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Thomas J. Pickering, under secretary of state for political affairs, on-the-record briefing on trip to Latin America, Washington, DC, February 22, 2000
Thomas J. Pickering
Under Secretary for Political Affairs
On-the-record Briefing on Trip to Latin America
Washington, DC, February 22, 2000

MR. REEKER: I think that makes it a quorum. As advertised, we're pleased to welcome Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering for an on-the-record, on-time briefing today following his trip last week to Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Brazil. So we'll go directly to Under Secretary Pickering. He has a few remarks, and then we'll go to your questions. Thanks.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Thanks, Phil, and thank you all at what I know is a certain amount of pain coming by here after lunch to hear a briefing on Latin America.

I had a trip that began on Saturday and ended on Saturday which was focused very heavily on a meeting with key officials in Colombia on the 13th and 14th. As you all know, President Clinton believes very much that helping Colombia control the flow of narcotics from Colombia into the United States is vital to our national interests. I had the opportunity to make this point to the Senate Narcotics Caucus on Capitol Hill this morning, and this certainly made my stop in Colombia particularly important to us.

While there, I had an opportunity also to go to southern Colombia to look at the area where the government intends to undertake more intensive counter-narcotics operations in the future based on our support for having trained already one special battalion of the Colombian army who will work in coordination with the Colombian police and eventually with civilian officials on alternative development in that part of the country in the struggle against narcotics.

I had the opportunity and pleasure of meeting with President Pastrana in Bogota to talk about the strategy that we all and his team believe is the most important to follow to pursue implementation of the plan, obviously based on the proposals we have made to the Congress for a $1.6 billion funding package over the next two years to do that. Both the members of my delegation separately, and then in an opportunity we had to have a broad joint meeting with the Colombians, talked about issues from coordination to implementation, including some very important and interesting Colombian ideas about how to go about in their own country part of these processes.

We see this as the beginning of a more intensive and more focused bilateral set of discussions on plan implementation. I had the opportunity as well on my way to Colombia to stop overnight in Florida to see General Charles Wilhelm, the Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Command who will be playing a major role in the planning effort, including integrated military police and civilian planning from the U.S. side. During my meetings, my Colombian counterparts also brought me up to date on their efforts to pursue a peace process with the most recent developments in that process.

A centerpiece of our effort was on plan implementation, and here I think it is extremely important to recognize that this particular effort involves a lot of coordination and a lot of integration. The Colombians are going to attempt to do what very few people have ever done successfully; this is not only to bring police and military together in the effort to take charge of those ports of their country, particularly in the south in which there is expanded coca cultivation, but to do it in coordination with civilians who will provide a wide variety of other elements of the plan including alternative development, as I said a minute ago, new opportunities to develop democracy in the Colombian villages. And a broader part of the plan on the part of the civilians is human rights, the judicial reforms that have to be made and a whole series of similar and allied sets of activities.

I also met with NGO groups representing human rights organizations in Colombia, had an opportunity to meet with business and other leaders and with members of the Colombian legislature.

I went briefly to Venezuela for a day, where I looked at some of the problems caused by the huge floods there, truly devastating in their impact in Venezuela, and some of the U.S. contributions being made to help those who are suffering from the floods. In Caracas, I had an excellent meeting with a couple of leaders, including the foreign minister, the leader of the small congress that they have put in place, Mr. Miquilena, and with a number of leaders of people representing other than government parties, opposition parties or at least opposition points of view, to get their sense of a whole range of bilateral issues.

The Colombians and I talked about counter-narcotics efforts in which we are cooperating closely and making some real progress. The Venezuelans and I talked about counter-narcotics issues in which they are making real progress and the Venezuelans, in my view, are to be complimented on a major effort in their own policy to increase cooperation with Colombia in the border areas in their effort to support a viable peace process in Colombia along the lines which the Colombians have desired and in the sense of greater cooperation across the board.

Our conversations with the Venezuelans on counter-narcotics proceeded in the same context. The Venezuelans said they were committed to new cooperative policies with Colombia. Similarly, they have told me they are committed to new cooperative policies with the United States, and I believe we made some significant progress.

In Quito, Ecuador, in a wide number of meetings with senior leaders, including President Noboa, new Foreign Minister Moeller, Finance Minister Guzman, and Defense Minister Unda, we had an opportunity to discuss their major and most significant problem, which is an economic and financial crisis.

