10:00 A.M. EST
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. We’re really pleased today to have two speakers for you: the Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs and Special Assistant to the President at the White House, Ricardo Zuniga, and – who you know well, I can see that already – and our own Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson.
So they’re here to provide you a readout from President Obama’s participation at the 2014 North America Leaders’ Summit, which just took place, as you know. They’ll both make some introductory remarks and then we’ll move to the Q&A, so let’s just get started right away and have you start off.
MR. ZUNIGA: Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
MR. ZUNIGA: So I’m happy to go over some of the details of the events themselves, but what I wanted to do is provide a little bit of context and highlight some of the main areas where the leaders showed some – showed movement and were able to advance the trilateral agenda that we’ve been working very actively since the last North American Leaders’ Summit.
So on Wednesday, the United States, Canada, and Mexico shared their hope and vision for a prosperous and secure future for our citizens. That was reflected in the leaders’ statement. This is more than about the size of our economic relationships, although they are vast and we are each other’s largest export destinations and among our largest trading partners. So it is – this is – North America is where all three of us really found our prosperity, and our prosperity is based on these relationships, but it is more than that.
This is a region that’s increasingly interconnected, and that affects every aspect of the citizens’ lives in all three countries. And so the President wanted to have an opportunity to highlight what matters most in the relationship and what is most visible, but also some of what is helping build those increasingly integrated structures.
So our economies are deeply integrated. The U.S. trade with goods -- in goods -- with Canada and Mexico has more than tripled over the last 20 years, and today, it’s more than $1 trillion annually, over $3 billion a day -- something that all three leaders highlighted in their public remarks as well as in their meeting. Just by way of example, Canada and Mexico, as our biggest export markets, are the destination for more goods individually than we sell to Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa combined. So it gives you a sense of scale of where these relationships are.
And as the President highlighted in his remarks, it’s more than about selling things to each other. It’s about building things together. And a lot of the attention, much of the focus of the decisions that were undertaken by the leaders were focused on ways that we can increase our competitiveness in the world by making it easier to trade with each other. They also talked, again, about – on the global scale -- about our shared commitment to the rapid conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is something that all three leaders indicated support for and concluding them as quickly as possible, but also ensuring that these are high-standard agreements that carry us to the next level and that help North America level the playing field in trade more efficiently with one of the fastest growing economic areas in the world – the Trans-Pacific region.
We also talked about regional and global cooperation. There was an emphasis in the discussions on the work that we can do together in Central America to increase competitiveness in Central America, to raise levels of development, and to help address security issues. And there were some specific areas that we’re happy to talk about a little later on that. We also talked among ourselves about citizen security and the recognition of the fact that prosperity and security go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. And in our discussions with Mexico and Canada, we have very strong bilateral relationships with each of them on security issues.
What we talked about was what we can do together to focus on what we can do as a region – as a North American region – on issues related to confronting global threats such as international terrorism, cybercrime, those sorts of things that have a serious impact potentially on our security as a group. As we are more interconnected, we are – we have greater vulnerability to events in each other’s countries, so we have a shared interest in ensuring each other’s security.
So I just wanted to highlight a couple of the key areas that – where there was some movement. First, creating a North American Trusted Traveler Program. This is something that we – these trusted traveler programs are something that we already have well underway with each country. Now we’re looking at how we can do this on a trilateral basis. Harmonizing trade data consistent with our – with international standards to make it easier for companies to import and export from the region. Mexico, Canada, and the United States each have different sets of requirements for traders, and they will continue to do so according to their own national guidelines, but there is a much greater opportunity for interoperability among these.
The President, right before he arrived in Mexico, signed an executive order that is going to streamline the process for importers and exporters from the United States. Instead of having to send paperwork to some 42 agencies across the U.S. Government, this is going to create a “single window” for goods to be processed. And that’s very important for Canada and Mexico and for our relationships with Canada and Mexico given the predominance of those two countries in our trade.
We’re also looking at creating a North American transportation plan to bring greater order to our regional infrastructure, and also to strengthening our trilateral regulatory cooperation. Again, since we build things together, having similar standards and requirements makes more sense in some areas. We’re also going to be looking at other areas in terms of innovation and education. One key to our competitiveness is the skill of our workforce, and that makes us highly productive on the global – in the global economy. So we’re going to be increasing student exchanges, and that’s part of that, but also finding what we can do to build skills in the existing workforce.
