Background Press Call Previewing the President’s Agenda for the 9th Summit of the Americas
6:11 P.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us this evening. I appreciate you joining us for the call.
You’ll be hearing from [senior administration official]. He will be background. So when you refer to him, please use “senior administration official.” But of course, when you’re talking to him, you can call him [senior administration official] right now.
I will let you know when the embargo breaks, which will be after this call. So please hold until then.
And without further ado, I will turn it over to [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks very much. And thanks, everybody, for joining on the call. The goal with this call for us is to help outline the President’s agenda during the summit this week and give some perspective on why we believe the summit is an important forum for engagement and discussion with leaders of the various countries involved, with civil society, and then obviously with the private sector as well.
We know there’s been a significant focus on participation, and we provided a lot more information about that earlier today, but I think we believe that it is well warranted that there should be a significant focus on the substance of the summit as well. And so we wanted to start laying out how all this is likely to proceed during the course of the week.
So, the President is looking forward to hosting the Ninth Summit of the Americas. The summit is an opportunity for us to come together as a hemisphere to tackle some of the top concerns of the people in the region, including obtaining and sustaining economic prosperity, climate change, the migration crisis, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Biden has a long track record, as I know everyone knows, of personal engagement in the Western Hemisphere, starting from his time in the U.S. Senate. During the Obama-Biden administration, he was the administration’s point person for diplomacy within the Western Hemisphere.
He worked to realize his vision of a hemisphere that is, and I’ll quote, “middle class, secure, and democratic, from Canada to Chile and everywhere in between,” end quote. And he made more than 16 trips to the hemisphere as Vice President.
So what will be achieved at the summit?
So the theme, as I think many of you know, is “Building a Sustainable, Resilient, and Equitable Future,” as the United States and regional governments worked hard over the last several months to negotiate hemispheric consensus on political commitments in five key areas: democratic governance, health and resilience, climate change and environmental sustainability, the clean energy transition, and digital transformation.
There will be five documents that will be released, reflecting an ambitious hemispheric consensus on everything from support for civil society to promoting digital connectivity.
But I want to focus on what you can expect during the week from the President and other members of the administration.
Starting tomorrow, Tuesday, the focus will be on building strong and inclusive democracies, where you can expect the following:
The Vice President will make progress on her Call to Action in Central America, which has already raised more than a billion dollars in private sector commitments. She will also announce the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, among other announcements.
The Department of State will announce the Digital Agenda for Transformation in the Americas, DATA, to expand access to technology, as well as an initiative promoting independent media and information integrity.
We will also announce a Cities Forward Initiative, designed to expand economic opportunities by providing technical support and resources to mayors who are on the frontlines of many of the core challenges facing the hemisphere.
On Wednesday, the theme will be investments in the region’s health and prosperity. That is also when the President will arrive in Los Angeles and deliver a policy speech at the inaugural ceremony.
I’ll make a few points on what you should expect from the President.
So, the President will announce the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity — or the “Americas Partnership,” as we call it — as part of our efforts to promote an equitable recovery in a hemisphere that is still reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Americas Partnership will focus on the following five areas:
First, reinvigorating regional economic institutions and mobilizing investment. Second, investments to update the social contract between governments and their people. Third, resilient supply chains. Fourth, decarbonization, biodiversity, and clean energy jobs. And fifth, sustainable and inclusive trade.
The overall objective is to build our economies from the bottom up and the middle out by building on the foundation established by our free trade agreements with the region to better address inequality and lack of economic opportunity and equity.
As a part of the Americas Partnership, the President will put forward an ambitious reform of the Inter-American Development Bank, IDB, to better address the region’s development challenges.
Because the private sector has a central role to play, the United States will also seek an equity stake in IDB Invest — the bank’s private sector lending arm — to support the deployment of private capital and to help direct it where it will have the most impact.
The President will also announce well over $300 million in assistance for the region in food insecurity. And with some of the biggest food producers in the hemisphere, he will commit to working together to address food insecurity in the Americas.