We agreed with our Ecuadorian counterparts that Ecuador must take the first steps in restoring confidence in the country, including by instituting reforms and passing the necessary legislation, which is now before the Ecuadorian congress, to institute those reforms. When these reforms are implemented, the United States Government, as I told them, will support Ecuador in its efforts through the IMF and other international financial institutions in the Paris Club to realize an immediate influx of funds and support which they need very badly. But it comes in return for real reforms.

In Ecuador, I also talked about the importance of a national dialogue in a country where clearly the national sense of both communicating and cooperating has broken down badly, so that people from the poor sector of Ecuador, which is very large, and the indigenous population feel confident that their concerns can be met through a legitimate political process. I met on the edges of some talks I had with leaders of one group of the indigenous population, and they voiced a similar set of concerns but a willingness to want to be in dialogue with us.

At the same time, I emphasized both in public statements and privately that the armed forces are obliged by the Ecuadorian constitution to obey the authority of the president and not to get involved in political matters. And we told them how much we were dismayed by the failure of some elements of the armed forces on the 21st and 22nd of January to follow their constitutional obligations to protect the then-president in Ecuador, President Mahuad.

I spent the last portion of my trip, two days, in Brazil, had excellent meetings with the foreign minister, the defense minister, the minister in charge of both internal security, intelligence and counter-narcotics, General Alberto Cardoso and with the drug czar, the national anti-drug leader, Secretary Walter Maierovitch.

I also met with members of the Brazilian congress. These were very wide-ranging talks. We talked about U.S.-Brazilian bilateral relations, we talked about developments in the region, and we talked about world developments with which the Brazilians are particularly concerned.

It was an opportunity firsthand to see Brazil's vibrant democracy and recovering economy in action. There were some very important steps we were able to make, including a strong sense of Brazilian interest in the struggle against narcotics in the region particularly as it affects the broader Amazon basin and their borders especially with Colombia. They indicated to me -- and the Colombian Defense Minister was present in Brazil when I was there having separate talks -- that they were anxious to improve and strengthen cooperation with Colombia in the narcotics fight on the border regions, to strengthen and improve their relationship with the United States in this area.

And we discussed with the senior officials in the foreign affairs ministry how we can put a U.S.-Brazilian series of discussions, presidential level, at the level of the Secretary of State and the minister, at my level and at the level of Assistant Secretaries on a more regular, more institutionalized and more productive basis, and we have agreed jointly to explore some ideas about how to go ahead with that.

So with that overview, let me turn to your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Pickering, in Venezuela you said you encountered significant progress in terms of Venezuelan cooperation on the counter-narcotics front. Would that include U.S. overflights, surveillance flights, to be on the lookout for drug flights?

And a second question in Venezuela, did the question of the OPEC Summit come up? I believe the summit is supposed to be held in Caracas, and I'm curious as to whether -- who will represent Iraq? Has an invitation been extended to Saddam Hussein?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: George, first on the first question, that issue of course did come up. It always comes up, and it was part of my general conclusion which both Foreign Minister Rangel and I agreed should be one that expressed optimism about the progress being made. In that particular area, we both agreed that because of the confidentiality of the particular details involved, we would not be making those public, so I won't go further into that area.

The second question is a very important one. I had an opportunity, as we always do with Venezuela, to talk about market mechanisms and how they affect in a serious way the impact of oil which, in the view of most of us, is now overpriced, particularly if you buy your own gasoline. So the impact, I explained to them, particularly on the northeastern United States of high-priced heating oil and a particularly tough winter was important for us -- it was a set of issues -- and talked to them as well in terms of my experience in having served in other countries that were major oil producers about what could be some of the effects on the future of oil, if I could put it this way, in terms of the international marketplace if they didn't pay careful attention to this issue.

They took note of that, said that they would be meeting soon in OPEC and, at this point, offered me no other conclusions on their side. We did not talk about Iraq or where Iraqi representatives would come from or live.

QUESTION: On the Colombia leg of your trip, did you continue talks with the Colombians in terms of how the $1.6 billion is going to be used down there in terms of: (a) assuring that it goes to the counter-drug war and not a counter-guerrilla war, and; also, any assurances on respect for human rights? I mean, their human rights reports are still coming out, but the Colombian military is still regularly using the paramilitary thugs for its guerrilla war.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Let me begin with the latter because that formed a major part of our discussions with the Colombians, including President Pastrana's policy commitment both to us and in public to do all that he could to separate the military from the paramilitary. He recalled, as you know, the fact that he has already fired four generals and some -- up to 15 others total, including the generals -- already for their failure to act responsibly in connection with the paramilitaries.

