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Last Updated:11/28/00
On-the-Record Briefing by Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, November 27, 2000
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Office of the Spokesman


For Immediate Release November 29, 2000
#2000/1242
REVISED

ON-THE-RECORD BRIEFING
UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING
ON
HIS RECENT TRIP TO COLOMBIA

November 27, 2000
Washington, D.C.

MR. REEKER: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome back to the State Department briefing room on this fine Monday afternoon. As advertised, we have with us this afternoon Under Secretary of State Ambassador Thomas Pickering, our Under Secretary for Political Affairs, who was last week in Colombia. He is here to give you a readout and a briefing of his trip to Colombia and discuss our continued support for Plan Colombia. So the Under Secretary has some brief remarks and then we will turn it over to questions. And without any further ado, Ambassador Pickering.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Thank you, Phil, very much. Pleased to be with all of you today, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to meet with you closer to my own return from Colombia last week.

As many of you know, Director McCaffrey and I led a delegation to Colombia in the middle of last week. This was my fourth trip to Colombia in the last 16 months. Colombia commands a significant portion of my time because the Colombians are trying to achieve something that is extremely difficult: They are trying to bring peace to their own troubled country; implement a comprehensive strategy to stem the production and trafficking in narcotics; strengthen the institutions of government in a part of the country where these institutions have long been weak; and quicken the pace of economic growth.

If Colombia succeeds, Americans will certainly benefit by seeing a reduction in the flow of drugs, both heroin and cocaine, to our shores and by strengthening of the oldest democracy in Latin America.

For the first time, Colombia has the resources and the will to attack these inter-related problems. And I would add an important point for all of you: All of this is being done while placing respect for human rights at the center of all of the US support for Plan Colombia-related activities in the country.

When I was in Colombia, we held meetings with President Pastrana and a number of his senior officials who brought us up to date about the progress they're making in implementing Plan Colombia. I believe the Colombian Government is making steady progress, fine-tuning its planning, raising the funds needed, and carrying out the first stages of their plan. But there is still a very tough road ahead.

Our focus currently is on Southern Colombia. There, through increased security, alternative development, manual eradication, the government has worked with towns and with organizations and set forward a new and very important cooperative program, the purpose of which is to increase the amount of eradication while providing individuals with serious possibilities for alternative economic activity.

Similarly, a regular program of aerial spraying is ongoing in Colombia. We do not discuss the operational details of these programs for obvious operational security reasons.

Extraditions to the United States from Colombia continue, and have this year nearly reached double digits in terms of the numbers of people sent to the United States in that program. And, in fact, the leader of the Norte de Valle Cartel, a successor to the Cali Cartel, long-sought for cocaine trafficking as well as for sponsoring several infamous paramilitary massacres, was captured in the few days since our trip. We follow the peace process in Colombia very closely, and we are concerned that the FARC -- the F-A-R-C -- has broken off talks.

Finally, I want to emphasize that one of the important subjects in our talks was to talk about the region with the Colombians. It is clear that as we increase our efforts in Colombia, there will be a tendency to find new areas, either in Colombia or outside of Colombia, in which to move the cultivation and production of cocaine and heroin, wherever it is appropriate. And so we are now thinking very clearly of a regional program to match the regional aspect of our support for Plan Colombia incorporated in this year's supplemental as a centerpiece of next year's effort to support the Andean region in its efforts to deal with cocaine, heroin and the associated multiferous problems in the region.

When I spoke to all of you earlier this year, I said that this was not going to be a quick process. I still believe that turning the situation around in Colombia will take time, probably at least three to five years. But I also believe that the Colombian Government is clearly, as a result of our discussions with them during the trip, moving in the right direction. The US remains firmly committed to supporting Colombia's efforts. This is a bipartisan commitment that will not weaken with the change of the administration, as the broad congressional support for this program has shown.

And now I would be glad to try to address your questions.

