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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 27, 2013




12:00 P.M. EST

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

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us at the New York Foreign Press Center. We’re so pleased to have you. We’re very pleased to welcome back again to the Foreign Press Center Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson. I’m going to turn the floor over to her in just a moment.

We ask when you take – when you ask your questions, if you could wait for the microphone, clearly articulate your name and your media affiliation. We also have colleagues joining us from the Washington Foreign Press Center, so if you could kindly step up to the podium when you have a question, and we’ll recognize you in time.

Thank you, so much, and welcome, Assistant Secretary Jacobson.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I was about to say good morning, but I think we’re just passed that hour, so good afternoon. It’s lovely to be back. I always like being here and I thank you all for being here today. I know it’s an incredibly busy week and there is an awful lot going on, so I appreciate you taking some time to have a conversation today.

Let me just make a couple of real quick comments and then we’ll get to your questions. I know that’s of just greater interest to you than probably my intro remarks, but I get to say them anyway because I have the podium.

This has been a very busy week. We’re now at Friday. Feels like longer than a week, but it is always a very productive time. Coming to New York for the UN General Assembly is an incredibly efficient way to see dozens of senior leaders from around the world at any one time. This morning as you probably know, Secretary Kerry saw Foreign Minister Luiz Figueiredo Machado of Brazil; he saw the Pacific Alliance foreign ministers earlier this week from Columbia, Chile, and Peru, and an under secretary from Mexico. As you know, President Pena Nieto was unable to come to New York because of the terrible flooding in Mexico, so Foreign Minister Meade has had to do double duty while he’s here. And he will meet later this afternoon with Foreign Minister Nunuz Fabrega from Panama.

But he has had a lot of opportunities to see other colleagues and foreign ministers during the week. Deputy Secretary Burns saw Foreign Minister Carrera of Guatemala, which I attended earlier this week, and I was also able to meet with Foreign Minister from Costa Rica as well as Paraguay, and attend the Wilson Center dinner in honor of President Santos, so I feel like I’ve had a pretty good opportunity to see many of my colleagues as well.

Just a week ago – feels like longer as well – I was with Vice President Biden in Mexico to launch our first high-level economic dialogue, something the President promised in May when he visited Mexico, and I think does a really good job, with four cabinet secretaries on the U.S. side, of emphasizing publicly what has not gotten as much attention in our bilateral relationship over the past couple of years, and that is the economic and commercial relationship, not just the security relationship.

All of this is really part of the Administration’s very clear policy of partnership in the hemisphere. These are countries who are very capable partners. And no longer is the question, as Vice President Biden says, no longer is the question: What can we do for Latin America in the Caribbean? Now the question is: What can we do with the countries of this region?

And just to give you a quick mention of the areas that we focus on, obviously one of the biggest areas that we’re discussing these days is economics, in particular the competitiveness of all of our countries. Many of the countries of the region have seen significant growth rates over the last couple of years. Some of whose have slowed. We ourselves are coming out of recession. But all of us have the same concern: How can we make our economies more competitive? How can we ensure that we continue to grow in the future? We now form, under NAFTA, for example, one of the largest free-trade areas of the world, but we know that in the conversations we’re having right now on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which really takes that to a new level, we can create what is clearly the biggest trade area in the world and bring some of the benefits of free trade with individual countries to the Pacific Rim in a way that will help all of our people.

We also have spent this week highlighting global issues with our partners in this hemisphere. I think one of the most clear distinctions between the time that I first got involved in U.S.-Latin America relations and today is that we don’t just talk about bilateral relations, and we don’t even just talk about regional issues. We talk about global issues. We talk about global warming. We talk about Syria. We talk about Middle East peace. We talk about the global financial situation. We talk about energy. And that is really a tribute to the partnerships that we’ve created and the capacity of so many of the countries in the region.

