MODERATOR: (Via Interpreter) Good afternoon. The meeting between Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia, and the Secretary of State, John Kerry, and Maria Angela Holguin, Minister of Foreign Affairs has just concluded.
FOREIGN MINISTER HOLGUIN: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon to all of you. First of all, I should like to extend a welcome to John Kerry, Secretary of State, on his visit to Colombia. And we are very grateful to him for having chosen Colombia for the first trip to the region that he has carried out. It’s the first time that Secretary Kerry comes to Colombia, and it’s a great honor for us to have him here. It has been a very beneficial meeting, in addition to other meetings that he held throughout the morning. He met with President Juan Manuel Santos and also with a group of members of the Colombian delegation as well as the U.S. delegation.
We would like to tell Secretary of State Kerry and the United States how grateful Colombia is for the support received throughout recent years in our struggle to achieve peace, in strengthening the military in Colombia, and the work done to have the conditions of security that Colombia has nowadays. The support from the USAID and Secretary Kerry’s support in the peace process – he was able to talk with the President of the advances made in the peace conversations, and we are grateful for the interest shown by him in something that is so very necessary to Colombians.
In the same way, the cooperation that we’ve received from USAID – that we’ve received from the United States in different programs, such as those that we have to strengthen certain institutions, the rural areas, which are so very important for security in Colombia, and to achieve peace in these places.
In the same manner, we will have high-level meetings in a short while on topics that are very important to both countries – energy, science and technology, the environment. We were talking about how beneficial it would be to work together on climate change, and we’re very committed here in Colombia in order to participate in multilateral institutions. We were also able to speak about the situation concerning drugs. The report submitted by the OAS during the recent meeting of the OAS Assembly and how to take up again the same talks at UN level and at OAS level in the conference that will be held in 2016.
I would like to congratulate Secretary Kerry for the effort made in being able to work for peace between Israel and Palestine. The talks, which have started up again and on which he has been working so arduously, which requires such a degree of commitment, we hope that they will be very successful. The peace efforts made in different parts of the world are very important in order to be able to live in our world in conditions which are acceptable, as we have seen in the case of Colombia. And this is very important for the quality of life of Colombians.
It’s been a very useful visit. We hope that the rest of your trip will be equally successful and we hope to see each other again in Washington in September.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. Well, thank you very much, Foreign Minister Holguin. It’s a great pleasure for me to be able to be here with the Foreign Minister. We’ve gotten to know each other a little bit both in person at the other meetings and on the telephone, and I am personally very, very appreciative for her cooperative approach to the issues that we both need to work on and do work on. I’ve been traveling to Latin America for many years now, particularly starting in 1985 during a time of great difficulty and trouble in places like El Salvador and Nicaragua. I was never able to come to Bogota before, Colombia, and so I’m really happy to be here in this beautiful city in a country that has an incredible story to tell to the world about transformation. And I am very appreciative to President Santos and to Foreign Minister Holguin for their very, very warm and generous welcome to this city, but also for their very cooperative attitude, the constructive approach that we had to any number of issues today.
The truth is Colombia and the United States agree on so many different parts of our agenda today, and we have built a very, very strong relationship on shared values and on common interests. I was a member of the United States Senate starting in 1985, so I came to the challenge as Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee during the early part of my tenure in the Senate when there was a very tough set of choices facing Colombia. Today I come here to congratulate as completely as I can the people of Colombia who have together joined in an amazing transformation. This is one of the great stories not just of this hemisphere, but really of the world, where we see so many governments that are challenged today, some of whom are failing and some have failed. Colombia is a success story, and the United States of America is proud of whatever small part we’ve been able to be sharing with our friends in Colombia in an effort to get where we are, moving towards, hopefully, stability throughout the region.
I was particularly pleased this morning to be able to meet with Colombia’s – the Government of Colombia’s peace negotiators and also to be able to speak with President Santos about peace efforts. The Santos Administration has undertaken a very courageous and very necessary and very imaginative effort to seek a political solution to one of the world’s longest conflicts, and any negotiation that can help to strengthen Colombia’s democracy, that promotes respect for rule of law and human rights, and achieves an enduring peace that the people of Colombia can share in is a welcome development, and the United States of America will support that peace.
The United States partnership with Colombia extends far beyond our mutual interests. It’s not just about our trade, it’s not just about our support in Plan Colombia or for the peace process. On investment, on many other issues, now more than ever, because of our partnership, we’re able to create good-paying jobs. And that is tied to our success – both of us – in being able to export our goods around the world. Latin America’s remarkably dynamic markets with its large and increasing middle class of consumers are critical to growing our economy in the United States as well as to supporting quality jobs. This works for both of us. It’s good for Colombia, it’s good for the region, it’s good for the United States, it’s good for the hemisphere. And that’s why the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is so important.