On energy and climate change, the leaders announced that we’ll hold a North American energy ministerial later in 2014. Again, this is an area for priority work by all three governments. On citizen security, among – aside from the issues that I already mentioned, there’s also going to be increased collaboration to combat trafficking in persons, a matter that affects all three countries.
And finally, just as a specific example of what we’re going to be doing, in Central America, we’re going to be working together to support a disaster risk insurance pool. And what this does is it creates the ability for regional governments to pool their resources and purchase insurance to meet immediate needs following a natural disaster. And this is something that exists already in the Caribbean. There is interest in working with Central American governments to support their own ongoing efforts to create such a pool.
So with that, those are the highlights, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions with specifics about the events.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thanks, Ricardo. I think Ricardo has very successfully captured the substance of the conversations that the three leaders had. I think having spent more time on the North American relationship than Ricardo, since I’ve been doing it – it feels like forever, but it’s not – but either with Mexico bilaterally or on the trilateral relationship for close to 10 years now, and been part of in some way all of the previous North American Leaders’ Summits, I think there was a level of enthusiasm and a level of achievement at this summit that had not been present recently.
And I think this is a little bit what the leaders meant when they talked about a North American moment, about the North American vision. And obviously, it does come 20 years after NAFTA, when the world has changed pretty dramatically, and these three leaders want to make sure that North America remains highly competitive and out in front of the rest of the world, not responding to it. These are young leaders – two of them veterans, obviously, one of them a bit newer. But there is, I think, a vision that the three of them have, in part because of their age and their perspective on the world that I think is quite complementary.
The other couple things I would say is I thought it was interesting and important that so many of the themes that you saw the President highlight in the State of the Union were very much present in this summit. And it reinforces the – sort of what we like to call at the State Department the intermestic nature of the North American relationships. They are both foreign policy and in some ways very much directly connected to our domestic policy and our domestic well-being. So I think that was very important.
And I also thought – Ricardo talked about the focus on energy and climate change. That was a big part of the discussion. And obviously, as North America increases its energy production and really becomes a powerhouse on the energy side, that is what makes possible greater discussion about what may be done in conjunction for Central America and the Caribbean where this issue is so critical in part because of climate change issues. So there’s a very real connection there.
And then finally, I would mention – Ricardo alluded to it – when these three leaders get together, they always talk about the rest of the world. We have a way of looking at the world that is similar based on values and democratic principles and open economic systems that enables us to have a conversation about things that concern us in the region and in the world that is always very productive.
I’ll stop there. Thank you.
MODERATOR: All right. We’ll open the floor up for questions, then. All right.
QUESTION: Good morning. I’m Julio Morenco with NTN24. Since – I’m going to take on your last sentence, that the leaders talk about the rest of the world and the region, specifically. And I want to know if there’s any new developments regarding Venezuela. The State Department has knowledge of the expulsion of the three diplomats and we’re still waiting on the response from the State Department. And we want to know if you have already, like, a response.
And to Ricardo, I want to know, from the perspective from the National Security Council, how do you see the situation in Venezuela? Do you see that this can be like a threat for instability in the region, or do you see that this is going to be mainly focused in Venezuela? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, let me start off by saying that I think you all saw the President’s comments in Toluca addressing Venezuela. And part of the reason for that was our concern with things that were happening in Venezuela and the importance of making sure, as we move forward, that there is space for conversation, space for political opposition, space for peaceful protests, and I want to underscore that. We’ve been very clear that we reject and condemn violence from any quarter. But there must be space for peaceful protest and for conversations about differences of opinion on where Venezuela is going. We also have made very clear – and the President called it a distraction, but I think he’s right – we have made very clear that Venezuela’s future has been and will be for Venezuelans to decide, not for the United States, and we are being used in this in a way that is not productive.
On the expulsion of our three diplomats, they are all back in the United States now. I will be meeting with them today. We are still in the process of our decision as to how we will respond, and that will be made public when we come to the conclusion of it. But as you know, there are a range of things the government can do, and we’ll make that decision and announce those when we have decided.
