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Under Secretary Burns’ Remarks at the 41st OAS General Assembly

Let me begin by thanking Secretary General Insulza, President Funes, and Foreign Minister Martinez for their superb efforts in organizing and hosting this 41st General Assembly of the Organization of American States.

It is fitting to the spirit of the OAS Charter and the Inter American Democratic Charter that the General Assembly is meeting in El Salvador. The hard-won achievements of Salvadorans are widely recognized. I would like to reemphasize President Obama’s words during his March visit here, when he commended El Salvador for its courageous work to overcome old divisions, and for showing that progress comes through pragmatism and building consensus.

The theme our hosts have selected for this General Assembly, “Citizen Security in the Americas,” is profoundly important for all of us, and we applaud the Salvadoran decision to highlight citizen security as the theme of our Assembly this year.

Threats to the security of our citizens often come from transnational crime. No individual government can hope to deal with international criminals alone. Indeed, the criminals use our international boundaries to their own advantage, and to the disadvantage of law enforcement. But working together, we can reinforce national efforts and create new collaborative efforts to fight crime in all its forms.

Throughout the Americas, our governments understand the critical importance of building effective, democratic institutions that can deliver concrete results, provide economic and social opportunity, and safeguard citizen security. Civil society across the Americas is a vibrant and engaged partner, helping to strengthen political will, and to amplify the voices of the governed. This critical partnership, within our countries and here within the OAS, is essential for building stronger institutions, reinforced by dialogue and mutual respect.

Regionally, there is renewed impetus for security cooperation and coordination between democratic societies—cooperation that transcends traditional state-to-state formulas, and that draws from the experience, knowledge, and resources of multiple players. In Central America, regional governments and other partners throughout the Americas – the European Union, and institutions like SICA, the Inter American Development Bank, and the World Bank – are collaborating in unprecedented ways to develop and implement national and regional strategies to bolster citizen security.

Let me recall that the first sentence of the first article of the OAS Charter calls the Organization to a high purpose—which includes promoting solidarity, strengthening collaboration, and defending sovereignty.

The strong partnerships growing across the Americas embody that purpose. It would be hard to imagine this common cause without the democratic growth and development that are transforming most countries in the Americas.

The OAS has played a very important role in getting us to this point. I think of the critical role the OAS has played in brokering the peaceful settlement of border disputes involving member states, or the ever-increasing number of electoral observation missions the OAS has undertaken.

The OAS also leads the way in developing peer review processes, such as that established by the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. The Inter-American Human Rights Commission continues to seek redress for the victims of abuse throughout the region—and has not hesitated to criticize and make recommendations for every country of the hemisphere, including my own. We should be proud of this record, and continue to build upon it.

With these milestones in mind, we recognize that the central pillars of the OAS—strengthening democratic institutions, safeguarding human rights, promoting development, and enhancing multidimensional security—are important goals that deserve our focused energy. At the same time, a renewed effort to better align these pillars with available funding guides the efforts of the United States to ensure that the OAS remains focused and clear in its purpose. Strengthening of the OAS can be achieved, even in difficult budget environments, by directing attention and resources toward its core strengths.

The OAS enjoys a unique status in the Americas. It embodies much of what makes the Americas a remarkable community of shared interests and values. And the Organization has a vast capacity to nurture the impetus toward integration that exists in every sub-region in the Americas. That integration will be critical to the success and competitiveness of my country, and each of yours, in an ever more interconnected world.

The reality of the Americas is that our citizens have an increasingly sophisticated understanding of their global interests, and are increasingly linking up with each other and the rest of the world. We see this in civil society through the use of social media and modern technology. We see this in the private sector. And we see this in governments, across all agencies and at all levels.

And so, as we work in solidarity to strengthen our institutions to fight transnational crime and build resilient communities, we know that our common cause does not compromise sovereignty, but rather safeguards it. This is why we must work even harder to strengthen the underpinnings of our democratic societies—good governance, responsive institutions, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law—which are essential elements of democracy and founding principles of this Organization.

As members of the OAS, we have pledged to support and uphold democratic principles and practices, and that standard must continue to guide us. We share a fundamental belief in the dignity and worth of the individual, and that those who govern must have the consent of the governed. Democracy requires the ability of citizens to openly enjoy their political and civil liberties without fear of reprisal; a free and unfettered press; and a vibrant civil society.

