Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Barbados Prime Minister Thompson from Bridgeport, Barbados
PRIME MIN. THOMPSON: The Secretary of Defense of the United States, and we welcome all of you here to this press conference.
We had a very fruitful meeting this morning with Secretary Gates. I want to thank him and say how honored we are to have him here in the Caribbean and how honored Barbados is to host this event. We discussed this morning a number of very critical and important issues in relation to defense and security issues in the Caribbean. We were able to have a very important encounter at the Summit of the Americas with President Barack Obama of the United States of America. And one of the vital issues that was discussed was the issue of security because of the proximity of the Caribbean to the United States and also because of the shared interests between our region and the United States of America.
Of course the important issue in particular, of stemming the flow of illegal drugs. In today's discussions, both mine this morning with Secretary of Defense Gates, as well as with representatives of the Eastern Caribbean states and Barbados, we were able to further that discussion and particularly to identify areas of assistance that the government and people of the United States are making available to us and what modality we will use to ensure that these assets are going to be used in a manner consistent with our objectives.
So we have with us representatives of the Regional Security System, which is our regional body established by treaty, which is with regional security issues.
I believe that you probably have more questions than I can answer in these opening remarks. I want to invite Secretary Gates to say a few words and then give you the opportunity to ask us any questions that you may wish.
SEC. GATES: Thank you, Prime Minister.
I'd like to start by thanking Prime Minister Thompson and the people of Barbados for their hospitality during my brief stay on this beautiful island and for hosting this Regional Security System meeting.
This is my first trip to Barbados and it certainly provides a splendid setting for these talks and I would say in that respect, far superior to Washington, D.C.
I especially enjoyed my visit this morning to the restored George Washington House where our first president lived for a short time. After my tour of that piece of history our two nations share, I had a constructive meeting with Prime Minister Thompson. I expressed our government's appreciation for Barbados' strong partnership in the area of security cooperation, especially its consistent support of the Department of Defense's regional training programs. Barbados has become a leader of efforts to strengthen security and safety for the people of the Eastern Caribbean.
We just concluded a very productive meeting of Regional Security System member states. I came away impressed by the innovative approaches being taken to collective security, especially the ability of the Caribbean nations to marshal limited resources to address common threats. I want all the ministers to know that the United States understands the enormous challenges that you face in combating illicit trafficking and violent crime in the Eastern Caribbean, challenges that touch our shores as well.
As President Obama said last year at the Summit of the Americas, the United States is committed to working with your governments to confront these transnational threats. To that end, we allocated $45 million this year to help fund the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), an initiative built with extensive input from Caribbean nations with a central role in the Regional Security System. That money will help us all improve our maritime patrol and interdiction capabilities, as well as domain awareness. It will also allow for additional joint training and exercises.
But the CBSI represents a comprehensive approach, providing not just improved security capabilities to confront immediate threats, but also development assistance in hopes of addressing the root causes of regional problems, such as the lack of educational and employment opportunities, particularly for youth, and that is a strategy we strongly support.
In closing, I want to commend all of our Caribbean partners for their continued efforts to provide security and safety of their people. The United States stands steadfastly with you as you pursue long-term solutions to these problems.
Q (Off mike.) We will now have the first question by -- (inaudible) --.
Q (inaudible) Caribbean Media Corporation. A question to Secretary of Defense Gates, in this whole discussion of crime and security one issue with relation to the wider Caribbean has been the situation in Kingston with -- (inaudible) --. To what extent does the CBSI going forward depend on what happens with that regard and how important is it for Washington to see that matter speedily resolved.
SEC. GATES: Well, I think as far as I know, this initiative will go forward independent of that.
Q (Off mike.)
Q To Secretary Gates, to what extent do you believe Caribbean nations are being more affected by drug trafficking and becoming more at risk as more pressure is being put on Mexico and Central America and to the prime minister, to what extent do you see increased risk and what could United States be doing that it's not currently doing to assist?
SEC. GATES: Well, what I know mainly is what I heard from my colleagues this morning and that is their belief that the problem has gotten worse here because of the Merida Initiative and Mexico's efforts. I think that this is a, narco-trafficking is a problem for the hemisphere as a whole and wherever you put pressure, the traffickers will go where there is less resistance and where there is less capability.