Last night and this morning, I spent all of my time focusing on the OPCW, an organization that many of us hadn’t even heard of a couple of weeks ago – the OPCW and the UN Security Council and how things were going to go on the next steps in getting rid of chemical weapons in Syria. There are eight Latin American countries who are on the executive council of the OPCW, including the vice chair, which is Ecuador, and obviously two Latin American countries, Guatemala and Argentina, who are Security Council members.

The other thing that we spend a lot of time talking about is energy. I think that as you’ve seen over the last couple of years, the global energy map is changing and it’s changing pretty dramatically. Whether we’re talking about fossil fuels, new forms of energy such as shale and oil gas, or renewable energy, the global energy map is changing in a way that makes the Western Hemisphere front and center. That’s the United States as an energy producer, it’s Canada, it’s Brazil, it’s Columbia, it’s Mexico. It is so many of the countries of this region, and I think that is increasingly a strategic conversation that we need to be having with countries throughout the hemisphere.

Coming up in the next couple of days and weeks, you will see a couple of other themes highlighted in our partnerships. One is the theme of social inclusion, which builds on the economic theme. How do we ensure, after free-trade agreements and many structural reforms throughout the hemisphere, that the benefits of those policies and the growth that we’ve seen, how do we ensure that it benefits all populations in a country? And that means, among them, the most vulnerable. Whether it is Afro-Latino populations, indigenous populations, women, handicapped, we want to make sure that everybody benefits from that growth and that economic inclusion. So the Pathways for Prosperity Ministerial, which will be held in Panama next week, is one of the ways in which we do that – working with women entrepreneurs, working with young people, making sure that the climate for entrepreneurship exists in so many of these countries.

And then the last thing I would mention is sort of, if you will, on the political side. Actually, I have two more things to mention – sorry. One is citizen security. This is obviously an area that we have spent a lot of time on recently, and it is an area where survey after survey throughout the hemisphere demonstrates that citizens have grave concerns about personal safety and security and making sure that institutions respond to those threats in ways that make people feel safer. And so whether it’s the Merida Initiative in Mexico, the Central America Regional Security Initiative in the Central American region, CBSI – the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, or in Colombia a kind of grandchild of Plan Colombia, we are working very, very hard with our partners on citizen security. And I would highlight there particularly not just law enforcement efforts, but efforts to strengthen institutions so that they can respond in a way that makes people feel safer and end impunity.

The final thing I would mention is the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Initiative that the President launched two years ago in Santiago, Chile, which aims to get 100,000 students from the United States studying in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the same in the other direction. That means we have to about double the number of students that we have in these exchanges. And we’ve been really gratified with the response to that. Obviously, one of the biggest programs going on in that area is with Brazil, given President Rousseff’s commitment to the Science Without Borders Program.

But elsewhere, you see this as well. With Argentina, we have quadrupled the number of students participating in scholarship programs. We’re working with Colombia, which has innovative ways to encourage students to study overseas. One of the most exciting initiatives that we have is with Gallaudet University, a university for the deaf and hearing impaired in the United States, which will be opening a campus in Panama this year, one of the first of its kind.

So there are all kinds of things going on in education which link directly to economic competitiveness, because unless we educate our young people for the global economy, the kinds of benefits of free trade or growth that we’ve seen over the last few years will simply not be sustainable.

So I will stop there and take any and all questions that you might have.

MODERATOR: Please wait for the microphone.

QUESTION: Yes. Maria Pena with EFE News Services. Thank you for taking my question. I was wondering if you have any reactions or any comments about the back-and-forth that’s been going on between the U.S. and Venezuela with President Maduro cancelling his presentation here, claiming that the U.S. has impeded the movement of Venezuelan diplomats, including himself. And so there’s been a lot of bickering over visa permits and allowing diplomats to move around here. And as a matter of fact, my understanding is that they will be presenting a document, some sort of document or a complaint, to the UN, complaining that the U.S. is putting obstacles in the way for his delegation to come here. What is your reaction to that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I appreciate the question. Thank you, Maria. The couple things I want to say – first of all, I want to start out by saying I think the United States has demonstrated consistently throughout its history that our commitment to upholding and implementing the headquarters agreement with the United Nations is something we take very seriously. We have made quick and efficient provisions and arrangements for countries all over the world, including countries we may or may not have good relationships with, to be part of the UN, to be able to be here as part of that headquarters agreement.

