Wed. Jul 24th, 2024
Background Briefing with Senior State Department Official on the Situation in Haiti

MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to our background call on the situation in Haiti.  As a reminder, today’s call will be on background, attributable to a senior State Department official, and is embargoed until its conclusion.

For your information only and not for reporting, joining us today is [Senior State Department Official].  We will now turn the floor over to [Senior State Department Official] to provide some opening remarks, then we’ll take your questions.  [Senior State Department Official], over to you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Thanks very much, [Moderator], and a pleasure to be with you.

This is a crucial moment in Haiti.  We in the United States remain deeply concerned about the security situation and the challenges to the safety and well-being of the Haitian people have to confront with on a daily basis.  The events of the last few days have been the culmination of an inclusive, Haitian-intensive-led process to find a broader political consensus around a new transitional government.  Thirty-nine different Haitian stakeholders participated in scores of conversations over the course of the preceding days around the formation of a new presidential council that will select a new interim prime minister and pave the pathway for elections, as well as the deployment of the Multinational Security Support Mission.

This process was facilitated by intensive work from CARICOM heads of government.   They were engaged both at the head level themselves, particularly Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, but also the Eminent Persons Group of retired prime ministers from CARICOM countries.  The United States, from Secretary Blinken on down, was actively engaged in this process to support Haitian stakeholders in reaching agreement, outreach to some of those key stakeholders directly, intensive coordination with CARICOM leaders, day and night for the better part of 10 days, really going back to the meeting in Georgetown, Guyana.

We’ve been in regular contact directly as well as in support of CARICOM leaders with outgoing Prime Minister or former Prime Minister Ariel Henry as he reached a decision to step down from his role.  And we want to commend Prime Minister Henry for his statesmanship in putting his country first and agreeing to step down when the transitional presidential council is formally established.  We’re also in contact with the acting interim Prime Minister Michel Boisvert, who’s normally the finance minister.  He’s in Port-au-Prince now, and we’re in regular contact with him as well.

The Secretary of State and other senior U.S. officials are also in contact with diplomatic partners from outside the region – Canada, Mexico, France.  Kenya attended the meeting yesterday virtually; Benin was represented at the meeting, the UN.  And while the achievement of reaching an agreement after seven hours of on-the-ground talks in Kingston, Jamaica around a new presidential council is a tremendous step forward, we recognize that there is much work left to be done to secure a better future for the Haitian people.

I would note that the agreement that was reached yesterday specifically excludes individuals who are charged or indicted or convicted of crimes, individuals who’ve been sanctioned by the United Nations, individuals intending to compete in the next election, and individuals who oppose the UN Security Council Resolution 2699 authorizing the Multinational Security Support Mission.  Those characteristics mean that the continuity of governance and the agreement between Haiti, in terms of its request both to the United Nations would authorize this mission as well as with the contributing nations to the mission, remains firm.

And we will have pledged an additional $100 million to facilitate the deployment of the MSS, bringing the total U.S. contribution thus far to $300 million – 200 from the Department of Defense, $100 million commitment from the Department of State.  Yesterday, Secretary Blinken also announced an additional contribution of $33 million in humanitarian assistance to help the Haitian people at this difficult time.

The – as I said, the challenges ahead are many, but I think this is an incredibly important milestone in broadening Haitian governance and addressing the concerns of the Haitian people going forward.  And I’d be happy to take any questions that you have at this point.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you so much.  AT&T moderator, would you mind please sharing the instructions for joining the question queue?  AT&T moderator, would you mind – can you hear me?

OPERATOR:  I can.  Thank you very much.  If you wish to ask a question, please press 1 followed by 0 – 1 followed by 0.  You’ll hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue.  You can take yourself out of the queue by simply pressing the 1-0 command again.  One moment, please, for our first question.

MODERATOR:  Can we go to Vivian Salama from The Wall Street Journal?

OPERATOR:  Yes.  One second, please.  Give me one second; I’m so sorry.  Okay.  From The Wall Street Journal, please, go ahead.  Your line is open.

QUESTION:  Can you hear me, guys?  Hi, can you hear me?

OPERATOR:  We can.

