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Diplomacy in Action

Preview of President Barack Obama's Meeting With Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Special Briefing
Thomas A. Shannon, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
On-The-Record Briefing
Washington, DC
March 13, 2009


MR. DUGUID: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We have with us this morning Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, who has a few announcements that he wants to make, and then we’ll take a couple of your questions before we proceed to today’s briefing.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Thank you very much, happy to be here. As many of you know, Brazilian President Lula will be arriving in Washington, D.C. this evening and meeting with President Bush – excuse me, with President Obama – (laughter) – with President Obama tomorrow at the White House.

This will be the first opportunity for the Brazilian president and President Obama to meet here in Washington, D.C. They have spoken by phone several times, both after the election of President Obama and especially following his Inauguration. This, from our point of view, is a great opportunity for the United States to build on an important relationship that we have with Brazil, a country which we have an important bilateral relationship with, an important regional relationship with, and an important global relationship.

And it is a relationship that has focused broadly not only on the diplomatic challenges that we face throughout the region and globally, but also focuses on issues such as energy partnership, the fight to promote social inclusion, and especially the – our ability to work together with an international organization in pursuit of broad goals of peace and development throughout the world.

As you’re aware, the United States and Brazil, through our biofuels Memorandum of Understanding, have played an important role in building a relationship around alternative energy sources, dedicated to using energy as an important component of social and economic development, but also building into it a commitment to climate change and to environmental protection that is going to, I think, open a space for the United States and Brazil to cooperate more broadly, not only throughout Latin America, especially Central America and the Caribbean, but also in Africa and other parts of the developed world.

We have also built a relationship focused on working together to address healthcare concerns, whether it be fighting malaria in Africa or fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa. And it is our hope also to be able to deepen that commitment. This is a relationship which, as I mentioned, is both bilateral and regional. But it is a relationship that we believe has a strong global partnership component to it. It is a recognition of Brazil’s ascendancy in the world, and we think that we are at a point in which this relationship, which has had so much potential, will be able to have that potential realized in the coming months and years.

And we think that this opportunity for President Obama and President Lula to meet on Saturday is going to be an important and dramatic step forward, and I’m happy to take your questions.

MR. DUGUID: The first question to Arshad and then we’ll go to --

QUESTION: Just two quick things. It’s my understanding that President Lula would like the United States to perhaps try harder to improve its relations with some of the countries in Latin America with which ties are strained – Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba. Could you address the possibility of that in the new Obama Administration?

And then specifically on Bolivia, as you know, the Bolivian authorities expelled a Second Secretary at the U.S. Embassy on Monday, accusing him of spying. What – and yesterday, your Chargé said that you were looking at – you know, the relationship was under review. What steps are you looking at, if any, in response? Are you, for example, considering expelling the Bolivian diplomat from the United States?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: In regard to our larger relationship, especially as we look towards the Summit of the Americas, which, as you know, will be taking place in Trinidad and Tobago from April 17th through 19th, we will be going to Trinidad and Tobago with a spirit of engagement and a spirit of constructive dialogue.

One of the important founding principles of the inter-American system is the importance of a full diplomatic dialogue, the core principles of the inter-American system: equality of states, mutual respect between states, and a commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue between states depends on the ability of all countries in the region to have a high-quality conversation, and that is our intent. We are intent on engaging all countries constructively.

We appreciate Brazil’s interest in promoting constructive dialogue throughout the region. This has been an important aspect of Brazilian diplomacy for quite some time. We fully expect the Brazilians to raise some of these issues with us. We look forward to the opportunity to address them with the Brazilians, recognizing that ultimately, our willingness to engage constructively with countries around the region depends on a reciprocal willingness on their part to engage with us. And this is why, as we look forward, we want to underscore the fact that we will be going to the summit with an open and constructive attitude.

QUESTION: Bolivia?

MR. DUGUID: Next question.

QUESTION: With regard to Bolivia?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: In regard to Bolivia, I would just reiterate the fact that we believe that in order for countries to really be able to build the kind of cooperation and collaboration that needs both of our selves, and in this instance, the people of Bolivia, we need a full diplomatic dialogue and a high-quality dialogue. And regrettably, up to this point, as we have sought to engage the Bolivians around the issues that have provoked their own action, we have yet to receive what we would consider to be a coherent or a consistent response.

However, we will continue to approach the Bolivians in the hope that we can address the underlying issues that have affected the relationship with a recognition that ultimately, for this relationship to go forward in a meaningful and positive way, the Bolivians have to be prepared to engage with us around issues that are important to us in the same way that we engage with them on issues that are important to them.