In the case of Venezuela, we’ve made clear over the last couple of days a couple of things. First, obviously, we take any threats to leaders very seriously. We have heard these accusations from President Maduro before. We don’t know what he’s referring to, because we have no information to suggest there is any kind of a plot or a threat against him in the United States.

Second of all, President Maduro was more than welcome to come and appear in front of the UN General Assembly. There are procedures that governments need to follow with some anticipation, with some time in advance, so that we can make sure that they are cleared in for airplanes and are able to come to the United States. Initially, President Maduro was not scheduled to come on a Venezuelan aircraft but on a Cuban aircraft. That presented certain challenges. Subsequent to that, all of those issues were resolved by the possibility of different aircraft being taken, and we thought everything was set to go for President Maduro to arrive here when he subsequently announced that he would not be coming. That was his decision, but we were certainly prepared and had been active in making sure that he could come.

The second – the third thing I want to mention is we issued over 200 visas for Venezuela to have its delegation come to the United States, so we’re not aware of any cases in which we prohibited people who would have been part of his delegation from coming. Obviously, visas also take some time to process, but we don’t know of any impediment to him bringing his delegation to the United Nations.

So I really don’t have anything that I can tell you, because we were doing our best – and succeeding, I believe – in ensuring that he was able to come if he wished to.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Leda. I’m from Brazil. I’m a journalist from IG News website. I would like to ask you about the speech of my President, Dilma Rousseff. What is the position of United States after the speech? And Brazil has said that the – we want apology, she wants apology for the spying program and also that United States do something to be more transparent about it. So what is the position of U.S. after the speech?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you. I appreciate the question. I think the President has been very clear, both before and since President Rousseff’s speech the other day here in New York, that he regrets very much the issues that have been raised as part of the disclosures of intelligence information. He has also made clear that we understand the concerns of other countries, allies of ours like Brazil. And in terms of what he’s doing about it, he has also said that we are undertaking a review of our posture on this issue because we do hear those complaints, we understand those complaints, and we want to make sure that we’re doing so in a way that both protects the security of the United States but also reflects our values and also makes it – has a better conversation about these things with allies of ours throughout the world. This is not just a case of Brazil; it’s obviously of concern to many other countries as well.

So I think what’s important at this point is that a process is in place, a process both internal to the United States Government and a process of consulting with allies and partners as this moves forward, and that those concerns have been heard loud and clear.

And I should say that the meeting that the Secretary held this morning with his counterpart was a very, very productive one demonstrating, I think yet again, the breadth of our agenda with Brazil and our desire to, while we work through that process, make sure that we keep moving ahead on the substantive agenda we have with Brazil.

MODERATOR: Let’s go to Washington and then come back to New York.

QUESTION: Okay. Hi, my name is Sonia Schott. I am with Diario Las Americas today. Hi, how are you? I will try to go to Venezuela but more in a global perspective. President Maduro announced yesterday that the Syrian delegation is going to visit Latin America in order to thank the ALBA countries, leading by Venezuela, for his support to President Bashar al-Assad. I was wondering if you have any reaction to that. And this is going to – what is this going to do to the efforts for the international community in order to solve the Syrian situation? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you, Sonia. I think when you look at the case of Syria, and I think this is particularly timely, obviously, since I was just telling you about what I did last night and this morning and I think what all of our diplomats are doing over the next 24 to 48 hours with so many of our partners, we’re in a situation right now in which action on Syria coming out of the framework agreement in Geneva to get rid of chemical weapons and now hopefully a unanimous by-consensus decision sometime today by the Executive Council of the OPCW and subsequent to that this evening, I hope, adoption of a UN Security Council resolution on the elimination of those weapons from Syria, that is where the action needs to be on Syria. The action needs to be on the international community holding the Assad regime accountable for its use of chemical weapons and ensuring in a verifiable and accountable way that that never happen again and that those weapons be disposed of in their entirety. That’s where our attention is focused.

