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Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Vice President's Trip to Latin America

August 11, 2017

Via Teleconference

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Vice President is traveling to South and Central America, as my colleague said, to visit Colombia, Argentina, Chile, and Panama. These are four key partners and friends of the United States and each in their own way are emblematic of a positive direction that we've seen in Latin America -- open markets, strong democracies.

The Vice President will meet with President Santos in Colombia, visit with President Macri in Argentina, Bachelet in Chile, and Varela in Panama. And many of these, he's either joined the President here in the White House or hosted in the West Wing, and also had phone calls. So looking forward to reengaging with those four key leaders.

We're going to further our close economic and security ties. We'll express to all four the support for important economic reform efforts across the region, and, again, share concerns with the disturbing collapse of democracy in Venezuela that I'm sure will be raised in all the stops.

Honing down a little bit in each country -- in Colombia, our visit to Cartagena will highlight our strong bilateral ties with Colombia. That includes our support for the country's efforts to address some serious challenges of implementing its peace accords. They are reducing historic levels of drug cultivation which was at an all-time high. And we'll also highlight our significant trade and investment relationships. You'll see that theme through all four stops. Underpinning our bilateral trade promotion agreement that's been in place since 2012.

The Vice President is also going to underscore the helpful role Colombia is playing to increase pressure on the Maduro regime. He's going to call on Colombia to continue to take actions against the Maduro regime and assist with other regional actors to do the same.

Then, as my colleague said, we'll transit to Argentina. In Argentina, the Vice President is going to highlight President Macri's bold reform agenda, the reemergence of Argentina into a position of global leadership. They'll be hosting -- Argentina will be hosting the WTO ministerial later this year. And I'm certain you'll hear from President Macri -- they're hosting the G20 in 2018, which is huge for them and for us, as well.

The Vice President will also deliver, as my colleague said, a major policy address in Buenos Aires. We'll outline a vision of productive engagement with likeminded partners across the region. And we'll talk about our shared commitments to security, to prosperity, and to democracy.

We'll then fly down to Chile. We'll recognize Chile as a leader and a model for open and integrated economy, their solid, stable democracy. We'll highlight our successes of our trade relationship, the free trade agreements, and a robust security partnership. And as my colleague mentioned, we'll also highlight the 50th anniversary of the Association of U.S. Chambers in Latin America and the 100th anniversary of the American Chamber there in Chile -- a very historical time for that organization. He'll address that in his speech with U.S. business community leaders. He'll note the positive legacy that our U.S. businesses have in the region, and recommit everyone to fighting corruption and building transparency in the region.

And then our last stop in Panama, the Vice President is going to continue to talk about our bilateral commercial and security relationships. We'll highlight the role of our new successful free trade agreement with Panama. As my colleague said, he will tour at the historic Miraflores Lock and then the new expanded Cocoli Lock. And we'll talk about the historic connection and, really, the past, but more so looking at the future and the future that we're going to build with them in the region.

And as my colleague mentioned, I would imagine in each of these stops we'll talk about Venezuela. All of these countries have demonstrated their clear support for democracy, rejecting the dictatorship of Maduro's regime. A note that the Declaration of Lima -- I believe that was, gosh, a couple days ago now, on the 8th -- 12 countries from the region expressed unanimous support for democracy in Venezuela, and we'll reaffirm that with each of our stops.

So I'll keep it at that so we can go to some questions. Thanks, everybody.

Q: Hey. So on Venezuela, obviously, yeah, I imagine that's going to be a big theme. Is there anything, I guess, new that you think can be added to the conversation beyond sort of reaffirming support? Any additional sanctions that could be discussed? Yeah, I guess if you could just give a little more color, sort of like what new or what more might be added on that issue.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so the important piece with these four countries is it's a multilateral approach, a regional approach. We've been firm in both word and deed against the Maduro regime, and it's important to get others in the region. And these four countries have, but we want to continue to put the pressure on the Maduro regime. We'll talk to economic options, diplomatic options -- every tool that's available. It's not only the United States putting forth pressure on Maduro, but that he's getting it from all sides of the region as well.

Q: And one last thing. Any trade deals you expect? I don't know if there was anything, you know, like trade announcements that might be made along the way.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, we anticipate there will be a couple announcements made along the way. We've been working hard with partners and both with Commerce and USTR, and the Vice President will be making a couple announcements while we're there in region.

Q: Okay, great. Thank you.

Q: Are you anticipating any additional sanctions against Venezuela to be announced during the time that we're there?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, we've got a full range of options available. And obviously, the National Security Council and interagency worked hard to lay out options for the President. I would never want to project our moves for the administration, but we're working through a range of options to give to the President.

Q: In terms of trade, is there going to be any talk about the -- there's like the TPP-minus-one that's sort of developing with some of these countries. Is that going to be a topic of discussion?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Trade will be a topic of discussion in all of the stops. We've had good engagements with the leaders, again, during their visits here, and we'll build upon the previous conversations and working with their teams. But absolutely would anticipate bilateral trade discussions with each of these countries.