Q Two questions, Mr. Secretary. You used to say "two to five years" and now you're saying "three to five years", suggesting progress slower than anticipated. Also, could you bring us up to date on this --

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I will say two to five years or three to five years, and I don't think parsing the detail in this is really worth it. It's a very tough issue, and one that obviously is going to take some time.

Q Well, could you talk about the certification process? I understand the next round of certifications or waivers is in December. Is that correct?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: The next round will be when we need to release funds that have currently been appropriated for the next stage of Plan Colombia. I won't estimate exactly when that will be, but probably near the beginning of the calendar year is an appropriate time to think about that.

One of the issues we discussed with the Colombians is improving their performance on a number of areas where certification is to take place, and they gave us a commitment that they would do their best in each of the areas. I believe it is extremely important, as we go to the Hill and bring certifications, that on each occasion that we go up we attempt to increase the number of issues in which we are able to certify and reduce the number on which we have to provide waivers.

Q Thank you.

Q Could you comment on Congressman Gilman's concerns that aid to the Colombian Armed Forces is a bad idea because they are essentially discredited and incapable of mustering the necessary political support?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: First, you can take it that I don't agree with his judgments about the Colombian military forces. Secondly, as we have explained many times, there is continued very strong support for the Colombian National Police as the primary organization responsible for the elimination, destruction, interdiction of narcotics trafficking.

What is new about the present situation is that the areas where particularly the greatest cocaine growing is now going on are in southern Colombia and areas that are protected by significant numbers of armed guerillas and paramilitary. It is our considered view that the Colombian police cannot perform their mission without the additional security protection of the military to protect them and provide for their security as they go about destruction of laboratories, manual and aerial spraying eradication of crops, and interdiction of the movement of crops.

It is also clear to us that, for example, in the areas of aerial interdiction and riverine interdiction, the specialized groups is the Colombian Armed Forces -- the Colombian Air Force and the Colombian Marine Corps and Navy -- play an unusual, competent, and very important role. And so our programs have been designed to focus heavily and increase the capacities of the Colombia National Police. But given the military threat that exists on the ground to their operations, also to find ways to increase the capacities of the Colombian Armed Forces. Three battalions will be trained of counter-narcotics special groups of the Colombian ground forces who will be supported by helicopters to ensure that they can move and be protected from the air, aerial interdiction forces, riverine interdiction forces and so on.

And so we believe that this is a cooperative effort. We don't lack confidence in the Colombian military's ability to carry forward this task. We have every confidence from the meetings that I have had on all of my trips down there that the Colombian military and Colombian police are cooperating very well together. For law enforcement purposes alone, counter-narcotics forces of the army must be accompanied by police and prosecutors in order to ensure that the operations they undertake can be fully carried forward in the courts of law when individuals are caught and have to be prosecuted.

So this is a cooperative effort. We believe it will go ahead. And I'm sorry that Chairman Gilman sought to emphasize what I believe is clearly a misperception of the problem, and I hope that my explanation can make clear how important it is that this be a cooperative, broad-based, and carefully thought-through and carefully coordinated effort.

Q There was a report last week in the press that said it had interviews with a variety of farmers in Colombia, especially in the Southwestern portion, in which they said maybe they would give up coca for a brief period of time, but their concern is that the government in the past hasn't anted up when it said it would, and that perhaps they might also continue to cultivate coca on the side.

Are you concerned at all that it will be difficult to, short of spraying, to get rid of all the coca plants?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: What, of course, is part of the strategy is a two-pronged effort in the South: one, to have aerial spraying take place in large areas with low density of population, the so-called industrial cocaine-producing areas, large fields; the second is the program that I emphasized in my prepared remarks, the notion that with a combination of security, alternative economic development across the board -- that is, alternative crops, schools, housing if necessary, infrastructure for local governments, roads and so on -- as well as a commitment manually to eradicate their fields, checked of course by the government, it would be a real opportunity to take the people who have expressed concern about the commitment of the government and their ability to see this through to work with them to achieve that objective.

