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Briefing on Secretary Blinken’s Upcoming Travel to Colombia, Chile, and Peru

MR TEK:  Thank you and good afternoon, everybody.  Happy Friday.  Welcome to today’s call to preview Secretary Blinken’s upcoming travel to Colombia, Chile, and Peru from October 3rd to 7th.  Our speakers today are Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Marta Youth.

This call is on the record, but it is embargoed until its conclusion.  We will have some limited time for questions at the end.  And with that, I will turn it over Assistant Secretary Nichols.  Sir, please, go ahead.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  Thank you very much; and thank you all for joining us today for this preview of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s travel to Colombia, Chile, and Peru.  During this trip, Secretary Blinken will meet with some of our closest partners in the Americas to discuss a range of priorities, from migration to equity and inclusion, and economic growth and development.  The U.S. delegation accompanying Secretary Blinken includes a range of officials from across the White House, State Department, USAID, and other agencies.

On October 3rd and 4th, Monday and Tuesday, in Colombia, Secretary Blinken will meet with President Gustavo Petro, Vice President Francia Márquez, and Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva.  The Secretary will focus on our top three shared priorities: supporting strong democratic institutions, underscoring respect for human rights across the region, and reaffirming the hemisphere’s regional and wholistic approach to address irregular migration.  Secretary Blinken will also discuss efforts to tackle the climate crisis and narcotics trafficking impacting the region.

The Secretary will visit the “Fragmentos” exhibit at the National Museum of Colombia, which commemorates the end of Colombia’s internal conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia through the 2016 Peace Accord.  Finally, he will visit Colombia’s Migration Integration Center to reiterate U.S. support of Colombia’s Temporary Protected Status policy for Venezuelan migrants, a true model for the region.

On October 5th, Secretary Blinken will meet with President Gabriel Boric and Foreign Minister Antonia Urrejola in Santiago, Chile.

He will reaffirm U.S. support for democratic governance, bilateral opportunities for trade and investment, our joint efforts to combat climate change, as well as regional security and migration management.

The Secretary will also visit Chile’s National Electric Coordinator, where U.S.-owned companies help advance our mutual goals of relying on renewable energy sources, and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

He will also meet with alumni of the U.S.-sponsored Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative to discuss how their innovations are bringing economic growth and positive change to their communities.

On October 6, Secretary Blinken will travel to Lima, Peru to lead the U.S. delegation at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States, where he will underscore U.S. commitment to the OAS and this year’s theme, “Together Against Inequality and Discrimination.” The Secretary will also engage regional counterparts on issues of shared interest.

At the General Assembly, he will reaffirm the important role of the OAS in advancing democracy, human rights, sustainable development, and security cooperation throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Secretary Blinken will also discuss implementation efforts of the commitment from the Ninth Summit of the Americas.

He will meet with Peruvian President Pedro Castillo and Foreign Minister Cesar Landa to discuss increasing regional security, strengthening democratic governance, protecting the environment, and promoting inclusive economic growth.

On the margins of the OAS General Assembly, the Secretary will participate in the Lima Ministerial Meeting on Migration.  My colleague, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth, will provide further context during her remarks.

The General Assembly is the most senior decision-making body of the Organization of American States. The United States remains committed to strengthening and working with the OAS.  We have been an OAS member since its founding in 1948, and we contribute over 50 percent of the organization’s annual budget.

Secretary Blinken will meet with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to discuss continued cooperation on strengthening democratic institutions as well as promoting social and economic inclusion through the region.  They will also discuss OAS support for the implementation of the political commitments made at the Summit of the Americas in June 2022.

The United States joins OAS member states in several key resolutions and declarations: a declaration to call on Russia to end its aggression in Ukraine; a resolution to hold the Nicaraguan regime accountable for its continued human rights abuses; a Haiti-led resolution on the security and political situation in Haiti; a declaration on the human rights situation in Venezuela; and a resolution to advance our shared commitment to democracy and respect for human rights in the Americas by promoting dialogue and cooperation among democratically-elected legislators.

Colombia, Chile, and Peru are amongst our closest partners in the Americas.  We look to – forward to engaging their leaders next week to discuss a range of shared priorities, from economic prosperity and security to migration and social inclusion for all people across our hemisphere.  Thank you very much.

MR TEK:  Thank you very much, Assistant Secretary Nichols.  I will now turn the floor over to Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Marta Youth.

MS YOUTH:  Thanks so much.  Good afternoon.  I’m really glad to be joining Assistant Secretary Nichols today to discuss Secretary Blinken’s upcoming participation at the Migration Ministerial Meeting in Lima, on October 6th.  The United States and Peru are co-hosting this event, which follows prior ministerials in Colombia and Panama over the past 12 months.  It will take place, as was just said, on the margins of the OAS General Assembly, and the focus will be on implementation of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection.

