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Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols and Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Todd Robinson On Haiti

MS FRENCH:  Good morning.  Thank you for joining us today to discuss the roadmap for U.S. engagement in Haiti.  As a reminder, this is an on-the-record call and there is no embargo.  We are joined by Assistant Secretary Brian Nichols for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and Assistant Secretary Todd Robinson for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.  Assistant Secretary Nichols and Assistant Secretary Robinson will give brief remarks to kick us off, and then we’ll turn to questions.  If you’d like to ask a question, please use the raise your hand function and we will call on you.  Assistant Secretary Nichols, I’ll turn it over to you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  Thank you very much, and good morning to our colleagues.  I’d like to share some updates on U.S. engagement to support the Haitian people to create a more secure, prosperous, and democratic country.  You’ve already observed the deployment of the first wave of peacekeepers from the Multinational Security Support mission, led by Kenya, and the visit this week of Haitian interim Prime Minister Gary Conille who’s in Washington and New York this week to discuss that deployment with the UN Security Council and other key partners in the international financial institutions and, of course, the meeting that he had with Secretary of State Blinken to talk about our work together to help the Haitian people have a better future.  We believe that Prime Minister Conille under the direction of the Transitional Presidential Council is making important progress toward improving the lives of the Haitian people. 

As I alluded to, on Tuesday Secretary Blinken welcomed Prime Minister Conille and Foreign Minister Dominique Dupuy to talk about ways the United States, the international community, can support their government’s vision for a more secure, prosperous, and democratic future for the Haitian people.  They discussed the next steps for the MSS and the need for the Transitional Presidential Council to prioritize establishment of an inclusive and credible provisional electoral council.  This critical step toward that will give the Haitian people an opportunity to select their leaders democratically for the first time in years.  The Secretary reaffirmed that the United States and other international partners stand ready to support the Haitian people not only through our support for the Multinational Security Support mission and the Haitian National Police, but other – our broad humanitarian, economic, and development efforts in support of the Haitian people. 

I also had the opportunity – last week to co-chair a partners meeting with Haitian Foreign Minister Dupuy on the margins of the Organization of American States General Assembly, where we similarly brought together partners from around the world, not just our hemisphere, to discuss the contributions that all of us need to make in support of those efforts.  Today our permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also met with Prime Minister Conille to talk about the UN’s important contributions to those efforts. 

The United States support for the people of Haiti remains unwavering.  We look forward to working with the Prime Minister and the Transitional Presidential Council as they address the many challenges that Haiti faces.  We stand with the international community in supporting this historic effort and will continue to do all that we can to be supportive.  That concludes my remarks.

MS FRENCH:  Assistant Secretary Robinson, I’ll turn it over to you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON:  Thank you.  The Kenyan-led MSS mission is the international community’s response to calls from the Haitian people for support to improve security conditions which we hope will allow Haitians to live in peace and with dignity, for children to go to school, for families to carry out their daily lives, and for citizens to cast their votes.  The harrowing situation caused by gang violence in Haiti is a threat to stability in the region and demands an international response.  The MSS mandate supports the Haitian National Police in their steadfast efforts to restore security and democratic order. 

We are providing – we, the U.S. Government, are providing over $300 million in assistance and up to $60 million in equipment for the MSS in a show of our unwavering support for this Mission.  The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, or INL, which I lead, is supporting pre-deployment training, equipment, personnel, personnel reimbursement, and other logistics to ensure this mission’s success.  Since 2021, INL has allocated nearly $200 million in foreign assistance to the HNP to build the institutional capacity to provide long-term security and stability in Haiti.  Capacity building for the HNP is one of our top global priorities.  We are hard at work training and equipping the HNP’s specialized counter-gang, counternarcotics, border, and community policy units.  As a result, highly capable, specialized HNP forces are well prepared to work with the MSS to stabilize Haiti – stabilize Haiti and bring security to Haiti’s people.

In recent weeks and months, we’ve delivered armored vehicles, drones, personal protective equipment, and assorted items for the HNP.  The international support has helped bolster the Haitian National Police’s ability to defend against the recent brutal wave of gang attacks, and we look forward to further support from the international community to support this mission.  Thank you.

