Senior State Department Official Ert Quebec City, Canada


ERT sked


January 29, 2016







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MODERATOR: So we've got a senior State Department official on hand to brief all of you, on background, on today's annual North American foreign ministers meeting in Quebec City - beautiful Quebec City. So without further ado, over to you, senior State Department official.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So first of all, I want to note that it's going to be almost the same temperature in Quebec as it's going to be in Washington, only a few degrees cooler. Yesterday was a high of 26. Today is going to be a high of 34, so it's going to be balmy. (Laughter.) It is in the middle of winter carnival, so that's great - in Quebec.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Great, the coffee is coming through. I'm going to flatten myself here.

If you recall - and I don't know if you were there, I'm not sure - last year we held this in Boston. I think it was between snowstorms two and three, and it was a great meeting. And one of the things that came out of that meeting was the Secretary's determination with his counterparts - both of whom have changed, of course - that we really did need to energize what he calls the North American caucus - the two countries with whom we obviously have the closest relationship in trade, long borders, lots of interactions, and really, the same sets of values, and can work most closely not just on issues of North America - whether that's competitiveness or other issues that concern our countries - but globally.

So what's on the agenda today are issues that concern North America - competitiveness, prosperity, environment - but also the issues that we think we can work most closely to advance and model in terms of behavior and leadership around the world.

So one of those is, of course, an issue near and dear to the Secretary's heart, and that's climate change. Coming out of Paris and COP21, especially with the new government in Canada, we believe that there is real opportunity for North American leadership on climate and clean energy.

Both countries were a part of Mission Innovation and the 20 countries out of Paris on that. And we believe that they can work with us on technology and renewable energy, and that North America in general can be a model on those issues. They have made ambitious commitments in terms of their national goals. Mexico, as you may recall, was the first developing country to make firm targets, commitments, well before Paris. And so we think that North America has a real role to play on both climate and clean energy moving forward, and so there will be a lot of discussion around that.

On regional and global issues, obviously we work with both countries but in different ways - sometimes together, sometimes differently. We'll be talking about issues of counter-ISIL efforts. Canada is obviously a member of that coalition, and we work closely with Canada on counter-ISIL efforts. Mexico is not a member of the coalition but it is a country that we consult with closely, especially because of its influence with other countries throughout the developing world, and especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. That becomes very important when you're in multilateral settings like the UN or elsewhere.

We'll also talk about Syria and Syrian refugees. Canada, as you know, has made large commitments, and the Canadian people have been warm and welcoming, and we'll continue to work with Canada on that issue. Canada also has been in the forefront of efforts on Ukraine for a long time - the third largest Ukrainian population in the world - and so they continue to be partners of ours in working on that issue around the world.

One of the things that'll be very important with both countries, and really is a renewed focus, is peacekeeping operations. As this intensifies because of the clearly greater demand for peacekeeping, then there is a supply. We have President Pena Nieto's commitment last year to begin to move Mexico into the peacekeeping arena for the first time, and you have Canada under Prime Minister Trudeau coming back to really what was a traditional role for Canada in the peacekeeping arena, which they had not been involved in for the past few years. This is great news as far as we're concerned, and we want to speak with both countries about how North America can lead in the peacekeeping area again as well. There are so many areas that we need to be moving forward.

We also want to talk a lot about Central America and the crisis that we see there. We have $750 million funded by Congress in our Central America strategy. We've worked very closely with Mexico on migration issues, poverty issues, energy issues in Central America to try and get at the underlying issues of violence there. But we think it's critical that we bring Canada into that discussion and really have a North America alignment of what we're doing in the region so that we can really try and make a difference, because the migration numbers are going up again and that's clearly because the underlying situation in those countries especially impacted by El Nino this year. We're looking at droughts - at a drought this year that's likely to make food insecurity among the populations in Central America much more dire than it's been. We're talking about, for example, in Guatemala, going from about 250,000 people at risk of food insecurity to as many as two to three million in one country alone. So this is very severe.

Beyond that, we'll talk about prosperity issues in the region, including TPP. Obviously, Canada and Mexico are both members of TPP and all of us pushing towards ratification in each country and implementation. We'll talk about other issues of trade and reduction of trade impediments and making North America - continuing and expanding our competitiveness platform. The President was just at the North American Auto Show, which I think has really been one of the areas in which you see - you don't talk about the U.S. auto show anymore; you talk about the North American Auto Show. Because areas like automobiles, aerospace, other high-end manufacturing is not national anymore. It is integrated North American manufacturing. And that is where we want to present North America as a competitive platform, best in the world.

The other thing that we will talk about - I'm trying to think of the four categories we're going to talk about during these meetings - regional and global; environment, energy, and climate; security and defense, which we will talk about in terms of counter-ISIL, Syria, Iran - we will talk about Iran, obviously, and implementation of the accord, the implementation moving forward. Canada obviously is debating the issue of removal of their own sanctions now. We have a special rapporteur on human rights renewal coming up in the UN Human Rights Council, and we'll talk to both countries about our view on that and the importance of continuing the focus on human rights within Iran. And then lastly, as I said, we'll talk about the prosperity basket of issues as we get ready for North American competitiveness meetings among our economic ministers in the coming year.

We'll be obviously having bilaterals with each of the foreign ministers, partly with Minister Dion to prepare for Prime Minister Trudeau's visit to the White House on March 10th, the first visit of that level, an official visit with a state dinner, in I think 19 years or something. And obviously, we'll be talking with the Mexicans about a range of bilateral issues, including the next meeting of our High Level Economic Dialogue, which will be at the end of February. So a huge number of issues, as well as, obviously, our desire to get Chapo Guzman extradited to the United States. We've been very pleased with the statements by both the attorney general and the president of Mexico that they wish to see him extradited as soon as possible.