If that doesn't work, of course it has been made clear that after a period of time the government still has the opportunity to resort to aerial spraying if that's necessary to eradicate the crop. But because these people have come forward and begun to discuss with the government commitments and formal agreements to carry out these kinds of activities, we think it's far better to work with those people, keep them on the land, get them involved in producing crops that can be marketable on a long-term basis.

And the fascinating thing is that most of those people have made it very clear, when you ask them, "Do you want your kids to be involved in this business?" And they say no, they would like out.

Q Very quickly, one follow-up and then one other question. Is there a time table for the Pastrana plan to give alternative aid?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Yes. There are in a sense now going forward, as we speak, efforts to develop a series and the first stage of pilot projects in the South. The hope is that if they go forward and can be protected by the same military that the previous question objected -- or made clear people had objections to over in the Congress, then of course it will be able to be expanded. But the initial efforts are always the tough ones. It's not possible to set arbitrary time deadlines, but the first phase at least is thinking of doing as much of this as possible in the next year.

Q The Blackhawk that went down last week --

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Maybe somebody else would like a chance? We'll come back. I won't leave without your last question being asked.

Q On the human rights certification question, in August State Department officials told us that the Colombians were very, very close to making constitutional changes. What is different this time, as you say, that they're fairly close to addressing human rights concerns? And maybe you can kind of tick off any progress that has been made in terms of this.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Well, I believe, for example, that one of the conditions is that they set up a judge advocate general-like corps inside their military and deploy the people, and they have gone ahead with that. As you know, earlier they passed a decree which would permit the military to be sent to civilian courts. They are also clearly moving ahead on the issue of being able to dismiss, or at least put on some kind of hold, a military where there are viable accusations of involvement in gross human rights violations.

Farther on down the road are questions that come up in the certification of cooperation. First, you have to establish obviously the pattern that they are to follow, and then you can be able to establish the fact that there is continued cooperation in these efforts. Separating the military from paramilitaries is a very important effort that we're working with the Colombians on, and they have made it clear to us at the highest levels that that's what they wish to do.

Q Under Secretary, as I understand the problem on -- one of the key problems on the Hill is the issue of the inseparability of the military struggle and the counter-narcotics struggle. There is a feeling that the US cannot get involved in the counter-narcotics struggle without getting involved in the whole military struggle, and sort of drawn in. And I wondered if you could comment on that.

And as the second part, you mentioned neighboring countries and increasing US efforts in neighboring countries. And I'm wondering if that stems from a concern that the problems going on in the Hinterland of Colombia are spilling over borders and that there needs to be some efforts in these neighboring countries to contain the whole situation.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: First, on the question that I think you're addressing, this has to do with a traditional American policy in Colombia of not supporting the military in a pure, counter-insurgency role but, in fact, working with the military whenever they are engaged in a counter-narcotics activity.

Our support for Plan Colombia has been focused on and planned so that our support for the military is exclusively in both areas and in operations that are counter-narcotics. And unfortunately, we have so much to do in Colombia with the Colombians in that area that the danger of slopping over into something that is purely counter-insurgency is minimal for the next several years -- happily on the basis of our policy, unhappily on the basis of the size of the problem the Colombians have to deal with.

But we monitor this. We are very close with the Colombians on this particular activity, and we don't see a danger, if I could put it that way, given the enormity of the task in terms of the security role of the military with respect to counter-narcotics operations that they could in any way be confused with purely counter-insurgency operations. Obviously if the guerillas are armed and protecting the drug trafficking, they are part of a counter-narcotics operation.