MS FRENCH:  Thank you very much.  As a reminder, if you’d like to ask a question, please use the raise your hand function.  We’ll look to get in as many questions as possible.  Once you do raise your hand, I will unmute you, and I think you’ll have to accept the unmute to actually begin to talk.

We will start with Shaun Tandon.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Brian and Todd.  I wanted to ask you to what extent you had discussions about the MSS and what it’s going to do with the prime minister.  First of all, how do you think it’s going so far?  And is there talk of the Kenyan forces?  Are they going to go into particular areas that are going to be held by gangs?  What type of authority would they have?  Whatever level of detail you can go into that.  And did you have a date for when further forces are going to arrive?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON:  The short answer is all of those issues were discussed between the Secretary and the prime minister and his team.  The mandate of the MSS is to work with the HNP, but at all times the HNP is going to be in the lead on this.  Haitian forces are going to be on – in the lead on all of these operations.

Obviously, not going to go into what those – the details of what those operations might look like, nor will I go into the actual dates of when other forces will arrive.  All of that, obviously, is material that we want to make sure stays closely held for security reasons.  Thank you.

MS FRENCH:  Great.  Our next question is going to be from Daphne Psaledakis with Reuters.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you for doing this.  I just wanted to quickly confirm that there was no embargo.  I think the email said there was, but then you said at the top that there wasn’t.  So just wanted to confirm that.

And then also if I could ask about the MSS in terms of Kenya, where there’s protests and there’s been violence in those protests.  Are you concerned at all that having this Kenyan – these Kenyan forces in Haiti is stretching them and leaving openings in Kenya for violence, and that Ruto’s attention is more on foreign governments than it is domestic, and that this may end up weakening him domestically at all?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON:  We very much welcome Kenya’s leadership of this mission.  President Ruto has reiterated his commitment many times, and they – I note that the events in Kenya were not related to Haiti in terms of the deployment of the MSS.  The issues were other issues. 

And I’d just add that we are very confident in Kenyan leadership of the MSS, and that that has not changed one iota.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  And I would also just add, going back to the first question, that – because I don’t think we answered the question, the mission so far is going as we expected it.  Over.

MS FRENCH:  Great.  And I will just confirm that there is no embargo on this call, so you are – you are good to go.  Thank you so much.

And our next question is going to come from Matt Berg with Politico.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for doing this.  Just a quick question on the base for the troops in Haiti.  They can only accommodate about 450 people, but obviously about 2,500 people are supposed to go to Haiti help secure the nation at some time.  Will there be more than 450 forces fighting the gangs at one time, or will it be 450 at a time?  Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON:  Yeah, I’m not sure where this report about the capacity of the LSA, the base, comes from.  But that’s not correct.  The – its capacity is substantially larger and growing, and it can already accommodate far more people than that.

I think in terms of the total presence on the ground, I think we’ll defer to the Kenyan force commander and the Haitian Government as to what they see as the necessary capacity at that location, not to mention what requirements might exist at other locations in the future.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON:  Yeah, I would also add that we would defer to them on – both the Haitians and the Kenyans on what they think they need.  Our sense is that the forces will grow and shrink depending on what the – what the needs are.

MS FRENCH:  Our next question comes from Jennifer Hansler with CNN.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks so much for doing this.  I have two questions.  One:  Did the Haitians request anything specific more from the United States in terms of assistance, either for humanitarian needs or with the MSS?  And then, Brian, if I could ask on Venezuela, I know it’s off-topic, but do you have any comment on Maduro’s comments that the talks were resuming?  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON:  Yeah, I think on the first question, obviously we all know the needs are great across the board in Haiti, whether it’s equipment, whether it’s personnel; all of those issues were on the table during the prime minister’s discussion with the Secretary.  And we’ve taken note of what some of those needs are, and we will work with the other members of the international community to engage on this and address those issues.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  I’d just note, in terms of the things that we discussed, the prime minister did talk about the importance of renewal of HOPE and HELP legislation to address the job creation and the economic situation in Haiti.  He was very eloquent in talking about the importance of broad international contributions to the effort and our shared duty to engage other international partners.  Certainly he is cognizant that the United States has provided over $300 million in assistance for the effort, and the – we hope to see other international partners step forward with regard to contributions of either money, materiel, or personnel for the MSS.