And so I think that one of the things that we need to think about as we go forward is how we connect the Regional Security System with the efforts of the French and the Dutch, how we link them with our JIATF [Joint Interagency Task Force] in Miami, how we link them with what Colombia and Peru are doing. They're all tied together in many respects. And I would say the other thing that I learned this morning is that after 9/11, the U.S. began to draw down its presence and engagement in this region and I think what President Obama, the initiative he took with the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative last year, Summit of the Americas, and I hope my visit, will indicate that the United States is re-engaging with this region and we will work with these countries to address these problems.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
PRIME MIN. THOMPSON: Obviously, we consider it to be a threat to our national, individual and national and regional well-being in every sense of the word because every dollar that we have today for security expenditure is a dollar less that we can spend on social programs, on programs that deal with the real challenges that our people face on a daily basis. And therefore from that point there’s a threat – there’s also the threat in small islands like ours that the influence of drug traffickers and obviously the accessibility in a small country of Barbados with 270,000 people and some of my colleagues here have countries with populations of even less and therefore this is a major concern. And then the overall cost of maintaining a security apparatus. For Barbados, this has been the major concern that we maintain a pretty significant security apparatus and we've heard not only here, but at our RSS meetings of the challenges that many countries have in being able to patrol the coastline that has many bays and many crevices and creeks and so on and the real difficulties.
So, obviously, we believe that working together as a region that we can better achieve our objectives. We can pool our resources and we can provide leadership and we believe that the United States is aware of what these concerns are. We've had assistance in the past, the two RSS aircraft were given to us by the United States government and there have been other areas of very important assistance which I believe is there for the world to see in terms of their contribution to dealing with drug trafficking. We believe that a continuation of this relationship is desirable and I think everybody this morning echoed the satisfaction that President Obama and Secretary Gates have really resumed a level of engagement with the Caribbean that is what we expect and what we think is necessary in the circumstances.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Prime Minister. The next question -- (inaudible).
Q (Off mike.) Mr. Secretary, would you give me some more details to the specifics of the security initiative, especially with relation to the funding as it’s going to be dispersed -- (inaudible). Will you explain to me also specifically how that’s going to be dispersed to Barbados and (inaudible).
SEC. GATES: The decision as I understand it, the decisions on how the money will be allocated specifically are being addressed by technical working groups, one of those is meeting in Washington today at the assistant secretary level.
We have, overall, we have $45 million that we have allocated for Fiscal Year '10 -- 2010. We have budgeted $70 million for Fiscal Year 2011. We will be asking the Congress for that significant increase.
The precise allocation will depend on the outcome of these technical talks. We've already talked in terms of, and made commitments in terms of three interceptor boats and a good bit of communications equipment. But there were a number of suggestions made this morning in terms of law enforcement training and major crimes units and things like that, that we'll be exploring in terms of making sure that the money is allocated in ways that the members of the RSS think is the most effective in terms of meeting their needs.
MODERATOR: We will now have the final question -- (inaudible) -- of the Wall Street Journal.
Q Thank you. Mr. Secretary, yesterday, the Senate Homeland Security Committee said it would subpoena the administration for information on the Fort Hood shootings, specifically about how well information about Nidal Hasan was shared before that attack. Why has that information not been turned over thus far? And how confident are you in the Pentagon's ability to prevent a similar attack in the future?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, we have, our priority is ensuring that we don't do anything that would potentially impact the prosecution of Major Hasan and that is our only concern. We are, anything that does not have any impact on that prosecution, we are more than willing to share. We have no interest in hiding anything, but what's most important is this prosecution and we will cooperate with the Committee in every way, with that single caveat, that whatever we provide doesn't compromise the prosecution. That's the only thing in which we have interest.
In terms of, one would be foolish to say something like this can never happen again, but I will tell you that I have received the recommendations for implementation of many of the measures recommended by the outside group in terms of how to deal with the kind of disaster that happened at Fort Hood and try to prevent it from happening again. Clearly, one element of that is better sharing of information from post to post and commander to commander. I think I approved the other day 24, 25  recommendations, and I’ll be looking at the remainder by June. But I think that the services and the department are stepping up and making a number of changes to try and ensure that this doesn't happen again.
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