Joint Press Availability With Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra
Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER MALCORRA: (Via interpretation, in progress) …to this press conference to be followed by a working lunch, which some ministers will be joining to expand on some of the items on our agenda. We have essentially – we have – hello? (Interruption to interpretation.)
(Via interpretation, in progress) …meeting between the teams of the foreign ministry and the State Department. We’ve discussed all of the items that were first dealt with during President Obama’s visit. We’ve made a lot of progress and we’ll be having a working lunch with colleagues from other ministries who will give us a chance to go deeper into some more specific matters within their respective areas of work.
I would, once again, like to welcome Secretary Kerry and say that the commitments we have mutually assumed are commitments that we are willing to follow up on and to work on. It’s a long day. It’s not just about something you do on one day. It’s about building common schedules and fora and spaces, and we have our teams on both sides to do this, which includes keeping this agenda alive through our political dialogue, which will continue.
At the more operational level, the deputy foreign minister will be traveling to Washington in a few months’ time to make sure that we measure our progress and that we don’t just sit back and assume that things are working, in case there’s anything that might need improvement.
So thank you, John, and over to you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. Is this working now?
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Susana. Buenas tardes y gracias por todo. I want to thank President Macri and Foreign Minister Malcorra for their very warm welcome. It’s really a pleasure for me to be back here. I came here as a senator, loved Buenos Aires and the country, and I am delighted to be back now for my first time as Secretary of State. And I have to say, that after hearing about the asado and the dulce de leche, I should have come here sooner.
Before I say more, I do want to express my condolences and the condolences of the American people to those impacted by the horrific mass stabbing in London yesterday. We grieve for the victims, including one American citizen, and we hear reports of a possibility of another who was injured. And we offer all of our support to their families and to their loved ones. I particularly want to thank the first responders for their extremely effective and courageous efforts to prevent this from having been worse. And we’re very grateful to them.
I think all of us in the world have learned that violence only leads to more violence; it’s not a solution to anything. And at this difficult moment, the United States stands with our friends in Great Britain as the authorities seek the full facts as to exactly what happened, what the motive was, whether others may have been involved or not. We don’t know that.
Now, it is no secret that we are living in a time that is marked by complicated, stark challenges. But this is also – I want to emphasize – a moment of extraordinary promise. And that is what brings me to Buenos Aires today. The United States and Argentina are regional leaders and longtime friends. So let me just start out by wishing, in the spirit of friendship, the entire Argentine team the very best in Rio over the next days. I want to congratulate Buenos Aires for being chosen to host the 2018 Youth Games. And I hope you win almost as many medals as the American team. (Laughter.)
I was just telling Susana, I have a grandson who – his favorite – he’s playing soccer. He’s age four, and his favorite uniform is a Messi uniform. So I see this white and blue running around the house all the time. (Laughter.)
Last March, during President Obama’s historic visit to Argentina, our leaders decided to inaugurate a regular High-Level Dialogue. And this morning, Foreign Minister Malcorra and I officially launched that dialogue. Later this afternoon, I am going to have the privilege of meeting President Macri and I will underscore the United States friendship and our respect for Argentina and our commitment to working together through this dialogue and in other ways to deal with problems that we face.
And that is really the heart of the message that I bring to Buenos Aires. I have no doubt that President Macri and the foreign minister are as firmly committed to a close, sustained partnership with the United States as the United States is with Argentina. And I think that could not be more important at this time.
During our meeting, the foreign minister and I discussed our revitalized efforts to cooperate in the arenas of security and peacekeeping. And here, one of our priorities is to combat organized crime and drug trafficking. Federal agencies in Washington and in Buenos Aires are working to enhance our ability to improve border and airport security, prevent money laundering, counterterrorism, and reduce the demand itself for illegal drugs. And as part of that effort, I’m very pleased to announce that, subject to the completion of congressional notification in the U.S., the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs intends to dedicate 1.5 million immediately to support this law enforcement and criminal justice sector reform initiative.
And just recently, the United States welcomed more than a dozen Argentine participants in the State Department’s International Law Enforcement Academy, and cooperation between us is absolutely going to intensify in the coming months.
