Energy and security top agenda for talks between regional leaders, Obama

ENERGY and security will dominate the discussions between Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders and United States President Barack Obama during their summit here tomorrow, the senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Ricardo Zuniga, said yesterday.

Speaking at a White House media briefing, Zuniga described plans for the meeting as a practical agenda to continue work already started.

“With the Caricom leaders, we are going to speak about some issues that we dealt with to a significant degree already, including security and cooperation through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative,” he said, adding that following the meeting earlier this year with US Vice President Joe Biden, “energy security and our shared efforts to promote a more diverse, cleaner and more sustainable energy future for the Caribbean will be discussed”.

Obama, who is travelling to Panama for the Summit of the Americas over the weekend, will meet with Caricom leaders at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies.

The prime ministers of Barbados, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago will address the summit on the topics Competitiveness/Prosperity, Renewable Energy and Security respectively.

Ben Rhodes, US deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, said concerns raised by regional leaders about the continued absence of Cuba from previous Summits of the Americas had influenced the US' decision to improve diplomatic relations with Havana.

Rhodes said improved US-Cuba relations should reduce impediments to better engaging the hemisphere. Cuba will attend its first Summit of the Americas in Panama.

“Frankly, it made no sense that the United States consistently made the decision to isolate ourselves from the rest of the Americas because we were clinging to a policy that wasn't working.

“Some of the critics of our approach said if we just stuck it out for a few more years, the sanctions would achieve their desired effects, but that is not we saw. …And part of the reason why, is that we were not joined in imposing those sanctions by any other country, because no other country agreed with our approach,” Rhodes said.

During Obama's bilateral meeting with Jamaica's prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaica's debt will be among matters to be discussed.

Obama will become the first US president to visit Jamaica since 1982 and Zuniga said “we'll have an opportunity to speak with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller about our strong support for Jamaica's work to deal with debt crisis, a fiscal crisis… and its strong performance in working with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and others to address that.

Following his summit with regional leaders, President Obama will have a town hall meeting with young leaders from across the Caribbean.

“This is similar to the types of events you see him do in South-East Asia and Africa where he will be able to focus on our commitment to partner with the youths of the region.

“Then there will be a wreath laying ceremony and then we will depart from Kingston that night,” Rhodes added.

Newly elected St Kitts-Nevis Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris, who will be attending his first regional summit since his election last February, said he was looking forward to the meeting as it will give the region a further boost in its relationship with the United States.

“This is an important summit. President Obama by coming to us is signalling the continuing interest of the USA in constructive engagement in the Caribbean. The areas which seem most profitable relate to security, renewable energy and the competitiveness of the region. We look forward to more concrete outcomes and deliverables,” he added.

Regional leaders will meet in caucus today prior to the summit with President Obama.

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