**This is an English translation of this press briefing, which was held in Spanish. Please see the original Spanish transcript at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/185745.pdf **
MR. HAMMER: Hello, good afternoon and welcome to the State Department. Many of you have asked me recently, ever since we announced this, why we are doing it, so I thought that I should explain. OK, as we can see, we have quite a good turn-out and many media outlets represented here; but I have been doing interviews in Spanish for many years and many of you have asked me, “When will there be a press conference in Spanish?” It’s been coming for a while. So, we considered it. I mentioned it to Secretary Clinton and she thought that it would be a very good idea in fact since what we are trying to do is communicate with the world about United States foreign policy. And obviously there is great interest about United States foreign policy in the Hispanic world. But this press conference will cover global issues. I hope you all will ask me about anything that interests you. And I hope I have the answers, if not, we will obviously provide a response later. In any case, since this is the first one of these, if you could identify yourself by telling us your name and who you represent. And if all goes well, who knows? We will never do it again. No. Our intention is to do this again. So, with that said, let’s get started. Sonia, who is right here then.
QUESTION: It’s her birthday.
MR. HAMMER: Congratulations.
QUESTION: I’m going to ask… Sonia Schott, Globovision from Venezuela. I am going to ask three specific questions. One is that the press, including press here in the United States, has published Iran’s plans to sell drones to Venezuela. What is the State Department’s view on this? The second question is that Venezuela just announced, the Minister of Energy just announced, that they would be ready to send their third shipment of oil to Syria, in a framework of sanctions and the whole international situation. I would also like to hear your opinion. And the third question would be what you think about how Globovision has been fined again, within a framework of freedom of expression. If you have any comment. Thank you.
MR. HAMMER: Good, we’re starting globally and that’s great. OK, thank you, Sonia. Obviously those are good questions. For the first one, I have to say that I don’t have any information about that report, but we obviously are following Iran’s relations with countries in this hemisphere very closely, because we know that Iran’s behavior in the past has been of concern. In fact, we believe that Iran is quite desperate because it has been isolated due to the fact that it is developing a nuclear program that appears to be for nuclear weapons, and that is an international concern that we are very focused on. As you know, there are very tough sanctions against Iran to try to convince them that they need to show the world that their program is a peaceful nuclear program. And we want to see this problem with Iran resolved through diplomacy, and there is a great deal of international focus on it because we want to be sure that this is the case. And, to date, Iran has not indicated what its true intentions are.
Regarding the energy issue or other assistance that could be provided to Syria, that is a topic that we have been paying a great deal of attention; what we have seen from Assad’s government is tragic. It is horrible how he is treating his people. So it is difficult to understand how any country would support President Assad in this moment that is so difficult, in which the international community, including the United Nations, the Arab League and we in the United States, together with other European countries and countries from around the world, are trying to pressure Assad to stop the violence. We have levied economic sanctions. We are looking into how we can assist the opposition as well as how to provide humanitarian aid. So, one would like to see any country that is interested in a better future for the Syrian people, without Assad, work together with the rest of the world to put pressure on him and to assist the Syrian people.
And thirdly, yes, we have seen the reports about Globovision. I would simply comment on behalf of the United States that we would like all of the countries in the hemisphere to respect freedom of the press, as it is clearly stated in the Inter-American Democratic Charter to be an essential element in any democratic society. So when these issues come up, they need to be treated with a great deal of care. Our hope is that democratic norms be respected, especially in terms of freedom of the press. And if we can perhaps stay more or less on these topics, and then we will move on.
OK, Ione, go ahead.
QUESTION: Ione Molinares, CNN en Espanol. Syria also. Why is Syria different from Libya in terms of how they are handled diplomatically, and is it that perhaps there is some fear that Syria or Assad may attack Israel if they feel cornered, for example? And why has international action taken much longer than what happened in Libya?