QUESTION:  Okay, excellent.  Thanks so much, gentlemen, for doing the call.  I’ve got two questions.  One of them – Jake Sullivan was just at the White House podium, and he mentioned the fact that – the U.S. hopes that allies would be willing to contribute to the security efforts of the multinational force, and so if you could just talk a little bit about sort of what the challenges to that have been.  Are you struggling to convince certain allies to join, and how are you incentivizing participation in that multinational force to others?

And then separately, there was a BBC report floating around that said that the – that Kenya’s mission has been suspended because of Henry’s resignation.  Kenyan media in particular was saying that the mission was delayed, but then there were reports saying that it was suspended, and so I’m wondering if you have any clarity on what the situation is there, if you could kind of share.  Thanks.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So we’ve been in regular contact with President Ruto and other senior officials in Kenya, and the – certainly the legal framework for the deployment remains in place, as I said in my opening remarks.  The Government of Haiti has made a both formal request to the Security Council, which has authorized this mission under Chapter VII.  There’s no further action required by the Government of Haiti.  And during his recent trip to Nairobi, former Prime Minister Henry did sign a formal agreement with – or, excuse me, he supervised the signature.  It was signed by the acting security minister at that time between Kenya and the United States around deployment.

And in our conversations with Kenyan officials, we’ve stressed the – I think on both sides have stressed the importance of moving to deploy as quickly as practicable.  The conversations certainly that we’ve had have been much more focused on the lines of, given the changes in the security circumstances, what additional assessment or procedures or equipment might be required, given the change in circumstances from the initial assessments that Kenyan officials have carried out.  But we remain confident that the mission will go forward and that – in all the conversations we’ve had, Kenyan officials have said that they intend to go forward and they intend to lead this mission.

The – and I would note that both the interim prime minister right now – normally Finance Minister Michel Boisvert – has reiterated his support for the MSS, and all of the actors who had formed part of the new presidential council have stated – as a prerequisite have accepted that the – their support for Security Council Resolution 2699 authorizing the MSS.

The – in terms of contributions to the MSS, the – certainly Kenya, Benin, CARICOM countries, countries in Latin America have offered their assistance to the MSS in terms of the on-the-ground force contribution.  Other countries have pledged financial resources or in-kind equipment.  The challenge at this moment is this is a time of unprecedented global crises; the ongoing conflict in Ukraine provoked by Russia’s further invasion, the incredibly challenging humanitarian situation in Gaza have meant that donors are stretched.  And that’s not to forget a number of other challenges in Africa and in other parts of the world.  So the donor community really is facing an unprecedented level of requirements on them.

That being said, the humanitarian crisis and the security crisis in Haiti is as great as any other crisis around the world.  The – our efforts have been toward encouraging other nations to make robust contributions, and that’s why Secretary Blinken hosted the Haiti Ministerial on the margins of the G20 at the end of February, and we continue to urge all nations to make robust contributions, both financial and in terms of troop or police contributions, logistical contributions, equipment, to the MSS as urgently as possible.

MODERATOR:  Can we please go to Daphne Psaledakis from Reuters.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you so much for doing this.  Guy Phillippe has said he wants the presidency.  Would the U.S. accept him having a seat at the table?  Would he need to be excluded from the council, given he’s been charged in the past and has said he wants to become president?

And then if you don’t mind, given that Kenya has said it would like to be paid the costs of the deployment for the mission up front, can you just say concretely whether any of the U.S. 300 million for the MSS would be provided to Kenya directly up front or to the UN fund, or if it’s all being disbursed in a different way?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So the – I think your first question was about Guy Phillippe, and certainly for participation in the presidential council, the requirements there state that it excludes individuals charged, indicted, or convicted of crimes.

The – with regard to the payment for deployment, it’s a – let me just note that the U.S. funds will go to prepare the facilities on the ground in Haiti in terms of the DOD contribution.  And the Department of State contribution can go to the reimbursement or even forward funding of some salaries and other activities.  Training activities is something that we’re already working on reimbursing Kenya on.  They’ve already carried out a lot of training.  But there need to be a variety of funding mechanisms.

The UN multidonor trust fund for the Haiti MSS, in terms of reference, are still being refined.  The – and how that trust fund will work and whether or not there’ll be a mechanism to pay for costs for contributing nations in advance is still being debated.  But there’s also other donors who have pledged to contribute.  Canada has pledged 91 million U.S. dollars for their contribution, and some of those funds, as well as other donors, may be able to be used in advance.

