U.S.-Argentine Bilateral Focuses on Haiti
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
QUITO, Ecuador, Nov. 16, 2004 Latin American support for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti was a top agenda item during a bilateral meeting here today between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Argentine Defense Minister Jose Pampuro.
Rumsfeld praised the contributions of Argentine soldiers in Haiti and said he was pleased at how quickly Latin American countries created a follow-on force to replace the U.S.-French-Chilean interim force there, a senior defense official who attended the session told reporters.
"He said this is quite remarkable, and it's an example for other regions," the official said.
Also during the meeting, the Argentines expressed concerns shared by the United States and other countries that "the U.N. is not moving fast enough to live up to its commitments in Haiti," the official said. "We agreed that we are going to get this message through."
The United Nations pledged more than 6,000 troops for the Haiti mission, but far fewer than that have arrived, the official said.
"The secretary has said this is important because the things that happen up front have a big impact on the mission as it goes along," he said.
Rumsfeld said during the session that the United States "can be a gap filler, but not a vacuum filler" as it stretches its resources for peacekeeping and other missions, the official said.
However, Rumsfeld stressed during the meeting that the United States has an important relationship with Haiti and an interest in helping there, the official said.
The United States plans to help improve the U.N. peacekeeping force's "situational awareness" and plans to launch New Horizon, a humanitarian mission focused on helping the town of Gonaives, where severe flooding in September left about 3,000 people dead.
The defense official said the Argentines suggested the possibility that other Latin American nations might support U.S. Southern Command in a collaborative effort there.
The Argentines also suggested that they may increase the size of their contingency in Haiti, currently at about 550.
Rumsfeld praised the Argentine troops, who the official said "did not give up on the mission" in Gonaives, even after floods destroyed all the soldiers' personal possessions. They continued to maintain order and distribute food in what the official called "a truly remarkable piece of work" and a tribute to their military. "They were truly the 911 force there," the official said.
During the meeting, Rumsfeld agreed with others that it is probably not a good idea to reconstitute the abolished Haitian army and that "very, very careful" study would have to go into allowing former army members to join the police force.
The bilateral meeting also addressed ways to improve maritime cooperation and to resolve what the defense official called "a hiccup" in the U.S. relationship with Argentina: a new law that requires annual notification and approval of military exercises. So far, this law prevented two planned exercises -- an air cooperation exercise and a maritime exercise -- from taking place.
"It's a problem," the defense official said. "So both sides agreed that we want to find a way to work through this."
The bilateral meeting with the Argentines followed Rumsfeld's session with the Ecuadorian president and defense minister. He was also scheduled to hold the first multilateral meeting with the defense ministers of all seven Central American nations before participating in a bilateral meeting with Brazil.
Rumsfeld is in Quito for the Defense Ministerial of the Americas, which began here today. The conference is the sixth of its kind that will give defense ministers from 34 countries throughout the Western Hemisphere the opportunity to discuss regional security concerns and trouble spots.