U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN
FEBRUARY 7, 1995
[EXCERPTS FROM DAILY PRESS BRIFING OF FEBRUARY 7, 1997]
MS. SHELLY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. In keeping with the practice which I established last Thursday of bringing down previously unannounced surprise high-level visitors into the briefing room, which is specifically designed as a reward for those of you who actually come and sit in and participate in the Daily Press Briefing, I'm pleased to have Assistant Secretary Alexander Watson here with us today.
As I think many of you know, he was just down in Rio in the context of the discussions which were taking place with the Rio Protocol Group, addressing the problems between Peru and Ecuador. So I asked him, and once again literally grabbed him on his way out to do other things, to come down and talk to you for a few minutes about what's been going on on that issue. He'll begin with some remarks and be happy to take a few questions. After that, I'll continue with your questions on other issues.
Assistant Secretary Watson, it's all yours.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Thank you, Christine. I'll spend a few minutes of your time running over what we are trying to do down there and where this issue stands.
Some of you may be aware that this dispute between Peru and Ecuador is a very, very longstanding one that really originated in the independence period in the beginning part of the last century.
It got red hot back in the 1940s. There was a war. The Ecuadorians lost a lot of their territory. There was an agreement called the Rio Protocol -- the Protocol of Rio de Janeiro of 1942 -- which drew the line and established the conditions for separation of forces and drew the boundary between the two countries.
Four friendly neighbors -- the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Chile -- were asked to be guarantors of that Rio Protocol, and that's what we have been over the last few years and helped them try to settle all the spats and disputes that have arisen from this over the years.
The issue at question right now is complicated to understand. I'll try to give it to you in about two sentences. In the Rio Protocol a border is described by points, saying it goes from the confluence of these two rivers to this point to that point. But it was not actually demarcated originally.
Then three years later, in 1945, a Brazilian military cartographer actually demarcated the border -- all but a 78- kilometer stretch and a particularly difficult area to reach -- in which he gave some opinions as to how that border should be demarcated following a line of mountains there.
What happened a few years later was that the U.S. Air Force, doing some aerial photography for maps, discovered a river that nobody had known existed before, thus changing the knowledge about the geographic area and thus, according to the Ecuadorians, affecting exactly how this line should be drawn.
I don't want to get into how that line should be drawn or how this process should be worked out, but that's the basis of the dispute: the Peruvians saying the original line is the correct one, and the Ecuadorians saying that decision was made in the absence of relevant information; it should be looked at again. That issue has been the basis of disputes over the years.
In this particular instance, skirmishes broke out in this area between Peruvian forces and Ecuadorian forces that had moved over time in small outposts into this disputed area.
Our job as the guarantors at this point was not to resolve the underlying dispute by any means but to try to end the current fighting, stop the bloodshed and, if we could, set up a mechanism by which the underlying dispute could be addressed in an effective way.
We were successful in bringing the parties together to discuss this crisis; and, as you know, that's sometimes the most difficult part of a negotiating process.
The meeting that we had that went all week long from late Tuesday all the way through to Sunday produced a proposal which would end the current crisis and would provide a vehicle for pursuing a long-term resolution of the issue.
It calls for a cease-fire, a separation of forces, a total demilitarization in the theater of conflict, withdrawal of troops from the border, establishment of an observer mission by the guarantor countries -- it wouldn't be a permanent mission, in all probability; it would just go in there to make sure that the troops were moving out when they're supposed to -- and also set up a forum in which the two countries would be able to meet under the aegis, if you will, or with the support of the guarantors countries to look at the unresolved issues between them.
The Rio Protocol does not give to the guarantor countries authority to determine or impose a solution. Our job is to facilitate and assist the two parties, Peru and Ecuador, in arriving at that; and that's what we were doing down there.
The talks were very intense and conducted in good faith by all, and where it stands now is that we are awaiting a response from the Ecuadorian Government to this proposal that was produced by all six of us at that meeting last week.