MR. ZUNIGA: So just adding on to Roberta’s comments, another element that has really concerned us has been the emphasis on suppressing freedom of expression and access by the media to cover events that are ongoing. And one of the most important things is that the population in Venezuela and the international community have a very clear understanding of what’s happening. And so we would in particular call on respect for the media and respect for freedom of expression, as Roberta mentioned.
With respect to how we view the situation in Venezuela in regional terms, number one, Venezuela is a very important country in South America. It has a population that is highly sophisticated and involved across the spectrum of inter-American activities. So we do have a very clear understanding of Venezuela’s importance, but it really is most important in terms of the respect for hemispheric norms. We’re all bound by the Inter-American Democratic Charter, including Venezuela. There has to be a clear demonstration of respect for the norms that are displayed there. You cannot simply separate a very large portion of your population and declare them to be somehow in opposition to democracy because they do not concur with your political views.
So for us what’s most important is that the region continue to express its support for respect for democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms in Venezuela. We’re going to continue to address those as well. And just to follow on to what Roberta said, this is not about the United States. For us, this has always been about process and not personalities, and we are going to continue to focus on respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights in Venezuela where we have grave concerns.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sonia Schott, with RCN in Colombia and Diario de las Americas. My question is for both. Since the United States is championing democracy around the world, I would like to know: Do you still consider Venezuela a democracy? And what is the fine line that defines a country? It’s a democracy or not, this – or it’s not a democracy? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: As important as I think it is that countries abide by the norms of democracy, I think that you’re always looking at a spectrum, not a moment in time when something becomes undemocratic or democratic. Clearly, the Venezuelan people want to be able to express their opinions peacefully, and that is a fundamental part of democracy, as is in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, a free press. It is called a fundamental component.
So it is not a question of declaring at a particular moment in time whether something is or is not a democracy. Ricardo’s absolutely right. All of us in the Americas who took that commitment to both the OAS charter and then the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which made more specific and fulsome our responsibilities, are at this point responsible for upholding those tenets. And that is very, very important in this moment. We are seeing elements of that that are not being respected, and that’s why we speak out and urge the government to allow people to protest peacefully and express their opinion.
And just as important is to ensure that those citizens or groups have more than just peaceful protest as a way of channeling their concerns, right? One goes to peaceful protest, if the institutions of government are not otherwise available for channeling those requests. And we have seen over the last number of years a weakening of democratic institutions in Venezuela as well. And that is what concerns us, is that citizens need to be able to go, whether it’s to ministries of government and have their voices heard, whether it’s the judiciary, the legislature, the separate and equal and independent parts of government, as well as to hear from and explain through a free and independent media. All of those are part of what makes up democracy, not just elections. And all of those have to be available to the citizens of Venezuela to pursue their agenda and their goals.
MR. ZUNIGA: That’s – just one thing on that, precisely – that’s precisely correct. It is more about the mechanics, more than just about the mechanics of democracy; it’s about fostering a democratic culture. And everything that Roberta mentioned is what goes into fostering such a culture, and that’s been our concern. The erosion of that support for civil society institutions and the ability of the population to fully express itself and participate in the democratic process is the most pressing concern for us.
MODERATOR: Do you want to move on or --
MR. ZUNIGA: Yes.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our Canadian colleague had raised his hand a long time ago. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m Paul Koring with The Globe and Mail. I have a question, I guess for Roberta, given your long history on the file --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Given my age. You can say it, Paul. Given my age. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, no, I’m --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: It’s okay. I opened that door.
QUESTION: I was going to start out by asking about Trudeau and Reagan, but that would have just dated me so badly. (Laughter.)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thank you.