Secondly, in the region the issue of spillover is real. On a number of occasions here and elsewhere, from public platforms I have talked of the balloon effect, and others have; that is, if you push in on one end, it is bound to bulge out on others. And, in fact, I think that there is at least one respectable analysis that part of the reason for the growth in narcotics production and trafficking in Colombia is because we have had such success in Bolivia and in Peru, areas where through manual eradication and through aerial interdiction we have achieved 66 to 73 percent eradication of cocaine, for example, in those two countries.

So, in fact, there is already a balloon effect, and it is having its impact in Colombia. It is not our purpose and not our intention in the funding and the support that we have given for Colombia to attempt just to push that process, or those particular activities, to Venezuela, Brazil, back to Peru, into Ecuador or to Panama. It is our effort -- and that's why we included $180 million in the support for Plan Colombia supplemental package -- to find ways to strengthen already countries that either might be or are likely to be, or are already engaged in some way, in narcotics trafficking in the Andean region.

And I think that this is evolving now to not just a pure Colombia issue, but an Andean regional issue, something it has always been. But Colombia was in such startling difficulty in this particular area that our priority was to focus attention last year in the supplemental on Colombia. I think in future years there will be a broader regional aspect to this as we plan and propose to the Congress new budgets for this kind of activity.

Q (Inaudible) -- what I wanted to ask, which is getting back to this issue of Gilman now backing away from his support, and what John was talking about as well. What kind of assurances do you have, especially given the length of time it is going to take for the helicopters and other equipment to actually arrive there, that Congress is not going to back away from its funding? Which Republicans are your main supporters? Lott has not been a strong supporter of this. Whoever the new Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee may be. Who are you working with? Who do you think will --

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Well, leaving any comments that I might make in any way to have any domestic political implications aside, because I want to avoid that pitfall immediately, I do think that it is important to note that the Speaker, a large number of members of the International Relations Committee in the House, as well as some of the more senior and significant appropriators on both sides have been supporters of this particular effort.

They understand because we have explained clearly to them how long it takes to prepare, ship and train people to operate complicated machines like Huey IIs and Blackhawk helicopters. They have a clear idea of the timetable. They know because we have frequently briefed them and their staffs, what are the next steps, how long they will take, and what we expect to achieve by a particular period in time. We are on track on those particular issues. Those are not sliding. We all knew when the helicopters were ordered that they would take months to arrive, not weeks or minutes.

So I don't believe, in fact, that it would be correct to read in where we are a slackening of interest or a decline in interest in this particular issue merely because of one letter, admittedly from a very senior member, but nevertheless one letter with a particular optic that has been an optic of his for some time. It is not the first letter on this subject.

Q Just to clarify two things. One, what did you do after that letter got so much play in The New York Times to go back and shore up your support in Congress? What did you do in terms of meetings and whatnot? And also --

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Well, I think that we continue to have a regular and steady briefing program to the Congress. And as I said, what I just had to say to you is the essence of our message. Nothing has significantly in our view changed in the current situation. It is true that in the South, before anything began, the FARC organized a militarily enforced general strike among the people in the South. This, in some ways, of course has done two things, probably not in the interest of the FARC. It has, one, alienated a large number of people who have told us they are increasingly interested now in alternative development and manual eradication; and, secondly, without transportation -- that is, a strike against people moving -- you don't do very well in picking, processing, shipping and moving coca.

Q Could you just clarify -- this is just clarification, Phil, of what he said earlier. You said months for the helicopters. We've been hearing that it could take more than a year. What is your understanding of when those helicopters will be delivered?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I can ask my colleagues here, who have -- do we have anybody, Bill, who's got this on their fingertips?

STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It's INL's call, but the Blackhawks are supposed to come on, Mr. Secretary, between June and December of this year.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: June and December of 2001. That is months. It used to be years, but now it's months.