Q: Can you actually just tell us a little bit about whether the Vice President has ever been to any of these countries before? And just talk a little bit more about the relationship -- if he has any beyond just the meetings while the leaders were visiting the White House -- whether he has any past relationships with these leaders.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can only speak during the time with the administration; he hasn't traveled to the region. I'd have to get back and check on what he did in his time as governor and, I would anticipate, during his time with the Foreign Affairs Committee. But again, I'd have to go back and verify. But during his time as Vice President, he has not been to the region.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, we'll take that as a follow-up on that one. He has met with some of these leaders as they've come to the White House, so that's probably the most recent interaction.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely, yep. He has hosted -- he has visits on his own and with the President.

Q: And just a question if this is happening during this brinksmanship, if you will, over North Korea. And I'm curious if you anticipate the Vice President to address the situation in the Korean Peninsula at all, or if that will be a subject of any of the talks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, the Vice President talks to the President every day. This is obviously at the forefront with our administration and national security. So I would imagine it will be raised. It is a global problem that requires a global solution. With the range of ICBM, it's not just North America that has these concerns. So, if raised, we're ready to address, and it's not leaving the radar screen just because we're leaving the time zone.

Q: You talked about a major policy announcement in Argentina. Now you have a country like Colombia and Chile that have a positive trade balance. The U.S. has a positive trade balance with them. That would be an issue. What about immigration? How will you bring immigration about this trip? And how will you be able to avoid Venezuela overshadowing the rest of the message of this very long visit of the Vice President to Latin America?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I'll address the latter half first. It's relevant to us and it's relevant to the four countries that we're visiting. So I don't see it as a distractor; I see it as an important discussion point as we talk about the multilateral approach. I guess the parallelism I would make is, during our trip to Asia, North Korea did a test when we were in country there, and it obviously didn't distract from the relationship with the host countries. It's, again, a global problem that requires a global solution. And so I would imagine that will get raised.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just chime in on that. I actually think that what the situation in Venezuela demonstrates is the divide between the future of South America and the past of South America. And that will be a theme that will be highlighted throughout the trip, is that Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Panama -- they represent the future -- the future of freedom, opportunity, prosperity, trade, growth, whereas Venezuela is going into the past of dictatorship, oppression. And these other countries that we are highlighting, we're highlighting them because of the relationship and the steps to move forward that they have made. So I think that will be a theme you'll see throughout the trip. So the events that are happening will play into that as well.

So do you want to take the other part of the question?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. can you just refresh?

Q: Yeah, immigration.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yep. We've had the discussions here. We had the discussions with -- we've hosted President Macri, President Santos, Varela. He hasn't had the opportunity to meet Bachelet, but we'll address it. Again, it's important to this administration. We're going to talk about how the importance of a good, solid economy and trade keeps economic migrants from fleeing if they can have jobs. And we're going to talk about any corruption and, again, how we can keep the folks back in their homes. Most of the folks -- most of the immigration issues have not generated from these four particular countries, but they have, again, the regional influence, as we discussed when the Vice President hosted down in Miami at the Northern Triangle Conference, on some of the immediate areas.

So it will be discussed more in a "how can they support the region" and less of immigration proper -- because with these particular countries, they're not leaders in that.

Q: In a follow-up, any concern on Argentina? You have their primary elections this weekend. They don't define much but they define a lot. And the Vice President will arrive right after. Will this have an impact? And will there be kind of a message of his support for Macri?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, no -- the timing -- we realize that we're coming in the day after, but he had a good meeting with President Macri here at the White House when the President hosted President Macri. And we look forward to building upon that relationship.


Q: In previous administrations we've seen Presidents ask their Vice President to take on Latin America -- not quite as a special dossier. But we've seen Vice Presidents in the past develop very close relationships not just with their (inaudible), but also with heads of state, heads of government. Has President Trump asked the Vice President to make sure that Latin America gets enough attention? Because it's a time on with what's going on in the world.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I mean, the President has asked the Vice President, and that's why he is going on this trip. It's important to this administration and that's why we were given the direction from the President to head down.

Q: But more specifically, you saw -- I don't want to mention previous Vice Presidents by name to kind of upset everyone, but it's kind of been like an area of specialty for some of these previous Vice Presidents. To take on Latin America is something -- it's their kind of dossier. Is there a sense that that's part of Vice President Pence's role, to pay special attention to Latin America?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Inaudible) special attention to the globe. That's what I've seen as the national security advisor in just a few short months. The President has asked him to go to Europe, to Asia; we just got back from Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and the Balkans, and now to Latin America. It's important to the President and this administration that we get the message out globally, and the Vice President is looking forward to being part of that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One of the things we'll also talk about is the fact that the United States exports more to the Western Hemisphere than all of Asia combined, and the Vice President will get into that in a little more specificity in some of his remarks. But that will be something we'll highlight.

One other thing I should clarify when I was talking a little bit about the theme: Just to note, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Panama are representing the future of Latin America. I might have said South America, but obviously we're including Central America in that, as well. So, I apologize -- the future of Latin America.

Mike Pence, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Vice President's Trip to Latin America Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/331165

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