Tom Donilon, of course, has been a friend of mine for a long period of time. He remains a very close friend and a partner, and I want to salute his really long and remarkable career in public service. He is as smart and as hardworking a person as I’ve ever seen. I think he has briefed the President something like 900-plus times personally. He is organized. And I will personally always be grateful to him for his friendship and his counsel and his candor, and the partnership that he has given me since day one when I came in as Secretary of State.
I want to say that I personally very much look forward to working with Ambassador Susan Rice. I have relied on her counsel and judgment and her expertise, and we actually go back some time together. She supported me and worked with me in 2004 when I was running for president. I have worked with her closely as a senator. And I now continue to work with her closely as Ambassador to the United Nations. We meet almost every Friday, at least the Fridays that I am in Washington. We consult regularly on every single issue. She is brilliant. She is a tireless advocate and a first-rate diplomat, and I think she is a particularly apt choice for a seamless transition, given the fact that she has already served in the President’s Cabinet for these last four and a half years. And she has been representing the interests of the United States and the United Nations during that entire time.
Sam Power, likewise, is somebody I know well, got to know her in Massachusetts. She also supported me and worked with me in 2004, and I really look forward to working with her very closely as we advance the agenda of the President of the United States and of our nation.
Let me say what a great pleasure – again, I want to say what a pleasure it is for me to be here and visiting Guatemala again. I’m happy to be back. I want to thank President Perez Molina and Foreign Minister Carrera for their wonderful welcome to this very, very beautiful city. It is my first visit to the region as the Secretary of State, and I am very happy to have had the chance to be able to meet with so many ministers from the region and to be able to have a number of bilateral meetings this morning, which were indeed very, very productive.
I have been traveling, actually, to Latin America for decades now. I think the first trip I made as a United States senator in 1985 was to this region. And that was during a time of great transformation and challenge in places like Nicaragua and El Salvador. And like my Senate colleagues, I was then focused on issues of conflict resolution. I worked particularly closely with President Oscar Arias, working on the peace process back then, as well as on counter-narcotics cooperation and on human rights and on seeking justice for those who had lost their lives in the course of the Central American wars and the internal difficulties of a number of countries during that period.
Things have changed dramatically, quickly, since that that period of time. Today the wars have ended, we have a free trade agreement with Central America, and now we’re focused on very important different issues: How to grow bilateral economic relationships? How do we increase trade? How do we create jobs for our people? How do we open new markets? And the shift in this emphasis really tells the story of this hemisphere’s journey over the last two decades. This is a region of extraordinary growth and of huge opportunity. And I believe it is a region which presents us with win-win opportunities for all of us.
As everybody knows, or I hope they know, the United States is deeply committed to our engagement in the region, and we will be further deepening our ties to this region during the course of the second term of the Obama Administration. I think everybody has seen evidence of that in the fact that just in the last month, you’ve seen President Obama come to Mexico, come to Costa Rica. You’ve seen Vice President Biden in the region visiting three countries. And it’s been my honor now to come here and represent the United States at the OAS meeting.
Our engagement here is for a purpose, and it’s not just a purpose that happens to be focused on the United States interests. It’s because the countries of this hemisphere, all of us share so many objectives, from trade and security to development and energy production. And there is no better organization than the OAS in order to bring this all together to promote stability and democracy across the region.
I should also point out that with Canada, the United States, and Mexico representing enormous economic power, and with their trade agreements, it ought to be much easier for us and much more beneficial to the region to be able to extend that south more rapidly. And I think that is one of our objectives.
As I have said before, I have supported strengthening this partnership for some period of time. And like the United Nations – I’ve said this before also – if the OAS didn’t exist, you’d have to invent it, because it serves a fundamental purpose of bringing countries of the hemisphere together in order to work multilaterally at mutual objectives. And none of these objectives, frankly, can be achieved fully without cooperation across boundaries. My goal is to find common cause, to see the OAS actually grow stronger.
One of the OAS strengths is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. That is our regional watchdog on human rights, and the United States supports this commission’s work passionately. We have nominated an individual by the name of James Cavallaro. He’s a professor from Stanford, taught at Harvard, has spent a lifetime engaged in work on human rights. And we believe that he brings really a remarkable wealth of expertise and knowledge, and hope that he will be able to be a strong voice, a leading voice, for the protection of human rights.