Shared prosperity is at the top of our agenda. We know that there have been difficult economic challenges. President Macri has made some very courageous and important decisions in order to move Argentina forward and in order to create jobs, which is at the center of the agenda. The United States strongly supports President Macri’s effort to deepen Argentina’s integration with the global economy. And as we look forward to next month’s G20 summit, both of our governments will be supporting policies that are aimed at strong, sustainable, and balanced economic growth. And we both talked about the need to make certain that the growth that we are producing is felt by people at every level of the economy. We’re seeing this phenomenon on a global basis, and I think all of us are committed to make sure that globalization has greater positive impacts for the people of the nations producing it.
This morning I spoke with leaders at the American Chamber of Commerce here. And what I heard from those leaders, the representatives of major companies doing business here and business around the world from Argentina, were expressions of renewed optimism about Argentina’s future. And we feel this optimism. President Obama expressed this when he came to Argentina; I want to emphasize it here today. Argentina is an extraordinary country with talented people – educated, capable – enormous resources. And as it changes with the reforms that have been put in place, the economic prospects are going to change. There will be more investment. There will be more growth. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen because of the determination of the direction this government has chosen to move in.
And this is a country in which a lot of people, I know, are looking – excuse me – to invest and to expand and to take the more than $20 billion a year that we do in trade today and make that the floor, and grow it in the days ahead. That is also the reason why our governments have agreed on a trade and investment framework, a commercial dialogue, and participation in a Small Business Network of the Americas. Most jobs are created by small businesses growing and becoming big businesses. And so with this small business network, there’s an opportunity to really put a kick into the economy in the right direction.
That’s exactly why we have signed a joint agreement with Argentina to begin working towards a global entry arrangement which will facilitate business travel and tourism. And it’s why, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Fulbright program here, more than 97 Argentines and 39 Americans earned scholarships to study or conduct research in the United States and Argentina last year.
Diplomatically, our governments are both strong supporters of the peace process in Colombia and of efforts to encourage a return to stability and genuine democracy in Venezuela. We shared our concerns about the situation in Venezuela, and we agreed on the urgency of a meaningful political dialogue, a timetable for completing the recall process, and respect for the rule of law and the role of the national assembly.
This morning I also encouraged and congratulated, frankly, the foreign minister on the country’s agreement to accept an additional 3,000 refugees from Syria as we prepare for President Obama’s summit on refugees in New York in September. And I just say very quickly we’ve been doing this in the United States for years, and we know that we can cooperate very effectively on all of the screening processes, all of the necessary security arrangements to guarantee that this is a no-threat activity that we engage in.
The foreign minister and I also talked about the need to sustain regional and global leadership on climate change. On April 22nd, our countries – and Susana and I were privileged to both be there together to sign the agreements of the Paris agreement in New York. And we are both committed to bringing that agreement into force as soon as possible, and our presidents have committed to try to do that. We’re also working together on an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, perhaps one of the biggest steps that we could take to slow global climate change.
And I just emphasize that these initiatives, taken together, are designed to send a clear signal to the world that we are deadly serious about acting on climate change. And I emphasize, clean energy is not only an environmental necessity, it is one of the greatest economic opportunities we have witnessed in a long time. And that’s why it is so encouraging that the United States and Argentina are looking at ways to integrate more renewable energy into the power grid.
Finally, I want to note that the relationship between the United States and Argentina is an exciting, forward-looking one. But we’re also conscious of the lessons from the past. In 2002, the United States declassified more than 4,000 State Department cables and other documents from the period of the Argentine military dictatorship. Last March, in response to a request from President Macri and human rights groups, President Obama promised to identify and share additional U.S. Government records, many from law enforcement and intelligence agencies. So later today I will deliver the first tranche of those declassified documents to President Macri, with more to come in the future as we continue in this effort.
In closing, let me just say to the foreign minister and the people of this country (via interpretation): The relationship between Argentina and the United States is healthy and active, both between our governments and between our peoples. Thank you.
I want to thank Susana again. It’s good to be here, and we look forward to taking a few of your questions.
MODERATOR: (Via interpretation) Any questions? The first question.
QUESTION: (Via interpretation) Yes, good morning. Natasha Niebieskikwiat from Clarin Newspaper. We have agreed on questions with other colleagues from Argentina, so I’m also speaking on behalf of them.