That's a lot. I'll stop there.

QUESTION: Specifically on the Syria issues, is the U.S. going to raise the issue of the - of Canadian fighter jets being pulled out of the ISIL coalition?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We've obviously had many conversations with Canada on their contribution to the counter-ISIL efforts, which have been extensive. And we greatly appreciate them. They've been very clear that they have rethought the air contribution. We obviously would like them to continue that contribution. But we will talk about what else they may be able to do if they are going to withdraw those jets, and we hope that they will be able to contribute in other ways if that's not going to continue.

QUESTION: And then just one more - on the refugees, is there a concern from the U.S. about the numbers of refugees that the Canadians are bringing in? Because there have been some reports on - that the U.S. was concerned, but I'm not sure it's a strange thing to be concerned about.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don't think there's ever been a concern about numbers per se. I think that we have always believed that Canada has not only the right, but the obligation to make their own decisions about how many refugees they may be able to take, and obviously we're urging countries to take as many as they can. Every country has to put into place their own mechanisms for screening, for evaluating, for making sure that people who are coming in are indeed refugees. And frankly, we have the closest relationship with Canada of any country practically in the world. They're part of Five Eyes. So we have great confidence in our relationship with the Canadians moving forward on conversations like people coming into the North American area, so we don't have a concern on numbers.

QUESTION: So you would want the Canadians to be extra cautious on the security of those refugees?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we certainly have a desire with both Canada and Mexico to be in sync on information-sharing and coordinating when we are looking at folks coming from that area of the world. And as I say, we have a long and productive relationship with Canada on that - in that area.

QUESTION: Is the new makeup of parliament more or less likely to ratify TPP? And there have been some concerns from the liberal side.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I'm not sure I can give you an accurate review of whether this particular parliament is more likely to ratify, but certainly, we heard during the Liberal Party's campaign that they would review, obviously, TPP. We have great confidence in our conversations with the new government that they are undertaking that review but that they support the overall agreement. That was pretty clear, even in the campaign. And so we're looking forward to it being able to move ahead.

QUESTION: And then just to follow up on the fighter jets issue and on the counter-ISIL, is it - obviously, we're talking two fighter jets in the broader coalition. It might not make a great military difference, but is it a worrying symbol that there are some members of the coalition, Canada, that they are scaling back their contribution?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think I would start off by saying we never think of the Canadian contribution to any of these campaigns, whether it was their efforts in Libya, which were quite significant, or the CF-18s in the effort in counter-ISIL - we never think of them as insignificant no matter how many they are. Our cooperation with Canada on defense issues, in NATO, in other areas is always incredibly seamless and important. So we think their contributions are important, and obviously, it would be our preference that they continue to participate. I don't know that I think that that's some kind of a worrying signal. There's still robust support for the mission, and the Canadian Government has been clear about wanting to support in other ways the counter-ISIL efforts.

QUESTION: Is Venezuela going to come up?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I certainly expect that as part of the regional conversions, that will be one of the things that we discuss, yeah.

QUESTION: Particularly with the Mexicans?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, yeah. I think all of us are concerned about the situation in Venezuela and making sure that now that there is an opposition-majority national assembly, that real dialogue begin. Because if you look at the economic situation in particular, they are headed for, the IMF says, over 700 percent inflation this year. People cannot get basic goods on the shelves. This is what concerns average Venezuelans. That's why you have an opposition-majority congress. And until there's real dialogue about a new economic course as well as freeing the political prisoners, et cetera, Venezuela is going to be stuck in this spiral that is incredibly dangerous for its people.

So we expect to be able to discuss that, just in the sense of how can we all help move towards dialogue, yeah.

QUESTION: Would you expect oil prices to come up? Mexico is a big - well, both these countries are --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think if anybody in the room thought they could affect the price of oil, it might be a discussion, but I'm not sure anybody can.


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So to bemoan the price of oil is not necessarily a productive conversation.

QUESTION: Not necessarily the price, but, I mean, as you know, the OPEC has - there's been proposals from OPEC that are being considered by OPEC members, so --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I will tell you, the only thing I know is how much I don't know about oil prices and the oil market, and so I'm not even going to venture a guess. But I don't expect that to be a large part of the conversation.

QUESTION: Is Keystone XL still an issue between the governments or is that just a legal issue now?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don't expect that to be a - but - I don't expect that to be a part of the conversation today, no.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Haiti at all? Haiti - will Haiti come up?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Certainly, certainly, especially with the situation right now and the concern that we need to get to elections as quickly as possible. I would remind folks that the last time there was a transition government in Haiti, it lasted two years. That's not productive right now. So we want the major players in Haiti to agree on a solution. It has to be a Haitian solution, but it also has to come as quickly as possible. We have a legally constituted parliament sitting for the first time in well over a year, and now we need the president, so --

QUESTION: Because the Canadians are part of the UN group. I mean, the Canadians --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Canadians - I don't - I honestly don't know whether the Canadians are part of MINUSTAH, which is a peacekeeping force. I'm not sure. They've been working more closely with the police, but they are a critical part of the core group that helps work with the international community and the Haitian Government. And the Canadians have always been a leading player in Haiti, yeah. And the OAS's special representative in Haiti right now is a Canadian --



Okay, thank you.