Now, Secretary Kerry and the President have made very clear that while that is a very important, positive step forward in the particular case of chemical weapons, we have been equally clear that the resolution ultimately of the Syrian crisis is one that has to be political, has to take place at the negotiating table. We have been equally clear over the last two years that we think it is time for President Assad to step aside to allow a process to take place in which such a political dialogue can result in the end of hostilities. Obviously, every country has the right to invite to and see and talk with whoever they wish, but we do not see such a tour at this point by the Assad regime as where our attention should be. Our attention should be focused on getting rid of those chemical weapons and ensuring they’re never used again by the Assad regime and on a political dialogue moving ahead that can resolve this humanitarian and military crisis.

QUESTION: On Venezuela, have you been in touch with the Venezuelan Government recently in order to express your points of view or so? I mean, do you have any update on what is going on between Venezuela and the U.S.?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, I mean, I think I just gave the update on the issue of attendance at the UN General Assembly. On the relationship overall, I think we’ve been consistent and clear we would like to have a functioning and productive relationship with Venezuela. We do see some areas where there’s potential for cooperation, but that frankly is made difficult when such accusations are made publicly. And we will wait and see whether the Venezuelan Government is as interested as we are in having that kind of relationship.

QUESTION: Good day. My name is Ramon Sahmkow. I’m from Agence France-Presse. I just want to follow up on the Venezuelan case. Foreign Minister Jaua said yesterday that one of the kind of delays that the Venezuelan delegation was, in his words, suffering was that the U.S. was interrogating some of the diplomats, some of the members of the delegation. And they – I want to know if – I mean, what would you say about that?

And also, if – and when there was the trip to China, the U.S. said that the Venezuelan delegation asked and didn’t – did not follow the exact procedures to ask for permission on the overflight. Was that the case as well for the Venezuelan trip to the United States coming to New York?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: On the first part of your question, the idea of some kind of interrogation of diplomats, I really don’t know anything about that. And as I said, we did approve over 200 visas for the delegation, so I don’t know of any difficulties or problems that that posed for us.

On the second question, we have made clear that in the case of the overflight request on President Maduro’s trip to China the procedures weren’t completely followed in that the request came in very late, which makes it difficult for us. We have procedures in place for a reason, because there are so many of them that come in.

In the case of coming to New York for the UN General Assembly, obviously, it’s a slightly different process because we’re talking about a plane that would land as opposed to one that would overfly, and you have the added issue of the Headquarters Agreement and our desire to comply with that and to make sure that we are not impeding people from speaking at the UN. I don’t know that there were procedures that were violated during that process, but there was a great deal of confusion in terms of information on what kind of a plane would be coming, what nationality or whose plane that was, and when the delegation might be arriving.

Again, I want to underscore, regardless of how we got to the endpoint, we were completely prepared to approve Venezuelan planes coming in with the delegation for the General Assembly. And it was only after that that, apparently, President Maduro made the decision not to come. So in the end, there were no procedural bars to his coming.

QUESTION: Hi, Roberta. I like this of every year, at the same time and the same place, so thank you to – for coming again. I have a little bit the same question as last year, Iran.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: You’re going to have to refresh my memory anyway on that.

QUESTION: Yeah, so, I – now, first of all, Timerman, our Foreign Minister, told us yesterday that Argentina has asked formally, officially to the United States to include the subject of the AMIA in the conversation of the group of 5+1. So I wanted to know if there is an answer to that.