MR. HAMMER: OK. Well, as you mentioned, the situations in Libya and Syria are different. And we in the United States have been working with the Arab League, and now with the United Nations, and we will see what happens in Kofi Annan’s, as former Secretary General of the United Nations and in this case representing the Arab League, visit to Damascus next Saturday. We have been working on this issue considering Syria’s situation, and as I have said, we want to work with the international community to pressure Assad. The moment has arrived and it’s time for him to step down, get out of the way and let the Syrian people fulfill their aspirations and have a better future. It is concerning that the violenc econtinues. We are looking into the appropriate measures to support the opposition and to see how we can help in the humanitarian situation, which is also incredibly tragic. So our focus is to see how we can advance these issues working with the international community. And it is obviously a serious case, but one we are focusing a great deal on. If we could continue on the issue of Syria…
QUESTION: Yes, I would like to know… OK, here in the hemisphere Brazil is resisting taking a position on the Syrian situation. Specifically, the Brazilian government has not created any sanctions or any other type of harder measure against the Syrian government. Next month, the president, Dilma Rousseff, will be coming here and will speak with President Obama in the White House. I would like you to tell us how you assess Brazil’s position and what can be done, let’s say, to convince Brazil to join this international effort and pressure on Assad to step down?
MR. HAMMER: OK, thank you, and I would like to start by commenting that our relations with Brazil are very tight, and we are very much looking forward to receiving President Rousseff when she comes to meet with President Obama in April. We have a lot of common interests with Brazil and some issues that we disagree on. So what we do is talk when we are trying to decide on the best way to face a problem. Not just with Brazil, but many countries. In the case of Syria, there is a very strong international consensus that certain actions must be taken to stop this tragic violence that we are seeing. This may be one of the issues discussed during the visit. We obviously are in frequent communication with Itamaraty and with the Brazilian government, because we would like our positions to be on the same page as much as possible, because we believe that working together we can face global challenges like we see in Syria or in Iran, or like climate change or other issues. So that is what we hope to see. We will continue talking about this topic, not just the United States and Brazil, but with many other interested countries to see if we can reach an agreement. But we obviously would like to see Brazil work with us and the rest of those countries to help us put pressure on Assad, because in order for Syria to have a better future, it is important that Assad step down immediately and allow a political process to occur in which the aspirations of the people may be fulfilled. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] from Argentina. Continuing on the same issue, and regionalizing it. Does the United States believe that Latin America should somehow be more involved, be more in sync on these international issues, especially with what happened in Libya and on the issue of Syria? Is there any complaint that may be brought up somehow at the upcoming meeting in Colombia?
MR. HAMMER: Well, in fact, the world is so connected that one is always looking for ways that we can face the global problems together. President Obama launched a new era of work as partners when we went to the 2009 summit in Trinidad and Tobago, and at the upcoming summit in Cartagena de las Indias in Colombia we are going to see how we can confront the problems that affect the region. In other words, energy issues, economic and social inclusion issues, educational issues, environmental issues and citizen security issues. In terms of cooperating more in the international sphere, we need to discuss how to work together. In some cases, Colombia brings a level of expertise about certain issues that is very useful in facing other problems, in Afghanistan and other countries, for example. There are other countries, Brazil for example, that participate by sending troops in the United Nations peacekeeping deployments to Africa that have been for a good cause. So, as the United States, we believe that it is possible to work with countries and with regions on issues that are of mutual concern. Not on everything, obviously. But when it is possible, yes, we would like to see that we can share points of view, discuss how to face common problems and work together. Yes. Let’s see, next question.
MR. HAMMER: Lourdes, did you have another one? Let’s stay on the Middle East and then we’ll come back to the summit, OK?
QUESTION: Emilio Blasco of ABC of Spain. Recent information mentions that Bin Laden’s body may not have been thrown into the sea but rather brought back to the United States. I haven’t heard anyone in the administration deny this. Does the Secretary of State deny it?
MR. HAMMER: All right, as far as I understand, as far as my colleagues at the State Department go, excuse me, the Department of Defense, they have already clearly stated that the report is false and quite ridiculous. Yes, Javier, thank you.
QUESTION: Juan Carlos Iragorri, correspondent from the magazine Semana in Colombia, RCN Radio and NTN24.
MR. HAMMER: You don’t rest.
QUESTION: No, I don’t rest. The president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, was in Havana yesterday, and as a result of the meeting he held with Raul Castro, it was decided that Cuba will not attend the Summit of the Americas on April 14 and 15 in Cartagena de las Indias. What is the United States’ reaction to this?
MR. HAMMER: Well, I believe that our position on the Summit is quite clear; it was stated by Secretary Clinton last week when she was testifying before Congress. Vice President Biden just spoke about it recently as well. The fact is that here at the State Department, and at the White House, we are very focused on how to reach the goals and objectives of the Summit together with the countries of the region, and I have to note that President Santos and his team are great hosts. They are working hard and very well on the issues and we hope that the issues that concern the region can be advanced; I mean, as I mentioned a few minutes ago, the economic issues, how to increase social inclusion, how we can connect the Americas on energy, assuring that energy is available to all citizens. See how we can address the security issues we face; the issue of drugs and violence is concerning. How we can broaden cooperation in terms of education, address environmental issues… In other words, there is a broad agenda and that is our focus. And the participation of President Obama, Secretary Clinton and other administration officialswill be to focus on the concerns of our countries throughout the Americas. And that is our focus. Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Diana Correa, Voz de America, on the summit. You have already mentioned what the United States’ priorities will be. However, there are multiple countries that have mentioned their intention to bring up the issue of Cuba again, so that they may attend future summits. Will the United States maintain its position even if a majority of countries request Cuba’s inclusion?
MR. HAMMER: Well, we shall see what is discussed at the Summit. That is all I have to say on the issue. Yes.
QUESTION: I would like to return to the topic of Iran with regards to Latin America because that may also be an issue. But I would like to pose the question in the following manner: How does the State Department respond to the persistent and increasing voices within the U.S. Congress, from both parties, that indicate that the United States has too soft a position on the Iranian presence on the continent, which they consider to be a threat?
MR. HAMMER: Well, the Iranian presence in the hemisphere is an issue that we follow closely. We understand and listen to the concerns that certain members of Congress have. Obviously, we frequently consult them and we follow the issue closely because we are aware of certain actions, including Iran’s past support of terrorism in Argentina, that are concerning and should be followed quite closely. And truthfully I don’t have much more to add. It is something that we are looking at, and Ahmadinejad’s last Latin American tour demonstrated how desperate they are to find a friend somewhere. Because Iran is very isolated at this point and from our perspective, we would like the countries that have exchanges with Iran to clearly inform them of the international concern over their nuclear program. Did you have a question, Lourdes?
QUESTION: Yes, basically what said, but I would like to emphasize something more specifically. Today the Cuban Foreign Secretary, Bruno Rodriguez, accused the United States of creating pressure so that Cuba would not be invited to the summit. Specifically, how do you respond to this accusation? And if the United States will be opposed to discussing the topic of Cuba, as well as your reaction to if friction has been create between the United States and the ALBA countries around the Cuba issue and how this can be resolved within the scope of the summit?
MR. HAMMER: I believe, Lourdes, that the position of the United States is quite clear, in that it was discussed and decided at the 2001 Quebec summit that only democratically elected countries should participate and have the right to participate in these summits. And we’ll leave it there. Obviously we are very much looking forward as we prepare for what I envision will be a great summit on April 14th and 15th, and our focus is on how we can reach the common objectives that we have as a region.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] With the visit of the Pope, the Holy Father, to Cuba this month, do you all believe, or do you expect there to be a direct or indirect mention, as was the case with the last Pope, of the embargo, which the Catholic Church opposes? And it is United States policy. And on the other hand, another United States policy is to defend human rights on the island. Do you believe that Pope Benedict can have any influence on this issue? Can he somehow advance the human rights cause, and how would you respond to that?
MR. HAMMER: Well, we hope so. I mean, the Catholic Church has a very important role in Cuba and around the world. One would hope that the issue of human rights would come up – the concerns that the world has about the treatment of political prisoners, the lack of human rights, the human rights abuses against the Cuban people. We hope these issues will be discussed because obviously the Cuban government needs to hear from other voices how serious and concerning their treatment of their own citizens is.
QUESTION: Diana Castañeda from NTN 24. I would like to go back to the ALBA countries’ position on the issue of Cuba participating in the summit, and regarding which the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, said that he would rethink his position about attending the summit if Cuba doesn’t go. What does the U.S. government think about that?
MR. HAMMER: Well, we would obviously like to see widespread participation by the countries of the hemisphere because we believe that the Summit provides an opportunity for the leaders to discuss issues that concern all of our citizens. But we have to let each country decide for itself. These summits, since their creation in 1994, have allowed us to advance on very important issues. This summit will be the sixth. And we believe that it is in the interest of the peoples of the Americas when their leaders can meet and communicate and make decisions that really can improve the lives of all our citizens. Let’s see, Lori, do you have a question?
QUESTION: Also regarding Cuba. It’s not about the Summit—I don’t know if you can touch on the topic of Alan Gross. Many people in the Miami community, including Mr. Gross’ family, say that the United States government is not doing enough to try to free Mr. Gross. What more can the United States do, or why has more not been done?
MR. HAMMER: We are trying to do everything possible, Lori. Let me tell you, on behalf of the State Department and many other people in our government, we have tried everything we can to free Alan Gross, who is innocent, to let him get back to be with his family. It is an unjust imprisonment and we hope that this issue is resolved as soon as possible. More than two years have gone by and this is a very concerning case. We continue to be very concerned for him, and obviously we offer our sentiments to his family in this incredibly trying time. We would like to see this issue resolved. So the only thing I would say to the family and anyone else interested is that it is an issue that we work very hard on every day here. We are also working with other countries and with any person who has communication with the Cuban government to insist that they let this poor man go home and be with his family.
QUESTION: Some people have said that Cuba is using Mr. Gross as a bargaining chip to get other things that they want. Have you all noted any resistance from Cuba to discuss the issue?
MR. HAMMER: It is really incomprehensible that they still have him imprisoned and the question that should really be posed to the Cuban government is why they don’t let him go back and be with his family already. Let’s see.
QUESTION: Regarding the Pope's visit to Cuba. Some U.S. politicians have said it is wrong that the pope would visit Cuba because it somehow condones the Cuban government and because the previous visit of John Paul did not bring about anything, no change to the island. I would like to know the U.S. position, whether the trip to which the disapprove or if it was a mistake. And with Alan Gross, if there is any message that was intended, also via the Vatican where the pope addresses or talks to Alan Gross?
MR. HAMMER: Well, I will answer your second question first. As I said, we ask any authority of any country that will meet with Cubans to make the request that Alan Gross be freed and that he be reunited with his family here in the United States. Regarding the first question, we see the Pope's trip as an opportunity to make clear to the Cuban government international concerns. These are decisions that every visitor to Cuba should make, but we believe it is important to hear the concerns, above all the issue of the lack of democracy and the lack of respect for human rights. Okay, next question.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] from AP. The threat to not attend the summit not only of President Correa. He speaks for the eight countries of ALBA. My question is on the risk of a boycott, if you consider that it happened yesterday with the visit of President Santos to Havana. There was a negotiation, there was a pause of Santos and Chavez for [inaudible] at the Summit? Because a boycott would undermine most of the top eight countries. Undermine much of the meeting if there is a boycott.
MR. HAMMER: I do not really have a direct response to this, except to say that it is expected to have very good participation. I think most of the leaders of the region see the great benefit of having these meetings, and we are very focused on our preparations for it to be a successful summit.
QUESTION:[Inaudible] keeping with the theme of, well, ALBA. There was a visit by President Correa's private secretary to the State Department here. He met with Secretary Jacobson. What was the purpose of this meeting?
MR. HAMMER: Well, I think that as with the focus of most of our meetings, it is to share ideas and of course take note of the different perspectives. Our intention with respect to our policy toward Latin America is to promote the best possible relations with various countries and to find areas where we can cooperate. We know that we will not agree on everything. And that's something that frankly is normal. But what we want is that the result of respectful relations is to allow the exchange of ideas and see where you can cooperate so that we can deal with some issues of concern to both countries. Yes.
QUESTION: But was it on the topic of Cuba or was it only on bilateral or internal issues of Ecuador?
MR. HAMMER: I'm not going to go into more detail with respect to this particular meeting. Yes. Or we go now? Well, if we change ...
QUESTION: Martha Avila of RCN TV of Colombia. The State Department has just submitted to Congress a report on drugs. And one assumes that it is, I am quite sure, that what you say there is fully supported. I want you to please tell me, what is the concrete evidence they have to ensure in the report to Congress that FARC, that Venezuela continues to tolerate the presence of the FARC in its territory.
MR. HAMMER: So, do you want specifics, or, sorry, I do not understand the basis of your question.
QUESTION: You say in the report delivered to Congress that Venezuela continues to tolerate the presence of the FARC in its territory. What is your concrete evidence to assure the Congress that it is so?
MR. HAMMER: Now, I can not go into more detail than was provided in that report. Let's see.
QUESTION: Jose Diaz of Reforma. Several voices in Congress have asked the Department of State to negotiate with Mexico regarding armed law enforcement officials working in Mexico. Currently none are armed. Is the Department of State looking into the Fac. that these agents of the DEA, FBI and others are armed due to the serious situation of violence in the country? And second, do you believe that the visit to the Virgin of Guadalupe that Vice President Biden made this trip to Mexico, as Senator McCain did in 2008, can help with the Mexican Hispanic vote here?
MR. HAMMER: Well, the second question. The good part of my work here at the State Department is that we do not deal in politics. We focus simply on the foreign affairs of the United States. Regarding the first question, let me start by emphasizing that we have had fantastic and extraordinary cooperation with President Calderón and his cabinet in trying to tackle the difficult problem of drug trafficking and cartel violence. I have no specific answer to the question, other than of course that we are always looking for better ways in which we can face this problem because it is a problem we share. We do our part which is necessary taking into account the issues of demand. But we also work with other countries to see what the best ways are to address the problem. Let’s continue on Mexico. Now, let's see. We’ll come back to you.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] Mexico that had an interview with three presidential candidates in Mexico, and the truth is that in an important sector of public opinion in Mexico, it is believed that this perception was kind of a job interview. And there were claims that this was an act of interference. And I would like to know if you have an opinion on this perception.
MR. HAMMER: No, of course not ... as you see many countries, we meet with presidential candidates, members of the opposition. In fact, what we want is that whoever wins in Mexico, we want to continue this excellent cooperation on a broad range of issues, especially, it is obviously a lot to do with the drug trafficking issue. But we also share a border; we have such close economic ties and very important for both countries, also immigration issues. There are so many issues where we work together very well. As you know, Secretary Clinton was recently in Los Cabos for a meeting of the G-20, which also shows that Mexico is getting more and more involved in international issues and specifically with regard to issues such as climate change. So the recent visit of Vice President Biden and the meetings he had with different candidates is to share ideas. Whoever wins, here we are prepared to work with whoever the next Mexican president or president (Spanish: female President) and in this case we wait for the Mexican people to decide and then we will engage. There.
QUESTION: If you please, you know that there has been much criticism in the sense that overall relations with the U.S. and the hemisphere have been narcotics-focused in the general area and specifically in Mexico. How do you respond to these criticisms?
MR. HAMMER: Well I would say that my friends in the press focus on some issues where there are, well, problems. And the drug issue is quite serious and obviously the coverage in the region is expansive, but that does not mean we're not working every day on issues that are equally important, such as how to advance free trade, how we can improve the economies of our countries, how we deal with energy problems, how to improve the situation of our citizens, as we expect, and hopefully will be done at the Summit of the Americas soon. So I think that it is not to have a single focus or be too focused. I think it simply reflects in what we read in the press and what we see on television, but in fact we have a very expansive relationship with the hemisphere. Secretary Clinton has made 14 trips to I think 17 countries in Latin America.* I hear almost daily here comments on subjects dealing with Latin America and our hemisphere because we are dealing with something that is of great focus by the State Department and the Obama administration . We are going to change subjects. Here. Let's see.
*17 trips to 18 countries
QUESTION: Maria Castilian here in X. A trip is planned in the short term, within a month, by a senior official to Mexico?
MR. HAMMER: I would imagine so. The truth is that they are constant, no? There is always someone who is ...
QUESTION: But anyone you can announce?
