After signing bilateral agreements this morning and a private meeting at the Casa Rosada, President Mauricio Macri and his US counterpart Barack Obama have given their first joint press conference. During which, two Argentine journalists and two US journalists were given the opportunity to ask the presidents questions about Obama’s historic visit and current events.

The joint press conference, in full.

The American journalists’ questions centered mainly on the terrorist attacks in Brussels rather than the bilateral visit itself: for that reason, much of the press conference was dedicated to Obama outlining the US’s anti-terrorist strategy in Iraq and Syria.

Liliana Franco, a journalist for Ámbito, asked the presidents a) whether or not they talked about a free trade agreement with Mercosur and b) what Obama’s take on Macri (his role, particularly regarding Brazil) and the holdouts was.

Macri stated that “We have begun to create openings between both agendas. It’s a path that is just beginning […] there is enormous room for change and growth. We have to first consolidate the Mercosur and only then think about broader trade agreement. We have agreed that […] after many years of almost no relations, there is great potential.”

Obama, for his part, said that “We have been enormously impressed by the work that President Macri has already done in his first 100 days. We see good relations with all countries in the hemisphere, but Argentina in particular, historically as one of the most powerful, and largest countries in the hemisphere needs to be a critical partner with us in order for us to […] promote prosperity in the region. […] I’m saddened that we will only share nine months of our administration.”

The presidents answering Liliana Franco’s questions on a FTA and the holdouts.

With regard to the trade agreement, “We’ve already organized a working group [that has] identified areas where there are barriers that have impeded [the commercial] relationship and [we will] systematically work through them. Maybe at the end of the process we can work on a free trade agreement.”

As far as the holdouts were concerned, Obama commented that “This is working its way through the court system […] I have to be careful not to comment on the issue because of the nature of our legal system. These are judges that I typically appoint, so in order for them to remain impartial [I can’t voice] an opinion publicly. What I can say is that the constructive approach that President Macri has taken has opened up the possibility of a resolution on this issue […]”

La Nación journalist Martín Dinatale asked about the role of the United States in the Argentine dictatorship from 1976 to 1983, something that has been weighing on many people’s minds given the timing of the presidential visit. He added: “Do you believe that there should be any self criticism [or reflection] on the US’s part regarding that role during the dictatorship?

President Barack Obama on the US’s role in the Argentine dictatorship.

I have spent a lot of time before I was president, studying the history of US foreign policy and, like the history of any country’s foreign policy there are great success stories [while others are] counterproductive or contrary to what I believe the US should stand for,” replied Obama. 

“What is true […] is that in the 70s the recognition that human rights and how we approached foreign policy, how we approached diplomacy was as important as fighting communism or whatever our long term objective was. That became much more central to US foreign policy in both Democratic and Republican administrations,” he continued.

One of the great things about America [is that] there is no shortage of self criticism of the US [I sometimes get] criticized from the left and the right at the same time, although for different reasons. Everything we do today is designed to take into account transparency, human rights and to speak out on behalf of issues even in cases where we can’t enforce changes. I believe that our experience in Argentina helped us develop to be more mature and successful foreign policy.”

Not exactly an apology. But hey, at least the subject was broached.

The crisis in Brazil was also brought up, with Obama stating that “We need a strong and effective Brazil,” both showing confidence that the Latin American economic powerhouse would be able to pull through, but clarified that the subject had not been explicitly discussed in the meeting. They were also asked whether or not they would go to the Olympics in Río de Janeiro this year despite the political instability, to which Macri quipped “I am going, I am the neighbor, so…I will not be running, [though], I am out of shape, but I am still going.” Ever the comedian, eh, Mac?

At the end of the conference, a question was taken from Facebook, by María Pio from San Nicolás, Buenos Aires province: What was your dream when you were elected and have you accomplished that dream? Both presidents elaborated on this by saying that their dream on being elected was to align their government policies with the values of their countries, rooted in a deep faith in their people.

Obama then went on to say that “I would’ve started dyeing my hair sooner so people wouldn’t realize how much I’d aged […] it’s too late now so I’ll just have to go with it.” To which Macri replied “I started with grey hair from [the beginning].” Smooth, Mac.

Regarding the international press present for the speeches, they were given files with brief outlines of Macri’s biography, stating that in last year’s elections he managed to garner “the support of citizens and political parties of all ideologies thanks to [his] platform of change that sought alternatives to the isolationist and populist policies of the past [administration].” These bios usually gloss over the negative, but the presence and format of this information begs the question of the true intent behind mentioning the previous administration.

Before the meeting at the Casa Rosada, the two Presidents signed four agreements on trade, security and drug trafficking (warning: they do not have the catchiest names ever).

  1. Agreement between the Security Ministry of the Argentine Republic and the National Department of Justice and Security of the United States of America on the Increased Cooperation to Prevent and Combat Serious Crimes
  2. Joint Declaration on Cooperation Regarding Security and Facilitating the Movement between the Security Ministry and the Ministry of the Interior, Public Works and Housing of the Argentine Republic and the National Department of Justice and Security of the United States of America
  3. Agreement between the Argentine Republic and the United States of America regarding the Placement of Air Police.
  4. Framework Agreement Regarding Commerce and Investment between the Government of the Argentine Republic and the Government of the United States of America