Q In the many months since the various targets and goals of this program were laid out, the situation on the ground, particularly in Southern Colombia, has changed substantially. There are, according to US officials as well as Colombian officials, many more FARC and AUC members there with heavier armament. At the same time, the program -- the alternative development program -- has been shrunk by the Colombian Government from what they originally envisioned its first stages to be. And other than a few very isolated places, there aren't contracts signed and there have not been actual facts on the ground to speak of.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: No, all of that is true. The real elements of this that are important to keep in mind is that, as a result of the increased presence of both the AUC and the FARC, both of whom happen to be fighting with each other, the government has increased its presence very significantly on the ground. There is no question at all that pilot programs were envisaged to be beginning about now, late November/early December. That has not been delayed.

But the presence of the armed units of the guerrillas and the paramilitaries is going to make it more difficult to start more than a few pilot projects. The government was enthusiastic that there would be no armed opposition. We, in our own judgments in the United States, were less convinced, unfortunately. I say unfortunately because it doesn't help that we turn out to be right and they have turned out to be wrong. But it was all comprehended in the planning process that this particular alternative would be one that we would have to face, and we are now facing it.

Q At the same time --

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I thought that was a good question.

Q At the same time, because of the changes in the configuration of the helicopters, the pilot training time has changed, the number of forward operating locations has changed somewhat, in addition to whatever difficulties remain or don't remain with the delivery dates.

How important is it to continued support here in the next Congress that you are able to show some results on the ground? And how concerned are you that with funding -- current funding now running out at the end of September, how concerned are you that you're not going to be able to show as many results as you originally had hoped?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Let me say this: There are a lot of assumptions in that question which, if I went over and quibbled with each one, we would never finish. So let me just say this: that I believe that many of the difficulties that are in your questions, both before I answered it and after I answered it, were foreseen. We are within the range of possibilities that we knew had to be contended with. The use of military force against the programs and the activities in the South was expected on our side, and it will have to be dealt with. But I don't believe, as I said in response to an earlier question, that it has offset the general long-term time scale that we believed is necessary for dealing with the problems of Colombia.

Some of you can remember that the Congress itself has attempted to impose a time scale on this particular set of activities -- eradication 100 percent in a particularly short period of time. We don't agree with that. We believe that there needs to be a further extension of that time scale. We believe you need to be realistic and serious about a program of this magnitude. And so artificially stepping up the process by introducing time scales that are not realistic, I think does no service either to the people of Colombia, to the Congress, or to the Administration in its efforts to deal over the long term with what is still a very serious problem.

Q At the very beginning of your report, you said something about there is a concern about the peace process in Colombia. My question is: What is your comment about the way the Colombian Government is dealing with the guerrilla, mainly having in mind that they have given territory to the FARC and ELN, particularly in the Southern part of Colombia? And I would appreciate if you can give me your answer in Spanish, if you don't mind.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Si, por favor.

Q Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: (In Spanish - informal English translation)

Just a little bit in Spanish. My impression at this moment is that there is no great progress in the peace process, particularly because the FARC has stopped the continuation of the conversations in the demilitarized zone. My impression also is that the demilitarized zone was created in order to negotiate, not to play, and it is for the government to decide on December 7th what will happen regarding the future of the demilitarized zone and the future of the negotiations. I hope the conversations will begin again but I do not have great confidence after my trip to Colombia that this is going to happen quickly. One needs, like in everything with respect to Colombia, diligence and persistence in the process and I have great confidence that President Pastrana is going to show clearly his interest, his work, his labor, towards peace in Colombia in spite of the fact that it does not look optimistic at this moment.

Q: Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Thank you.

Q: Going back to the question, what do you think should the government of President Pastrana do to make sure that a peace process will go on? Can you please answer in Spanish?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: In Spanish again. It seems to me that the government of Colombia must directly continue its principled approach to the peace process in Colombia where it is possible to make progress on both sides because that is the obligation, it is not something of one side only, and the government must strengthen its efforts where it is not possible to make progress for reasons that the other side, the FARC, has stopped its participation. They (the Colombian government) have to wait, continuing their programs in all the regions of Colombia, until it is possible to restart the conversations. The Colombian government must arrange mutual commitments in order to make progress.