The issue of pre-deployment funding was something that we’re very cognizant of.  It’s been part of conversations we’ve had with many of the contributors in terms of the force, and we’re going to continue to refine that.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Can we please go to Jacqueline Charles from the Miami Herald?

OPERATOR:  I am so sorry.  I do not see that one queued up.

MODERATOR:  She must have dropped.  That’s okay.

OPERATOR:  She dropped.  Yeah, no problem.

MODERATOR:  Can we go to Lydia Polgreen from The New York Times?  Is she still on?

OPERATOR:  Yes.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thanks so much for organizing this call.  So I’m curious about timelines here.  I mean, obviously the security situation, particularly in the capital, is very serious and untenable, and it’s going to take some time for the international force to be stood up.  How do you anticipate the next days and weeks unfolding?  And how will the provisional government deal with the security situation until that force can be deployed?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Well, we continue to work closely with the Haitian National Police.  The United States is the largest donor to the Haitian National Police.  We work to ensure that they continue to have the equipment and resources and ammunition and personal protective equipment to do their jobs under these incredibly trying circumstances.

The process of deciding the interim prime minister, new interim prime minister and cabinet, is probably the most immediate task that this new presidential council will have, and I don’t want to in any way take away their agency in making decisions about how they’re going to approach security issues.

We will need to work with stakeholders throughout the international community, do all we can to resource the MSS to get the equipment in place that they will need when they deploy and have that ready to go forward.  We hope that the political agreement that was announced yesterday will provide a much-needed sense of a political way forward and a greater calm among the population.  But whether or not that happens or not, we still believe we have to be supportive of the ongoing Haitian National Police effort as well as to prepare the MSS for urgent deployment.  That’s going to involve intensive diplomacy going forward, and making sure that Haitian stakeholders are able to be the captains of their own fate.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we please go to Michael Wilner from McClatchy, if he’s still on?

QUESTION:  Hi.  Can everyone hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yes, hi.

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks for doing this.  Yesterday, as part of the Secretary’s announcement of additional funds, he mentioned a doubling of Defense Department support.  What exactly is that money going to go to?  And does that allow you to expedite the plan of the MSS even though you have the 40 million that’s still caught up in – on the Hill from State Department funding?  Or is that a conflation of the two?  Can you just sort of break down whether or not this new funding can help expedite the deployment?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yes, it can.  The funds that were announced yesterday by the Secretary of State are funds authorized by the Secretary of Defense pursuant to an authority that he notified to Congress last fall.  The requirements for that are that once the intent to use funds for this purpose has been notified, it’s up to the Secretary of Defense to determine the level of funding that is provided.

The ability to move forward in the contracting, construction, equipping of facilities for the MSS is all encompassed in the funds that were announced yesterday, so that $200 million can go to that process.  So yes, it absolutely will help expedite this process.

The State Department funds that you’re talking about and those funds that have been held are separate authorities within the State Department and under – operating under separate congressional notification rules.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Josh Goodman from the AP, please.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) go on the record for some of this; maybe afterwards you would consider that.  Two questions.  One, a clarification:  The agreement, as I read it, was that Prime Minister Henry would resign upon the appointment of the interim prime minister, but when you began your remarks you mentioned that you are now dealing directly with the acting prime minister, Michel Boisvert.  I just want to know if you can clarify, is – I know this could be a question of hours, but is – to your understanding, is Henry no longer the prime minister and that the actual authority in the country is Michel Boisvert?

And then my second question on Guy Philippe, again, I know you were clear that he would not qualify to serve on the presidential council.  But if he were to win a free and fair democratic election, would the U.S. be willing to work with him given that he does have a pretty substantial criminal record in the United States?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So let me sort of take the second part first.  I think not just the United States but very many countries in the international community would consider having someone who’s been convicted of a variety of crimes (inaudible) —

OPERATOR:  Hello?

MODERATOR:  Sorry, did we lose [Senior State Department Official]?

OPERATOR:  Yeah, I think he’s – you just dropped off.

MODERATOR:  Apologies for the technical issues here.  We’ll wait until [Senior State Department Official] dials back in.  Apologies.  Stand by, please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  I’ll let you know.

We’re trying to dial out again, just to let everybody know.

[Senior State Department Official], are you back?

