Thursday, May 13, 2010

SVG PM pleased with new US-approach

Wednesday, 12 May 2010 01:13 cmc

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent, CMC – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said Tuesday that the Barack Obama administration “is very much determined to re-engage with the Caribbean” following the United States rethinking on security issues in the region.

“I must admit that there was a time, shortly after the preoccupation of the United States of America with the invasion of Iraq, there appeared to have been a retreat from some security issues with us,” Gonsalves said prior to signing an agreement that allows the United States to board St. Vincent and the Grenadines registered vessels suspected of transporting weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

“I am happy to say that that retreat has come to an end and we are now seeing some advance in this cooperation,” Gonsalves said.
A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Barbados said the agreement was signed under the auspices of the Proliferation Security Initiative, and it would allow St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the United States to co-operate “in ensuring that Vincentian-flagged cargo vessels are not used by traffickers in weapons of mass destruction”.

Last month, the United States signed similar agreement with Antigua and Barbuda and that the accord would “support the reliability and sustainability of Antigua’s ship’s registry operations throughout the world”.

Chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy Brent Hardt, said Washington has reflected it renewed commitment to the Caribbean with the recent visits to the region of Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

He said Clinton has spoken of the need to “engage more vigorously with the Caribbean this year”.

The Barbados-based diplomat said the United States had increased its Caribbean Basin Initiative budget for 2010 from US$30 million to US$45 million and US$70 million has been allocated for 2011, pending Congress approval.

“One of the critical things I would like to note about this is that it’s not what we call traditional security assistance – support to police forces, coastguards – although there is plenty of that. But, we also understand the problems of the region have deep roots in social issues and economic issues,” Hardt said.
He said that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was developing programmes to teach young people education and employment skills that would lead to better prospects.

Washington is also seeking to partner with the Caribbean on issues relating to the economy, climates change, health and HIV/AIDS, Hardt said.

“We are engaging in many ways and today’s agreement is one more step, one more reflection of the close security cooperation that we have enjoyed with St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Hardt said.

Gonsalves recalled the move by Washington to force some Caribbean countries, like Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados to sign a waiver granting US citizens certain immunities under the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court in 2002.
Washington had in an attempt to pressure the Caribbean countries to support its position, threatened and subsequently withdrew military aid that signed and ratified the Rome Statute.

“President Obama’s presidency has put an end to that kind of a demand and more resources are opened up. Because there were certain restrictions placed on resources coming to us,” Gonsalves said, noting that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries have been at odds with Washington on issues relating to Cuba.

“Those differences are not of a kind to imperil our relationship. Our relationships are too fundamental, two strong, for those differences to shake the basic strengths of those relations…. and we approach our work with honesty and closeness and friendship and long may they continue,” Gonsalves said.