MR. HAMMER: No, I am not allowed to announce that, only Secretary Clinton’s travels, and she was just in Los Cabos. But I have no news regarding any particular trip. Let's see.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] of Colombia. [Inaudible] was here a few weeks ago in a dialogue that they called the first High Level Dialogue on Security. He later described this as a shift in relations between the U.S. and Colombia that were placed at the same level of security talks with England, South Korea and Australia. We have not heard about this dialog from you. I wish you could tell me of you agree that we reached such a level of importance and if you have some details of what was discussed.
MR. HAMMER: Now, I leave the details to my colleagues at the White House to comment on that specific meeting, but obviously we are developing an even closer relationship with Colombia each day. We share many issues and values and we have had years of very close ties, and with the State Department and the Obama team here we are always looking to see how and in what ways we may deepen this relationship, and the dialogue is in this framework.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] … Colombia's help in fighting drug trafficking in Mexico, they talked about something like this. Are you going to use knowledge of Colombia on this issue to intervene in other countries of Central America, Mexico?
MR. HAMMER: The truth is I do not know if this issue arose. The question would have to go to our colleagues in the White House. Yes. Back. In the back.
QUESTION: Michael, thank you. I wanted to ask you why every time that it is the State Department that speaks of drug trafficking and not then journalists then there is a follow-up on this. So what I wanted to ask what the State Department's report meant in that the Argentine government did not do enough to prevent drug trafficking in the country and to combat money laundering. And for the first time Argentina is placed on a blacklist of money launderers. And what I wanted to ask at the same time is how the White House and State Department are talking about improving relations with Argentina. How is it possible to do this, or what impact will it have, when there is a level of mistrust on areas such as money laundering and drug trafficking, as being desired or as important in the bilateral relationship?
MR. HAMMER: Well, actually the report reflects the facts, or information we have, and there have been some issues on which no progress has been made with regard to the fight against drugs last year in the case of Argentina. But what we want to see is that it get better, as you said, and as we said from here and from the White House and elsewhere, we want a better relationship with Argentina and we see how we can work together on many issues. The drug issue is obviously important and we are open to see how we can improve. If last year did not come out well, then let’s see how 2012 can be a better year on this topic.
QUESTION: Is there any indication that we will be working together on this issue this year?
MR. HAMMER: Well we will see in discussions with the Argentine government if there is willingness and interest from both parties and see how and in what areas we can work together.
QUESTION: You said earlier that Iran had in the past supported terrorist acts in Argentina. Every theme revolves around this. This is in the past. Today is there any indication, is there any fear?
MR. HAMMER: No, I'm reflecting the history. That is, in the past. And since that happened, we must always be aware that in the future something like this could happen. The fact that Iran supports terrorism is quite worrying and we, in the entire international community, should be very alert. We have seen recent incidents in other countries, India, and then you have to be on alert because you never know if tomorrow it can happen again.
QUESTION:[Inaudible] of Catalunia. I wanted to ask, as the Israeli press published, published yesterday that President Obama instructed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to approve the sale of bunker buster bombs and refueling aircraft for the Israeli government. Apparently, therefore, these are measures that the Bush administration did not approve. I wonder if it's true and why this decision has been made if so.
MR. HAMMER: Well, as you understand, I cannot talk and share information regarding meetings between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. But in fact the U.S. supports Israel and we want to ensure that Israel can maintain enough military capability that allows it to defend itself against any threat. And on the issue of Iran in particular, our focus was stated by President Obama this week as seeking a diplomatic way in which we can solve this serious problem, as you know the P5 +1 countries that are on the UN permanent council plus Germany, working with the European Union via Lady Ashton in a letter sent to Iran, will try to see when we can meet to discuss these issues because we want to see Iran take the actions necessary to assure the world that is not pursuing, or has no intention of, developing a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: May I ask another? You talk about helping the Syrian rebels. What measures are being put forward?
MR. HAMMER: Look, the question of how you can support the opposition is something we are considering to see what is the most appropriate way. What we want is simply to assure opposition groups that we support their efforts to find a political way forward in which all minorities are protected and in which Syria may provide a better future for the Syrian people. But it is a subject we are discussing internally and with several Arab League countries, including with other countries to see what the best way in which we can provide this help.