QUESTION: In any event, you gave a fairly upbeat assessment of the kind of interaction between these three leaders, but I’ve been reading communiques long enough to know that when you get a whole series of planning and creating and intending and hoping and all those “-ings” in a communique, sometimes means that not much got done, but that there was a lot of hopeful, forward-looking happy talk. Can you kind of square that circle? What got done?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I can try. I think there’s a couple of things. First of all, I think gerunds are good. (Laughter.) I think – I’m pro-gerund. I think in part what that reflects is a feeling of renewal or reactivated or energy among the presidents. I don’t think any of them would deny that we haven’t been moving as fast as we would like over the last few years – whether it’s because of recession in individual countries and globally, whether it’s because of efforts elsewhere that needed to be brought to fruition – obviously the Obama Administration was very focused in its first term on the pending trade deals that we had and moving those forward. And so I think when you look at things that are being launched, decided, or things that are being accelerated, it is not unfair to say that there was a sense from the presidents that more probably should have been done, right, especially while we were focused extensively on our domestic job creation. But there was a recognition that the domestic job creation, the competitiveness at home, the development of the next workforce depends on working with these two countries to get it done.
So it isn’t unfair to say that some of these things are prospective. But it also, I have to say, as a bureaucrat sitting at the table with the leaders, it was also a pretty swift kick in the pants for bureaucracies to get these things done. The leaders feel very strongly that a lot of the things that we are doing will bear fruit, whether it’s the Trusted Traveler Program, which is really fairly novel, this notion that we will integrate our Trusted Traveler Programs. And it’s always been enormously important that we increase our Trusted Traveler Program so that we can all focus on those goods, people, whatever that may be, in fact, threats or risks.
So these are incredibly important initiatives, and the President’s – and the prime minister made very clear that they expect movement on this, that they not be – get bogged down, and that in some places where they felt it has gotten bogged down, they want to see that movement sooner than the next summit, right?
So I do think there is a legitimate analysis that says this is more forward looking than, “we have achieved the following…”, but I think there is also a great sense of possibility for the coming year.
MR. ZUNIGA: So let me just add to that, since I was involved in helping craft some of those gerunds. (Laughter.) Look, I know – look, let me say this. First of all, the push really did come from the leaderships in all three countries. I can tell you that there was extensive discussion in the White House, and the level among the leadership is quite high. What we’re talking about – the real challenge is that we’re now talking about the hardest elements of driving integration among our countries. We have three different regulatory systems. We have trading systems that have converged quite a bit, but are still rather far apart. And we have tried to address as much of this as we could, but also to try to set a high bar for ourselves. Because the fact is the way that North America becomes more competitive is by reducing the barriers between the three countries so that we can export to the world. In the case of Mexico, 37 cents of every dollar they export are – contain U.S. products. In the case of Canada, it’s at least 25 cents on every dollar that Canada exports. And U.S. exports also contain a very large component of both Mexican and Canadian import – excuse me – inputs.
So what you see is a very clear understanding of where it is that our prosperity is going to come from in the coming decades, and trying to deal with the mechanics of bringing our systems together wherever we can. That is very challenging work, but it’s also work where we have a clear direction from all three leaders to get it done.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Let me also just add that one of the things you also see, I think, in this communique is – and I have to say this is – this makes me sad and happy at the same time because I feel like Bob Pastor is looking down on us – the acolyte, really – all of us are acolytes of Bob in looking at North America. But a lot of what we’re really trying to do now is take parallel bilateral processes and make them truly trilateral. And as Ricardo says, that is very hard, but that is actually where we have to go. And we were honestly kind of content to look at progress that was bilateral for quite a while, and I think what our leaders said to us is “I don’t understand why we can’t be doing this all three of us together now.”
MODERATOR: And now we’ll stay with the third row there.
QUESTION: My name’s Alex Panetta with the Canadian Press, and I won’t be quizzing you on your grammar. Just – the President said something that was – that some people found intriguing about greenhouse gas emissions during the final press conference. He suggested that he and Stephen had had a chat after lunch about working together to reduce GHGs. Without asking you to roll out the details of any possible plan, I’d just like to get some clarity about what general type of initiative he might have been referring to. So could you please just walk us through some of the possibilities that he might have been referring to?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Well, I’m going to start off by saying we can’t actually – we couldn’t reveal to you if we wanted to what they actually said since we weren’t in that conversation that was between the two leaders. And I’ll leave it to Ricardo to see how we’d like to characterize the subject matter, though.