Regarding Syrian refugees, which you referred to, Argentina has talked about the need for financing from the U.S. and the EU, for instance, and I would like to know whether the United States plans to make any contribution for Argentina to welcome the 3,000 refugees.
And I’d also like to ask you kindly whether the United States agrees or not to Venezuela chairing Mercosur. The other partners reject this, because this has been de facto rather than agreed or the result of consensus.
And sorry, just one more question. Will you also include Argentina within the field of – would you aid Argentina with security aspects in the context of the refugees?
And for Foreign Minister Malcorra, can you expand a little bit on what’s now going to happen within Mercosur and from now on what’s – considering this crisis, which one more crisis but an unprecedented one as well?
SECRETARY KERRY: I regret – I didn’t hear your question on Mercosur. And the last question about the refugees?
QUESTION: If you agree or not agree with the question that Venezuela has taken the presidency of the Mercosur by itself, and the partners – the other countries doesn’t recognize that. (Inaudible) recognize that, sorry.
SECRETARY KERRY: And the last (inaudible)? You had a question on refugee?
QUESTION: Yeah, on security, information, screening refugees.
SECRETARY KERRY: Okay.
QUESTION: If you going to support economically the plan of --
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah. No, I got that. I got that one. I was --
QUESTION: And insecurity also.
SECRETARY KERRY: I got the money one. (Laughter.)
So let me begin. Let me go through those very quickly, if I can. On the issue of financing and support, the United States is the largest – I think we’ve put over $5.5 billion now on the table to deal with refugees, particularly in Syria. That’s just Syria. And we’re the largest donor in the world at this moment to the refugee crisis. President Obama is hosting a major refugee event at the United Nations in September at the UN General Assembly meeting. And our goal is to try to raise both money committed to this effort to be able to help countries, and to be able to have countries announce how many people they’re prepared to try to take in this effort.
Now, I know some people say, well, is there a risk in this. And there’s a political challenge in it. Let me just emphasize to everybody here: We have now taken just about 8,000 refugees from Syria – we’ve taken refugees. Our goal for this year is 10,000. That is on top of the 85,000 people we will take and repatriate on a permanent basis with 100,000 that we’re targeting for next year. And we have developed a sufficient level of screening of a very in-depth background check, where we are very comfortable that we’re bringing in people who will be a great plus to our country, as we believe they will be a plus to your country. Yours is a country, as Susana said, built on people who’ve come from other countries over a long period of time, and you understand this. It’s part of your value system, too.
I would simply say that in the course of our experience with counterterrorism, not one event in the United States of terror has ever been committed by a refugee who was let in the country. They have been sometimes by people who were traveling or who were there on a legal visiting quality, but not a refugee who has been resettled. And we believe, as President Obama said here, the people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism. They are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife. They are parents, they are children, they are orphans. And it is very important that we do not close our hearts to the victims such – of such violence. That was President Obama speaking on this issue.
And we believe that we really want to commend Argentina for its commitment to bring in 3,000. And we are committed to work with Argentina in an effort to try to make sure that the screening and the process works effectively. And I can’t tell you today what the financial support might or might not be, but we, as I’ve said, have been consistently trying to be helpful to countries in an effort to facilitate this process.
On Mercosur, let me – I think the folks here should speak to that. I think it’s better that Susana talks about that part of the question, which you asked her.
But suffice it to say that regarding Venezuela, we have deep concerns right now about Venezuela’s unwillingness to engage in a robust, productive way in the dialogue and to heed the needs of the people of Venezuela. And we encourage Venezuela to embrace the recall, not in a delayed way that pushes it into next year, but to do this as a sign of respect to the constitution of the country and to the needs of the people of the country.
We will – we’ve reached out to Venezuela. We want to have a dialogue ourselves. We are working to try to improve the situation. Susana and I spent a good amount of time this morning talking about Venezuela. We’re both deeply committed to trying to ease this crisis and facilitate a restoration of the full democracy and rights of the people in the country.
FOREIGN MINISTER MALCORRA: (Via interpretation) Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Regarding the situation of Mercosur, Argentina has clearly defined its position, and we believe that any handover of the pro tempore presidency should be by means of the established procedure and through a meeting of the council, which has not taken place, and that is the reality of this vacuum that has occurred because there hasn’t really been an accounting of the work done by the pro tempore presidency of Uruguay, which would be a requirement for the handover. A group is now meeting to look at options moving forward and President Macri is fully committed to this, closely following this.