The President will announce ambitious initiatives in health. In addition to the nearly 70 million vaccines donated by the United States within the hemisphere — without any strings attached — it’s going to be important that we also work with the countries of the region to prepare for future pandemics by supporting health workers and increasing their number, and bringing governments and the private sector together to support the manufacturing and production of vaccines right here in the hemisphere.
In advance of the Vice President’s meeting on Thursday with the Caribbean community, the President will announce a partnership on climate, resilience, and adaptation with a region that looks to address the challenges of a region of the Americas that being, you know, mostly middle- or high-income is often left out by many of the development tools used by the G7, the G20, and the multilateral development banks to address many of these challenges.
Finally, on migration, the President will also preview a meeting he will hold on Friday with regional governments to sign the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration, which is an unprecedented and ambitious step by the United States and regional partners to work together to address the migration crisis in a comprehensive manner.
This is an idea that is closely tied to the economic agenda — an initiative that is closely tied to the economic agenda. And the President will also be explaining that, over the last several months, he has mobilized leaders around a whole new plan that is centered on responsibility-sharing and economic support for countries that have been most impacted by refugee and migration flows.
To close out Thursday, the focus will be on energy security and climate smart recovery, which as I’d mentioned will include the Vice President’s meeting with the Caribbean as well as the participation of Special Envoy John Kerry at the CEO Summit.
Finally, Friday will focus on food security and collaborative migration management with the LA Declaration that I just mentioned.
As you’ll see starting tomorrow, the President is going to use the summit of the Americas to align regional leaders, the private sector, and civil society behind this new and ambitious agenda, starting with the economic agenda for the region.
And the summit is bringing thousands of people together to focus on some of the most important shared challenges and opportunities facing the hemisphere. There is no other part of the world and it is really why we are doing this — there is no other part of the world that impacts the security and prosperity of the United States more directly than the Western Hemisphere. We are joined not just by geography but also by economic ties, by democratic principles, by cultural connections, and by familial bonds.
And the summit is an opportunity for all of us to work towards addressing the core challenges that people in the region are facing, including here in the United States.
And with that, I’ll turn it back over.
Q Hello. Thank you for doing this. My question would be: How confident are you that these goals that have been set, especially the migration goal, will be met without a dialogue with the leaders of the countries that are most affected, especially after, like, President López Obrador from Mexico said today that he wasn’t coming?
We don’t have, like, leaders from Central American countries coming, so it seems that there won’t be, like, a bilateral negotiation with these leaders and it won’t be possible to have, like, a presidential dialogue there. So, I wanted to know how confident you are that you can make advances regarding these absences.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for the question. So, we are very confident that the countries that will sign on to the Declaration on Migration will be committed to its goals. And that includes — just to clarify, that includes Mexico. The Mexican government will be represented at the ministerial level by the Mexican Foreign Minister in Los Angeles. The Mexican government has been a full participant in the development of the migration initiatives that will be rolled out later this week. And we believe in every way that they are fully committed to it.
And so, you know, I think you’re aware of what the rough numbers are at this point in terms of participation, including a significant number of participants at the head of state level. And many of the countries that are not participating at the head of state level will be sending significant delegations to engage on all of these deliverables that I’ve described, including the migration deliverable.
And we expect most, if not all, of the countries that are significantly impacted by the migration crisis to be engaged on that topic with us at the summit, whether they’re represented by a head of state or not.
Q Yes, thank you for doing this. Can you clarify: As Interim President, Juan Guaidó was personally invited to attend the summit, and there have been reports that he is likely to have a video call with President Biden. Can you provide some more details about that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I don’t have a call to confirm to you, but I do think there is a good chance that there will be engagements with Mr. Guaidó during the course of this week. Representatives from the interim government of Venezuela and broader Venezuelan civil society will participate. They were invited to the stakeholder forums and other events, but they will not participate in the formal summit program.
The United States continues to recognize Mr. Guaidó, as you said, as the Interim President of Venezuela. And when we have more to say about a possible engagement, we will let you know.
