Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on the President's Visit to Colombia (8/4/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary
                    (Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts)
For Immediate Release                                   August 4, 2000

                         BACKGROUND PRESS BRIEFING

                     The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
                             Washington. D.C.

2:44 P.M. EDT

     MR. CROWLEY:  Good afternoon to the assembled journalists here in the
briefing room, and good afternoon to our colleagues up in Martha's
Vineyard.  I understand it's raining up in the Vineyard; it's now raining
here, so all things considered, I think those of us here in Washington
would probably prefer to be up in the Vineyard.  We didn't exactly do this

     We'll, at the end of the briefing, have a statement by the President
for you and factsheet announcing a trip by the President, a one-day trip,
to Colombia, on August 30th.  And the statement also indicates that the
President has signed a presidential decision directive to implement our
support for President Pastrana and his Plan Colombia.

     We have two senior administration officials here to give you some
perspective on the trip and the PDD, and I will call them up here.  What
we're going to do, just for mechanical purposes is they'll have brief
opening statements to give you some background and then we'll start
questions.  We'll just simply alternate a journalist here in Washington,
and a journalist up in Martha's Vineyard, and we'll go as long as there's

     So, with that, I'll introduce -- and for those of you also here who
need something afterwards in Espanol, our distinguished senior
administration official number one does speak that language.  Our
distinguished senior administration official number two speaks French -- so
if you want something in a different language, we'll take care of you as

     So with that we'll introduce senior administration official number

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks very much, PJ.  The President
announced today that he will be traveling to Colombia on August 30th, to
meet with President Pastrana.  In his statement he said that he wants to
underscore personally to Pastrana and to the Colombian people the
commitment on the part of the United States to help Colombia in its efforts
to seek the peace, to fight illicit drugs, to build the economy, and to
deepen democracy.

     In his statement he also says that Colombia's success is profoundly in
the interest of the United States.  A peaceful, democratic and economically
prosperous Colombia will help to promote democracy and stability throughout
the region.

     He will travel -- it's a one-day trip; he will travel to Colombia,
meet with the President, meet with some of the top officials, and we're
working with the Colombian government right now to try to arrange the
particulars of the visit, which haven't been fully worked out as yet.

     At the same time, the statement that was released today -- the
President notes that he has signed the presidential decision directive
ordering, as a matter of national priority, the intensified effort to aid
the Colombian government in implementing Plan Colombia.  This complements
the package of assistance, the $1.3 billion package of assistance that was
requested by the administration from Congress and approved in a bipartisan
show of support for this initiative.  And in that spirit, the President
also announces that he will be accompanied by a bipartisan group of
legislators, including Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senator Joe Biden, both
of who have been very deeply involved in this effort.

     As you know, Colombia faces very difficult interrelated problems on
insurgency, a narcotic-drug threat, problems of economic challenge -- a
severe downturn, 20 percent level of unemployment -- and at the same time,
weak state capacity in many areas of the country.  This plan of support is
an integrated plan of support that addresses all of these different

     I think it's important to stress that while it is in the fundamental
interest of the United States, as the President noted here, to help
Colombia address the drug problem, 90 percent of the cocaine coming into
the United States comes from Colombia, and this is a fundamental interest.
This package is also one that addresses a broader interrelated series of
problems -- building state capacity, helping the Colombians develop
alternative development programs, and supporting the peace.

     A fundamental cornerstone of this package is the assumption that the
peace effort in Colombia is ultimately the solution to Colombia's
fundamental problems.  And indeed, there is substantial increases in
support in these areas, as well as in the counter-drug area, for Colombia.

     I think that's all I want to say right now, and we'll just open it up
for questions.

     Q    When was the last time a U.S. President visited?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The last time a U.S. President
visited Colombia was President Bush.

     Q    Do you know when?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I'm not sure exactly when, what date.