MODERATOR:  [Senior State Department Official], are you back on the line?

OPERATOR:  The operator says he keeps dropping as soon as they call him.

MODERATOR:  Okay.

OPERATOR:  We – I even tried myself.

MODERATOR:  Okay.

OPERATOR:  I apologize, but every time I call it just drops.  She’s trying again.

[Senior State Department Official], do you hear us now?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yes, I hear you.

OPERATOR:  Okay.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Apologies for the technical issues, everyone.  Sir, if you want to just resume your question – I’m happy to repeat it if you need, but you were cut off in the middle of your answer.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  What was the last thing you heard me say?

MODERATOR:  About the concerns about an individual convicted of crimes being elected.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Yeah.  So certainly I note that I question whether or not Haiti’s own legal framework would allow that, but I refer you to Haitian authorities on that point.  But I think the United States and the vast majority of the international community would find that deeply worrisome, and we would have serious concerns about that.

The – with regard to the status of Ariel Henry, he – in his statement of last night, he said that he was – he would turn over the government to this new presidential council once it is created.  He’s not in Haiti now, and there’s been an acting prime minister, normally a finance minister, Michel Boisvert, who’s been exercising day-to-day administration while Prime Minister Henry is out of the country already, and he’s signaled his willingness to facilitate the orderly transfer of function to a new prime minister and cabinet once the presidential council names those individuals.  And that’s our understanding of the status.  Over.

MODERATOR:  Okay, excellent.  [Senior State Department Official One], do you have time for another question since we got disconnected, or do you have to run?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I can take another question.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  We’ll take one more quick question, please, from Fraser Jackson from France 24 – from France 24.

QUESTION:  Hi, can you guys hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you for taking my question as well; thank you for doing this.  [Senior State Department Official], Haitians are wary of international actors given the history of the cholera epidemic and sexual abuse scandals that took place in the country.  How do you assuage Haitian concerns about international intervention in the country?  And I’ve got a follow-up, if that’s okay.

MODERATOR:  We don’t have time for follow-ups, so we’ll just take this question and then we have to run.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Okay, thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So polling indicates that the vast majority of Haitians support an international mission to provide security in Haiti.  The resolution of the UN Security Council that created the Multinational Security Support Mission includes provisions that address the issues of concern that people have had in the past.  It includes provisions for an ombuds.  It includes provisions to ensure the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence and any abuse of authority by members of the mission.  It includes a recording requirement to the council on the mission’s activities, and that will include any complaints that are filed.  There’s an extensive human rights training requirement.  There is a sanitation and health training and strategy requirement included for this mission.  There will be specialized training on those issues before deployment for members of the force, and that’s already been ongoing for Kenyan as well as Jamaicans who are training to deploy.

So those issues have been, I think, treated with the utmost seriousness, and the international community, as well as Haitian stakeholders, are very cognizant of the mistakes of the past.  And they’re taking active measures to ensure that they are never repeated.  I would just note that the framework for this mission is one that really is focused on supporting Haitian leadership.  This mission calls upon the MSS to support the Haitian National Police and Haitian authorities in carrying out their tasks.  That is something that I know that the force-contributing countries are very much focused on and supportive of, and they see a crucial difference between this mission and past missions in that it is really going to be integrated into the Haitian fabric of policing and security, rather than operating outside of that context.

And I just want to reiterate that over the course of the last few days in particular, the engagement that regional authorities in CARICOM, the United States, Secretary Blinken, other senior U.S. officials have had with Haitian stakeholders in finding a way forward has been as intensive a diplomacy as I have ever seen.  And I will note that numerous stakeholders who had reserved their judgment on the issue of an MSS deployment in Haiti have said that they support it now as a result of that engagement as well.  So these are all very positive developments.  We have many challenges ahead, but we’ve made incredible progress.  And I think some of the outcomes that we had yesterday are things that few people thought were achievable.  And we’ve been able to help birth broad-based agreement among Haitians as a way forward, and we’re certainly very proud of that regional and global effort to do so.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  That does unfortunately conclude our call for today.  As a reminder, today’s call was on background to a senior State Department official, and the embargo has now lifted.  Thank you all so much for joining us and have a great day.  Thank you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/background-briefing-with-senior-state-department-official-on-the-situation-in-haiti/

originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS