Colombia has emerged as a regional and global partner. It sits on the UN Security Council, trains police to help 16 other nations to meet their security challenges, and through the leadership of both the president and the foreign minister, has played the leading role in bringing Honduras back into the inter-American system. At home, President Santos and his government are taking bold steps to heal Colombia’s wounds, redress grievances, consolidate democratic freedoms, and promote human rights. And of course, we are absolutely committed to passing the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement to open new markets and create jobs and opportunities for both of our peoples.
Since the first High Level Partnership Dialogue last October, Colombia has made significant progress on human, labor, and civil rights. And we are committed to working with Colombia as they continue their progress. We also discussed social and economic development, climate change, environmental protection, energy, education, and culture.
We had a very productive and wide-ranging dialogue, and Colombia’s progress is a testament to the courage and vision of the Colombian people and their leaders. And it’s also a reminder to the United States about why we sustain investments in our friends and our partners even through tight budgets and tough times.
So, Foreign Minister, thank you so much for the opportunity to work with you on these very important issues.
FOREIGN MINISTER HOLGUIN: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Secretary Clinton. To me, to us, it’s a great pleasure to be here today working at the State Department. We truly value the effort and support that the United States has shown Colombia over the course of many decades.
I believe that the success that Colombia has had in the fight against terrorism, against drug trafficking, is due to U.S. support. We have a well-trained police. We have one of the strongest military forces in the region. And today we are happy to take a second step to take drug trafficking or reduce the importance of drug trafficking and think about other issues that are important for us as well – energy, education, science and technology, environment – and to focus on these issues that are important to both of us in our relationship.
We believe that the work that both delegations have undertaken today lead us to developing a specific agenda on a number of issues that will help us further consolidate the relationship that has been strong in the past.
I want to thank Secretary Clinton for supporting Colombia’s aspirations to accede to the OECD. It’s a great opportunity for us to improve practices in our country, and we thank the United States for their support in this endeavor.
As Secretary Clinton said, we talked about the region, we talked about Honduras, and Colombia is very happy to have given its part to reestablishing Honduras within the organization and to do its part to strengthen democracy throughout the region.
And we talked about the issue of security, and Colombia here has cooperated greatly with Central America and the Caribbean on issues related to the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking. And as we talked before, we can continue to be great allies in helping the region, and we believe we can truly contribute to improving the situation throughout.
We thank Secretary Clinton for her support on the FTA, for support on the preferences. We are abiding by the commitments that we achieved during the April agreement, and we are happy to see that our dream that we’ve held for so many months is about to come into fruition.
We also talked about the Summit of the Americas. Colombia will be a host of the summit in April of 2012, and we’ve been talking with many countries about the organization of the summit and we have U.S. support to this end. We want to have discussions on a number of issues that join us, and we hope to have support in the region and throughout the continent, and we’ll see you in Cartagena next year.
I thank you for the work today. I think this is an important step towards strengthening our relationship, a relationship that is no doubt strong already, but there is always room for improvement. Thank you very much.
MR. TONER: We have time for just a few questions. The first goes to Elise Labott from CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. On Pakistan, the Pakistanis have said they’re going to take a new offensive into North Waziristan. Do you see this as a positive sign in response to some of the things that you discussed on your trip in terms of the Pakistanis needing to take action?
And then there are some very troubling signs in the Middle East today. There’s been reports in Syria of the torturing of a young boy, and in Yemen as well the violence is – the government is cracking down on the opposition even further. And it seems as in this second wave of the Arab Spring, if you will, the dictators are really digging in. And in fact, even as you call for them to make a transition, they’re cracking down even further and furthering their oppression. I was wondering if you had some thoughts on that.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Elise, first with regard to Pakistan, as I said on our recent visit, Pakistan is a key ally in our joint fight against terrorists that threaten both of us as well as the region and beyond. And when I was there, we discussed our cooperative efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and to also drive the associated terrorists who are targeting both Pakistanis and, across the border in Afghanistan, Americans, coalition troops, and Afghans. So we are discussing a number of approaches that we think could assist us in this very important fight.
I would also add that there is no doubt that the progress we have made against al-Qaida and terrorists could have not have happened without Pakistani cooperation between our governments, our militaries, our intelligence agencies. And there’s still a lot of work to be done, so we are in the process of discussing what more the Pakistanis could do. We will continue to do our part working together.
With respect to Syria, I too was very concerned by the reports about the young boy. In fact, I think what that symbolizes for many Syrians is the total collapse of any effort by the Syrian Government to work with and listen to their own people. And I think that as the President said in his speech last week, President Asad has a choice, and every day that goes by the choice is made by default. He has not called an end to the violence against his own people and he has not engaged seriously in any kind of reform efforts. And I have here the name of the young boy whose body was so brutally affected by the behavior and the conduct of those who had him in detention: Hamza Ali al-Khateeb. And I can only hope that this child did not die in vain but that the Syrian Government will end the brutality and begin a transition to real democracy.
QUESTION: Have they completely lost legitimacy?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s up to the Syrian people themselves. We’ve obviously, along with others, imposed sanctions, spoken out. We’ve closely coordinated with allies and partners. We’ve imposed an arms embargo. We’ve led the call for a special session in the United Nations. But I think that every day that goes by, the position of the government becomes less tenable and the demands of the Syrian people for change only grow stronger. And therefore, we continue to urge an end to the violence and the commencement of a real process that could lead to the kinds of changes that are called for.
MR. TONER: Our next question goes to Sergio Gomez Maseri of El Tiempo.
QUESTION: Thanks, Madam Secretary and Minister Holguin. You just mentioned that the U.S. is absolutely committed to the passage of the FTA. However, the FTAs – and I mean Colombia, Panama, and Korea – are all hostage of an internal dispute between Republicans and Democrats that has caused deep frustration in Colombia and also questions that come in that you were talking about. So can you tell us if you’re still confident, as you say a couple months ago here, that the FTAs are – are these FTAs going to be passed this year?
And a question for both: Can you comment on what’s expected tomorrow on the general assembly of the OAS regarding Honduras?
FOREIGN MINISTER HOLGUIN: (Via interpreter) On the issue of Honduras, I can say that we are convinced that Honduras will be brought back into the OAS tomorrow, and there has been negotiations on the resolution that took place last week and today. And I can say that most countries, if not all, wish to see Honduras return to the OAS and wish to see the strengthening of democracy in that country, and I can say that the only surprise that we can expect tomorrow is Honduras coming back to the organization.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And yes, I am confident that we are going to pass the Free Trade Agreement. I hope that the people of Colombia do not lose heart in watching the activities of our Congress, because there always is a lot of rhetoric and skirmishing between the parties before they finally hit the deadline to get the work done. And so I am absolutely sure we’re going to get it passed.
QUESTION: Can you (inaudible) Honduras?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I agree with the foreign minister. And I commend Colombia for the leadership role that it has played in enabling us to reintegrate Honduras tomorrow at the OAS.
Thank you all very much.