We are continuing to work together chiefly in Brasilia now. The Brazilians are the leaders of the guarantor group. Their Acting Foreign Minister, who is really the Vice Foreign Minister, was the leader of our guarantor group. He will continue to have that role. And our Ambassador in Brazil as well as the Ambassadors of Chile and Argentina will continue to work very, very closely in their roles as representatives of the guarantor countries.
Those Ambassadors were in all our meetings in Rio, so they're very well apprised of what took place there and are well versed on the issue itself.
We're still optimistic and hopeful that the two parties can find a way to reach an agreement. This is really a tragedy for them and for the hemisphere as a whole. What we tried to say in our statement that we issued on Sunday afternoon in Rio was that we urged the two parties to suspend any hostilities and any threats or any provocative moves that could make the situation worse, and try to create a climate (1) for ending the current fighting and (2) for a longer term constructive engagement to resolve the underlying issues.
We will be fully committed and prepared to work intensely with Peru and Ecuador as that may be required.
Our information concerning what is actually going on on the ground up in this very remote area is very, very weak, but we do not think that there were too much hostilities taking place over the weekend. But whatever there was, it is too much as far as we're concerned. We hope that both sides will draw back.
The Ecuadorians are sending -- their President visited Brazil, Argentina and Chile from Sunday night through yesterday to talk to leaders there, and the Ecuadorians are sending a delegation chaired by the President of their Congress -- a fellow named Heinz Mueller -- coming to Washington to visit with us to talk about the crisis.
I should say that throughout this entire effort, there has been very, very high-level involvement, including by the Secretary of State, who has talked to both the Presidents of Ecuador and of Peru on several occasions during this effort to help them find a peaceful solution to this immediate crisis and a longer-term arrangement for resolving underlying issues.
So with that, I'll take any questions you may have.
Q Has there been any unauthorized use of American weaponry by either side?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: Certainly nothing that we have been providing during this time frame. It's possible that some weapons originally obtained by these governments from U.S. sources could have been used, but there's been no - - the charges that somehow people are acquiring weapons at this point in the United States and also in Chile and also in Brazil, as far as we can tell, do not have any basis as far as the United States is concerned. Certainly there has been nothing through military sales programs or anything like that.
Q You said that you were awaiting a response from Ecuador, but there's been some reporting that Ecuador has basically said it's preparing for continued fighting. Are you aware of those reports?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I've heard those reports. I hope they're not true. I hope that the Ecuadorian Government is continuing to find a way to respond to the proposal that will result in a peaceful solution and an end to the fighting now.
I think they are. I mean, our information is that they are working on a response. It's a difficult political issue for them, but I'm confident with some imagination that they can find a way.
Q As you described sort of the parameters of the situation -- namely, that Peru thinks the original line should stand and Ecuador says that because of new information it should be looked at again -- I mean, basically do you see some merit in Ecuador's position?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: As a guarantor of the Protocol, I don't think it's really appropriate for us to sort of start making evaluations on that. What we want to do is set up a forum in which it could be examined. I can certainly understand where the Ecuadorians are coming from, without any question. But, on the other hand, there has been a legal determination. There has been a line; it was accepted originally by all parties. It seems to me until that is adjusted, it's a little difficult to go much beyond it. But I can certainly understand the Ecuadorians' concerns.
Q Two questions: Are you waiting to send military troops to offer your service to the border? Second, if this effort fails, are you willing to support a meeting of the Organization of American States Foreign Ministers to discuss the issue?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: We and the other three guarantor countries have indicated that we're willing to send observers into this region to observe and verify the separation of forces and the demilitarization, if you will, of this area. So, yes, that would include military people and I think perhaps some civilians as well.
We've been working very hard to be prepared to move as quickly as possible if and when the cease-fire is signed. We wouldn't want to put anybody in there before that, of course; so we have preparations underway already, as do the Brazilians and the other countries.
On the question of an OAS meeting, Ecuador requested an OAS meeting of Foreign Ministers. Our reaction is, let's let the guarantor process work as well as it can. The last time this issue was taken to the OAS, the OAS simply said let the guarantors work it out, so we thought that was the reasonable point of view.