     Q    What about this common criticism now that the U.S. aid cannot be
successfully targeted between the insurgency and the drug -- and it seems
like events on the ground in recent weeks have underscored that.  How do we
keep the United States from being dragged into the insurgency?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I think that we've made it very
clear from the outset and in our program with the Colombians that this is a
counter-drug effort.  The battalions that are being stood up are
counter-drug battalions.  The effort is aimed primarily at southern
Colombia where you have the cultivation of most of the coca fields.  And in
many cases, these are agri-business type coca cultivation fields, so the
idea is that you're going to have springing of these fields, you're going
to have counter-narcotics battalions of the army going in and helping to
secure these fields, and you're going to have police going in to dismantle
laboratories and to eradicate the coca production.

     This is not an effort to get involved in Colombia's insurgency.  Now,
it is true that in some areas in southern Colombia some of the insurgents,
some elements of the FARC, are involved in some ways in the drug business.
And in that sense, there could very well be some clashes with guerrillas if
they're indeed involved in the drug business.  But the purpose of this
particular support package is very, very clear -- it is not one that's
aimed at the insurgents, per se; it's one aimed at fighting drugs.

     I don't know if you want to add anything to that.

     MR. CROWLEY:  Our first question from the Vineyard.  Understand that
the President will be going to Cartegena.  If that is true, how do you
explain the fact that Cartegena, itself, is an oasis from the drug and
crime problems that most Colombians are experiencing?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I'm not sure that we have come to a
final conclusion yet as to exactly where in Cartegena the President -- I
mean, in Colombia -- the President is going.  Whether it's Cartegena or
Bogata, that's still under discussion, and a lot really depends on some of
the logistics of travel.

     Q    Could you be a little bit more explicit about the PDD?  Is it
calling for more resources or is it simply directing that the resources
that have already been appropriated be used?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think the best way to understand
the rationale for and the fundamental thrust of the President's decision
directive is to recognize that it is a logical next step following the
recent approval by the Congress of a $1.3 billion increase in the amount of
assistance going to support a Plan Colombia and related regional
objectives.  I think that the quick summary I would offer you of the
content of the decision directive would be as follows:

     As Senior Administration Official Number One has indicated, it is the
President directing as a matter of national priority an intensified effort
to support implementation of Plan Colombia.  Secondarily, it is a vehicle
that the President is utilizing to establish the coordinating network and
framework for what will be undertaken across government by numerous
government agencies in the overall U.S. effort to support Plan Colombia

     Clearly I think everyone would recognize that where you have four or
five major federal departments and numerous agencies involved, that there
is a special necessary to ensure adequate coordination.  And finally, the
directive also specifies a number of specific roles and responsibilities
for the many federal agencies involved.

     Q    If I could follow up, I've never heard this term, national
priority program.  Could you explain the significance of that to you all?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  In this particular instance, the use
of that phrase in the President decision directive is simply intended to
have the normal meaning associated with what you would expect upon reading
the document.  It is the President saying to his administration that he
wishes to make unequivocally clear that this is a matter of national

     Q    Was it not a matter of national priority before?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I certainly think it has been a
priority for us for a long time in terms of addressing the Colombian
program, but this is an opportunity to reenforce that.  And it is also an
appropriate signal to send following the recent approval by the Congress of
the administration's request for additional assistance.

     Q    If I could be clear on that, that means there's no new money
going under this signing today?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think that's the best way to
understand the decision directive, that it is, in fact, the organizational
framework.  It essentially is one part and a very important visible part of
the administration's taking that additional funding and making sure that we
have an adequate arrangement throughout the administration to ensure that
those funds are well and effectively spent.

     Q    Can you tell us in terms of manpower, what will be the assistance
given by the U.S. to Colombia?  Do you have any idea?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  At this juncture I wouldn't want to
go very far in terms of specifics, other than to offer some very general
comments.  First, as I think most or all of you are aware, the recent
appropriations that have provided the additional assistance for Colombia
are subject to a number of requirements and limitations.  Those
requirements and limitations, of course, as a matter of law, must be
adhered to by the administration.