During this year, there is a growing momentum in the region to reflect on the implementation of the Democratic Charter—and how it can be used more effectively and proactively.

The Democratic Charter served as our guide in dealing with recent events in Honduras, and assisted in shaping our region’s discussions regarding its successful return to our Organization. We should take stock of the lessons learned from this experience. Following the suspension of Honduras, the international community worked through the OAS to help Honduras restore its democracy. The free and fair election of President Lobo, and the formation of a government of national reconciliation and a Truth Commission, fulfilled the obligations in the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord. Honduras continues to exhibit an unwavering commitment to democratic governance. For Honduras, the recent vote on reintegration marked a historic milestone and represents a significant moment for the OAS, which demonstrated its capacity to safeguard democracy in the hemisphere.

By working together to integrate our steadfast commitment to democracy with real and sustained efforts to help citizens, we can make tremendous progress in advancing Inter-American cooperation in support of a safe and secure region. Our futures and our fortunes are closely linked. Our common challenge is to ensure that our common efforts support the vital role of the OAS.

Let me conclude simply by reaffirming the United States’ commitment to working with all of you and this Organization in a spirit of genuine and equal partnership.

Thank you.


Assistant Secretary Valenzuela’s Remarks on the Decision To Readmit Honduras Into the Organization of American States

MR. TONER: Good afternoon. Actually, we have a special guest with us to lead off the briefing. Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela has come down to talk a bit about the decision yesterday to readmit – (laughter) – okay, go ahead, that’s okay – to readmit Honduras into the OAS. Without further ado – and he’ll also be able to take just a few questions, and then I believe he’s got another interview he’s running off to.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Thanks very much. Thanks. What I’d like to do is first read a statement that the Secretary put out late last evening:

“The United States welcomes yesterday’s decision by members of the Organization of American States, OAS, to lift the suspension of Honduras’ participation in the organization. This moment has been long in coming. It’s an important milestone for Honduras, for the OAS, and for the Americas.

“The crisis and coup in Honduras was a test for the OAS in its ability to act swiftly and decisively to safeguard our shared democratic values. The Inter-American Democratic Charter was invoked. Honduras was suspended. Thanks to the steadfast efforts of President Lobo and his commitment to national reconciliation, and the tireless efforts of several OAS member states, democracy was restored. This accomplishment has strengthened the OAS’s ability to deal with future challenges to democracy and the threat they pose to peace and prosperity. But there’s more work to be done.

“A return to the OAS allows Honduras to resume its rightful place in the American system to help other countries in the hemisphere address common challenges and seize new opportunities. Honduras’s Government and people have the tools to improve governance, strengthen democratic institutions, and safeguard human rights so that all Hondurans have the chance for a brighter future.”

That’s the end of the statement. And I’m happy to take any questions you might have.

QUESTION: A lot of reports of lingering human rights abuses in Honduras by the government. Is that still an issue of concern for you?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: Yes. It is an issue of concern for us. We take it very seriously. We also applaud the fact that President Lobo, for example, has appointed a minister of justice and human rights to specifically address these questions. But there are some really significant problems in Honduras in this regard. Part of it is due to the fact that Honduras is facing also a very significant crisis with the criminal organizations and the narcotics trafficking organizations there. But human rights is a very important objective for the U.S. Government and it’s an important objective for the Honduran Government as well.

QUESTION: Talking about drug trafficking and the impact in Central America, do you have any comment on this report on the Global Commission on Drug Policy that recommends really to – dramatic changes in how governments address drug trafficking and the problem of drug abuse?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY VALENZUELA: We’re aware of these efforts that these commissions have been making. Our position is very clear on this, that we support an integrated strategy, a comprehensive strategy, in combating the problems of drugs and drug trafficking. We have to look not only at issues of elimination of the cultivation of drugs and eradication, interception, and that sort of thing, but we also have to approach this with a focus on the demand side, and this is the policy of the Administration in this regard.

And we’re working very effectively, I think now, with our partners in the region to address these issues in a comprehensive way. It’s also an international problem, so more and more we’re working with others to try to see how we can have a coordinated strategy. And more specifically – and I’ll end with this – with regard to Central America, we’re very, very concerned about the situation, and this relates back to the importance of Honduras returning to the OAS. As you know, next week there will be a regular general assembly of the Organization of American States. It will deal with security kinds of issues in the region, and we will certainly be addressing the problems of drug trafficking.