We also noted that in the briefings that we had in Colombia, the paramilitaries are now playing a major role in protecting drug trafficking in southern Colombia. There is, in a sense, if you like, a competition going on between the paramilitaries and the FARC, the left-wing -- one of the left-wing guerrilla organizations for control of the drug trade in a significant area where production is rapidly increasing in southern Colombia and how important it was both that the military and civilian leadership in Colombia recognize that the paramilitary were a serious problem that needed to be taken seriously. President Pastrana echoed that, supported it, and made it very clear that he understood for the future of Colombia how important it was to continue to push ahead in that area.

Secondly, we talked always, as we always do, about human rights and about the importance of obviously the government doing everything it could, both in the military side to observe and respect human rights; about how and in what way we could reinforce, should the money be forthcoming as a result of congressional action, their ability to do things like protect human rights workers who are under threat in Colombia; to find ways to make more available all over Colombia the benefits of the human rights mechanisms that they've set up -- ombudsmen -- to do all that we could to publicize and assure that government officials fully respect and observe human rights.

We were all pleased that the reports that we are receiving are that the military are responsible for a very small share, in accordance with present reports, of human rights violations -- some 3% -- but we all recognize that the military and the police would say 3% is too many.

The bulk of the other human rights violations coming from both the paramilitaries and the left-wing guerrillas, all of which the government is doing what it can, hopefully with our support in the future, in this package to combat. We discussed in terms of the plan, not so much what the United States would do to help implement the plan but what Colombia would do to implement the plan, which I think is the critical question.

Colombia is devoting $4 billion over three years to a $7.5 billion plan. Our focus will be to provide those items which are not broadly available from other donors and not available out of Colombian resources. This happens to be heavily military because that, in fact, is the one place where the Colombians can turn for compatible equipment and equipment that we are prepared to provide.

We also talked about the fact that it's very important for Colombia to broaden the base of support for the plan, and they noted that already the international financial institutions have provided $750 million to $1 billion in support of elements of the plan that the international financial institutions, over and above and outside the plan for development projects and projects to support the Colombian economy, have pledged over a period of years ahead, probably extending well beyond the initial 3-year life of the plan, some $6 billion.

It is also important, we believe, that the United States and Colombia collaborate in the effort that President Pastrana has already undertaken to go to Europe and seek European support. He has been, his foreign minister has been. As we speak, his foreign minister and the coordinator of the Plan Colombia, Jaime Ruiz, appointed by President Pastrana to lead the plan, are all in Europe having technical talks with Europeans in preparation for a meeting which Spain has volunteered to hold in the summer, as a donor conference for Plan Colombia.

That may be more than you wanted to know in response to your question but thank you for the opportunity to set it out.

QUESTION: I noticed in Venezuela you didn't see President Chavez. Did you ask to see him?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I did, and President Chavez was out of Caracas at the time I was there. I expressed my disappointment on not being able to see him. He said he was sorry. We expect to meet the next time I go down.

QUESTION: And back on Colombia, one more question. In your talks with the Hill these days, do you get any feel about whether the Congress will go along with the $1.6 billion?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I was up there this morning and I believe in being brutally realistic. This is a big program. It is an extremely important one. I think the Congress appreciates the size of the program and the importance. They have asked us a series of detailed questions which I think we all -- we had a panel -- worked very hard to answer. This was the Senate Narcotics Caucus. My sense is that we have a broad sense of bipartisan interest in the Congress with the objectives of the Plan Colombia and with the importance of U.S. support for it, but each of the individual members, senators and congressmen have questions about various aspects of that. We believe that we have done a good job in providing serious and responsible answers to those questions and we will continue to do so.

I remain hopeful but I also am very much of the school that it is not wise to count your chickens before they hatch; that it is extremely important when working with the Congress to be very careful in your attention to their issues and questions, be respectful of them; and, in every sense of the word, to under-promise and over-deliver, if I can put it that way.

QUESTION: I have two questions, one on Ecuador and the other one on Colombia. On Ecuador, in the discussions of the financial situation, the new president, President Noboa, has been asked for use of the dollar as the regular money in Ecuador, and that was the reason that President Mahuad was thrown out of the government by the indigenous people.