This ministerial follows the presentation in June of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection.  During that event, President Biden brought together 21 of the countries most affected by forced displacement and irregular migration throughout the Western Hemisphere to redefine how we will jointly respond to the unprecedented challenges in our region.

The declaration presentation in Los Angeles was just the beginning.  We recognize it must be an ongoing framework for cooperation and action.  That is why countries throughout the region are rallying together to implement the commitments made under the Los Angeles Declaration, and hold one another accountable for further forward progress.

We officially launched the implementation framework for the Los Angeles Declaration at the White House last Friday on September 26.  Each endorsing country is appointing a special coordinator to represent them in this process, and to work together with other endorsing countries.

Next week’s event in Lima is the next milestone for the declaration.  The endorsing countries will provide updates on their progress implementing commitments made so far.  They will also make new commitments.  Together, these commitments are concrete measures to help vulnerable migrants and communities across the region, and provide regular ways for safe, orderly, and humane migration.

Addressing the challenges of irregular migration, providing protection to refugees and asylum seekers, and offering legal pathways are key priorities for the Biden-Harris administration.  Secretary Blinken intends to continue to highlight these priorities and to use the platform as a timely opportunity to stress the importance of continued and more robust regional engagement and responsibility-sharing for humane migration management.

Just one country cannot meet the moment alone.  States will need the support of key partners to turn the principles of the declaration into action.  The collaborative approach that serves as the bedrock for the declaration extends to other stakeholders, and we look to build avenues for meaningful engagement and advice from UN agencies and other international organizations, from civil society, from multilateral development banks and international financial institutions, and from the private sector.

Thanks again for your time, and I pass it back to the MC.

MR TEK:  Thank you so much, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Youth.  Operator, before we begin with questions, could you please repeat the instructions for joining the question queue?

OPERATOR:  Yes, thank you.  Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad.  You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command.  If you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers.  Once again, if you have a question, you may press 1 then 0 at this time.

MR TEK:  Excellent.  Thank you so much.  Could we please go to the line of Humeyra Pamuk from Reuters?

OPERATOR:  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for doing this.  Just two questions; one is a little bit broader, and the other one is a follow-up.  You probably would dispute this, but there is widespread criticism that Washington has been neglecting this region.  And I don’t mean it from an organizing summits point of view, but in terms of concrete action.  And I’m just wondering, in that backdrop, what is the message going to be from the U.S. when it comes to the region’s growing cooperation with China?  What will you tell them that the United States can offer when it comes to countering Beijing making economic inroads there?

And just to follow up on something Assistant Secretary Nichols said, I – the audio just got disconnected a little bit, so I believe he mentioned an OAS resolution that condemns Russia’s war in Ukraine in March.  He was referring to the one that was passed.  Is – are there any plans for a new one, and do they plan for that one, in the language, to go further than what was agreed?  Or is he confident that they can re-emphasize that one, given there’s been some leadership change in the region recently?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  Thanks very much for that question, and it’s an opportunity to talk about all the things that we’re doing coming out of the summit.  We have never had stronger relations with this hemisphere.  We have redoubled our efforts and our assistance to help countries deal with migration issues, providing hundreds of millions of dollars of new assistance to this hemisphere.

We’re going to be in Colombia, where we’ve invested over a billion dollars to help the Colombian people implement the 2016 peace accord.  We’ll be in Peru, where in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance over the last few years to deal with the migration crisis that they face – just like all of us.  We cooperate on counternarcotics, climate change issues, the broader environment; we support education and exchanges.  We are going to be in Santiago, Chile, a key partner for us across a whole range of issues, where the United States remains one of the top investors in Chile – a vibrant economy.  We are working with Chile address the global challenges on climate change and food insecurity.

In the Caribbean, we are actively engaged under the Vice President’s leadership in an effort that has not been seen, according to them, since the Reagan administration in addressing their concerns around energy, food security, climate, and access to finance.

At the Summit of the Americas, we announced $50 billion in multilateral development bank financing for climate change issues; and we’re seeing those investment deploying around hemisphere already.

Secretary Blinken has visited the region, has been active and engaged, as has a number of senior officials.  Obviously, we hosted the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles; and we underscore daily with our actions our commitment to supporting our partners from the Arctic Circle in Canada to the tip of Tierra del Fuego.

With regard to the resolution at the OAS General Assembly, I’m talking about general – new General Assembly resolutions that will be discussed and passed during this session in Lima.  So, this is a fresh opportunity for our hemisphere to again speak with a united voice, to say that the unprecedented, unjustified, inexcusable Russian invasion of Ukraine is unacceptable to the people of our hemisphere; and we are a hemisphere that respects democracy, the rule of law, respect for international borders.  And we’ll continue to insist upon that as we deal with other parts of the hemisphere.

I could go on, but I think I’m going to stop there.