And second, as you probably know, tomorrow there is a meeting between Timerman and the Foreign Minister of Iran to discuss the memorandum that they signed last May. Last year, you were very, very skeptic --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- about this memorandum and about the whole thing. Does – this year you have the same impression, or did things change in Iran in a way that – in a way it could go forward also in the investigation for the AMIA?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Let me start out by talking about the P-5+1 and the AMIA case. And I’m going to start out by acknowledging that not being a part of the P-5+1 negotiations – for obvious reason, it’s not my area of specialty – I can’t tell you exactly what’s on the agenda and what isn’t. We did obviously – I did receive the Argentine request to include the AMIA issue in that. There are a lot of issues under discussion. That is a pretty crowded agenda, so I just don’t know whether that has been discussed or when or whether it will be. But we did, obviously, receive that request.

I think to be honest, more important is the second part of your question about the possibility of further conversations or movement between Argentina and Iran on the AMIA bombing case. You’re quite right to characterize my remarks last year as skeptical. I think that’s the way I remained for the vast majority of the year. And I’ve been honest, and others in the U.S. Government have been honest about that with the Argentine Government. It’s certainly true that in the years since that commission was announced, there does not appear to have been any movement on the substance of the question; that is, whether there will be people brought to justice for the AMIA bombing.

Whether that is more likely now than it was a year ago, I think is a very profound and important question. Obviously, given the fact that the Secretary saw the Foreign Minister of Iran in the P-5+1 conversations the other day, the first time we’ve had that high a level contact in quite a while, and given some of the things that we’ve seen from the Iranian Government, there are, I think, throughout the international community, hopes that things will have changed sufficiently in Iran for there to be different kinds of relationships and movements on a range of issues of concern to the international community. That would certainly include Argentina on the AMIA bombing.

But hope is not necessarily a policy. We’ve also been clear that we have to see results; we have to see actions, not just words, and I would assume that the same is true for Argentina. So while we all hope that this means more positive movement on issues the international community has been concerned about for quite a while, as we say, the jury is still out on whether that will be the case.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to Washington for the next question.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Pablo from BBC Brazil. I just would like to steer it back to the NSA issue, because the legislative piece that has been discussed at the Senate Intelligence Committee, actually, while it makes it harder for the NSA to collect data from Americans, it actually gives it more flexibility to collect data from foreigners. So how exactly would U.S. Government expect to satisfy foreign governments, not just only Brazil?

And then there’s the other part of the --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I’m sorry, can I just ask – what proposal are you talking about? A Brazilian proposal?

QUESTION: I’m discussing the bill that has been discussed at the Senate Intelligence Committee.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: U.S.

QUESTION: So in the – so exactly how would you expect to satisfy foreign governments? And obviously, this has been a key issue between Brazil and the U.S.

And then the second part of my colleague’s question, in the absence of any formal apology, many actually believe they are never coming. So if you could comment on those two things, please. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: It’s always difficult to comment on other people’s expectations, but I’ll do the best I can. On the first issue, honestly, as a person who is not an intelligence professional full-time, I don’t know the particulars of the Senate intelligence bill. But I will say in terms of how we satisfy concerns of partners and allies moving forward, that is the fundamental goal of the President’s desire to review our posture on this issue. And it has to end up falling under some very clear principle. One, that in cases of national security or overall, that intelligence will be collected as it is by many, many governments around the world to support the national security of the United States to make sure that we have information on people who may be doing bad things all over the world using networks that are outside their own country to make sure that we protect ourselves.

In addition, I think the President has been very clear that we want to make sure that we have looked at the kind of intelligence we collect and made sure that it really does follow the President’s guidelines in being important for the United States. But he has also made clear that he is concerned about transparency. He has made very clear that we want to work with our allies to ensure that this issue does not get in the way of many other areas that we want to move forward on and that we have to move forward on, also for our national security or for our economic security.

Among those, for example, he’s made very clear that we don’t engage in industrial espionage. We do not collect intelligence for private companies in the United States. And so I think that what the President will do is lay out a number of principles that he has begun to already, and as part of this review, we will continue having conversations, as we have begun to with a number of countries in this region and beyond, to ensure that we have kind of a free flow of information to the extent possible that we hope will satisfy people’s concerns and reassure them that this is going forward in a way that is true to our values and to the importance of the partnerships that we have around the world.