MS. FULTON: Okay. If there are no further questions, we’ll move on to the regular briefing. (Inaudible.)


MR. TONER: Thank you so much, Arturo. Thank you.


Secretary Clinton on Honduras’ Admission to the OAS

The United States welcomes today’s decision by members of the Organization of American States (OAS) to lift the suspension of Honduras’ participation in the organization. This moment has been a long time coming. It is an important milestone for Honduras, for the OAS, and for the Americas.

The crisis and coup in Honduras was a test for the OAS and its ability to act swiftly and decisively to safeguard our shared democratic values. The Inter-American Democratic Charter was invoked. Honduras was suspended. Thanks to the steadfast efforts of President Lobo and his commitment to national reconciliation, and the tireless efforts of several OAS member states, democracy was restored. This accomplishment has strengthened the OAS’ ability to deal with future challenges to democracy and the threat they pose to peace and prosperity. But there is more work to be done.

A return to the OAS allows Honduras to resume its rightful place in the Inter-American system to help other countries in the hemisphere address common challenges and seize new opportunities. Honduras’ government and people have the tools to improve governance, strengthen democratic institutions and safeguard human rights so that all Hondurans have the chance for a brighter future.


Secretary Clinton’s Remarks With Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin After Their Meeting

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining me and the foreign minister. We’ve just had an excellent meeting that capped a day of intensive dialogue between our governments. The foreign minister and I addressed our delegations earlier, and I certainly underscored how impressed and inspired we are by Colombia’s progress and eager to expand our work together on the full range of issues that we have common concerns about.

Colombia has emerged as a regional and global partner. It sits on the UN Security Council, trains police to help 16 other nations to meet their security challenges, and through the leadership of both the president and the foreign minister, has played the leading role in bringing Honduras back into the inter-American system. At home, President Santos and his government are taking bold steps to heal Colombia’s wounds, redress grievances, consolidate democratic freedoms, and promote human rights. And of course, we are absolutely committed to passing the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement to open new markets and create jobs and opportunities for both of our peoples.

Since the first High Level Partnership Dialogue last October, Colombia has made significant progress on human, labor, and civil rights. And we are committed to working with Colombia as they continue their progress. We also discussed social and economic development, climate change, environmental protection, energy, education, and culture.

We had a very productive and wide-ranging dialogue, and Colombia’s progress is a testament to the courage and vision of the Colombian people and their leaders. And it’s also a reminder to the United States about why we sustain investments in our friends and our partners even through tight budgets and tough times.

So, Foreign Minister, thank you so much for the opportunity to work with you on these very important issues.

FOREIGN MINISTER HOLGUIN: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Secretary Clinton. To me, to us, it’s a great pleasure to be here today working at the State Department. We truly value the effort and support that the United States has shown Colombia over the course of many decades.

I believe that the success that Colombia has had in the fight against terrorism, against drug trafficking, is due to U.S. support. We have a well-trained police. We have one of the strongest military forces in the region. And today we are happy to take a second step to take drug trafficking or reduce the importance of drug trafficking and think about other issues that are important for us as well – energy, education, science and technology, environment – and to focus on these issues that are important to both of us in our relationship.

We believe that the work that both delegations have undertaken today lead us to developing a specific agenda on a number of issues that will help us further consolidate the relationship that has been strong in the past.

I want to thank Secretary Clinton for supporting Colombia’s aspirations to accede to the OECD. It’s a great opportunity for us to improve practices in our country, and we thank the United States for their support in this endeavor.

As Secretary Clinton said, we talked about the region, we talked about Honduras, and Colombia is very happy to have given its part to reestablishing Honduras within the organization and to do its part to strengthen democracy throughout the region.

And we talked about the issue of security, and Colombia here has cooperated greatly with Central America and the Caribbean on issues related to the fight against organized crime and drug trafficking. And as we talked before, we can continue to be great allies in helping the region, and we believe we can truly contribute to improving the situation throughout.

We thank Secretary Clinton for her support on the FTA, for support on the preferences. We are abiding by the commitments that we achieved during the April agreement, and we are happy to see that our dream that we’ve held for so many months is about to come into fruition.

We also talked about the Summit of the Americas. Colombia will be a host of the summit in April of 2012, and we’ve been talking with many countries about the organization of the summit and we have U.S. support to this end. We want to have discussions on a number of issues that join us, and we hope to have support in the region and throughout the continent, and we’ll see you in Cartagena next year.