Q: But the Colombian government¼ What type of demands do you think the Colombian government must definitively make of the FARC so that the FARC doesn't continue criminal activity in the demilitarized zone and the process could go on?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: That depends on the decisions of the President of Colombia on the continuation of the demilitarized zone and other requirements, but that is something that the Colombians have created to facilitate negotiations. When there are no negotiations it is not possible to clearly defend the existence of the demilitarized zone without other reasons, that are not apparent at this moment.

Q: That is to say, you believe that if the FARC does not return to the
table, the demilitarized zone should not be continued?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: That is a decision for President Pastrana. He has said more or less what you have said to me.

Q Muchas gracias.

MR. REEKER: Now that the transcribers hate me. (Laughter.)

Q Can you talk just a little bit about the spillover in the region? When we ask the questions, you always say that you have the support of the countries like Brazil, Venezuela. And officials from those countries, when they are in Washington, they talk about support of Plan Colombia. But as soon as they get back to their countries, they are talking against Plan Colombia.

My question is to you: Do you see a double standard in the Government of Brazil or Venezuela and the other countries? And what can this Administration do in the last two days to get more support for those countries? Bolivia, recently here in Washington, announced that they are asking to this country $150 million for their only to deal with the people who are crossing the border.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Well, first and foremost, in the question of Bolivia, a very significant amount of money, $100 million, was included in the Plan Colombia support package for last year.

Secondly, all of those governments have made it clear to us, both privately and publicly, their strong concern that they do not want to be part of a spreading narcotics problem in the hemisphere, and have indicated to us specific actions they intend to take in order to support multilateral efforts in the hemisphere in which we and they could also strongly participate to do all they can to make sure that it doesn't happen. This includes the reinforcement of frontiers; it includes further introduction of radar surveillance, among other things, and strong efforts on their part to support what is going on in Colombia.

I was very pleased, in the meeting in Madrid in July, that many hemispheric countries were represented, and provided significant support. Many of them are already recipients of US assistance, and so the support quite understandably cannot be monetary. But it is in cooperation; it is in sharing information; and it is in their own efforts to beef up their own defenses in regions where they have been weakened and where narcotics production and trafficking can or has already begun to take hold.

Q Going back to the question, what do you think should the government of President Pastrana do to make sure that a peace process will go on? Can you please answer in Spanish?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: En Espanol otra vez. (In Spanish.)

Q (In Spanish.)

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: (In Spanish.)

Q (In Spanish.)

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: (In Spanish.)

Q Yes, thank you. Panama is one of those neighboring countries, and it feels very vulnerable. And its tranche of those $180 million was only $5 million. And in Panama the feeling is that that is not enough and the balloon effect will hit Panama particularly for being the most vulnerable country.

Last week, Latin American heads of states were meeting in Panama and President Moscoso called for a meeting of the neighboring states to discuss their response to Plan Colombia. Have you been following that, and will you participate in that meeting?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: We have followed very closely -- I don't know whether we will participate or not. Meetings about Colombia without Colombian participation have caused a certain aggravation in the hemisphere, and obviously that is not, I think, either correct or effective. But we understand and certainly sympathize with the conditions that exist for Panama in the region, particularly as a result of difficulties in Colombia, and want to continue to be able to help. And this is very much in our mind as we go into budgetary proposals and programs for follow-on years.

Q The tensions between Colombia and Venezuela are getting very ugly lately. In the last few days, there have been growing tensions and moving diplomats or whatever all around, trying to get this in nice terms between the two governments before something else happened bigger.

Most of the blame is to the implementation of Plan Colombia. Do you have any reaction, specifically between those tensions between Venezuela and Colombia?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: No, that last time I had -- which was some months ago -- to consult with senior Venezuelan figures, they told me that they were interested in a good and new relationship with Colombia, and in pursuing a cooperative effort to deal with many of the problems that afflicted both countries across their frontier.

