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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Media Roundtable in Santiago, Chile

Press Conference
William J. Burns
Under Secretary for Political Affairs 
Santiago, Chile
December 10, 2010


UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I’m delighted to be here in Santiago. This is my first visit to Chile as Under Secretary of State, and this is part of a regional tour which will also include Argentina and Brazil. It’s quite appropriate that I begin this tour in Chile, because Chile is one of America’s closest and most important partners anywhere in this Hemisphere. I’ve had excellent meetings earlier today with the Foreign Minister and the Interior Minister, and I’m grateful for their hospitality. I look forward to meeting later today with other political and civil society leaders, and I’d just like to make a few points before answering your questions.

First, the United States is proud of our strong partnership with Chile. It is a partnership built on mutual respect, common values, common interests, and a common vision for the future of this region and the future of the international community. Second, Chile should, obviously, take great pride in its own accomplishments over recent months and years, ranging from its remarkable recovery from earthquake and global recession, to a skillfully-managed mine rescue which captured the imagination of the entire world. Chile’s membership in the OECD is only its latest achievement along a path that has made Chile a model of economic and political openness.

Third, our bilateral relations are expanding rapidly. We are obviously close partners in disaster assistance and emergency preparedness, as we demonstrated in responding to the earthquake and the mine rescue. The Free Trade Agreement between our two countries has brought economic opportunities for both of us. The United States today is Chile’s largest foreign investor. We are working very well together on law enforcement and counternarcotics cooperation, and Secretary of Defense Gates’ recent visit highlighted the importance of defense cooperation for both of us. We share a strong commitment to non proliferation, and the United States welcomes Chile’s leadership in hosting a regional nuclear security meeting next spring. We work well together on many shared regional interests, from promoting Honduras’ reintegration to Chile’s continuing valuable contribution to stability in Haiti, from promoting social justice and human rights to protecting citizen security and sustainable development.

I’m very optimistic about the future of our relations, and I’m convinced that we can do even more together in the years ahead. President Obama and Secretary Clinton will continue to attach high priority to our relations with Chile, a country which is succeeding on many levels; a country whose success matters enormously to the United States; and a country whose success offers a strong model for the region and for developing countries around the world. So with that, again, it’s a pleasure to meet with you and I’d be glad to try to respond to your questions. Thank you for coming.

QUESTION: From Reuters, I understand that you are going to Argentina and Brazil after Chile. I was wondering what position you will take regarding the recognition of Palestine as a state, whether the U.S. is disappointed in the announcement that was made, and how do you approach it.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We’ve made clear publicly that we believe such recognition is premature, that it’s only through negotiations between the parties themselves, Palestinians and Israelis, that will be able to realize the two-state solution which is so deeply in both of their interests and in the interest of the rest of the world. The United States, as Secretary Clinton is reiterating in an important speech in Washington today, is deeply committed and feels a strong sense of urgency about making progress toward that goal.

QUESTION: (El Mercurio) Sir, I understand that this trip was arranged before the Wikileaks disclosure.


QUESTION: (El Mercurio) And, but the disclosure has hijacked in some ways a big part of the international attention, and lately yesterday one of the cables revealed that former Ambassador in Chile proposed some kind of reinforcing the leadership of Chile in the region. I was guessing if you could perhaps tell us if the United States sees the region divided in two groups, one in Chile –as you just mentioned, Chile is a good model in the world—and perhaps the other kind of countries like Venezuela. And if the U.S. wants to reinforce the leadership of countries like Chile to counter the Venezuelan influence?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: First, as you know, it’s our practice not to comment on contents of Wikileaks cables. All I would say is the United States does not see the Hemisphere as being divided into two. We see a future for the Hemisphere as one which holds a great deal of promise and certainly enormous importance for the United States. A future that can be shaped by the kind of positive agenda that Chile’s own experience, the experience of a number of other countries in the region, helps to highlight. An experience which is based on transparent democratic institutions, economic openness, respect for social justice and human rights, a common stake in working against challenges to those kind of interests, whether it comes from violent extremism or narcotics trafficking, or any of other numbers of challenges. So our emphasis is on that positive agenda, and certainly we believe that Chile embodies in many ways what’s promising and significant about that agenda.

QUESTION: Hi, Carolina Pica, Dow Jones. You mentioned the Free Trade Agreement between Chile and the U.S. I wanted to ask you if you had any conversations with Chile officials to broaden that trade agreement, and you could comment on the Transpacific Partnership?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We continue, as we have made clear publicly before, to see a great deal of promise in Transpacific Partnership and with others we have set some very ambitious goals in order to realize that promise. A I mentioned before, the bilateral Free Trade Agreement between our two countries has already produced, I think, important dividends for both of us, and created important economic opportunities. It is important for both of us to follow through on our commitments. Chile, I know, is making progress towards fulfilling the remaining commitments in the Free Trade Agreement to ensure protection of intellectual property rights. That’s in the self interest of Chile, as it seeks to make innovation and important part of its own economic future and certainly as it becomes an increasingly important foreign investor in other economies in the region. It has a deepening stake in protecting intellectual property rights, so that’s an area in which we need to continue to work together.

QUESTION: But there are no plans to broaden the existing Free Trade Agreement, to include different services or…?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: At this stage I am not familiar with plans to do that but I think there remains a great deal of potential within the confines of the existing agreement, and we are certainly open to other ways in which we can cooperate in the future.