QUESTION: There has been some progress in negotiations between the Department of State and Sen. Rubio to get confirmation of the Assistant Secretary [Jacobson], [Inaudible] Ambassador of Ecuador?
MR. HAMMER: Well, the topic in general, clearly for the State Department, is that we need for our high-level officials to be confirmed and be able to perform their important work, whether it be Roberta Jacobson or the future ambassador to Ecuador - we waited for Ambassador Namm - or any of the number of other key officials who are awaiting confirmation by the Senate. Therefore, what we ask for is that hopefully all of this will occur as soon as possible, because it is important that they be in their positions in order to advance the interests of the United States.
QUESTION: Returning to the matter of the ambassadors. It has been noted that for the past few weeks, the United States has had talks with Bolivia and with Ecuador in order to re-establish these relations. On the other hand, with Venezuela, the situation continues to be rather chilly, insofar that they continue to espouse a rather strong diatribe against the United States. What is the viewpoint of the State Department? Is Venezuela isolated in this aspect? Is the intention to isolate Venezuela and not create a more intense bilateral relationship with them? Why does the United States talk with Bolivia and Ecuador, but leave behind Venezuela, the country that shouts, "Imperialists" or "Sons of bitches?"
MR. HAMMER: Well, first off, both sides have to have the intention to try to improve these relations. For our part, we do want to do so. In fact, the Bolivian Chancellor, Foreign Minister Choquehuanca, came to the State Department yesterday to meet with some officials because we are looking at how we can advance our bilateral relations. However, in fact, we have not been able to advance much further with Venezuela, but that does not preclude the notion that tomorrow we could reach a point wherein we can exchange ambassadors. Yes.
QUESTION: The topic of the visit that President Santos made to Cuba. He met with President Chavez there and they had a very cordial embrace. How does the United States see the relationship that President Santos made with Chavez? This coming together. Do you think that the Colombian government is being naive with Venezuela?
MR. HAMMER: Well, from the outset, President Santos has wanted to improve relations with Venezuela, and that is a Colombian matter. And in fact, I believe that if there are tensions, it is important for the region that these decrease and that we should let every country carry out its own policy to see how they can arrive at a better situation in order to decrease these frictions, which in some cases are of a historical nature and in other cases are for a particular topic. We want to see how they can advance on these topics, but I don't have any other comments in that regard...
QUESTION: But does it worry you that Colombia may rely heavily on Venezuela? Does that worry you much? Does Colombia's position seem naive, or is it just being diplomatic?
MR. HAMMER: We have very good relations with Colombia, as I stated before. Obviously, a broad range of issues that we are trying to follow to become even closer, there are many topics. And, this is not something that causes us concern. Yes.
QUESTION: This is a question about Colombia. A few weeks ago the Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzón also had a meeting here with members of NGOs opposed to the military privilege project in Colombia. Regarding the topic of reform of the legal system. In principle, I do not doubt that it is a very local, a very Colombian topic, but we know that he was here at the State Department sharing that decision, as did [Inaudible]. What does the State Department think about what this project was and about the decision by the Colombian government?
MR. HAMMER: Well. As has been mentioned, we do not want to become involved in internal matters, but we do appreciate the efforts by the Colombian government to deal with some important issues and see how they can improve on matters such as human rights. This visit, therefore, fell within that scope, to inform us of the actions that they are taking. For our part, we receive this well in the sense that the efforts by the Colombian government are well-guided with respect to improving the human rights situation. Well. Well, we are going to finish up soon, if I don't get too tired. Let's see. Let's see.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] Thanks, Mike. Several countries have expressed their intention to bring up the topic of legalizing drugs at the Summit of the Americas, and I want to know if the United States is ready to treat this topic within the framework of the summit.
MR. HAMMER: Well, I believe that Vice President Biden has addressed this issue in interviews and obviously during his recent visit to Mexico and Honduras, where he met with Central American leaders. We can clearly see that there is frustration and concern on how to best address the problem of drug trafficking. The U.S. policy is clear on this. This is what Vice President Biden stated. We are against the legalization of drugs. We are, of course, willing to discuss the issue to express our opinion as far as why we do not see it as the best way in which to address the problem. In fact, it is clear to see that what we want to see more of is international cooperation and that it is a problem that we realize must be tackled together. Furthermore, there are organizations like SICA in Central America, and obviously the bilateral support that we provide in order to try to deal with this subject. However, it is a serious subject and we are not in any way opposed to discussing it. Our position, though is, very clear. Yes, let’s see, here.
