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Remarks With Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rene Castro After their Meeting

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Location: Washington, DC

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning. It is a great pleasure for me to welcome Dr. Castro here today. I first met him when he was the incoming foreign minister, and he welcomed me to the Pathways for Prosperity Summit in San Jose. And it's wonderful for me now to see you, Minister, here in Washington.

We view our relationship with Costa Rica as one of the most important that we have. In this region, the United States is reaching out to nations that share our values and our commitments to solving problems together with its strong democratic institutions, its trailblazing efforts to achieve sustainable, inclusive growth. Costa Rica is a success story, a kindred spirit, and a valued partner and friend.

The foreign minister and I had a very productive discussion about how we can work even more closely together, and we thank Costa Rica for its defense at the United Nations of human rights in Iran and North Korea, Libya, and elsewhere.

We're also working together to take on the transnational drug trafficking organizations that destroy lives, destabilize societies, and prevent so many across our hemisphere from living up to their own God-given potential.

We are deepening our partnerships on regional security issues with Mexico, Central America, and Colombia, and Costa Rica plays a major role in that. We're working to -- work together on the Central America Regional Security Initiative. And I know from meeting with President Chinchilla that there is so much Costa Rica is already doing, but they face the same problems as their neighbors. And this is an issue that President Obama will be addressing when he is in the region on his trip later this month.

We are also very concerned about the dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We want to see that resolved in a peaceful solution. We know that there will be a court decision coming from the International Court, and we certainly will continue to support the resolution in accordance with long-established agreements.

I also want to really plug what Costa Rica is doing in clean energy, scientific innovation, even aerospace. And I have to say, I just learned from the minister that they're working on carbon dioxide-free products, like coffee. At the EARTH University, started 25 years ago with support from USAID, academics and scientists are working to combine clean energy innovation and cutting edge farming. And the United States is proud that, after 25 years and 1,600 hours in space with NASA, Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz is now leading Costa Rica's efforts to develop an aerospace sector. Dr. Chang-Diaz is one of -- is the first Latino to travel in space, and today his daughter is breaking down barriers in our country as the first Latina woman to serve in the Massachusetts State Senate.

I like bragging on Costa Rica, Minister.

FOREIGN MINISTER CASTRO: Thank you very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And I look forward to continuing our close partnership as we work together to face the challenges of this time.

FOREIGN MINISTER CASTRO: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary. It is a pleasure for us to work with the U.S., a long-term friend, working in bilateral and regional matters, including the dreams for the future like the aerospace and the Green Growth that is one of the concepts for a sustainable world. We would like to keep doing so and improve the world as it is for working for peace, for a sustainable future, and against major threats like climate change, producing small efforts like this, the CO2 neutral coffee, that will show to other agricultural countries of the world that it is doable and that we can both share and work together for the longer term. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Minister.

MR. TONER: We have time for just two questions. David Gollust of Voice of America.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, are you concerned about the situation in Libya developing into a long-term, violent civil war that could be disruptive to the region? And do you see any value in Venezuelan mediation on that? And very briefly, what do you hope Iran can do in the case of Robert Levinson. And finally, Alan Gross. (Laughter.) Alan Gross is going on trial in Cuba for seemingly innocuous activities that could get him 20 years in prison. If you could address those, please.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Dave, I like your one question. (Laughter.) First, on Libya, of course we are concerned with the ongoing violence and the actions that are initiated and perpetrated by Qadhafi and his regime against his own people. We are considering a number of ways that we can be of assistance with respect to that.

But we are now focused on the humanitarian situation. At President Obama's direction, USAID has charted additional civilian aircraft to help people from other countries who have fled Libya to find their way home. We have two United States C-130s on their way to Tunisia right now. We have sent humanitarian assistance teams to both border regions with supplies, like water containers, blankets, medical supplies as well. We are closely coordinating with the United Nations and NGOs, and of course, the United States, as is usually the case, is providing a great deal of the resources to provide humanitarian assistance.

