I want to join my colleagues in welcoming you to the 16 th meeting of the Summit Implementation Review Group - SIRG. Although I have been involved with Summit issues as the US Representative to the OAS, this is the first SIRG meeting I attend as the National Summit Coordinator for the United States. .1 take this occasion to thank you and your governments for the good wishes and cooperation you have extended to me during my brief service to date as my country's Summit Coordinator.

Our Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Peter Romero, sends his regrets for missing this meeting. He is traveling with President Clinton in Central America.

Since the last SIRG meeting in October 1998 at PAHO in Washington, three ministerials meetings have been held: on Defense, Transportation and the one just concluded on Justice. Each of these meetings was called under the auspices of and in support of the Summit of Americas process. As such they made significant progress in advancing the Santiago Plan of Action agreed to by our leaders. I will mention a representative highlight from each ministerial.

Transportation ministers further advanced their strategy to provide an integrated transportation system to efficiently and safely move people and goods through the hemisphere.

Defense ministers made notable progress on developing a system for transparency in arms purchases within the hemisphere.

Justice ministers approved the conceptual framework for a justice studies center, which should contribute to the quality and efficiency of our justice systems.

I just came from the meeting of Justice Ministers in Lima where I accompanied our Attorney General, and I am pleased to report that many other specific proposals came out of that meeting. For example, the Ministers agreed to establish an experts group on computer crime and to exchange checklists of documents needed to support extradition requests. It was encouraging to hear about the many new laws and institutions recently created by governments throughout this hemisphere that are making the legal system more accessible, more equitable and more efficient.

I would now like to spend a little time discussing a topic that grows in importance and relevance within each of our countries and international organizations: civil society. This subject was an initiative in the Miami Summit Plan of Action and included in the Santiago Summit Plan of Action. Furthermore, it was integral to the Plan of Action of the Bolivia Sustainable Development Summit. In the FTAA negotiations, the Government Committee on Civil Society is currently accepting information and suggestions from non-governmental groups.

The Dominican Republic, in collaboration with the Chilean NGO Participa, has prepared and circulated an interesting and ambitious suggestion for promoting civil society contributions to the next Summit Plan of Action. While our preliminary review suggests that some provisions may present complexities which would require close review of the details, the idea is innovative and merits careful consideration.

I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of opening public organizations, observation and appropriate participation by civil society. I have seen how it can work in the UN system and I am pleased to relate that the OAS is considering various proposals for enhancing active civil society participation. One of the basic goals of the summit of the Americas is improvement in the daily lives of all our citizens. To do that, their concerns have to be considered by the Summit leadership. A formal mechanism to include civil society concerns in the Summit process is one means to that end. We are all representative democracies and civil society is one more constituent voice we must listen to and consider in our deliberations. With each election, the process of democracy and freedom become more deeply rooted in our nations. One way to ensure that democracy stays rooted is to encourage a proper role in public affairs for civil society organizations that are not connected to any particular political party, faction or ideology. By definition, the civil society organizations we have in mind to include in government processes represent viewpoints that transcend partisan divisions, looking instead to the betterment of the greater society.

With that thought in mind I urge you and your governments to give thoughtful consideration to the Dominican Republic's proposal in particular, and the general question of how the Summit of the Americas can benefit from the wealth of ideas, expertise, and human resources that civil society can contribute to the work of government.

Thank you.