THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
November 14, 1997
REMARKS BY PRESIDENTS CLINTON AND ZEDILLO
AT SIGNING OF HEMISPHERIC ARMS TRAFFICKING CONVENTION
Organization of American States
12:32 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Mr. Gurria,
Secretary General Gaviria, President Zedillo, distinguished permanent
representatives of the Organization of American States, to all my
fellow Americans who are here, and especially to two members of our
Congress, Senator Dodd and Congressman Gilman.
Today our 34 democracies are speaking with one voice,
acting with one conviction, leading toward one goal: to stem the flow
of illegal guns, ammunitions, and explosives in our hemisphere.
Three years ago at the United Nations, the United States called on
others to work with us to shut down the gray markets that outfit
terrorists, drug traffickers, and criminals with guns.
Here at home we have prohibited arms dealers from acting
as middlemen for illicit sales overseas, strengthened residency
requirements for gun purchasers, banned foreign visitors from buying
guns here in the United States, tightened export licenses to make
sure that legally exported weapons are not diverted to illegal uses.
But in an era where our borders are all more open to the flow of
legitimate commerce, problems like trafficking in weapons and
explosives simply cannot be solved by one nation alone.
Last May in Mexico, President Zedillo and I pledged to
work together for a hemisphere-wide agreement to curb the illegal
arms trade. I thank President Zedillo for Mexico's leadership. Mr.
Secretary General, I thank you and the OAS member states for
concluding this agreement in record time. We understand the
magnitude of the problem. In the last year alone, thousands of
handguns and rifles, hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition
destined for illegal export have been seized in our nations.
The illegal export of firearms is indeed not just a
hemispheric but a worldwide problem, and demands an international
response. Last year, the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms received approximately 30,000 requests just from OAS
member states to trace weapons used in crimes. Gun trafficking is an
issue of national security for all of us, and a matter of
neighborhood security for the Americas.
This Convention will neither discourage nor diminish the
lawful sale, ownership, or use of guns; but it will help us to fight
the unlawful trade in guns that contributes to the violence
associated here in America with drugs and gangs.
If we want also here in America to see the powerful
trend of democracy and free markets and peace in our hemisphere
continue, we must also help our neighbors to fight the illegal trade
in guns so that the foundations of democracies will not be eroded by
violent crime and corruption.
Now, this Convention mandates four key steps to achieve
our common goals. First, it requires countries to establish and
maintain a strong system of export, import, and international transit
licenses for arms, ammunitions, and explosives to make sure that
weapons won't move without explicit permission from all the countries
Second, other nations will join us in putting markings
on firearms, not only when they're made but also when they're
imported. If guns are diverted from legal purposes, we will then be
better able to trace their path and find out exactly when and how
they got into the wrong hands.
Third, nations will adopt laws that criminalize illicit
arms production and sales as we have already done, so that those who
seek to profit from illegal trade in guns know they will pay a stiff
penalty in jail.
Fourth, we will step up every level of information
sharing from common routes used by arms traffickers to ways that
smugglers are concealing their guns and tips on how to detect them.
If we work together, we can put the black market in weapons out of
Let me say in a larger sense to all of you that this
agreement underscores the new spirit of the Americas and the new
dynamism of this organization. The mood of the negotiations was not
one of recrimination, but of cooperation on behalf of a common goal.
We need more of that. Our hemisphere is setting a new standard for
the world in taking on global challenges -- last year, with our
pathbreaking convention against corruption, today with this arms
trafficking agreement. Together, we're showing the way of the 21st
century world: democratic partners working together to improve the
prosperity and security of all their people.
I'm especially pleased to be joined today, and to join
you today, with President Zedillo. The United States and Mexico are
working hard to forge a true partnership founded on mutual respect, a
partnership as broad as our border is long. We see it taking shape
in the creation of NAFTA, in our common commitment to the Firearms
Convention, in our alliance against drug-trafficking, in our work
with other American nations to increase multilateral cooperation and
strengthen our hemispheric institutions to combat the scourge of
Over the last two days, the United States and Mexico
have reached an agreement on extradition that will allow cross-border
criminals to be tried in both countries while the evidence is still
fresh. We've pledged to build a new Rio Grande bridge to help link
our people together. We've taken an important step to fully
demarcate our common border, and agreed to promote environmental
commercial cooperation. We've agreed also to work together to combat
climate change, because developed and developing countries must
reduce greenhouse gas emissions, together, that are warming the
Witnessing the signing of this important convention, I
am especially proud of the renewed vitality of the OAS and the
renewed deep cooperation between the United States and Mexico. It
can make a difference for our entire community of nations -- to build
a better, safer future for all our people.