I was pleased to work on that agreement as a member of the Finance Committee. I supported it. I am glad that it is now the law, and I am delighted that we can now say that it is having a positive impact. I want to thank President Santos, I want to thank our own Ambassador Mike McKinley, who is soon leaving here to take another post, for their important work in helping to complete this agreement. And it is high-standard agreements like the free trade agreement with Colombia that, frankly, will ensure that workers and companies in both countries have a level playing field on which to be able to compete for their customers. It’s no accident that trade with Colombia has gone up about 10 percent since the passage, and that means more jobs, it means more money for families here in Colombia, it means more people moving into the middle class.
It also reminds us that countries like Colombia that have moved so far in so little time are open for business, not just with the United States and in this hemisphere but with the world. And increasingly, Colombia is playing more of a role on a global basis. The Government of Colombia has been a superb partner with us on issues of trade, but it has also played a regional role in the Pacific Alliance. And the United States has a free trade agreement with all four members of the Pacific Alliance, so we were very pleased to be admitted last month as an official observer. And I want to thank the Foreign Minister for her help in making that happen.
The United States and Colombia also share an interest in ensuring that economic growth is broad based. We want economic growth to be shared with everybody up and down the economic ladder. We want it to be socially inclusive. And that is why we are working together through the WEAmericas Initiative in order to break down the barriers that women face in trying to start and grow a small or medium sized business. We’re advancing our commitment to sustainable growth through the Connecting Americas 2022 initiative, which seeks to provide universal access to reliable, affordable, and clean electricity.
The United States also supports Colombia’s efforts to promote human rights and rule of law. The Santos Administration has passed a landmark victim’s law and it has taken important steps to improve labor rights through the Labor Rights Action Plan. President Santos has made clear that violence against labor organizers, human rights defenders, community leaders, and elected officials cannot and will not be tolerated. And that is a commitment that we in the United States greatly appreciate and respect. We support Colombia’s efforts to ensure accountability and to protect those who are working to make Colombia a more peaceful, democratic, and secure state.
We also want to thank Colombia for its work at the United Nations and the Organization of American States, where they have been working to protect democratic freedoms and human rights. And we look forward to seeing continued progress, momentum hopefully, on the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan for Racial and Ethnic Equality. This focuses our efforts on social inclusion and that is to ensure that everyone has access to the opportunities that society affords us.
So Madam Foreign Minister, thank you again for your gracious hospitality. Thank you most importantly for your commitment to strengthening this important partnership. I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead, and we’re grateful for the journey that the people of Colombia are sharing with the rest of the world and for the progress that Colombia has made.
Thank you. Be happy to take some questions.
MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)
QUESTION: Thank you, (inaudible). Following reports last month that the U.S. National Security Agency had intercepted telephone and internet communications in Colombia, your government issued a strong statement rejecting what it called espionage and violations of privacy and international conventions, and said you would ask the United States for an explanation. In your conversations today with Secretary Kerry, did you and President Santos explore those issues? Are you now confident you have a full understanding of them and have you asked for any further action by the United States to stop or otherwise adjust that surveillance?
And to Secretary Kerry, what kind of reassurance were you able to give Colombia about the nature and extent of past and future U.S. surveillance in the hemisphere?
FOREIGN MINISTER HOLGUIN: (Via interpreter) Today we did touch on this subject with Secretary Kerry, but beyond this, the cooperation between the two countries from the time this came up in the face of public opinion has been very important. I was able to talk to Ambassador McKinley from the outset and was a visit paid by people from the Ministry of Defense and people who work in the intelligence community as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – visited Washington, and an important meeting was held which turned out to be very positive. We wanted to gain more information on the issue, and I think in a very positive fashion and very constructive at the same time, this is important for Colombia. All the assistance in this respect has been relevant, to say the least, and we hope that this will be done within the framework of bilateral and legal conditions in the relationship that we have. And we have received the necessary assurances in order to continue to work on this.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Foreign Minister. I appreciate that comment and I appreciated the conversation we had, which was very, very straightforward. Frankly, we work on a huge number of issues and this was, in fact, a very small part of the overall conversation and one in which I am confident that I was able to explain thoroughly precisely how this has received the support of all three branches of our government, it has been completely conducted under our Constitution and the law, and how we have respected the concerns of other countries and will continue to. And the President has taken great steps in the last days with his press conference most recently to reassure people of United States intentions here.
I think it’s very obvious to everybody that this is a dangerous world we’re living in. It’s very, very different from anything we’ve known since September of 2011 – of September 11th of 2001. And we are necessarily engaged in a very complex effort to prevent terrorists from taking innocent lives in many different places. Most recently, we had threats, as we know, to our Embassy in Yemen. We responded appropriately, I think, in an effort to protect those people. But that’s the only thing that we’re engaged in is an effort to prevent the devastating, completely unprovoked, totally reckless and wanton taking of life that occurs with car bombs and suicide vests and IEDs and other mechanisms of death. And the United States will share with every country in the world our best efforts and calls on every country in the world to join us in an effort to turn people towards a peaceful resolution of disputes and towards a ending of this kind of wanton violence. And everything that we do will be geared in an appropriate way to work with our friends and our partners to respect their laws and to do this in a way that meets the highest standards of expectations of rights and privacy.
MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, I want to ask you about one of the things that the Foreign Minister brought up, the Middle East Peace Process. Have you spoken personally with Prime Minister Netanyahu about their settlement announcements? I thought that everyone agreed at the beginning of this that they weren’t going to make any kind of statements that would fuel the conflict. And I know you’ve always said that there’s going to be some bumps in the road, but this seems like a pretty big speed bump here right at the onset of the talks that are supposed to reconvene on Wednesday.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I have a telephone call in to Prime Minister Netanyahu right now and I talked to Minister Livni just earlier this morning, and our people are on the ground in Jerusalem, in Israel, meeting and talking with all of the interested parties right now.
First of all, let me convey to Prime Minister Netanyahu our hopes that he has a very quick recovery from this surgery that he underwent the day before yesterday, and I expect to talk to him very, very shortly.
The announcements with respect to settlements were to some degree expected because we have known that there was going to be a continuation of some building in certain places, and I think the Palestinians understand that. I think one of the announcements or maybe one of them was outside of that level of expectation, and that’s being discussed right now.
I do not believe it will become what you call a speed bump in that sense. We are working through these modalities every day as we go forward. As you know, or as the world I hope knows, the United States of America views all of the settlements as illegitimate. That is the policy of the United States. And we have communicated that policy very clearly to our friends in Israel and we have worked very closely with the Palestinians in order to try to make certain that everybody understands what the road forward will be like.
I think what this underscores, actually, is the importance of getting to the table, getting to the quickly, and resolving the questions with respect to settlements, which are best resolved by solving the problem of security and borders. Once you have security and borders solved, you have resolved the question of settlements. And so I urge all the parties not to react adversely or to provoke adversely, whichever party may do one or the other in any way, but to understand the importance of the moment that everyone has achieved here, and that is to move forward quietly, carefully, deliberately to negotiate the major issues. With the negotiation of major issues, these kinds of hot-point issues really become much easier to – in fact, they are eliminated as the kind of flashpoints that they may be viewed as today.
I expect to talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu either later today or early tomorrow, and I’m sure that we will work out a path forward.
MODERATOR: (In Spanish.)
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. The topic that has to do with the Colombia peace process is very important both for you and for us, and the resources that you’re going to devote to the solution to this conflict amount to how much? Is there a budget for this, for the post-conflict situation, and how are these funds to be used? Do you have special goals to be achieved for the resources that you are going to be turning over to Colombia?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think over the last years, beginning with Plan Colombia, the United States of America has made it as clear as we know how that we are on the side of the Colombian people in this effort to try to find peace. And the American people, the American taxpayer, have gladly shared billions of dollars in an effort to try to help make peace by supporting your efforts through your government, by supporting your training and police and border and security and other kinds of issues, in an effort to grow the capacity of Colombia. And Colombia has shown an unbelievable ability to use this to the best of ability and to make a difference.
So I can guarantee you, having done this for these last many years, the United States is not going to suddenly stop being engaged or walk away from this peace process. As I mentioned in my opening comments, we are deeply supportive of what President Santos is trying to achieve. I know this began in earnest with President Uribe a number of years ago, and for a number of years the main focus was on security alone. But we believe, as does President Santos, that Colombia has reached a point now where in its development, in its security, in its trade, in its governing capacity, that it is important for them to try to look to what is sustainable for the long term, and that means finding peace.
So the United States will support the peace process. No, there is not a specific delineated set of figures with respect to a budget because there is not yet a specific agreement around which to build that plan. But we will remain completely supportive of Colombia’s efforts to achieve the peace. I believe it’s a courageous path that the President has put Colombia on, and we will continue to support it.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) A final question from Mr. (inaudible) from El Tiempo.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Secretary of State Kerry, welcome to our country and thank you very much for answering our question. Different officials from the Obama Administration have said that they back fully the peace process that is carried out by the Colombian Government with the FARC’s guerillas. Such as there was a Plan Colombia at one point in time, are you thinking of a Plan Colombia not for war, but for peace? And that support from the U.S. Government, will it be enough to think of a possibility of granting a pardon to the members of the guerillas?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s not for the United States to make that kind of decision at this moment when there are negotiations underway. That would be an insult to the sovereignty of the Government of Colombia and it would be inappropriate with respect to President Santos’ own process. We need to respect that process, and we do respect it. We are supportive of it, but this is a negotiation that has to take place between the Government of Colombia and FARC, and obviously, they are engaged in deep negotiations in Cuba at this moment. I had the privilege of meeting this morning with the team. It’s a very capable, very experienced, knowledgeable team, and I think we need to give them the space to do what they need to do together with the President and the Foreign Minister and the government to make their decisions.
As a friend of Colombia, President Obama wants the people of this country to know that when you achieve that peace the United States of America will do everything in our power to help respect it and to help you to be able to implement it. And obviously, at that point in time, we will have discussions about what else may be necessary in order to guarantee its success and sustainability over the long term.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Secretary of State, thank you very much. To the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, thank you very much, and to our colleagues as well.