I think on the second issue, the President has spoken to the issue. He has made it very clear that he regrets this and that he understands the concerns of many countries around the world.

MODERATOR: Let’s go to the questioner (inaudible) front row.

QUESTION: Hi, Claudia Torrens from the Spanish Service of the Associated Press. Can you tell us a little bit more about the meeting between the Secretary of State Kerry and the Brazilian Foreign Minister? If you could tell us or be more specific about what they have talked about? And also, there’s been some talk here about a problem between Colombia and Costa Rica mostly, to Panama to – and Nicaragua. They have complained to the UN about what they say is all these expansion desires that Nicaragua has over some sea borders. What is the U.S. position on this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you. First, let me just say on the meeting that the Secretary had with the Brazilian Foreign Minister, it was an excellent meeting. It was one that was important for us. The Secretary had not yet met his Brazilian counterpart. And I think that it was important that they have this opportunity to establish and launch that relationship. They talked about moving ahead on the bilateral agenda, making sure that we continue with some of the dialogues that we have launched that we think are particularly important – whether that’s the CEO forum, which is not governments necessarily – it’s mostly private sector individuals – the strategic energy dialogue, other things that we have moved ahead with. This past summer, we had our joint action plan – a review of our joint action plan on the elimination of racial discrimination. So there are a number of areas in which we want to continue moving ahead that they did talk about.

Obviously, we also talked briefly about Syria – that’s the subject on everybody’s mind – and about the importance of the Executive Council’s decision at the OPCW that will be taken tonight, where I think that we and the Brazilian Government will be very much in sync. And they talked a little bit about Middle East peace efforts that Secretary Kerry is making, and the importance of those and moving ahead and ways in which we can work with other partners to support that process going forward.

So it was a pretty broad range of issues that they talked about, and I think it was a terrific start to what is a complicated relationship, that you can never deal with all of the issues in it in one meeting because it’s so multifaceted, and that was reflected in the conversation.

On the territorial disputes, let me say that we have clearly noted over the last few months an increase in tension among countries in the region over border disputes that have been longstanding, but an increase in the tensions between countries. That always worries us. This is a region of peace. We and our neighbors, I think, are very proud of that, rightly so. And it is a region in which I think all countries want to and should resolve their differences, whether territorial or otherwise, through dialogue, through peaceful conversation, whether that is direct or through international organizations such as the International Court of Justice. We have no doubt that that’s the way these difficulties will be solved. We do not see a region on the brink of war, clearly.

But we do think it’s important that countries be able to reduce those tensions. We think it’s important that actions not be taken that make those territorial disputes more difficult. And we obviously do not want to interpose ourselves in such disputes in a way that, frankly, would not be helpful. So we have had conversations with our counterparts and our allies in the region throughout the hemisphere on those issues, but it is mostly to strengthen and support efforts to try and resolve them through dialogue.

MODERATOR: I think we have time for one or two more questions. Let’s start with Glen.

QUESTION: Thanks. Glen Ashby, Trinidad & Tobago syndicated columnist. I have a very “quiet question,” quote-un-quote, and that is: To what extent – or how much credence do you give to cultural diplomacy as a means of engagement, especially in the English-speaking Caribbean region?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: That’s a really interesting question. Let me say that I actually think this Administration has seen an interesting shift in our diplomacy on cultural issues, and I would include in that, frankly, education and English. I think for many years, for various reasons, we neglected a little bit some of the cultural side of our relationships, the amount of English teaching we were doing, the amount of educational programs that we had. I think maybe the Cold War was part of that, to be honest. There was a lot more focus on hard power than on what Secretary Clinton has called “soft power.” But I think there’s been a return to that form of diplomacy, and not just to sort of doing it for its own sake, because it’s nice and it makes us feel good, but to the importance of that in creating connections between what we now call civil society, but what is population to population, the importance of that in creating relationships that both survive strains and tensions and that are deeper than what can be done just by government to government.