We know that there is a lot of confusion on the ground that is often difficult for us to sort through to get to what the actual facts are. But the United States remains deeply concerned about the welfare of the Libyan people, the Libyans and those who are fleeing Libya are the subject of our outreach. And wherever possible, we will be directly providing assistance. And we continue to consult with our NATO allies, our Arab partners, our UN mission, to determine what are productive, constructive ways forward to try to deal with the situation we see developing there.

With respect to the Robert Levinson case, let me say this is an ongoing investigation. I cannot comment any further. What is important is that we work to bring Bob Levinson home safely to his family in Florida. His family misses him dearly. He does have medical issues. And we continue to welcome any help that the Iranian Government can provide in determining Mr. Levinson's welfare and whereabouts, so that he can be reunited with his family as soon as possible.

Now, we also, as you know, are deeply concerned about our American citizen, Alan Gross. He's been unjustly jailed for far too long. We call on the Government of Cuba to release him, and unconditionally allow him to leave Cuba and return to his family, to bring an end to their long ordeal. It is a matter of great personal pain to his family and concern to the United States Government, so we're going to hope that he will be also reunited soon.

MR. TONER: The next question goes to (inaudible).

QUESTION: Hi, good morning. I have one question for each.

Secretary Clinton, if I recall well, the President's budget for 2012 keeps the funds for CARSI at $100 million. But the Central American governments say that an equivalent to the Merida Initiative for the region, for Central America, costs about $900 million. Is the U.S. considering to increase the funds for anti-narcotic efforts in Central America? And is the U.S. concerned that Central America reach a breaking point when law enforcement becomes impossible because of the narco-traffickers?

And Minister, I understand you wanted to discuss with the Secretary some complaints about Venezuela interventionism in Nicaragua, like sending money or doing some kind of efforts that your government considers interventionism. I just wanted to know whether you had discussed this issue and what came out of it. Thanks.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me begin by saying that the United States is absolutely committed to helping in every way we can to improve the security situation in Central America, to support the efforts that governments are undertaking on their own behalf. And we are working through a number of different channels. There will be an OAS meeting about regional security in June. There will also be a SICA meeting this -- later this spring as well. President Obama will address this issue when he goes to El Salvador.

We do have a commitment of significant dollars, but I have to tell you that it is our experience that dollars alone are not enough. Sometimes, the most cost effective way of helping a government protect itself is working to train police officers and other law enforcement officials to help the government better organize their assets, to work to support independent judiciaries, to assist in patrolling coastlines, to provide vetting programs so that funds coming in and out of countries can be traced. There are many things that can be done that we have learned from long experience, working in Colombia, working now in Mexico, that are important -- border patrol and border surveillance, which we know is critical.

So I think that this is certainly about resources, and we are prepared to provide additional resources. But it's also about supporting governments like Costa Rica's, that has a track record of knowing how best to use those resources, and helping other countries apply resources in a more effective way to get the results they seek.

FOREIGN MINISTER CASTRO: First of all, Costa Rica is willing to work both at the bilateral and regional level with the U.S. against the organized crime. We are already doing so. We have to do much more. For example, we will be hosting in San Jose, Costa Rica at the end of March a multilateral meeting of seven countries already agreeing in working against organized crime in the Caribbean. Those seven countries are the U.S., France, Netherlands, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, and Dominican Republic, and the UK already -- the UK Government already stated that it will also join the effort. And this kind of multilateral approach is -- will also help and will be seek.

In the case of the point of the Costa Rica and Nicaragua conflict, what we have said is that we are really concerned about $1.4 billion unaccounted that have been received by Nicaragua, and that are also being used today by the Ortega family to buy local TV stations and communications companies, hotels, banks, and invading Costa Rica. And we want the world to account that $1.4 billion. And we are asking the International Monetary Fund and other organizations in the international financial institutions to account this money. We want to see how it is used, where is it coming from, and that will be crucial for (inaudible).

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Minister.

FOREIGN MINISTER CASTRO: Thank you. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much.


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