Moderator:  Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Media Hub of the Americas in Miami, Florida.  I would like to welcome our participants who have dialed in from the United States and across the region.  This is an on-the-record press briefing with Katie Tobin, Special Assistant to President Biden and Senior Director for Transborder at the National Security Council in the White House. 

Special Assistant Tobin will discuss the meeting between Presidents Biden and Duque and the recent developments concerning Venezuela.  She will give opening remarks and take questions from participating journalists. 

We are pleased to offer simultaneous interpretation in Spanish for this briefing.  I request everyone to keep that in mind and speak slowly.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to Special Assistant Tobin.

Ms. Tobin:  Thank you, and good morning, everyone.  It’s a pleasure to have the chance to speak with you all following what we viewed as a very successful and productive meeting between President Biden and President Duque of Colombia yesterday.  We discussed many aspects of our 20 – 200-year diplomatic relationship, including our work on security and development, and, as you know, it was announced that we are designating Colombia as a major non-NATO ally.  We also talked about our Build Back Better World initiative and how this can apply to Colombia.

But I – what I wanted to talk to you today about and highlight with you all is our cooperation on migration, which was a central focus of the discussion, as reflected in President Biden’s opening remarks.  This meeting took place as we watch Europe respond to a growing refugee crisis due to Putin’s unprompted aggression in Ukraine, and with the sobering recognition that here in the Western Hemisphere we’re also facing a historic displacement crisis with an estimated 7 million people displaced between Venezuela and other populations.

Few countries have been impacted as much as Colombia, and the President noted yesterday Colombia has truly set an example in its response.  President Biden praised President Duque and the people of Colombia for welcoming 2 million Venezuelans and providing them temporary protected status.  He acknowledged that far more is needed to support countries like Colombia that are on the front lines of refugee and migration crises.  As President Biden said, our hemisphere – “our [hemispheric] migration challenges cannot be solved by one nation” and – or at – by one nation or at “any one border.  We have to work together.”

This is why President Biden used the occasion of President Duque’s visit to call for a new framework for how nations throughout the region can collectively manage migration in the Western Hemisphere.  We are pleased that Colombia, like Canada and Mexico, are – have committed to join the United States on this endeavor.  We’ve been engaging with countries across the hemisphere on this, and there’s a recognition that we have a moment that we need to seize, and we cannot continue with the status quo.

Our goal is to sign a regional declaration on migration and protection in June in Los Angeles, when the United States will host the Summit of the Americas.  We’ll be working with governments and other key stakeholders in the coming months to develop this framework, and we really look forward to continuing to discuss with all of you as this process plays out.

As President Biden and President Duque noted in their joint statement, the Americas have a rich tradition of welcoming refugees and immigrants and showing solidarity with our neighbors.  Working hand in hand, we can overcome this current crisis and truly set an example for the rest of the world.

I’ll stop there.  I’m happy to answer any questions.

Moderator:  Thank you.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.  For those on the English line asking questions, please limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing.  If you submitted your question in advance, I have incorporated the question into the queue.

Our first question will go to Gabriela Perozo from VPI TV. 

Question:  Hi, good afternoon.  Hi, good afternoon.  Thank you for this.  Colombia was decided as a non-NATO member as a strategic ally.  According to the President Duque, this allows Colombia privilege in access to equipment, weapons, and material to face transnational threats such as terrorism and drug trafficking.  These threats are being identified in Venezuela, the neighboring country.  I would like to know if this designation is directly – directly related to the situation in Russia, and can NATO forces or weapons can be used to neutralize the illicit activities of Nicolas Maduro?  Thank you. 

Ms. Tobin:  Thank you for the question.  I unfortunately will not be able to speak to the specifics of this designation.  It’s not a part of my focus in the National Security Council.  I would have to refer you to others to be able to provide more specifics on that.  I’m sorry.

Moderator:  The next question was sent in by Gabriel Bastidas from Monitoreamos, and the question is:  “Is the release of the two Americans this week considered by the U.S. to be a significant step by the Maduro regime to move forward with easing any of the sanctions on Venezuela?” 

Ms. Tobin:  The President made clear yesterday we were – we – we were focused on bringing some of our U.S. citizens home.  That was the narrow and exclusive focus of that – of that visit.  And in terms of other aspects of the bilateral relationship, I can’t speak more to that.  Our focus was to get some Americans back, and we were – we were pleased that we were able to achieve that through the visit. 

Moderator:  Thank you.  And the next question was submitted by Diego Rey from Infobae, and the question is:  “With the designation of Colombia as a major non-NATO ally of the United States, will there be an incursion of American troops into the country?”

Ms. Tobin:  Again, I can’t speak to that.  I’m sorry.

Moderator:  The next question, we will go to Carla Angola.

Question:  Thank you so much for this opportunity.  Before meeting with President Biden, Colombian President Ivan Duque told the press that Maduro is a dictator and that no solution to the Venezuelan crisis can be achieved while Maduro remains in power.  What do you think about that statement?  Because in recent hours, the White House has said that it does not have a dialogue with Maduro, but senior officials went to visit him and spoke with him face to face.  This is not a contradiction?  Thank you so much. 

Ms. Tobin:  Our position, the United States’ position, as it relates to Venezuela hasn’t changed.  We continue to be deeply concerned with the actions of Maduro against his people.  And again, just to reiterate, we went there with a specific mission of bringing back Americans, and we will continue to support countries like Colombia that are hosting refugees and migrants from Venezuela, and we will continue to put pressure on Maduro to make much-needed changes.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question was sent in by Maria Josefa Maya from Runrunes.  The question is:  “The suspension of Russian fuel imports means that you have a concrete possibility of negotiation with Nicolas Maduro’s government?”

Ms. Tobin:  I’m sorry, can you repeat the question?

Moderator:  The question is:  “Does the suspension of Russian fuel imports mean that you have a concrete possibility of negotiation with Nicolas Maduro’s government?”

Ms. Tobin:  No, there’s no connection there.

Moderator:  Okay.  The next – excuse me.  The next question that we will ask, Operator, please open the next line after Carla Angola. 

Operator:  Is that Frank Lopez’s line? 

Moderator:  Yes, please. 

Operator:  Thank you.

Question:  Yeah, can you hear me?

Moderator:  Yes, please go ahead.

Question:  Okay, thank you.  Ms. Tobin, thank you for doing this consult.  My question is [inaudible] very important, and it’s on Venezuela.  Did the Biden administration discuss with President Maduro the possibility to reopen the embassy in Caracas?  I don’t know if you have any update about this situation.

Ms. Tobin:  No, and just to clarify, I’m the Senior Director for Transborder in the National Security Council, so my focus is on our migration cooperation with countries of the Western Hemisphere.  So I am in a position to speak to that.  I am not in a position to speak to some of these other national security aspects that you all are raising.

Question:  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you.  The next question will go to Nora Gamez from The Miami Herald.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you so much for doing this.  And I just wanted to follow up because a senior administration official said that there are currently no talks or negotiations with the Maduro regime regarding oil imports.  Can you actually confirm that?  Is there current negotiations going on?  And does that mean that oil was not discussed during that visit to Caracas on the weekend? 

Ms. Tobin:  Again, I’m not in a position to speak to this other than to say that the visit was focused on returning Americans, not on other – not other issues.

Question:  Thank you.

Moderator:  The next question was sent to us by Kevin Arteaga from El Carabobeño.  One of the questions is:  “What implications would the appointment of Colombia as a special non-NATO partner have for the region, and especially for Venezuela?” 

Ms. Tobin:  Again, I – it’s not an area of focus for me and it’s not something that I can speak to.

Moderator:  The next question that we have is from Anna Ramdass from Trinidad Express.  The question is:  “Is the United States actively considering easing sanctions on Venezuela in order to obtain energy resources from Venezuela?”

Ms. Tobin:  No.

Moderator:  The next question that was sent to us is from Martin Villena from Newsy*.  And the question is: “Has the U.S. Government stance on Venezuela changed after the talks with the regime concerning oils?”  Or “oil,” sorry.  “Is Maduro wanted by the U.S. justice or charged with narcoterrorism, corruption, drug trafficking, and other criminal charges?”

Ms. Tobin:  I’m really not in a position to speak about anything related to Venezuela.  I’m happy to speak about the meeting between President Duque and President Biden yesterday and our bilateral relationship between the United States and Colombia.

Moderator:  All right.  And the last question that we have at the moment will go to Alina Dieste.  Sorry, not the last question.  The next question will go to Alina Dieste.

Question:  Hello, can you hear me? 

Moderator:  Yes, please go ahead, Alina.

Question:  Okay.  When meeting yesterday with President Duque, President Biden said that the declaration on migration “needs to dramatically expand access to resettlement and other legal pathways to migration.”  It also needs, he said, “to aggressively pursue the criminal smugglers and traffickers who prey on all [those] folks for profit.”  What are the main issues the declaration has to include, according to the U.S., apart from those points that President Biden mentioned yesterday?

Ms. Tobin:  Sure, thanks for the question.  This is something that we will be working with partner governments throughout the region in the coming months.  But as the President previewed, we do recognize the need to strengthen the responsibility sharing in the region, and one way that we can do that and also to reduce irregular migration and provide safe, more human pathways is through refugee resettlement.  So we’ll be looking to see how the United States and other governments can provide a pipeline for Venezuelan refugees through the formal resettlement programs.  We also see a real opportunity with labor shortages in many countries such as the United States, but also Canada, Mexico, how we can sort of match those that are unemployed and are migrating to find jobs with countries that are desperately in need of workers.  So labor mobility is another area of focus when it comes to legal pathways, and so I think that’s something that we’ll be looking to engage other governments in the region on to see how we can work together on creating formal channels for temporary worker opportunities.

Question:  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you.  And the last question will go to Stefano Pozzebon from CNN.

Question:  Thank you, Ms. Tobin, for doing this.  My question concerns the growing number of countries in the region that have started requiring a visa to Venezuelan citizens.  We’ve seen that in Peru, Chile, Guatemala.  Will the declaration or the dialogue before that declaration at the Summit of the Americas concern the increasing demands for visas for Venezuelan citizens, or – and does the United States administration have a position on that?  Are you going to push South American, Latin American countries to not require a visa, for example?

Ms. Tobin:  I think what we will be discussing is what I mentioned about humane migration management, and so looking to have a more common approach across the hemisphere with how we process individuals that arrive at our borders, how we do protection screenings, repatriations for individuals that don’t qualify, visa policies.  I think there’s a need for us to increase coordination and a common approach on that, so visas would be one piece of that.

Moderator:  Thank you.  That concludes today’s call.  I want to thank NSC Special Assistant Tobin for joining us, and thank all of our callers for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Miami Media Hub at  Thank you and have a good day.   

U.S. Department of State

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