So you see, for example, what I would call a bit of a renaissance in our binational centers, which aren’t government-run, but which really do very much support the work of governments in the way they want to connect students and youth and communities. You see a push towards English. You see that push clearly because it’s absolutely necessary for educational exchanges, but you also see it because there is an understanding and a hunger, I think, for language learning throughout the world that is made easier, in some respects, by obviously digital media and new technologies that enable us to bring that to people who might not have had the opportunity.

But you also see, I think, an appreciation for diaspora communities that has not always been the case in the past. And it is, I think, particularly appropriate to talk about the importance of diaspora communities in the Caribbean, or from the Caribbean when you’re standing in New York.

I grew up just outside of New York, grew up being in New York all the time. The vibrancy of Caribbean communities in the New York metropolitan area has always been a part of cultural life in New York, and I think it is not something that governments were particularly good at recognizing the power of. And so we look now at diaspora communities and we say they can be partners. They can be partners with us as we work with CARICOM and individual countries in the region, and as we work on things like, for example, the Small Business Network of the Americas, an initiative that the President launched at the Summit of the Americas last year, which is designed to connect entrepreneurs in the United States and small businesspeople with counterparts in home countries to try and get small business-generating jobs and economic power. Small businesses throughout the world are the engines of economic growth, and when you look at diaspora communities, they present you with a ready population of entrepreneurs who can partner in home countries because they understand the milieu. They understand the culture. They understand what’s needed to thrive. So we see that as a real sort of opportunity for growth as well.

And the final thing I would say is I think we have increasingly recognized, and not just in the multilateral arena, that our relationship with the Caribbean just cannot be taken for granted. The Vice President was in Trinidad in June, I guess it was, for a meeting with Caribbean leaders, a meeting which was incredibly wide ranging, including some great poetry quoting of Yeats and others by leaders. But it also talked about small businesses. It talked about the impact of immigration reform, which, frankly, is different in the Caribbean than it may be in the rest of the hemisphere, talked about small businesses. It talked about stimulating efforts for women entrepreneurs, a really important part of our initiatives. It talked about the potential and the danger of trafficking in persons, which we have seen in the hemisphere.

So I think we are getting better at recognizing the importance both of cultural differences and of the deep and abiding cultural similarities we have with partners in this hemisphere, but it’s something that actually relies as much on our citizens and civil society as it does on government leadership.

MODERATOR: We’ll take the final question in the front row.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. I’m Gioconda Reynolds from Voice of America, Latin American Division. And respectfully, I want to ask you if your answer can be in Spanish so our audience can hear from your voice this comment.

Translation of Spanish Question: In the context of the Asia-Pacific meeting in Washington, President Santos expressed his sadness because in President Obama’s speech Latin America was not mentioned. What message does the government of the United States have for the region so that they see know are included among the priorities of the United States.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: [In Spanish] -- Well, it’s a good question, but the very important thing from President Obama’s speech, and from President Obama’s policies, which I believe is even more important, is that normally when Presidents speak, they need, by necessity, to speak out about the most difficult issues, the tensions, the problems we have to resolve. That is really the reason for the United Nations, isn’t’ it? A place where we can come to solve the world’s most difficult problems. The truth is in that this region, although, clearly, I believe there are problems, this is a region in which we haven’t seen as many tensions, and I believe that this doesn’t mean that the President isn’t interested in Latin American and the he isn’t involved in the policies and importance of the region, especially economically. But for example, he doesn’t speak about the economic situation in that region because there is so much that he is implementing now to renew our ties to the Hemisphere economically. So I would say that the President has spoken about Latin American in global speeches many times, about the situation in Colombia, for example, which is key. The peace process, which we are supporting in every way possible, is something very important in the region and globally. And that also includes the United Nations as support. So I don’t believe it is because the President is not interested in the region, it’s because he has confidence in partners in the region, we can solve the problems largely without the intervention of an organization like the United Nations. Thank you. [End Spanish].

MODERATOR: Thank you very much for joining us today, and that concludes today’s briefing.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you.

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