My question is: Has the government of Ecuador, the new government, requested the support of this administration for the dollarization of Ecuador?

And the second on Colombia, did you discuss with the Colombian authorities the fact that 75% of the cocaine produced in Colombia is now managed through the Mexican cartels to send those drugs to the United States, and how to stop the connections between the Mexican and Colombian cartels?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: First let me say with respect to dollarization, I was asked frequently in Ecuador, both publicly and privately, what was the United States attitude toward dollarization. And I said the United States is agnostic on the situation. It's a decision for the government of Ecuador to make. It's a decision that is theirs entirely on which we will not express a view. And, obviously, they know and understand -- they have been told by many people -- both the values of the decision and the consequences of the decision, but it's up to them to make that decision.

I believe that some in Ecuador were hoping for more support from the United States on the basis that if they accepted the dollar somehow they would have the United States fully behind them and ready for an early emission of large amounts of money, perhaps even to save them from some of the very tough decisions they have to make with respect to reforms. Ecuador faces a very tough series of hard decisions in order to bring itself into line with both what it has negotiated with the IMF and what is required to carry out those reforms. And I was there to make it very clear that the United States believed it was in Ecuador's best interest to do all it could to reform itself, to keep its commitments to the IMF, that we would support in the IMF when it did that through legislation and other changes a very strong and positive and early reaction by the IMF to Ecuador's needs. And that's where we left it on that issue.

Secondly, I don't believe that I'm necessarily aware of or able to support your figure of 75% of the traffic.

QUESTION: It was the DEA figure presented to Congress last week.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Okay. Well, I was in Colombia and Ecuador last week so I didn't hear it. There are no serious cartels per se -- maybe you misspoke -- in Colombia. We believe they have been mainly dissolved in the businesses and the hands of a much more diversified group -- unfortunately well organized. When we were down there, neither the Colombians raised with me nor did I raise with them what happens to the cocaine after it leaves Colombia because we were totally focused on two things: how to stop the production in Colombia of coca and opium poppies and how to stop the transportation of any that was produced or was coming through. And we were very much all focused on the great results that had been achieved in two years by Bolivia and perhaps up to 60% reduction through eradication in the fields of coca and Peru where a similar reduction in production and transportation took place through the use of air interdiction.

And we were talking with the Colombians about how to apply those models and those lessons to the special circumstances of Colombia so Colombia would no longer be a source country for 75% or 80% of the cocaine that comes into the United States or a country in which significant amounts of heroin has probably just gone up from 6 to 8 tons per annum would be produced but, rather, would be like Bolivia and Peru, headed in the direction of being coca-free and heroin-free as much as one can assure that as much as possible.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can you put your brutally realistic hat back on and tell us from your visit to southern Colombia how realistic you think it is that this plan will work given the difficulties down there?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I believe that the plan will work, but I believe it will take time, and I think that's where the brutality and the realism come in. It will take a lot of effort on the part of the Colombians further to prepare the military protection required for the police to carry out the eradication. It will take a lot of time and coordination thinking about how to combine the police, the military and the civilian efforts, all of them together, to make a major dent -- if I could put it that way initially -- in that area where coca production, despite the success of spraying in two other departments in Colombia, has really, because of its spread and its increase, brought about a net increase in the acreage planted in Colombia overall. The Colombian police have had success in spraying and killing 65% of the coca in two other departments but, in the meantime, out on the back 40, so to speak, out of the area of government control, this has expanded.

So it will take time. It will take efforts to get it in place. It will take careful planning. It will take careful execution. In the meantime, the importance of the U.S. contribution will be in the training of two more battalions and the standing up of a brigade, in additional assistance to the Colombian police, in providing the assistance necessary for the alternative development of that particular issue and providing the airlift necessary so these battalions can operate agilely and effectively and strategically in the effort of working against those people, paramilitaries, guerrillas who are protecting the traffic, using the traffic for gaining their own resources to finance their own efforts and so on.

QUESTION: Are you talking months, years, decades?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I think that we should begin to see some serious results in two to five years. But I think to know and believe that we will see serious and permanent results before then is to be too optimistic -- and that's the hat of brutal realism, I'm afraid. Without it, obviously, we will see no results except a greater and more rapid increase in production and transportation.