MR. ZUNIGA: Well, look, we do see the President and the – all three leaders recognize the importance of energy in North America. The fact is that we have a comparative advantage as a region, and that is making us more productive for the moment. But the President also signaled that because of that advantage, we also have a particular responsibility in the international community to set the targets as high as we can and as ambitiously as we can. We have this moment.
And so the idea is to use – we have tremendous levels of cooperation on environmental issues, not just through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, but we also work together under the Montreal Protocol on phasing down HFC production and consumption, on continuing coordination in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, and something else that we kind of left off in a lot of our discussion which is the ECPA, the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas that will be hosted by Mexico, is another opportunity to take this advantage that we have and focus to the future on how we can take this moment to work together to set a clear path for the international community. That is a special responsibility that we see.
I think there’s an understanding that the multilateral system as it exists right now is important, but we should – there’s a lot more that we can do, and in fact, a lot of that leadership is being shown in North America right now, and seeing what we can do to kind of amp that up is a big part of the discussion.
Roberta’s right – since we weren’t in those personal discussions, I am in no position to share the details which is a very lucky position for us.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Leaders always retain the right to talk to each other without us present.
MR. ZUNIGA: We keep trying.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I know, right? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you. Ruben Barrera with the Mexican news agency Notimex. I have two questions – one for Ricardo and one for – well, the other one for both.
Ricardo, the same day that the international meeting ends, a couple of hours later, the foreign minister of Mexico, Mr. Meade, he said publicly that President Obama promised President Pena Nieto that the U.S. won’t be spying anymore on him. So the question is, I wondered if he made that the same offer to Minister Harper, and if he has been doing the same offer to another Latin American leader, especially President Rousseff from Brazil.
And my second question goes to the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. The border is not the same place when you were stationed at Brownsville (ph), Ricardo, and that’s something that caught my attention because what have been hear before the meeting, and what have been hear here for a long time is about this good momentum in the relationship between both countries. But the border seems to reflect a different reality.
So I wonder how can you square that, especially when we – I mean, just two days ago we have another case of a Mexican undocumented or a Mexican citizen shot and killed by a border patrol agent. According with Mexico, since 2010, 21 Mexicans have been killed by border patrol agents. And which seems like the border is reflecting the constant tension between both countries, that again goes against all the things – nice things that we hear coming out from either the Congress or the White House.
MR. ZUNIGA: So let me take the first part, and then Roberta will weigh in on the questions. But on the first one, I should tell you that the President laid out in his January 17th speech the principles that he has established and the plans and the actions that he’s instructed his interagency to proceed with, with respect to the issue of the disclosures – of the (inaudible) disclosures. So he’s on the record, it’s very clear, he laid out a path for our actions on this.
We’ve continued throughout this to consult with governments and with friends and allies, and Mexico is one of those friends and allies that we’ve maintained a very good level of discussion with. And we – as these issues arise, we continue to talk through those.
On the second question you asked, I’m going to let Roberta respond, but I will say having been in the Matamoros side of the border 20 years ago, at that point there was also a – there were daily issues that maybe didn’t have the same level of profile. They were considered more local issues. But a lot of those matters we’re continuing to deal with today with a much higher level of transit, especially in terms of trade. And you’re right, the world has changed. But the fact is this is something we continue to work through, just like any two countries on a border of that size and with that level of activity between them.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Yeah. I mean, let me start out by saying that obviously the incident that occurred a couple of days ago – any incident of use of force by border patrol or violence coming from those who may be crossing or responding by border patrol is something that both they and we regret greatly. It is not obviously what we’d like to see.
But I think that you have to look at the entire border over the last year or two and the way in which we’ve been working together with the Mexican Government, and then you come up, I think, with a situation in which the reality is much closer to the political statements. That is to say in the last year or two, since the Pena Nieto government came to office, it has been very important for that government to have a conversation with us about border violence and about the response to border violence, something we agree with. We held a number of very important meetings on including as part of our bilateral human rights dialogue on border violence and how we were going to respond. We’ve had reciprocal visits by each country to talk about what our border forces confront every day, what their rules of engagement may be, how they’re trained, what techniques they can use, and how they can communicate more fluidly across the border, because the threats may be ones that are equally problematic on both sides of the border.