Q Thank you. So, here’s my question about the — you said the security of the — no region was more important to the security of the United States than this hemisphere. So I guess that follows two questions. One is, you know, the United States and this administration rallied the Congress to spend $40 billion in support of Ukraine. How come the United States isn’t, you know, providing the same kind of financial support to rebuilding the parts of the hemisphere that are in such dire need?
And second, if you could address the inconsistency between the President saying that he doesn’t want to invite non-democratic dictators to a summit like this while at the same time saying that, in terms of visiting Saudi Arabia and having engagements with MBS, he’s willing to do that because the interests of the United States are, sort of, more important than — you know, and you have to deal with people you don’t necessarily like to deal with.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Mike. So on your assistance question, I guess what I would say is the United States has committed significant resources to this hemisphere, and more of those resources will be announced during the course of the week ahead. I flagged some of them, but there will be others that we will roll out during the course of the coming days.
You know, in terms of the comparison to Ukraine, some of this comes down to congressional appropriations. There were congressional appropriations, including for this hemisphere, that were sought that we are still seeking and working with Congress to obtain.
You know, I think the commitment — bipartisan commitment in the Congress and in the administration to Ukraine, in providing the sorts of security, humanitarian, economic assistance that Congress has appropriated, is well understood. And I don’t think I need to retread that ground. You know, Ukraine is obviously facing a very different situation from that in our own hemisphere, thankfully, for those countries in our region, and, you know, require significant support and we’re providing it.
On this question of participation and how that relates to potential future travel of the Middle East or elsewhere: So I think, you know, we’ve said, including in the press briefing earlier today, that we don’t have a trip to describe or announce yet, but I would point to a few things.
One is: We have at no time said, including in discussions of participation related to this summit, that we are severing all relations or refusing to engage with countries about whom we have significant concerns related to democratic governance. We engage with countries like that in all parts of the world, and we will engage with countries like that in our own hemisphere when we think it’s in our interest to do so. That’s a different question from whether and when we’ll invite those countries to participate in a regional gathering that we believe is intended to and is best served by celebrating the democratic principles that unite the vast majority of the hemisphere.
So we think it’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison and in no way suggests an approach that is different based on region by region.
Q Hi there. Thanks for doing this. You all said today that the President took a principled stance in choosing not to invite dictators to the summit. And I know Mike was just asking about this. But you also debated whether to invite representatives from Cuba and Nicaragua up until the very last minute, through this weekend, is my understanding, up until the start of the summit. So if this was such a principled stance that you all were taking, why was it such a tough call for you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I guess this is what I would say, which is: There are a wide range of views on this question of participation in our own hemisphere and then even in the United States, in our own — you know, in our own relations with our Congress and in the public debate here in this country.
And so what we have done in recent weeks, going back almost a month now, is consulted — consulted with our partners and friends in the region so that we understood the contours of their views; consulted with members of Congress who had strong views on sort of both sides of this participation question.
And in the end, the President decided and very much made this point in all of the engagements that we had — we made this point in all the engagements we had — which is that we believe the best use of this summit is to bring together countries that share a set of democratic principles.
And we heard from countries that had a different view of this. You heard earlier today from the President of Mexico who has a different view of this. We believe very much that Mexico’s participation in this summit, regardless, is going to be highly consequential and constructive and meaningful when it comes to the deliverables that are seeking. And, you know, we believe that the right way to go about this was to consult.
We’ve said from the beginning of this administration that we would take into account the views of our partners and allies on all of the key questions in our foreign policy. This is no different from that. And we believe fundamentally in engagement with Congress on the key questions of policy and politics as well.
In the end, that’s where we came down, and we feel very comfortable with the approach that we’re taking informed, again, by the consultations we had with our — with our region and in our own political system.
Q Hi. Thank you for doing this. I have two questions. First one is: How do you reconcile this question on democracy and the concerns on democracy with inviting Bolsonaro for a bilateral meeting, and remembering that we are five months from the election and Bolsonaro keeps saying that he might not recognize the results of elections that are considered fair for the United States?
And the second question would be: What — when is Biden meeting Bolsonaro, and what are the talking points?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I’m not going to preview the contents of the meeting on this call. I think you’ll understand why that would be the case. We’ll have more to say about that during the course of the week.
