Friday, 22 January 2010
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
TOPIC: COOPERATION AMONG HAITI, THE UNITED STATES, AND THE UNITED NATIONS IN RELIEF EFFORTS
TUESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2010 AT 4:15 P.M. EST
MODERATOR: First off, I would like to welcome you to the Foreign Press Center in Washington and welcome our colleagues in New York from the press center there. Today’s on-the-record briefing is with U.S. Department of State Assistant Secretary for International Organizations Esther Brimmer, and we will be – and she will be speaking on the cooperation among Haiti, the United States, and other international organizations in the relief efforts.
Following Assistant Secretary Brimmer’s remarks, we will take your questions. Please wait to be called on before asking your question and please remember to identify yourself and your news organization. Assistant Secretary Brimmer, I turn the floor over to you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Thank you very much for that introduction. Good afternoon. Like all of you, indeed like people across the globe, I’ve been deeply saddened by the death and destruction brought by last week’s earthquake in Haiti. But I’ve also been heartened by the response from the international community. Indeed, people from around the globe have drawn together. Governments, the United Nations, international organizations, NGOs, private enterprise, and hundreds of thousands of private individuals from all corners of the globe have answered the call to help Haiti at its time of need.
Today, I’d like to concentrate my comments on that particular effort and particularly on the role being played by the United Nations in partnership with my country, the United States, and many others. In so doing, we must first acknowledge that the scale of destruction has greatly complicated relief efforts. The process of getting aid to those in need has been slower, much slower than many of us would like. Yet at the same time, we have witnessed a vast outpouring of goodwill from across the globe and coordination mechanisms have been growing stronger by the hour.
You’ve all seen the images from Haiti and we’ve all heard about the mounting death toll. And clearly, the disaster requires unity of action and of purpose. On the ground, despite extremely difficult and challenging circumstances, the Haitian Government is directing relief and recovery efforts to the degree possible. Contemplating and complementing this particular effort is the wider effort of the United Nations system with – and the United Nations itself was deeply wounded by the earthquake. And I’ll take a moment just to note now our view that Secretary General Ban and the United Nations are accomplishing extraordinary efforts in extremely difficult situations, dealing with resource limitations, difficult conditions, and their own grave losses of personnel.
For its part, the United States is consulting and coordinating closely with the Haitian authorities and the United Nations, and working hand-in-hand with many international partners and organizations on the ground. These efforts are making a difference in what is taking shape as among the largest urban search-and-recovery effort ever in history. As of this morning, more than 70 individuals had been rescued, and the flow of aid to those most in need is accelerating rapidly.
The security situation in Haiti remains generally good with communication and cooperation among Haitian, UN, and U.S. uniformed personnel. In fact, it is the events such as this terrible earthquake that illuminate the crucial role of the United Nations in mobilizing and coordinating not just its own activities, but also those of the larger international community, because at just such a moment, that’s when we become truly a community.
Yesterday, the Security Council held emergency consultations on the situation in Haiti. The United States joined other members of the UN Security Council in expressing their deep sympathy and condolences to the government and people of Haiti and reaffirmed the Council’s strong support. The Council also took the opportunity to express its support for the proposal of the Secretary General to increase the overall level of UN peacekeeping to support immediate recovery and stability efforts.
And today, the United States and its partners at the Security Council acted to authorize an increase with Resolution 1908 to the military component – is now as high as 8,940 personnel in troops of all ranks and increase the authorized level of the police component to over 3,700. This action taken by consensus should be a clear indication of the international community’s determination to respond with speed and energy.
The Security Council also extended their deepest condolences to the families of all UN personnel who lost their lives in the quake, including the Special Representative of the Secretary General Hedi Annabi, the Principal Deputy Special Representative Luiz Carlos da Costa.
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States is a friend and partner of Haiti and the Haitian people. We will assist the Government of Haiti in every way we can. I believe that this commitment is evident both in words and in action. Indeed, we have witnessed a remarkable outpouring of support and resources from the UN, numerous countries, countless nongovernmental organizations, and even private individuals.
As the international community rallies to address the UN’s flash appeal and resource requests that are likely to follow, donor coordination and consultation with the Haitian Government and the UN will be critical. The early steps in this regard are encouraging. However, over the coming months and years, when international attention to the disaster in Haiti diminishes, the UN and partners such as the United States must and will remain to help the Haitian people rebuild and do the painstaking, incremental work that comes after the rubble is cleared and the immediate danger is past. This is a long-term commitment and if we are to realize the meaning of community, we must all prepare to do what is necessary to help Haiti recover and rebuild.
I would like to end my comments and would – will welcome your questions. I will also note that UN Secretary General Ban had calls for a moment of silence throughout the UN system at 4:53 p.m. to coincide with the one-week anniversary of the earthquake. I propose that we similarly honor those lost, all of those lost in this terrible tragedy, and take a moment of silence at that time. And therefore, we will conclude just before that particular time.
Again, thank you, and I welcome your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Do we have any questions in the room?
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Sonia Schott with Radio Valera, Venezuela. One of the major challenges always in a situation like that that the international community is facing is try to make accountable all these efforts and all this aid that should be provided and should be located to the people in need. There is any specific plan to make accountable all these organizations and all the people who are receiving this aid? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: In particular, if we’re looking at the efforts that – to coordinate all of the aid coming in, because there are so many different parts of aid, I think it’s important to notice the role that the United Nations is playing in coordinating the aid that is coming in. And indeed, if we look at the system that has already been set up, that – the major humanitarian aid has been divided into four different clusters.