And so there is no doubt that there is still violence along the border. There are still criminal actors who may be moving people, who may be moving drugs, who may be moving bulk cash. Both of us want to be able to reduce that in ways that are humane and legal. But the – I would argue that all of the positive things that you hear from leaders about the way in which we’re working together, in fact, includes the border, even though you have circumstances that are very regrettable of violence and, in this case, death of somebody who was crossing.
And even though Mexico may protest those actions, this is how responsible countries continue to deal with a problem which both have acknowledged, “this is a problem” – how the border is managed and reducing levels of violence, and we have seen significant reductions in violence in some areas. This was the first incident that resulted in death in over a year, I believe. Now obviously we’d like that to be even longer, but we’re going to continue working on this with Mexico, which has proven to be a good partner on these issues.
QUESTION: Hi, good morning. Luis Alonso with the AP. I would like to do a follow-up on what was discussed previously on Venezuela, if I may? Director Zuniga, I see that today this morning in several social networks people from the opposition in Venezuela have been organizing, trying to place thousands of calls to the White House phone number asking for help – S.O.S. Venezuela in the message. So my question is: We have seen that the U.S. has been calling for the respect of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, but so far, these callings have had no visible – have not made a difference on the ground there. What could the White House, what could – what kind of help could the White House do to these requests from the activists?
And my other question for Assistant Secretary: I would like to know whether among the measures taken to respond to the expulsion of the three diplomats from Venezuela, is one of those options to bring the – ask the activation of the charter at the OAS or not? That’s out of the question? That’s not one of the options being – thank you.
MR. ZUNIGA: So on the first question, look, it’s not just calls from the United States. I think this is the most important element I want to emphasize here. It’s not – this is not an issue between the United States and Venezuela. This is an issue between the Venezuelan Government and its people, and it is also a matter of concern to the inter-American community as a whole, but not just to the inter-American community. The EU has also called for a cessation of violence and respect for freedom of expression and assembly. The OAS has signaled that as well. The OAS secretary general has signaled that as well. Many governments across the region have expressed their concern.
So we want to make clear that we do support the ability of the Venezuelan people to fully exercise their freedoms and to be able to express themselves without fear of violence or repression. That is very important. As part of that, I want to make clear that this is not a – this is not primarily about the United States. We are a member of the international community, and a community that is calling for improved conditions, respect for freedoms and human rights in Venezuela.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Let me say that on the response to the PNGs, to the expulsions of Americans, I think it’s really important that we act in response within the Vienna Convention, within the rights and responsibilities that we have in our diplomatic relationship with Venezuela.
The Inter-American Democratic Charter is a regional document, an expression of commitment via the OAS, to which Venezuela and all of the other countries of the OAS are adherents. That’s not something that we would invoke as part of a response to a bilateral action, in part because of what Ricardo said – because the two things are entirely separate. Even though the Venezuelan Government, in expelling our people on baseless charges, may be trying to conflate the two things, they are not the same. Our relationship with Venezuela is not Venezuelan Government’s relationship with its people.
The other thing I want to say is we have already been talking about the instruments of the inter-American system and the situation in Venezuela. If you look at what was discussed the other day at the OAS in the Permanent Council, we made a statement, many others made statements, the Venezuelan representative spoke for a very long time, and we, with our colleagues from other countries around the hemisphere, have already discussed the issue of upholding the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, including the right to peaceful assembly and protest, the right to freedom of expression.
So one can formally invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter and we’ll see whether that proves the right tool for this. But its principles and even the forum that is the OAS have already begun to be discussed.
MODERATOR: I think we may only have time for one more. The lady in the third row.
QUESTION: Hi, Meagan Fitzpatrick from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and it’s time for a Keystone XL Pipeline question for you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: (inaudible). (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It’s about time, right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: You guys were going to be out of character and I was loving it.
QUESTION: No, no. How much time did the two leaders spend talking about it? And was it the same old conversation with Prime Minister Harper pressing Obama for an answer, and that answer to be improving it and Obama saying that the process is being followed? Or was it not the typical conversation? Was there any nugget of news in there that you can give us in terms of what they discussed?