And we in Mercosur are concerned about the external projection of the situation outside of Mercosur. We are at a very critical juncture and we would like to make progress on many fronts as the Mercosur bloc, including the European Union, but there are also other possible agreements we are looking at, and we think this could have an impact on Mercosur’s positioning. So what we are trying to do is find a solution that will make Mercosur remain strong, because ultimately, we believe in Mercosur and that is why we are trying to build bridges. So the work that is now being done at the expert level, and certainly, the dialogue to take place at presidential and foreign minister level over the next few days, lets us think we will find a solution, but a solution that will yield a stronger Mercosur, which is our top priority.
The last question, please.
QUESTION: Hi, Secretary Kerry. The U.S. Government has said repeatedly that the $400 million payment and the $1.3 billion in interest paid to Iran in January was not a ransom payment of any sort. The money was delivered at the same time, though, as the nuclear deal was finalized, and U.S. prisoners were released from custody there. It’s hard to not see this as a package. Do you think the U.S. prisoners would have been released in absence of that payment?
Additionally, Donald Trump yesterday said there was an Iranian military video of the cash transfer. Are you aware of such a video? If so, have you seen it?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not aware – is this on? I’m not aware of any video, no, so I obviously haven’t seen it if I’m not aware of it.
But let me speak to this transfer, because I know a lot about it. Because I was, obviously, negotiating the fundamental nuclear agreement with Iran, I’m aware of what was going on – more than aware. First of all, the United States of America does not pay ransom and does not negotiate ransoms with any country. We never have and we’re not doing that now. It is not our policy. That’s number one.
Number two, this story is not a new story. This was announced by the President of the United States himself at the very time that this transaction and the nuclear deal was being put together, and he made it clear that there was a separate negotiation track – a separate negotiation – that happened to come to be settled at the time which represents a restoration to Iran of its own money.
Now, let me be crystal clear about this: In 1979, Iran had made arrangements for the purchase – I believe it was purchase of some weapons at the time, or airplanes. I can’t remember which, but it was a purchase. And when the revolution took place in Iran, that money was frozen. They had paid it. It was in a bank account. It’s Iranian money, and it sat in the bank account earning interest for all of these years – which, I might add, at certain points of time was an extraordinary amount of interest, because interest rates were very high back in the 19 – late 1970s, early ’80s.
Now, that money was going up into the billions, and what was negotiated was a agreement in the Hague tribunal – this is a Hague case, and it was separated by a professional career team, not by some political group or anything to do with the Iran group. We did not negotiate it. It was negotiated by a separate group on a separate track who happened to come to an agreement at a time where Iran needed money and wanted money because the banking systems were closed to Iran, as they are even today to a certain degree. They’ve had difficulty in opening accounts in certain countries.
So we believe this agreement for the $400 million that was paid in interest in settlement of the case actually saved the American taxpayer potentially billions of dollars, because if that case kept going and came to fruition in the court system, the adjudication could have been for significantly more money – and probably would have been – rather than have a settlement for an immediate cash payout. So there was no benefit to the United States of America to drag this out. It would have worked against the interests of our taxpayers. And with the nuclear deal done, the prisoners released, the time was right to take advantage of that and resolve the dispute in the way that it was resolved.
Now, the President at the time said the following, quote: “Since 1981, after our nations severed diplomatic relations, we’ve worked through an international tribunal to resolve various claims between our countries. The United States and Iran are now settling a longstanding Iranian Government claim against the United States Government, and Iran will be returned its own funds, including appropriate interest, but much less than the amount that Iran sought.” That is what the President of the United States announced at the very time.
So this is not a new story. It doesn’t represent anything the American people weren’t told by the President and by the Administration. What it does represent is a policy of common sense to get a better deal, reduce the money we would have had to pay, save the American taxpayers dollars, and do it through a completely separate track that had nothing to do with the Iran nuclear deal.
MR KIRBY: Thank you, everybody.
FOREIGN MINISTER MALCORRA: (Via interpretation) Thank you very much. We need to go and see the president. Thank you.