I thank you for the work today. I think this is an important step towards strengthening our relationship, a relationship that is no doubt strong already, but there is always room for improvement. Thank you very much.

MR. TONER: We have time for just a few questions. The first goes to Elise Labott from CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Secretary. On Pakistan, the Pakistanis have said they’re going to take a new offensive into North Waziristan. Do you see this as a positive sign in response to some of the things that you discussed on your trip in terms of the Pakistanis needing to take action?

And then there are some very troubling signs in the Middle East today. There’s been reports in Syria of the torturing of a young boy, and in Yemen as well the violence is – the government is cracking down on the opposition even further. And it seems as in this second wave of the Arab Spring, if you will, the dictators are really digging in. And in fact, even as you call for them to make a transition, they’re cracking down even further and furthering their oppression. I was wondering if you had some thoughts on that.

Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Elise, first with regard to Pakistan, as I said on our recent visit, Pakistan is a key ally in our joint fight against terrorists that threaten both of us as well as the region and beyond. And when I was there, we discussed our cooperative efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and to also drive the associated terrorists who are targeting both Pakistanis and, across the border in Afghanistan, Americans, coalition troops, and Afghans. So we are discussing a number of approaches that we think could assist us in this very important fight.

I would also add that there is no doubt that the progress we have made against al-Qaida and terrorists could have not have happened without Pakistani cooperation between our governments, our militaries, our intelligence agencies. And there’s still a lot of work to be done, so we are in the process of discussing what more the Pakistanis could do. We will continue to do our part working together.

With respect to Syria, I too was very concerned by the reports about the young boy. In fact, I think what that symbolizes for many Syrians is the total collapse of any effort by the Syrian Government to work with and listen to their own people. And I think that as the President said in his speech last week, President Asad has a choice, and every day that goes by the choice is made by default. He has not called an end to the violence against his own people and he has not engaged seriously in any kind of reform efforts. And I have here the name of the young boy whose body was so brutally affected by the behavior and the conduct of those who had him in detention: Hamza Ali al-Khateeb. And I can only hope that this child did not die in vain but that the Syrian Government will end the brutality and begin a transition to real democracy.

QUESTION: Have they completely lost legitimacy?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s up to the Syrian people themselves. We’ve obviously, along with others, imposed sanctions, spoken out. We’ve closely coordinated with allies and partners. We’ve imposed an arms embargo. We’ve led the call for a special session in the United Nations. But I think that every day that goes by, the position of the government becomes less tenable and the demands of the Syrian people for change only grow stronger. And therefore, we continue to urge an end to the violence and the commencement of a real process that could lead to the kinds of changes that are called for.

MR. TONER: Our next question goes to Sergio Gomez Maseri of El Tiempo.

QUESTION: Thanks, Madam Secretary and Minister Holguin. You just mentioned that the U.S. is absolutely committed to the passage of the FTA. However, the FTAs – and I mean Colombia, Panama, and Korea – are all hostage of an internal dispute between Republicans and Democrats that has caused deep frustration in Colombia and also questions that come in that you were talking about. So can you tell us if you’re still confident, as you say a couple months ago here, that the FTAs are – are these FTAs going to be passed this year?

And a question for both: Can you comment on what’s expected tomorrow on the general assembly of the OAS regarding Honduras?

FOREIGN MINISTER HOLGUIN: (Via interpreter) On the issue of Honduras, I can say that we are convinced that Honduras will be brought back into the OAS tomorrow, and there has been negotiations on the resolution that took place last week and today. And I can say that most countries, if not all, wish to see Honduras return to the OAS and wish to see the strengthening of democracy in that country, and I can say that the only surprise that we can expect tomorrow is Honduras coming back to the organization.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And yes, I am confident that we are going to pass the Free Trade Agreement. I hope that the people of Colombia do not lose heart in watching the activities of our Congress, because there always is a lot of rhetoric and skirmishing between the parties before they finally hit the deadline to get the work done. And so I am absolutely sure we’re going to get it passed.

QUESTION: Can you (inaudible) Honduras?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, I agree with the foreign minister. And I commend Colombia for the leadership role that it has played in enabling us to reintegrate Honduras tomorrow at the OAS.

Thank you all very much.


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