If we look at the health area, it’s covered by the World Health Organization, food and logistics is being covered by the World Food Program, water and sanitation by UNICEF, and shelter by the International Organization for Migration. Each of these agencies are experts in their field and identify who really needs the aid and making sure that it gets to those most needy, hence making sure that those who receive it are the ones who need that aid. And they’re trying to coordinate the global effort in each of those areas.
MODERATOR: It looks as if one of our – we have a colleague in the Foreign Press Center in New York that would like to ask a question. Let’s go to New York.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Shinya Abe from Tokyo Shimbun, a Japanese news organization. And while I have a question about the – your military effort – I mean, military presence in Haiti – well, actually, we are really impressed by the speed and amount of the assistance effort of the U.S. Government. But at the same time, there are some concerns about the over-presence of the U.S. military.
So my question is: How do you coordinate your military presence with the UN troops actually on the ground, that has been on the ground before the earthquake? And how do you deal with that kind of concerns of the over-presence of the U.S. military? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Thank you very much for your question. Indeed, all of the international support is in support of the Government of Haiti at the request of the Government of Haiti and in support of the United Nations. Indeed, the United Nations peacekeeping operation MINUSTAH has overall efforts and coordination here. The military forces of the United States are there in support of the Government of Haiti, and at their request, and very much focused on close coordination.
And indeed, there is daily close coordination among the Government of Haiti, the Special Representative of the Secretary General Edmond Mulet, and the head of the Task Force Haiti forces, General Keen. They have a very good, close relationship.
And indeed, the Brazilian general who is the head of MINUSTAH and has had several years as leadership of MINUSTAH is a very close coordination. Indeed, U.S. military forces flew him back into Haiti. They are very much focused on close coordination on a daily basis in support of the needs requested by the Government of Haiti and by MINUSTAH.
MODERATOR: Next question.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Julio Marenco with La Prensa Grafica. Speaking of the Haiti – of the Haitian Government, the government seemed to be very much inoperable during the first days following the earthquake. Would you please assess how the government has recovered so far?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Well, I would think that, of course, the most direct assessment, of course, would come from those who are on the ground; I’m here in Washington. But I think it’s important to notice that despite the fact of the terrible loss of life and the loss of many of the government buildings, the Government of Haiti has been directing relief and recovery efforts, reaching out to many partners – not only the United States but many other close partners – for support. But indeed they have, of course, reconstituted at a new location, given the lack of building structures available. But I think it’s remarkable, given the catastrophic nature of the earthquake, the leadership that the Government of Haiti has shown in reaching out to the UN and to other partners.
MODERATOR: Any other questions? No questions. No questions from New York? If there’s – it looks as if we do have one more question from New York. Let’s go to New York.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you very much. My name is Andrej Brstovsek. I’m a correspondent for Slovenian daily Dnevnik. I have a sort of follow-up of what my colleague here asked before. There were some harsh words that the minister of French Government was saying about the way the United States is exercising its control of the airport in the Haiti capital. Could you comment on that, and could you explain how is the decision being made about which airport [sic] gets to land and when and which doesn’t?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Thank you very much. Indeed, the Haitian airport itself, as you know, was damaged during the earthquake. Even before the earthquake, it is a one-runway airport, which now has many flights coming from around the world. Immediately after the earthquake, it was difficult, of course, to bring flights in. In cooperation with the Haitian military, the U.S. military has been helping with air traffic control, with the contribution of the World Food Program, which works on the logistics. As I mentioned earlier, they are in charge of the logistics cluster and are working together on prioritizing and getting flights in.
And indeed, we can see some success day by day. In an operation of this complexity and this difficulty, you measure success by improvements day by day. And just after the earthquake, you could only get a handful of flights into the airport as the effort was done to put the airport back up to speed.
My understanding is that as recently as yesterday, there were – 100 flights landed at the airport. So there’s a real effort to help get the airport back up to speed, and there is direct cooperation between the Haitian Government, the U.S. military, and the UN on working on getting those flights in.
MODERATOR: Any other questions? New York, no further questions? That – we’re going to conclude this portion of the briefing.
There’s a follow-up question from New York.
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry. Well – Shinya Abe from Tokyo Shimbun again. And – well, it’s sort of a technical question, but how long do you plan to station your military to – for the rescue effort? I mean, do you have a concrete plan to – in terms of the – how long the U.S. Government will station the U.S. troops? And another question is: Are you subordinate – is the U.S. Government subordinating the U.S. troops under the control of the UN military, UN peacekeeping operations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: To address your questions, first off, to note that the U.S. military is in Haiti at the request of the Haitian Government, and therefore, the length of time will be based by the determination of what is necessary. It’s part of the strong bilateral commitment to support the Government of Haiti and to support the United Nations. And indeed, Defense Secretary Gates recently commented on the role of the U.S. military, noting their key role in helping support the humanitarian effort. So therefore, I think that is really the determining factor. It’s really the needs of the humanitarian effort.
And then in terms of the U.S. military that is there, as I say, is there in support of the bilateral effort. The overall diplomatic responsibility in Haiti, of course, belongs to the U.S. Ambassador, and indeed the troops are there as part of the bilateral commitment there as part of the U.S. troop presence there.
MODERATOR: Okay. One more time. Are there any other questions either here in Washington or in New York?
All right. So this time, I think we are going to conclude. Thank you very much, Assistant Secretary Brimmer.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Thank you.