a day that will be positive for the whole hemisphere – not just for the United States, but especially for Cubans – it is not an impediment in the relationships that we have with so many of our partners in the hemisphere.

Let me see – and if you have just one more short one, but then I’m going to have to end.

QUESTION: I wanted to come back to Iran. And the question is: As you know, Iran has been very active in other countries in Latin America and like in Bolivia and Venezuela. I wanted to ask you if you think that this rapprochement with Argentina is also part of this effort, one. And second, to come back to what you said, that you’re not very optimistic about the solution they are seeking for the AMIA if you can develop and say why?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: No inside information, I promise you. Let me just say that I think Iran’s interest in these conversations is very clear and very obvious, and that is that Iran is looking for friends around the world right now, as the international community has been united in demanding that Iran comply with international and UN resolutions and engage more fully with the international community to end the threat of a nuclear capability. And so I think Iran has been seen around the world, and the efforts in Latin America are certainly part of that, seeking friends. I think that is one of the reasons we have concerns about some of the efforts that Iran has made in the hemisphere. We’ve also been very clear on that.

We have concerns about Iran. A relationship with Iran is not benign from the United States perspective, and we believe that at this point in the process, the international community should be united in isolating that country so that they can respond to the will of the international community.

On the specific question of Iran and Argentina, I have no specific information, and I really want to stress that this is not anything more than looking at the track record over the last 18 years and not necessarily being optimistic about something changing now. That’s all that comment meant, but I thank you for the question.

Thank you all so much for coming today.


# # #