Transcript

Remarks by Secretary Esper in a Joint Press Briefing With Colombian Minister of Defense Trujillo

Feb. 7, 2020
Secretary Of Defense Mark T. Esper; Colombian Minister of Defense Carlos Holmes Trujillo

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MARK T. ESPER: Well, good morning, everyone.

Minister Trujillo, it's been a pleasure to meet you and host you at the Pentagon for the very first time as we strengthen our defense relationship with our closest partner in Latin America. Welcome.

The United States and Colombia share a long and rich history of cooperation around the world, including during the Korean War when your country deployed forces in support of United Nations operations. We also thank you for Colombia's decades-long participation in the Multinational Force and Observers to help keep the peace in Sinai.

Our defense partnership was on display again last week when Colombia hosted a joint Army-Airborne exercise. I thank the minister for his assistance on this as we explore additional opportunities to conduct multilateral exercises in the region.

Our two countries are united across many fronts. This is especially important in an era of great power competition, as our strategic competitors seek dominance and malign influence in regions like Latin America. The United States National Defense Strategy guides us in this environment to strengthen partnerships like ours against violations of the international rules-based order.

Key to our shared security is our commitment to resolving the crisis in Venezuela, where the Maduro regime continues its flagrant -- flagrant violations of the human rights of its own people. This situation is exacerbated by terrorists, illicit trafficking groups and unwelcome foreign influence. As we work together with other nations and partners to seek a peaceful transition to democracy, we are grateful for everything Colombia has done to assist Venezuelans fleeing Maduro's oppression.

The United States is also committed to working with Colombia to curb cocaine production and trafficking. We were pleased to see an increase in eradications last year, and are encouraged by your even greater efforts this year. I met with leadership of the United States Coast Guard this week to discuss ways they and our military can do more to reduce the illicit trade and support counter-narcotics activities.

Finally, I'd like to congratulate the minister on Colombia's advances since becoming NATO's first Latin America -- Latin American global partner in 2018. This was a critical step toward improving your interoperability with the alliance and increasing your participation in exercises and military education. Meanwhile, NATO will greatly benefit from your experiences in counterterrorism and other military activities.

Today's global threats present many challenges to both our nations, but Colombia's leadership, in addition to our joint efforts, will be vital to promoting stability and mitigating malign influence in our hemisphere and around the world.

Minister Trujillo, as you expand Colombia's global engagement I look forward to working with you to address future challenges and to deepen our defense relationship.

Thank you.

MINISTER OF DEFENSE CARLOS HOLMES TRUJILLO: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary.

Dear Mr. Secretary, members of the media, dear friends, I would like to start by acknowledging and thanking all the brave men and women in Colombia and the United States who have put their lives on the line for our safety and security, all our soldiers, members of our military forces and our police. They are all heroes, and we owe them our eternal gratitude for providing the security that allows us to build and maintain our nations and the democratic values of freedom and human rights for all.

Security and defense are foundational to national stability and for Colombians they are instruments of peace and the mechanisms for improving the lives of all our people. Security is a democratic value that, together with legality, ensures justice.

And it is through security policy that we seek greater cooperation with the United States and other countries, to efficiently address regional challenges and threats and transnational crime.

The United States is Colombia's most important strategic partner. The bilateral Colombia-U.S. relationship has historically been characterized by strong ties of friendship and cooperation on many fronts. With the United States, we share the same values and the same ideals; in particular, protecting and strengthening democracy.

The challenges for Colombia are many, and we are fortunate to have the enduring support of the United States on all fronts. In the global fight against drugs, the challenges for Colombia are great, but we have expanded manual eradication and substitution programs in areas affected by illicit crops. We stand ready to restore all tools in this fight, remaining focused on the goal of reducing illicit crops.

On the regional front, from Secretary Esper and I just spoke about the challenges posed by Venezuela, and our shared desire for a rapid transition to democracy for the Venezuelan people.

We also reaffirmed our joint commitment to counterattack the illegitimate Maduro regime's harboring of terrorist groups such as the ELN, the FARC and others such as Hezbollah.

In conclusion, I thank you, Secretary Esper, for a productive meeting. Regional cooperation, intelligence-sharing, joint planning and working together and with other partners are important to our shared ability to assess and anticipate the instabilities that arise from those who threaten the region. I look forward to our continued work together to keep both our countries, our region and our hemisphere safe and secure.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. Minister, if I could ask, is Colombia seeking additional military assistance from the United States? And were any commitments made?

And, Mr. Secretary, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman is expected to be reassigned from the White House to DOD -- back to the DOD. Will he be welcomed back at DOD? And what is the Pentagon going to do to ensure that he is not retributed against by the president or others?