We’ve heard a lot of talk about the commission lately, and I think that’s good, actually. Dialogue is a key part of democracy, and we want to make the commission work better. But we need to bear in mind that the Inter-American Human Rights system is already making a significant difference. It’s promoting representative democracy and fundamental freedoms, and these are principles that the OAS members champion. When we advance democracy anywhere in the region, when we take a stand against restrictions on fundamental rights, when we push for greater opportunity, we are acting in solidarity with all of the people of this region.
This week, the OAS has chosen to focus on drug policy, on drug policy throughout the hemisphere. As President Obama said last week, and I reiterate today, we welcome this discussion. It’s a very healthy, very important discussion. And we take very seriously our shared responsibility for dealing with world drug problems.
I have worked for a long time in the field of counternarcotics. I was a prosecutor at the county level in one of the 10 largest counties in the United States of America, and we undertook extraordinary efforts to try to prevent the use of drugs and prevent drug trafficking and break up criminal enterprises. As a senator, I brought that interest to the United States Senate, and I worked as chairman of the Narcotics and Terrorism Subcommittee, and I helped to focus on cartels and networks of narcotics trafficking that were intertwined with international terrorist groups. Gun smuggling, narcotics trafficking, trafficking in persons, terrorism – they’re often part of the same network. And that is why it is so critical for us to be vigilant with respect to this issue.
What we want to do now is build on existing partnerships. Yes, we need to address demand. And in the United States, we’re proud to say we’ve helped reduce demand by over 40 percent in the last five years. We can go further, and we need to go further. And one of the ways you reduce demand is by treating people who are addicted and reducing the addiction, which reduces the usage. But we also need to be vigilant on the side of interdiction, enforcement, eradication, because all of those things are part of a comprehensive policy, and it is only in a comprehensive policy that we can make the greatest difference for our citizens. I believe that if the OAS governments continue to work side by side, we will make greater progress towards our common goals.
Of course, this is only one issue that the OAS members are grappling with. More broadly, we need to stay focused on what the OAS can do to help build balanced partnerships and spread prosperity to all people across the hemisphere.
The United States is deeply invested in this effort. For our part, we are supporting a number of specific efforts, and we think they’re making a difference in people’s lives: the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, which promotes economic growth through access to clean, reliable, affordable energy; Feed the Future, to expand access to safe and reliable of food sources. This was one of the topics of my conversation with President Perez Molina, who is focused on malnutrition and on helping jointly with the Feed the Future program to address the needs of poverty and malnutrition.
Other – our citizen security initiative, from Colombia to the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico, we’re working on that. We have a program called 100,000 Strong in the Americas. It’s the President’s effort to foster innovation through expanded student exchanges. And then, of course, there’s PEPFAR, which is legislation that I helped write when I was in the Senate to help improve the health and the lives of the region’s most vulnerable populations.
So my summary comment to everybody is that as long as OAS countries remain united and committed to promoting opportunity for all people, including historically marginalized groups, then the Americas are headed towards a bright and a prosperous future. And the United States, President Obama, is deeply committed to helping build that future, and we look forward to continuing to work very, very closely with our OAS partners.
I’d be delighted to answer some questions.
MR. VENTRELL: We have time for three questions today. First, Matthew Lee with AP.
QUESTION: No, (inaudible).
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Lesley (inaudible).
QUESTION: I’m Lesley Wroughton from Reuters. Thanks, Secretary. I want to find out if you – did you feel that you achieved much in your discussions with the Venezuelan Foreign Minister today? And are you ready to restore an ambassador presence in each country? And do you think Venezuela is serious about (inaudible)?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me – first of all, I want to thank the Foreign Minister and I want to thank President Maduro for taking the step to meet here on the sidelines of this conference. I think it was a very important step. We spent a fair amount of time – I think we spent about 40 minutes – talking together about the possibilities for both of our countries. I want thank Venezuela that Mr. Tim Tracy has been released as of this morning and returned to the United States, and that is a very positive development. I also want to thank for them for the selection and the appointment of Ambassador Ortega to come to Washington to serve as the charge d’affaires.