MR. DUGUID: Next question, please.

QUESTION: I would like to know how does the Sean Goldman case issue fit into the conversation between the two countries? And the second thing is, what kind of cooperation do you expect from Brazil in terms of a coordinated stimulus – global stimulus package going towards the G-20 meeting?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Right. Well, in regard to the case of Sean Goldman, obviously, we’ve made it very clear that from our point of view, this is a case that falls within the purview of the Hague Convention and that Sean Goldman should be returned to his father. The Government of Brazil believes the same thing and has said so publicly. Currently, this case rests with the federal courts of Brazil.

We are hopeful that the appropriate decision will be rendered. And this is an issue of great importance to us. The President’s aware of the issue. The Secretary raised the issue when she met with Foreign Minister Celso Amorim recently. And the Secretary spoke with David Goldman last night and underscored how important this case is to the United States and how hopeful we are of a positive resolution as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Is the President going to raise the issue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I can’t say what the President’s going to say or not. That’s his decision. But obviously, he’s aware of the issue. He knows – he understands it’s important – that it is important. And as I said, the Secretary has made it very clear, both publicly and in our conversations with the Brazilians, that this is an issue that should be resolved quickly and positively in favor of Mr. Goldman under the Hague Convention.

And in regard to the larger issue of stimulus, one of the important aspects of this meeting is that there will be five members of the G-20 who will also be participating in the Summit of the Americas: The United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. And so the opportunity for President Obama to speak with President Lula about the G-20 summit, about the larger effort to address the economic crisis, both nationally through stimulus packages, but also more broadly through international action, coordinated action, is certainly going to be an important part of the conversation.

And it’s our hope, that as we look towards the Summit of the Americas that the five countries of the Americas participating in London will be able to build a pathway from London to Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago, and ensure that the decisions that both developed markets and emerging markets come to in London resonate in a positive way at the Summit of the Americas.

MR. DUGUID: Last question, please. Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. I have got two – a couple of questions. First of all, there’s – some media have said that maybe President Obama would jump from Trinidad to Brazil after the Summit of the Americas, maybe to Manaus. I would like to know whether it’s in consideration.

And secondly, about Cuba, the fact that there was this letter of the Treasury Department after this omnibus bill was approved, reassuring some Democrat senators that no major change of policy is going to be taking place – how can we expect that President Obama is going to announce some dramatic change towards Cuba after this letter?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I mean, in regard to the second question, I think President Obama made very clear during his campaign and afterwards, and Secretary Clinton made clear during her confirmation hearings, that this Administration will move to roll back restrictions on family travel and on family remittances. But this is something that in terms of timing and content, I really will leave to the White House.

And in terms of commenting more broadly on the letter sent by Treasury to members of Congress, again, I would refer you to the Treasury on that, because it’s very specifically related to the regulations that Treasury uses to enforce restrictions that are now in place.

QUESTION: But – sorry, it implies that there’s not going to be no major change then. But it say – the letter says that senators don’t have to worry about this policy and --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Well, I would add – first of all, I’d read the letter carefully and focus on what specifically that letter refers to. But then it’s best to ask that question of that part of Treasury, OFAC, that addresses Treasury issues. In regard to presidential travel, that is the purview of the White House, and I will leave it with the White House.

QUESTION: One more, Under Secretary. One more.


MR. DUGUID: One more, please.

QUESTION: If you would oblige one more question.


QUESTION: According to El Salvador, where they’re having elections on Sunday, I know it’s protocol for the State Department to say that it’s up to the nation’s citizens to decide who the leader of the nation will be. My question to you, though, is can you assure us at a minimum that the U.S. can work equally as well with either candidate if they’re elected, either Funes or Avila?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHANNON: Yeah. There’s much more than protocol. I mean, this goes beyond protocol. This goes beyond – to an important aspect of how we’re going to be engaging in this hemisphere. We’ve made it very clear that we support the democratic process in El Salvador. We will have observers, electoral observers in El Salvador, and we have supported the OAS mission in El Salvador. We are committed to free and fair elections in El Salvador. And we’ve also made it very clear that we will work with whomever the Salvadoran people elect.

I have met with both political candidates here in Washington. We have engaged both major political parties in El Salvador. And we have made it very clear that this is a choice of the Salvadoran people that we will respect and that we look forward to, continuing our very positive relationship with El Salvador, and working with the next elected government.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you. I’d like to thank the Assistant Secretary, and thank you for your questions.

PRN: 214

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