I hoped that that will continue. I'm sorry to hear the news that you relay, which I have also heard from other quarters. We hope that that will not be a permanent relationship in the region, because obviously it takes a strong amount of international cooperation between all the countries in the region to deal with these particularly difficult problems.

Q I'd like to ask you a question about AUC paramilitary leader Carlos Castano. There were two incidents that occurred this year involving US officials that perhaps you could clarify.

One, earlier this year, two DEA special agents in Miami were suspended from active duty over allegations, including that they allegedly met with Carlos Castano, and both the DEA informant as well as Castano both claim that the DEA agents are trying to enlist his support in order to negotiate plea bargain agreements with Colombian traffickers.

Also, in October of this year, State Department official Phil Chicola made remarks in Bogotá that were different in tone and substance of remarks previously made by Secretary Harold Koh vis-à-vis Castano when Chicola said that the United States supported the Castano demand for the president of Colombia to include Castano in peace talks with his administration.

Could you please clarify US policy vis-à-vis Castano, and tell us whether or not US officials have had contact with him and, if so, whether that contact was approved by Washington?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Policy is no contact, no dealing. The report I know about of the DEA agents -- I don't know whether they actually met. I can't confirm it. If they had met -- and I can't confirm it -- it would be totally contrary to our policy. I believe Mr. Chicola was seriously misinterpreted. Mr. Koh is here if he wants to explain the policy. I believe I have explained it.

If you want to add anything, feel free, Harold.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KOH: I feel affirmed. (Laughter.)

Q Does the United States support Castano's demand to be included in peace talks with the president?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: No.

Q Yeah, ballooning effect in Ecuador. What about the reports that FARC has bought or acquired by other means land over the border in Ecuador?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: We're very concerned. And the Ecuadorian Government tells us it is very concerned, and we would like to work with the Ecuadorian Government to make sure that no such narcotics activities take place in Ecuador.

Q So that is a confirmation that the FARC is -- that to your knowledge --

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: No, I can't confirm it. I don't watch land sales in Ecuador. I don't know. I'm not confirming that particular point but I say, if it were to happen, I believe it would be contrary to what both Ecuador and the United States want.

Q I had a second question on -- I know that you had mentioned that some of the pilot programs have been delayed in implementation. Can you give us any kind of a status report on the US portion of Plan Colombia? We know that the helicopters are coming, but have the contracts been signed for both the Blackhawks and the other Hueys? What about the battalions? When are the Colombian US-trained battalions going to be deployed? Can you give us any kind of update on that?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Yes. Let me ask Bill Brownfield on the contracts, but first say that Second Battalion is almost completing its training, and the Third Battalion will begin shortly.

Bill, do you want to talk about -- do you know anything about the contracts?

MR. BROWNFIELD: In very general terms, because you all don't want specific detail anyway, I assume, all of the helicopter contracts have in fact been signed. That involves the Huey IIs, which is a process by which old Hueys are converted into new helicopters, as well as the Blackhawks.

Now, a signature is obviously necessary to start a production line process in the case of the Blackhawks, and to start scheduling in the case of the Huey IIs. The entire amount of money that the United States Congress appropriated for the purpose of supporting Plan Colombia in the Plan Colombia supplemental of last July for Colombia specifics was, in fact, obligated in the month of September. However, the sub-obligations, which is to say the contracts, obviously have not all been signed.

The $230 million, which is what we are providing, if you will, for economic, social and alternative development as part of that supplemental, at this point, USAID estimates that slightly more than 50 percent of those contracts have been signed, although all of the money has been obligated in terms of an obligating document between the United States and Colombian Governments.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Thank you, Bill.