And now I'd like to ask you to join me in welcoming our
good friend, President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT ZEDILLO: Your Excellency, Mr. William
Clinton, President of the United States of America; Your Excellency,
Mr. Cesar Gaviria, Secretary General of the Organization of American
States; distinguished representatives of the member states of the
Organization; ladies and gentlemen.
It's a great satisfaction for me to be here in the home
of our continental friendship, the headquarters of the Organization
of American States. With deep conviction in the pan-American ideal,
Mexico participated in the conference held in Panama in 1826, the
first step toward what was eventually to become this Organization.
And since the founding of the OAS almost 50 years ago,
Mexico has resolutely backed the Organization's vocation for peace
and respect, harmony and cooperation. Under the leadership of its
Secretary General, Cesar Gaviria, the OAS is promoting those tasks
that call for continental collaboration.
Two years ago when we met at these headquarters,
President Clinton spoke of his desire for the OAS to serve as a forum
for the encouragement of democracy, the defense of human rights and
the promotion of free trade. Mexico will continue to share that
A problem that's been affecting security of many of our
countries, as well as the tranquility of our families and
communities, has been illicit trafficking in firearms, explosives,
and other destructive materials. This commerce in violence fuels
serious offenses such as: drug-trafficking that wreaks destruction
and aspires to impose its code of death and corruption; organized
crime that abducts, commits violent assaults, and undermines public
security; and terrorism that seeks to block the path to democracy and
to enshrine dogmatism and intolerance.
Consequently, on behalf of Mexico, almost a year ago I
submitted an initiative to the 10th Summit of the Rio Group,
proposing that an agreement be reached to establish effective
controls on illicit trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Thanks to the interests of the heads of state of the Rio Group, a
draft convention was prepared and submitted to the OAS with a view to
negotiating a hemispheric agreement. The final text of the
Inter-American Convention was drafted within our organization with
the assistance of a distinguished group of specialists, and today
it's being opened for signing by the representatives of the member
Mexico recognizes and appreciates the sensitivity that
President Clinton has shown in regard to this serious problem, as
well as the firm determination with which the United States
government has supported the negotiations leading to this convention.
With equal recognition, we deeply appreciate the receptivity and the
unwavering support and cooperation with which each and every member
state has endorsed this initiative of Mexico's.
This agreement is, in fact, as President Clinton has
just reminded us, is a result of the most rapidly concluded
negotiations in the history of the OAS. For Mexico, it's a reason of
pride that today we're signing this convention here. This is the
first international legal instrument of its sort. It's a matter of
pride because this convention is based on a framework of respect for
the principles of legal equality of the states, respect for the
sovereignty and the territorial jurisdiction of each nation, and the
cooperation for international peace and security.
Mexico places great value on this step, but we Mexicans
are aware that it's only one of many steps that must be taken in
order to step up the overall battle against crimes such as drug
trafficking. The most promising approach to confront drug
trafficking and organized crime is a comprehensive strategy designed
with respect for the sovereignty of each country and capable of
taking full advantage of the multilateral mechanisms available to the
Mexico has, therefore, promoted a special session of the
General Assembly of the United Nations, dedicated to examining ways
of combatting drug production, trafficking, and consumption more
responsibly and effectively. In a spirit of respect and brotherhood,
Mexico calls on the member states of the OAS to participate at the
highest level in that session, which will take place in June of 1998,
and to contribute to its efforts by presenting their respective
I am particularly grateful that the government of
President Clinton has decided to subscribe to this Inter-American
Convention at the very ceremony in which it is being opened for
signing. The step that all the representatives of the American
states have taken here today shows that the hemisphere of the
Americas is shouldering its share of the responsibility in building a
future of peace and security for our children and a better future for
all. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 12:47 P.M. EST