SEC. ESPER: We welcome back all of our service members, wherever they serve, to any assignment they're given. I would refer you to -- to the Army for any more detail on that.

And as I said, we protect all of our persons -- service members from retribution or anything -- anything like that. So we've already addressed that in policy and other means.

MIN. TRUJILLO: Yes, we have been -- we have been discussing and we did discuss with Secretary Esper more collaboration with -- with the United States in this fight against the global drug problem. So we have a lot of room to work together. And of course, the cooperation that we receive is of the utmost importance.

QUESTION: (UNTRANSLATED)

Secretary Esper, about military aid, there's a controversy actually in Colombia because there are allegations, particularly from political sectors, that resources for military cooperation from the U.S. are being used in Colombia to buy programs to -- to take advantage in illegal interceptions, particularly to journalists and political -- in politics. Are you concerned of these allegations?

(THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And Minister Trujillo, you said in your statement that Colombia's ready to renew all tools for the purpose of eradicating illicit crimes.

Did the -- did you come up with a concrete date with the secretary regarding when air -- spraying of (inaudible) --

(CROSSTALK)

SEC. ESPER: I'm not familiar with these allegations. I don't get involved in the politics of the United States, and I'm not about to get involved in politics in Colombia.

MIN. TRUJILLO (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Regarding aerial spraying, yes, that topic did come up. It's broadly known that the purpose of a government is to comply with the requirements that were set forth with the -- by the constitutional court for this purpose, and that's why we are going to be careful in how we progress. But we will progress and move forward.

But I think it warrants saying it again here. The debate here is about drug trafficking. Drug trafficking kills. It destroys the environment. It poisons sources of water, violates human rights. Drug trafficking poisons young people, making them slaves to the consumption of illegal drugs.

So we are going to comply, of course, with the requirements that have been set forth by the court.

These military resources are going to be used for -- I just have to say it, and you know it already -- this has been said in the media in Colombia. The government is trying to ensure that we arrive at the bottom of these investigations. And we have given the authorities the full government support to ascertain what the truth is. We will continue to support them, because what we want in the country is to know the truth.

QUESTION: Mr. Minister, are there any signs that Maduro's hold on power is weakening?

And, Mr. Secretary, why do you need low-yield nuclear warheads on ballistic missile submarines? The Russians are calling this a provocative act.

SEC. ESPER: I'll go first.

Low-yield nuclear weapons give the president, the commander in chief, options. We always want to give options. Options allow us to deter conflict. At the end of the day, we want to deter conflict and -- but if necessary, we want to be able to fight and win.

So the bottom line is provide the president more options so we can deter conflict with -- with any country.

QUESTION: Does the Pentagon want to see a new START treaty with the Russians?

SEC. ESPER: One question.

(Laughter.)

MIN. TRUJILLO: You know, the (inaudible) Venezuela to decide to get back to freedom and democracy's increasing. It's every day stronger and stronger and stronger. That means to say that any -- every day, a new condition is being created that finally will lead Venezuela to live back in freedom and democracy.

QUESTION: Secretary Esper, Guaido was here for a week, and, well, he's going back. The special envoy for Venezuela said that the U.S. was planning to take further actions in case Guaido was somehow molested in Venezuela.

What are the next steps towards Venezuela, considering that things aren't moving so much, no?

(THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And, Minister, the ambassador announced a line of credit. Now how is that going to be used, that money that's being made available by the United States?

SEC. ESPER: Now, I had a chance to meet with President Guaido when he met with President Trump. We sat in the Oval Office and talked about a wide range of issues and possible next steps. I, obviously, am not going to get into that today.

But, needless to say, we -- we fully support the -- President Guaido and the opposition and the needs of the Venezuelan people. We see it urgent that this illegitimate, brutal, oppressive regime led by Maduro needs to move on, and we need to get back to a democracy. The damage that he has done to a great people and a great country is -- is shameful.

And, again, we want to support the -- the needs and the -- and the rightful leaders of Venezuela.

MIN. TRUJILLO (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): A effort is being made, a great effort is being made for the eradication and interdiction, as well as an effort is being made in all the links of the chain of the worldwide problem of drugs. And, of course, we are going to strengthen those efforts that are made in alternative development with a market outlook, and to ensure profitability, competitiveness and sustainability of the effort.

So along those lines, yes, we are making progress in the conversations that will make it possible for us to define the nature of a project that would lead towards the sustained effort that we make on an ongoing basis against all the links of the worldwide drug problem.

SEC. ESPER: Thank you all very -- and, Mr. Minister, thank you very much.

MIN. TRUJILLO: Thank you very much.

SEC. ESPER: Thank you.

MIN. TRUJILLO: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you.