And then with regard to your other question, my only comment is that we’re always open to dialogue; I’ve said that many times.  Beyond that, I have no comments.

MS FRENCH:  Great.  Our next question is from Pearl Matibe from Modern Diplomacy.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for doing this; really appreciate it.  I have what I believe may be a two- or three-part question.  First, for Ambassador Nichols:  You mentioned at the top of your remarks that the prime minister has been making key successes, if you will.  Could you elaborate on that?  You were – it was a little bit vague, but if you give some color to what that looks like to the extent that you can, I would really appreciate that.

Second question would be for Assistant Secretary:  In terms of – from the lens of INL, could you speak a little bit about anything to do with any products or commodities that may be in the theater, that may be posing a challenge?  We’ve seen similar situations in other theaters.  I just want to get a clearer understanding as to one of those things that may be proliferating and present challenges in this aspect.

My last question is a little bit towards capacity.  In order to succeed where we have seen – and this kind of activity in other theaters where there is terrorism, air support is critical.  I’d like to understand to what capacity is air support playing a role here.  Could you clarify on that, to the extent that you can?  Thank you so much.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  So in terms of the progress, I was trying to describe the sweep of the last few months.  And I think if you go back to where we were in March, the meeting in Kingston with some 40 Haitian stakeholders, chaired by CARICOM heads, that laid out the roadmap for the transitional presidential council with those Haitian stakeholders, the naming of the specific members of the presidential council, the selection of Edgar Leblanc as the chair of that group, the selection of a prime minister who brings great technical skill and international experience to the job in Garry Conille, the selection of a cabinet to work with the prime minister that similarly brings strong technical expertise, the fit-out of the life support area, the base for the MSS, the deployment of some 200 Kenyan forces, the joint patrol by Kenyans and Haitians so soon after their initial deployment.  The prime minister and others have stated that additional waves of forces will be joining this effort in the not-too-distant future, and we will continue to see additional operations led by the Haitian National Police and accompanied by the MSS forces.

So that’s the progress that I was talking about.  I should have added the reopening of the international airport in Port-au-Prince, the resumption of flights by at least four different air carriers, the ability of the government to install these new officials without being disrupted by gang activity – those are just some of the areas of progress, but in the interest of time, I’ll stop there.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON:  Yeah, and on arms, I think you’re absolutely right.  Arms and arms trafficking are a huge challenge to law and order in and around Haiti, not just in Haiti but in the region, and obviously the fact that the needs are so great among – with the Haitian National Police – they are absolutely challenged to be able to engage successfully and positively in and outside of Port-au-Prince because of what they might be facing.

In terms of air support, again, I think for operational reasons we’re not going to – we’re not going to really go into what might be available and what might not be available.  Over.

MS FRENCH:  As a reminder, if you have a question, please use the raise your hand function.  And Matt, I see that you have a follow-up, so we will turn it over to you.

QUESTION:  Yeah, I wanted to just follow up on the capacity at the base.  You said that there – it can currently hold more than 450 people.  That reporting was in the Miami Herald, so I was just following up on that.  Can you give any numbers about roughly how many can currently be held at the base?  And you also said that you’re hoping for it to grow, so can you go into that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON:  I think the – what we’re looking at in terms of maximum capacity is somewhere around a thousand personnel, and then we’ll see – again, we’ll assess what the needs are when we’ve reach that capacity.  I would also say that let’s not forget we expect a mix of countries eventually to be in this – at this base, so it won’t just be Kenyans.  But a lot of this will depend on an infusion of resources from our counterparts, our donors – international donors.

MS FRENCH:  Thank you very much for joining us today.  As a reminder, this call was on the record, and there is no embargo.  I hope everyone has a lovely Fourth of July.  Assistant Secretary Robinson, Assistant Secretary Nichols, appreciate your time.  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON:  Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS:  Thank you very much.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/assistant-secretary-for-western-hemisphere-affairs-brian-nichols-and-assistant-secretary-for-international-narcotics-and-law-enforcement-todd-robinson-on-haiti/

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