Q I'm a bit confused, Ambassador, about what you envision for a regional approach to this problem, and what is on the table at this time. In my experience, speaking with officials from these countries, as Jesus pointed out, there is a broad skepticism that we are hearing, and I'm wondering if you are hearing a different message. And what specifically are you talking about here? Are we talking about some kind of a regional military alliance? What are we looking at here in terms of the broader strategy?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I think that you must first take a look at the fact that the regional effort, the $180 million, is primarily focused on counter-narcotics activities. Over $100 million in Bolivia, I think 32 million to Peru, 18 million to a group of other countries, including Panama and Ecuador and others. And the idea obviously is in each country to develop a series of programs.

If alternative development and manual eradiation will do the job, fine. If interdiction is required to stop the trafficking, to drive down the production and the process and the price eventually, we can use that. So these programs will be scaled and tuned to the needs and the potential needs of each of these countries. And I believe, as we go through these, we will be in a position to announce and give you more details on each of them.

In Peru and Bolivia, we have had traditional programs for a long period of time, and you can assume the additional funds will be used in general to support those traditional programs.

Q But this is a bilateral approach that's --

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: It's correctly --

Q -- through the United States, not regional.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: It's a bilateral approach with the United States with each of the countries, not the creation of a large, multilateral consortium. And as far as I know now, there will be not the same emphasis on military as there is in Colombia because the problem is not the same yet as it is in Colombia.

Q I have two questions. Last week, I believe, there was a report that a Blackhawk helicopter had gone down in Colombia. Initial reports were that it was not shot down. I'm just wondering what information you have?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: The only one I know about was a couple of weeks ago in an ambush in Northern Colombia, where a Blackhawk was lost. It may not have been shot down, but it was sure shot up when it got down. And I think all of that is covered in the open press, Andrea. I can't give you a better explanation.

Q Just to follow up on the third question. You said in your opening remarks that there had been a lot of thinking going on, as far as making the regional program the centerpiece of next year's effort, and I wasn't clear from your response whether you're intending some kind of different effort from the one you just outlined in terms of what is already in the supplemental.

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I think that, as we look at it, we understand that with the increased effort in Colombia, the potential for the balloon effect increases. And therefore the need in the surrounding and nearby areas is going to increase, and therefore enlargement of the programs through increased funding in a regional effort, but focused bilaterally in each country, is probably going to be necessary. And that is what informs our thinking in current budget planning.

Q So you don't envision any new strategy, just more resources --

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: I think the strategy that we are relying on is a strategy that has worked principally in Bolivia and Peru, and therefore we are going to stick with the strategy which we believe has shown success -- as I said, 66 to 73 percent success in eliminating coca in Bolivia and Peru.

Q Sir, it's in relation with Mexico and Colombia. President-elect of Mexico Fox, in an interview with an American news agency, mentioned that the United States has to concentrate most in combating corruption inside of the United States, because there are obviously people who move the drugs inside of this country to get the markets and the customers. My question is: What can you respond to President Fox in that issue?

UNDER SECRETARY PICKERING: Well, I think he also spoke, as I recall it, about demand reduction in the United States. And I think it is important to note that the United States has been concentrating a very large share of its $18 billion overall counter-narcotics budget -- this year it will be $6 billion -- on demand reduction.

The good news is that, among youth, we have seen a 13 percent falloff on drug usages in one year as a result of last year's program of $5.4 billion, a 45 percent reduction in all ages in use of inhalants and 20 percent reduction in use of cocaine. So we believe we are having a significant effect. Obviously it's not good enough, and we will continue on.

Corruption is a problem in all countries. We will continue to work extremely hard on any evidence of corruption in the United States; it's axiomatic; it's contrary to the law; it's something that our law enforcement agencies are pledged to deal with. The counter-narcotics budget is particularly, however, focused on wide programs of demand reduction and wide programs of dealing with border control, an additional large amount of money, as well as the money that goes into the reduction of supply in countries overseas. The bulk of our funding goes to work in our own country.

MR. REEKER: That's a perfect way to end. Thank you very much. And thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:50 P.M.)

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