QUESTION: Mr. Pickering, sir, is it accurate that since 1997, that the amount of cocaine that is - the coca and cocaine that is produced in Colombia has doubled and that the acreage also has nearly or even perhaps -- I think it's nearly doubled, the acreage under cultivation has nearly doubled? And then I have a little follow-up.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Let me give you what best I know for the last year, since we have just been through these figures. Hectareage, that is the acreage planted, went up from 100 to roughly 120,000 hectares, an increase overall of about 20,000 -- a fifth. We have found, after a careful review, particularly after looking at the coca leaves, that the varieties being planted in recent years have been much more productive of the kind of alkaloids that people like to use. So that overall production of cocaine has increased.

In addition, the rudimentary industry of the labs in the jungles has increased in its effectiveness and efficiency so they are able to get more, if you like, out of the leaves through the chemistry they've involved and through the processes they've involved. And so overall production and tonnage has gone up last year, I think from 400 and some to 526 tons of cocaine over the year.

QUESTION: My brief follow-up was from Barry McCaffrey who says it's an emergency, it's a mess, it's a disaster -- Colombia that is, and the cocaine thing. From your perspective, is it so serious? Is it really an emergency?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: It is, and we have produced an emergency supplemental to deal with it. It is a very serious question. We have had success in other parts of the Andean region but, in effect, that success has moved the problem and the growth and the problem up to Colombia. Obviously, as we deal with Colombia, we all agree we have to keep a regional perspective. We have to help Ecuador, Venezuela, perhaps Brazil, and Peru and Bolivia, that the problem doesn't get merely shifted back there.

QUESTION: I'm Linda Robinson, the Latin America bureau chief for U.S. News and World Report. I have two questions. One, given the magnitude of the problem in Colombia, do you think realistically a follow-on aid package is going to be required after this one, or is this pretty much it for the U.S.?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I believe that in 2001 we have presented an enhanced package, one increased by $314 million over what we would have normally intended. If you think of the base for this year and 2001, between the two it's $300 billion spread between the two, an increase of 318 roughly was thought important and desirable to support Plan Colombia in the year 2001.

I'm not in a position to predict what 2002 will require. We will need some experience. But my thinking is, and certainly the thinking within the government is that we will need something above what has been for the past 10 years the normal amounts provided to Colombia in 2002. That will be the last year of the formal Plan Colombia, but I expect that the struggle will go on, and I expect that we will continue to be in a position, as long as Colombia is able to lead the fight, to support them as long as others are prepared to help to support them.

QUESTION: On the peace process, Pastrana has said he would like to get a peace accord by the time he's out of office. I'd like to know if you think that is a realistic goal; and, secondly, whether Europe or the United Nations, some group of friends, should get involved since I understand the U.S. policy is not to have any contact with the FARC because of their kidnapping policy.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Well, I think that's right. Let me just say that I believe that Pastrana in leading this effort is trying to adopt realistic goals for all of the areas in which he is working. He has, I guess, another at least three years in this administration -- three and a half. I believe that's enough time to try to produce, if not a peace settlement, real progress. He and the FARC have arranged a schedule of consideration in several-month chunks of a series of three items at each group to complete a 12-item agenda in the peace process. This, in my view, is extremely important. It shows that there has been progress. Before this, the FARC was not willing to talk about anything seriously.

President Pastrana has organized, with the help of some of the Scandinavian countries, an important visit to Scandinavia for both the FARC delegation and his own delegation and those within his own country in the business and other sectors that support a peace process to get them acquainted with and aware of what's happened in the world in the last 40 years, something they have been separated from in the jungle, and to understand that the ideology that they purport to support has died in a sense and almost gone someplace else. So that there are real changes and that they need to begin to think about Colombia in the modern 21st century, not in the 18th or 19th century in what are antiquarian terms.

So all of this, I think, has been very useful and I think that the FARC has found it useful. And I hope that that will help to move the process along the way. In the meantime, I also think that the stand which President Pastrana has taken and the stand which the United States has taken in support of him has gotten the message through. Some of these new developments came only after, in fact, President Clinton made his proposal to the Congress and Secretary Albright visited Colombia and talked with President Pastrana. These are important developments. President Pastrana is also pursuing peace with the other major guerrilla organization. That's going more slowly, but I believe that is also having an appropriate and proper effect.