And a secondary question: The decision from the Nebraska court, what impact might that have on the State Department’s process? Are you sticking to the 90-day timeline? Will that be adjusted? Just generally, what does that decision mean to the State Department process? Thank you.
MR. ZUNIGA: I’ll take the first part of that. And before the summit, it was very clear what the President says privately is what he says publicly: This is – there’s a process in place. The process will be followed. There is no news for us to make until that process has been completed. And that’s also what was contained in the conversation. At this point, this really is about process, and it’s an established – that process – we’ve been very clear and the President has also been very clear about what considerations are important to him as he reviews this, once it reaches him.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: On the Nebraska decision, all I can say is it’s still a little bit early. I don’t know the answer to that question, and I know that lots of lawyers are looking at what the implications of it may be on our process. Nebraska has its own process that it has to go through, so I think it’s – I don’t have an answer to you as to how this will affect the timing or whether it will affect the timing. And I do think that’s the open question.
QUESTION: Maybe (inaudible) in a different way, like – Harper raises this every time with Obama when they meet. We’ve had several Canadian ministers coming to Washington lobbying on Capitol Hill. Their – our government is spending millions of dollars on an advertising campaign. Is all of that really a waste of time and money, then, if it’s just a process being followed?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: I would never criticize the Canadian Government’s sovereign decision on how it uses either its time or its resources, seriously. I just don’t think that’s something I’m going to comment on. Their decision.
MODERATOR: That was pretty short, and we’ll have time for one more over there.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: (Laughter.) Uh-oh.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Lucia Leal with EFE News Services. Thank you so much. It’s a question on Venezuela for both of you. I wanted to know if you’re concerned about the situation of the opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez who is held in military jail. And also, related to that, President Maduro has said that the Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS got a phone call from a State Department official threatening with retaliation in case Leopoldo Lopez was captured. You’ve denied all involvement in this, but I wanted to know if you’d also deny that specific allegation. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Let me start with Leopoldo Lopez, because I need to make sure that everyone understands that I am repeating what we’ve said. So we have already spoken about this, which is to say, yes, we are concerned. We’re concerned about the – his situation and about the legal process moving forward. What’s very important and very clear is that having been detained after being part of a peaceful protest that he outlined was important to remain peaceful, it was clear that there was violence at those protests, and I am not assigning blame. I do not know who may have instigated violence, but I will say that we are very concerned that this not have a chilling effect on the opposition, which it seems to me it may have been designed to do. Most important is that any charges brought against him be thoroughly adjudicated in an impartial and transparent way, and there is great concern about that, given past practice recently in Venezuela. So I think that we do have concerns about that case in particular.
On the issue of what Ambassador Chaderton said at the OAS the other day, let me also be clear: We never denied we had a phone conversation with the Venezuelan Government. One of the things that Secretary Kerry was quite clear about in his conversation with Foreign Minister Jaua last June in Guatemala, when we sought to put our relationship on a more positive and pragmatic footing, was that it was important that when we had differences, we discuss those differences in diplomatic channels and not through the media alone, which is the reason that we made a phone call to the only Venezuelan Government representative of a senior rank in the United States at the time to have a conversation about things that concerned us.
Among the things that concerned us as a possible trigger to more tension was arrest of opposition leaders. It was not a threat, it was not a demand; it was a concern that any actions that increase tensions between the government and the opposition and did not involve dialogue in the reduction of tensions and violence could be very, very damaging. Not anything more than that, and unfortunately, the Government of Venezuela did not – decided not to respond to that phone conversation in diplomatic channels, but to do so with a public – with public allegations that are not true.
So we regret that because we had hoped to have, as we had sought, a diplomatic conversation on things that concern us.
MR. ZUNIGA: The only thing I would add to that is something else that we’ve also said, which is that – and not only Leopoldo Lopez, but we call for the release of all those who have been detained in connection with these activities, or at least that they be assured a fair process. And as Roberta mentioned, we have some concerns based on recent history about the fairness of the process applied to those accused of crimes in Venezuela.
MODERATOR: Okay. Well, thank you everybody for coming. Appreciate it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY JACOBSON: Thanks, guys.
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