MR TEK:  Great.  Thank you so much, sir.  Operator, could we please go to the line of Jaime Moreno from Voice of America?

OPERATOR:  He is not in the queue.  Please press 1 then 0 to enter the queue.

MR TEK:  Oh, okay.  I see – okay, that’s right.  He seems – looks like he’s dropped off.  Could we go to Thiago Amancio from Folha de São Paulo?

OPERATOR:  Yes, your line is open.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Hi.  Thank you very much.  So, Secretary Blinken going to South America one day after the Brazilian presidential election, and he’s not going to Brazil.  I’d like to know why that – if this is related to threats made by President Bolsonaro against the Brazilian electoral system; and, also, I’d like to know if the State Department is concerned about democracy in Brazil and if the department is going to immediately recognize the winner in the ballot.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  Thanks very much, and earlier today Secretary Blinken addressed the issue of elections in Brazil and noted our strong respect for and support of Brazilian institutions, particularly electoral institutions.  We have a close and active relationship with Brazil.  We deeply respect our Brazilian counterparts and the Brazilian people’s right to choose their own leaders.  We will follow the election with interest, but we are not sending any message by not going at this time when, really, Brazil’s in a – in the midst of a very active electoral process; and I think we owe it to our Brazilian counterparts to let them continue with their activities around that process.  Obviously, we expect to engage with whomever the Brazilian people decide as quickly as possible and to stress the hand of friendship and strong cooperation that we have with Brazil.

MR TEK:  Thank you so much.  Operator, I think I see Jaime back in the queue.  Could we try to call on him now?

QUESTION:  Any specific proposal from Secretary Blinken to President of Colombia Gustavo Petro to reduce the coca crops in Colombia, having into account that President of Colombia Gustavo Petro has criticized a lot in the United Nations the approach of coca trafficking in Colombia?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  So, we have a robust and ongoing cooperation with the Government of Colombia on counternarcotics issues.  The United States strongly supports a health and science-based approach to counternarcotics.  This is reflected in a policy of supporting rural development and rural security in Colombia, and we believe that President Petro strongly shares that goal.  We believe that interdiction is an important tool in the process.  We believe that rural livelihoods need to be strengthened to give people licit alternatives.  And as the Petro administration works through the details of its approach and any modifications it wants to make, we will continue to be a steadfast partner for President Petro and his administration.

MR TEK:  Thank you so much.  Could we please go to the line of Leon Bruneau from the AFP?

OPERATOR:  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Yes, hello, thanks for having the briefing.  I was wondering if there was any particular message that you are sending by going – the Secretary is going to three countries with leftist leaders – newly elected leaders: Colombia, Chile, and a little bit farther back in Peru.  So, I was wondering if there’s any message behind that.  Why the choice of these three countries at this time?  And, of course, who knows what will happen in Brazil, but it could be another return of a leftist president.  So, your thoughts on that, please.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  Thank you.  A year ago, the Secretary spoke in Quito, Ecuador about our hemisphere and our United States commitment to democracy.  We are not judging countries based on where they fall on the political spectrum but rather their commitment to democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.  And I would note that we are also visiting three countries that have been longtime vital trade partners of the United States, countries with free trade agreements with the United States, countries with long histories of exchange with the United States.  Last year, we celebrated 200 years of bilateral relations with Colombia.  And this year, we’ll be doing that with Chile and Peru.

We are focused on and strengthening our relations with those governments, and taking advantage of the OAS General Assembly taking place in Lima, Peru to visit the region and talk about our shared goals, addressing issues like inequality, access to healthcare. better access to education; making sure that our policies support growth from the bottom up and from the middle out, as President Biden says.

MR TEK:  Great.  Thank you so much.  I think we have time for one more question and that will go to Juan Merlano from Caracol TV.

QUESTION:  Hello.  Thank you very much.  Assistant Secretary, a question just regarding the resolution that you said you were going to raise in the OAS General Assembly about the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Are you hoping that Colombia supports this resolution?  Would be – would you be disappointed if they didn’t support – taking into account that a few days ago President Petro said that sending weapons to Ukraine could escalate the conflict and that he says that there are two narratives in this war?  Are you hoping – are you waiting for the strong support from Colombia to this resolution?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  We hope for strong support from all OAS member-states on the resolution on Ukraine – on Haiti – Nicaragua.  We believe that speaking out in favor of democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights; the idea that one country cannot simply invade another country, declare a sham referenda, and then annex its territory is something that I believe that all the nations in our hemisphere should be able to support.  And we look forward to working with all of those – the countries in the OAS to reach agreement around a strong set of resolutions that uphold the values of the inter-American system.

MR TEK:  Thank you so much.  Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for today’s call.  Thank you all so much for joining us today.  As a reminder, this call was on the record and embargoed until its conclusion, which will be momentarily.  Thank you again for joining us, and we’ll talk to you all again very soon.  Thank you.

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