But if there is a general agreement that there should be a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the OAS, we would not stand in the way of that. But I understand. I understand from what the Ecuadorians told us on -- when was it -- Sunday morning that they are not pressing for a meeting at this point.
There's already been an OAS agreement to have such a meeting at some time with a date unspecified, and the Ecuadorian Vice Foreign Minister told us that as long as the guarantor process was going to continue to be actively engaged -- which it certainly in Brasilia now, despite the fact that those of us that were leading the delegations in the meetings in Rio had to go home -- as long as that process was going to continue to be active, they would not request any specific date for a meeting of Foreign Ministers.
Q How many Americans would be involved in the observer mission?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I'm not sure. Not a great number. I don't really know how many we've been thinking about. I just got back, and I haven't had a chance to talk to our people about that. We're not talking about a large number nor a permanent force nor a peacekeeping force or peace-maintaining force, or anything like that. These will just be people who would go in and take a look around to make sure that the troops are being separated and that the area has been demilitarized. We've done this before. We did this in 1981.
Q Would a time limit be set in any kind of an agreement that's reached? How long do we plan to stay?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: We've left all that open at this stage of the game. I think it would depend on the conditions. My own conception of this -- and this is just speaking very personally -- is that it would be relatively short-term but with a capability of going back and checking on things if need be.
Q When do you expect to see Mr. Mueller? Are you going to urge him to sign on, or are you just going to listen to what you already know?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I think he's coming here today. We'll see him today or tomorrow. We'll try to explain to him very carefully what's in the document that we produced -- the four guarantors and the representatives of Ecuador and Peru -- in Rio, to make sure he understands exactly what it entails and suggest that we think this is a useful way to resolve the problem.
We'll also be glad to hear him out on any issue that he wants to bring to our attention.
Q On another country that falls under your umbrella -- namely, Colombia. The U.S. Ambassador to Bogota made a speech a recently in which he gave a pretty good hint of where the Administration intends to go with the certification process on Colombia.
Would you agree with that assessment? If not, could you explain why your opinion is different?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I have to admit to you I've not seen the precise remarks that Ambassador Frechette made because I just got back. But my understanding is he merely said that the certification question was one that was still open in the case of Colombia. Of course, that's true about other countries because the President has to make the decision based on recommendations from his Cabinet.
So I think what Miles said was correct, but there has been no decision yet on whether Colombia will be certified one way or another for its cooperation with us on narcotics.
Q Can you say whether they're being as cooperative as we would like?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: That's the nub of the issue, so there's no way I can forecast what the President will do or judge on that. I will say they have done an awful lot of things in the new Administration that are very positive, both in terms of working on eradication of poppy and coca plants as well as some rather dramatic changes in their legal structure, not all of which have been completed at this point. But there's always much more that can be done.
Q Mr. Secretary, is it your sense that either of the parties -- going back to Ecuador or Peru -- are trying to get out of the Rio Protocol umbrella and renegotiate this treaty -- renegotiate the delimitation of the demarcation?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: There's certainly a lot of different views in Ecuador. Some people in Ecuador would certainly hold that point of view. Our job as guarantors of the Protocol is, of course, to work within the Protocol. But there is room in the Protocol for looking at these issues.
Specifically, it says here, in Article 7, "Any doubt or disagreement which may arise in the execution of this Protocol shall be settled by the parties with the assistance of the representatives of the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile in the shortest possible time." That's a rather wide-open mandate.
So I think that you can take a look at this and see whether some things might be adjusted or not within the Protocol, without violating the Protocol.
Q Would that include that little stretch, that 78 --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: I think what this does is allow any disagreement which may arise to be discussed by the parties with our help. I think that's exactly what we would do; we would not be making any predeterminations on any of those things.
Q Isn't that what happened in Rio? Isn't that what happened in Rio --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WATSON: That's what we were doing there, and we're still doing, and we'll continue to do it.
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