But, look, I guess what I would say about the decision to do a meeting is that President Bolsonaro is the democratically elected leader of Brazil, a country with whom the United States shares a significant set of common interests and concerns.
We obviously also have some disagreements with the president and the government of Brazil that will also be the subject of what I’m sure will be a candid conversation between the two leaders. This is, frankly, what international relations is all about. And I don’t think anybody should be shocked by the fact of the meeting. In our view, it’s very much in our interest to do that, and we’re looking forward to the conversation.
Q Hi. Thank you very much for doing this. It was just mentioned that President Biden will be having a bilateral meeting with Bolsonaro. Can you preview other bilateral meetings that the President will be having during the summit?
And my second question is about something you mentioned before — that the President will be announcing over $300 million for assistance for food security in the region. Could you please elaborate a little bit on that? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, there will be factsheets and other significant details provided on the deliverables during the course of the week. And I’m not going to get beyond where I’ve gone in terms of detail at this point.
In terms of bilateral meetings, we will have more to say about those. The President will do a set of bilateral meetings, but we are not yet confirming them at this point. And so, again, I’m sorry, but on that, you also have to wait until a bit later in the week when we can lay those out.
Q Hi. Thank you so much for doing this. I just want to see how you would say — is the White House disappointed that Mexico decided not to go? Is it considered disrespectful for López Obrador to try to tell the White House or the U.S. who to invite and who not to invite to a summit? And talking immigration without Mexico, there is — it’s a big challenge. So I just wanted to see how the President sees it and how the bilateral relationships are going to continue despite what happened.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, I guess all I’ll say about this is: Mexico is a sovereign country; the President has been clear that he will treat Mexico and Mexico’s President with respect, as an equal partner in a very consequential and important relationship.
We had a disagreement about this particular question of participation in the Summit of the Americas. But broadly, we are committed, as we believe the Mexican government is, to working constructively on a significant set of issues that we share an interest, that we can advance together, including the economic relationship, including migration. We think that is why the government of Mexico will participate in the summit at a high level — at the level of Mexico’s Foreign Minister; why we expect the two presidents to engage directly, to see each other later in the summer.
And, you know, the fact that they disagree about this issue is now very clear. But beyond that, you know, we see this as a Mexican sovereign decision that we just disagree with.
Q Hi. Thank you for doing this. Building on my colleagues: How do you project confidence in the commitments that will be agreed to at the summit if key heads of state are not in attendance?
And then, just to provide some context in terms of how do you see these commitments in the short term, medium term, and long term: Are you thinking about these declarations and documents as something that’ll happen over the course of years? Do you have more short-term objectives — or medium-term, for that matter? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. So, look, again, we think there will be a significant number of heads of government. I think we gave the number earlier today. I think as of now, 23 is what we expect. You know, some of this may still fluctuate, but that’s the number that we’re expecting at this point, and that’s just heads of government from this hemisphere. And that is very much in line with, if not above, some of the historical precedents for this summit.
So we think there will be the opportunity to do significant business with a highly consequential group of leaders of the countries in the region. And those that are not represented by their heads of government, many of them will be represented at high levels by other government officials.
And so we really do expect that the participation will not be in any way a barrier to getting significant business done at the summit. In fact, quite the opposite: We are very pleased with how the deliverables are shaping up and with other countries’ commitments to them.
In terms of the short-term, medium- and long-term dimension of your question: I think the answer to that is “all of the above.” We very much have a set of near-term objectives that we are trying to advance through the summit. I went through them during the course of my remarks at the very beginning.
But many of these issues are issues that are going to be with us for some time, including for years to come. And so, part of this summit is about building and strengthening, sort of, our foundation with our key partners on these issues that are most consequential for the countries and for the people of the region. And we expect to use that platform to continue to make progress during the course of the rest of this term and beyond.
MODERATOR: All right, everyone. That concludes our question-and-answer period. I just want to say thank you again for attending.
Remember that attribute — you can attribute what you’ve heard today to a “senior administration official.” And once we hang up the call, the embargo is broken.
6:37 P.M. EDT