These are very difficult processes to predict. I was associated at the beginning and the end of the Salvador process. It began in '84 and it ended back sometime in '90. So I don't want to put a rigid time table, but I certainly think three years or three and a half years is a good time scale in which to make real progress, if not to bring it to conclusion entirely.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. When you were in Brazil, you were there in a period where the congress is doing an investigation of the relationship between some members of congress and from the judiciary to drug dealers and also --


QUESTION: Right, also connected to people in Colombia and the border. Could you be more specific about the efforts that are being done to --

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I, of course, don't count myself as a two-day visitor an expert in all the Brazilian processes. We were briefed. We were briefed by the Brazilians. They thought it was an important process. They thought it reflected well on their efforts, particularly in the Brazilian congress, if you like, to clean up its own house. We said we would welcome any efforts that obviously dealt with both finding a way to sever links between narco-traffickers and high officials.

We think that one of the unfortunate and really miserable problems that narco-trafficking brings is corruption in government, often at high levels, because they have so much money to use to support their own interests and obviously spread it around to try to buy the immunity that would be necessary for them to have in order to continue to operate in a country.

QUESTION: And about these more frequent contacts or the plan of cooperating with Colombia, what would those be?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I think that on the border, they have had several conversations. They had conversations with the Colombian defense minister when I was down there. These are isolated areas. The border officials on both sides have traditionally had close contacts, and the two of them talked about how they could both regularize those and reinforce them as well. And I think that's important between the United States and Brazil. We talked about a more regular series of meetings.

We have had with Brazil, over the last year-and-a-half in my experience, one of the best examples of quiet diplomatic contact and cooperation on a wide range of issues. And I was extremely pleased in Brazil that we saw eye to eye on a great many questions in the region.

Brazil, I think it's no secret, played a very strong and important role in Ecuador on the 21st and 22nd of January in making known their concerns, which we shared -- and they shared our concerns on the same issue -- that a military that was unable to carry out its obligations to protect a president was not doing its constitutional duty; that a country that was about to move had to do everything it could to observe its constitution. Otherwise, it was risking isolation and rejection in the hemisphere and the world, which has been basically the policy that the Latin American countries have pursued on this issue. And I believe it was very helpful.

I believe the Ecuadorians teetered over the brink. I think they had a foot-and-a-half off the constitution, if I could put it that way, and just barely pulled themselves back. And I think it was this kind of discussion with them -- quiet, diplomatic but firm -- from Brazil and others that made a real difference.

QUESTION: The House hearings last week on Colombia, the Republicans like Dan Mica and some of the other ones, supported the U.S. aid package. The main complaint they had was particularly on helicopters and military aid that's gone on in the past that the few helicopters that have gotten down there, it's been agonizingly slow in getting them down there. The ones that have shown up in Colombia have not had the proper equipment on them or the proper armor plating. They even complain that apparently 50,000 rounds of ammunition got mis-routed here to the State Department instead of down to Colombia.

Is there anything the State Department is going to do to clean up the pipeline process?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I think first and foremost you have to recognize that, with respect to the delivery of helicopters, the pacing item is both the company production lines, which take quite a bit of time, but even more importantly the preparation of pilots. And that's significant and, as you know, there are probably not enough helicopter pilots in Colombia to go around when the new fleet arrives so there is some transitioning and training that has to be done. So we are very much aware of that. We are very much aware of what the pacing item will be.

Secondly, the helicopters that went to Colombia were delivered early because the Colombian police felt it was extremely important in their fight against the narco-traffickers to be able to show some concrete support from the United States. As a result, they went without the armored floors. Since they were specially configured Blackhawks, standard armored floors didn't fit and, as a result, it took more time to configure the armored floors to be there.

On the issue of ammunition, I think it's an old story. We believe that we can be on top of that question and with the help of the US military which deals with that on a regular basis -- I've talked to General Wilhelm at SOUTHCOM and to our friends and colleagues in the Defense Department -- we can avoid these kinds of issues.

My principal objective in the last six months with respect to Colombia has been to have absolute full interagency coordination. I've been pleased that we have achieved as much as we have. We intend to keep that going. We intend to set up mechanisms in the Department to find ways to assure that there is the fullest possible interagency coordination in the implementation and execution of this particular effort once the Congress has approved it.

MR. REEKER: Thanks everybody for coming. I think we covered all four countries, and on behalf of the Press Office, thanks to Under Secretary Pickering and the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

(end transcript)

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