QUESTION: (La Tercera) President Piñera said a few months ago that President Obama told him that he wants to visit Chile some time, sometime next year. Is there a plan or a specific date to do that?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, I don’t have a specific date to offer today, or a specific plan. All I would do is reinforce President Obama’s strong interest in our relationship. He’s had a number of quite constructive conversations with President Piñera, and as I said looks forward to the opportunity to meet in the future and certainly to the opportunity to visit but I don’t have any specific plans to announce today.

QUESTION: Fernando Severino from CNN Chile, I just want to go back a little to Wikileaks disclosure. Has it changed any of the face to face diplomacy after Wikileaks I mean now that you have visited Chile and then you go to Argentina, Brazil I guess it something different after the Wikileaks disclosure. Has it changed anything, I mean from the top diplomat of the United States about this?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The honest answer is that I think the Wikileaks disclosures have done significant damage to our diplomacy. Confidentiality and discretion and trust really are the core of what we do as diplomats. It’s not unique to diplomacy, it’s true for journalists, it’s true for lawyers, it’s true for doctors, it’s true in a number of other professions. Our ability to understand other societies and to have conversations and be able to protect the confidentiality of those conversations is essential to sensible policies and it’s essential to healthy relations. That’s true for the United States, and it’s also true for Chile or any other diplomatic corps around the world. So, I won’t pretend that this hasn’t done damage. It’s something, as Secretary Clinton has made very clear through her own example, that we are determined to work through with our partners in other countries and I continue to look forward to the most effective, professional kinds of conversations that we can have. But, as I said, I have to be honest, it has done damage.

QUESTION: (CNN Chile) Can you tell us something , did you talk about it with Minister Hinzpeter or…?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I had called the Foreign Minister recently to express our regret, and I certainly repeated that again today. I’ve run out of synonyms for regret in my conversations with senior officials around the world, but no, we didn’t have an extensive conversation about it today.

QUESTION: (El Mercurio) About the disclosure, you mentioned that confidentiality and trust are the core of a healthy relationship. What are the steps the U.S. is taking to rebuild that?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: In terms of our own practices, as Secretary Clinton has made clear, we’ve taken a number of steps to ensure that cables or reports by the State Department are circulated only to those in our government who have a real need to have that information. It’s always difficult to strike the proper balance between the need to know and the need to protect information. That’s become even more important after the 9/11 attacks. But we’ve taken a number of measures now to try to ensure that abuses can’t be committed. And we’re also obviously, as our Attorney General has made clear, we are conducting a very active investigation to see what action can be brought against those responsible. In particular, there’s a U.S. Army private who’s under detention right now. So, again, we’ve taken this very seriously and we will continue to.

QUESTION: (El Mercurio) And what about the partners? How do you rebuild the confidence of a partner that has been hurt…?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: First, you recognize that it’s not easy. Second, you’re honest about the damage that’s been done. Third, we try to assure our partners that the steps we’ve taken can protect the confidentiality of conversations in the future. And finally, we have to go about our business, because there’s a great deal at stake here, in terms not only of America’s interests in the world but the health of our relationships around the world. That’s not going to be an easy task, but we are going to work very hard at it.

QUESTION: (Reuters) Are you worried that the Iran nuclear program talks are ultimately due to fail. Is there perhaps another approach as to what to do about it?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The U.S. Administration has made clear our commitment to doing everything possible to resolve this issue diplomatically. We work very closely with our partners in the so-called P5+1. We understand how difficult and complicated this task is, we understand also that the core issue here is Iran’s failure over a long period of time to live up to its international obligations. That’s something that was made very clear in the most recent UN Security Council resolution, resolution 1929. So we’re committed to diplomacy, we will do everything possible to explore ways in which Iran can meet those international obligations. But the fundamental choice to be made here is Iran’s. Iran asserts that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon. The international community, including the United States, has made clear that we recognize Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy, once it satisfies those international concerns and demonstrates to the international community the exclusively peaceful purposes of its program. It shouldn’t be impossible to do that if Iran is acting in good faith.

QUESTION: (Radio BioBio) After twenty years of government of the Concertacion in Chile there has been a change, how does the United States see bilateral relations with this new administration in a different century from the past two decades, on the bilateral and regional aspects, since this government is regarded as much closer to other governments in the region who are allies to the United States like Colombia, for example, in contrast with what was in the previous administration.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you, it’s a very good question. The U.S. sees a great deal of continuity in our relationship which we’ve built, I think, step by step and strengthened over the course of recent years, just as you’ve described. And second, in terms of the basic approach that Chile has taken to its own economic modernization, to its own political development which over the course of recent governments has reflected a very strong commitment to transparent democratic institutions, respect for human rights, and as well as to regional policies which are built around those same basic interests and values. So, we see a fair amount of continuity in our relationship and in the way in which Chile is approaching those basic questions.

QUESTION: (CNN Chile) On the same question, is there is any special concern from the State Department or the U.S. about what is going on in inner issues here in Chile? For example, the Easter Island issue, the last fire at the jail, is there any special concern about internal policies in Chile?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: On the fire at the jail, which I’ve certainly read about since my arrival, I would first express our condolences for those who lost their lives and for their families, and those who are injured. Second, I would say simply that in the annual U.S. Human Rights Report we did clearly highlight some concerns about prison conditions I would quickly add that we don’t pretend to be perfect in this area ourselves. We face a number of challenges in the United States with regard to overcrowding in prisons and prison conditions. I would also note that the Chilean government has made clear in its actions and in the budget resources that it devotes to prison conditions, its attention to those issues and its determination to try to address some of those concerns.

Thank you very much.

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