And we agreed today, both of us, Venezuela and the United States, that we would like to see our countries find a new way forward, establish a more constructive and positive relationship, and find the ways to do that. To that end, we agreed today that there will be an ongoing, continuing dialogue at a high level between the State Department and the Foreign Ministry, that we will try to set out an agenda by which we agree on things we can work on together, begin to change the dialogue between our countries, and hopefully, quickly move to the appointment of ambassadors between our nations and ultimately to a series of steps that will indicate to the people of both countries, as well as to the region, that we’re finding a way forward to a more constructive and understandable relationship.
So I thought it was a very, very positive meeting. I think the Venezuelans share that opinion. And we are now off and into the process of laying out the specific agenda and the specific steps that would be taken from this day forward.
MR. VENTRELL: (Off-mike.)
QUESTION: (In Spanish.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Un momento. I only have the Spanish. If I could get the English here.
QUESTION: (In Spanish.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, gracias. Well, the United States has already taken demand reduction steps. They include much greater education efforts, which is one of the most important things; increased intelligent enforcement and prevention efforts. And one of the ways that we’ve been able to achieve the reduction, obviously, is by changing the habits of people in the United States, and one of the ways we’ve done that is by increasing treatment.
President Obama has been very specific about wanting to change the dynamic between the United States and other countries on the subject of counternarcotics. So he has put more money, more effort into, through Health and Human Services Department, through the Education Department, through our outreach to schools, our outreach to youth groups, our work with nongovernmental organizations, our work with police departments, outreach for the police departments, specific drug courts, drug officers who go out into schools and talk to children. It’s a very proactive effort that takes place in order to bring people to a place where they said that they don’t try it, they don’t use it.
Now, in some areas, there’s been an increase in certain kinds of drugs, which is disturbing; but by and large, overall, demand is down in the United States by 40 to 50 percent. And we will continue those comprehensive efforts.
I think the other piece, obviously, is that you have to continue enforcement because you don’t want to flood the country with the temptations if you’re making progress on the reductions. So it goes hand in hand. And this is something that I always felt personally as a prosecutor: If you do not have adequate treatment and adequate education, demand reduction programs, you’re simply recycling constantly; whatever comes in gets used. And you have to break that cycle. So that’s what we’re doing and we have the results to show for it, and we’re very proud of that.
MR. VENTRELL: Last question from Matthew Lee, Associated Press.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, I’d like to take you a little further afield and ask about Syria. Now that the Brits and the French have produced or say that they have definitive evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, what is it specifically that the Administration is waiting for? I ask this because the argument that you don’t want a repeat of 2002-2003 with the – with faulty intel seems to be wearing a bit thin, especially because France was one of the main skeptics of that information before Iraq. So now that they’re onboard, why are you guys not onboard? And while you’re not onboard, doesn’t it mean – why shouldn’t countries, the Assad regime and other countries around the world, just simply regard the President’s redline as nothing at all? Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: I spoke with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, I think, the day before yesterday, and we had a good conversation. He indicated to me – gave me a heads-up of what he would be doing. I spoke to him on Sunday, he went out publicly on Monday, and now we are aware of what the French analysis is.
But I asked him in my conversation whether he would send us the information that shows us the chain of custody of that evidence so that we know precisely where it came from, on what day, from whom, whose possession was it in, how did it get to the laboratory where it was analyzed. And that’s all part of the important proof. Clearly, it’s an important statement. It’s a very important finding. And I told him we were very grateful to him for the provision of it. That is coming to us. It may even be in Washington today as I stand here.
But we are also completing our own efforts with respect to the prior incidents that we have been analyzing. And I’m very comfortable with the timetable that we’re on. I’m very comfortable with the process the President is following. It’s thorough, it’s appropriately exhaustive, because the people of the world – not just Americans, but everybody – will demand accountability, and we want to make sure we have it. And make no mistake whatsoever the President’s redline is real. The President said it would be a game-changer. The President has a full set of options on the table which are alive and awaiting the moment where all of that evidence demands that he make some kind of judgment.
So we are proceeding, I think, in an effective and thoughtful way, and we are very appreciative of the French contribution to that effort. It will be appropriately analyzed and factored into the evidence that we’re analyzing on our own.
MR. VENTRELL: Thank you very much, the Secretary of State has to get to the family photo, we don’t have time for any additional questions.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much. I have to go do the family photos. Thank you very much.