QUESTION: Yes, well, as I mentioned to you, president Dilma will arrive on day nine. She will not be received with a state visit. This was denied by the White House who argued that it could not get any head of State for this type of visit, that it would like to very much and so on. With all of these arguments. Now then, in two weeks the White House is going to receive the British prime minister in a State visit. What signs do you wish to convey at this point in time, because it seems to me, and to all of us Brazilians, that the treatment you are giving here, that there is a strong resistance on the part of the United States with regard to seeing and maintaining a stronger relationship with Brazil, which it has, for example, with India and other emerging countries. Brazil is not a partner, but rather it may been seen as an ally, as something good, as our neighbor here in the hemisphere, it is a great country, a leader in South America.
MR. HAMMER: They also have great soccer players!
QUESTION: Yes, we do, but the U.S. also doesn’t care about the players. [overlapping voices, joking]
MR. HAMMER: I do follow it, as a matter of fact congratulations to Argentina; Messi scored five goals and I say that even though I am a Real Madrid fan.
QUESTION: He is not Brazilian! No, I think that there are highly contradictory signals being sent regarding the type of relationship that the United States wishes to have with Brazil. What is possible. Even taking into account the domestic political situation in Brazil.
MR. HAMMER: Well, can we talk about soccer?.
[overlapping voices, joking]
MR. HAMMER: Alright, another day. That’s another briefing. What do we have here. As for this particular visit, I would like to refer to the White House. They make the decisions regarding what type of visit it is. However, we should focus on the fact that the United States, for its part, does indeed wish to have a very good relationship with Brazil. We recognize the importance of Brazil, not only in the region but worldwide. We work together on many important subjects. In the field of energy, for example, it is something that I am sure will be discussed. Questions such as how can we help, for example, Haiti. In the manner that Brazil has already done this, but also its deployments, as I mentioned, in Africa. So, I really do not see any resistance on our part to this relationship continuing to grow and expand. President Obama has visited Brazil, as well as Secretary Clinton. She will probably return again soon. It is something, then, that we have to take into account when we wish to forge the best possible relationship, because we see that it is a very important country on the world stage.
QUESTION: The difficulty, then, is from Brazil.
MR. HAMMER: That is something that you would have to ask the Brazilians.
QUESTION: [Inaudible] as subject [of my own interest], which is the visit of Cameron. So I’m going to refer, for a minute, to the subject of the Malvinas [Falklands]. I would like to know about this subject, that is to say, Argentina has maintained that the British position of refusing dialogue is certainly what we could call an extreme position. When a country wishes to hold a dialogue with another and the other country does not want to talk to the other even though it is undergoing a conflict with it. The U.S. has always maintained a neutral position. It is possible that the subject of the Malvinas will come up during the summit. Does the U.S. have a position, let’s say, to move towards a Latin American vision and to integrate this subject when there has been a total rejection on the part of the British in terms of not wanting any dialogue?
MR. HAMMER: Alright, as you have said, we have had a position for years now and this position has not changed. This is a subject that truly must be addressed between the two countries. OK then, with that I think I’m going to head off. Alright though, just one more short question first.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask [INDISCERNIBLE] in Washington. I wanted to ask what the position of the U.S. Government was with regard to England and Spain and the problem of the [INDISCERNIBLE]
MR. HAMMER: Well, good question, you should get the answer and we need to… the last question is always problematic. However, we will need to send you an answer*. I don’t know. Alright, that’s it. OK, thank you everyone.
QUESTIONS: At what time tomorrow? When will the next one be? Will they be regular or…? Now and then?
MR. HAMMER: We will have to discuss that, and I am willing to hear your ideas and see…
MR. HAMMER: We will have to see. The intention is to do at least one more before the Summit of the Americans, because I know there is a great deal of interest and therefore we will have to see how frequently we might be able to hold them. Thank you very much for coming, though, and we will have to do another.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:06 p.m.)