     We already have, as I think you're aware, a very significant U.S.
presence in Colombia in order to implement the ongoing assistance programs
that we have had there for a while.  I think that everyone who is
associated with the planning for implementation of the increases is well
aware of the fact that we will need an increase in the number of U.S.
government personnel there.  I would not describe that increase, and no one
is thinking of that increase, in terms of an order of magnitude.  But there
will be increases.  That planning is underway, and I think that's a matter
where we'll simply have to see that play itself out.

     Q    How many U.S. trainers, for instance, are there now?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On any one particular day, I,
frankly, would not be able to give you the number without checking.  What I
can tell you is that there have been instances where I have checked
recently because of the discussion in Congress associated with the proposed
ceilings that were discussed as the appropriations were being developed,
and the number that I got in terms of military personnel was approximately
280 military personnel in country.  And a good number of those personnel
were associated with the ongoing effort at that point in time to train the
first Colombian army counter-drug battalion.

     In the pattern recently -- and this will continue into the future --
has been that the number of military personnel there will vary, depending
on what we're doing in country at that particular point in time.  And
usually, a spike in the number of personnel will be because we have a major
training evolution ongoing at the particular time.

     Q    Would you remind us what the ceiling is on personnel?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I'm informed by my colleagues -- I
wouldn't have remembered that -- but the current ceiling is 500 for U.S.
military personnel.

     Q    And is there any limit on civilian personnel?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  There is a limit.  I think that is
still the subject of some ongoing discussion in terms of how it applies to
civilian contractors and others.  I would have to get back to you after the
briefing with an answer on that, unless one of my colleagues has the answer

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don't have the answer of the actual
number now.  But let me remind you that one of the things that is really
significant about this package is that the proportional increases in
support for other aspects of the package, besides this strictly drug
interdiction and the drug combatting side of the thing -- that is
alternative development, promotion of governmental institutions, support
for the peace, and so on -- that portion of the package has increased in a
significant percentage.

     For example, I'm aware of the fact that over the last period the AID
mission in Colombia has been very small.  With the increase in alternative
development support, for example, which is a significant amount of funding
-- I think it goes up to $120 million, if I'm not mistaken -- you're going
to see a significant increase in some of the support -- some of the
personnel dealing with those aspects of the support package.

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  But there's a tenfold increase in the
support for those elements of the package over what we've been funding in
Colombia in the past.

     Q    Do you think that the limited time of the trip will be enough for
President Clinton to press for --

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, I think so.  I think that the
visit of the President of the United States is a very significant event for
Colombia and it will be something that will rivet the attention of
Colombians.  And there are several events that will be planned during the
period that the President will be there that will drive home the importance
of the different dimensions of this support package.  Because, let me
reiterate once again, the counter-drug portion is absolutely critical, but
it's not the only part of the package, that it involves, in fact, support
for many other elements of the multifaceted challenges that Colombia faces.

     Q    Apart from the visit with President Pastrana, does he intend to
address the parliament or the Colombian people, or can you tell us a little
bit about the visit?

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Since we're announcing this today,
and we're beginning to discuss with the Colombian government authorities
the appropriate venue for such activities, this hasn't been worked out as
yet.  But we are looking for opportunities for engagement on the part of
the President.

     Q    Do you know if Chelsea will join, as she's done on the last few
foreign trips?


     Q    Could you talk a little bit about security on this trip?
Colombia is widely regarded as the most dangerous post for Americans --
listed by the State Department as one of them.

     SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think I'm going to just say that
certainly that will be of the highest priority.

     MR. CROWLEY:  There are no more questions from Martha's Vineyard.
Unless there are any more questions from here, we'll conclude.

     THE PRESS:  Thank you.

     END  3:04 P.M. EDT

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