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Diplomacy in Action

Interview on Haiti With Renee Montagne of NPR's Morning Edition

Cheryl Mills
Washington, DC
January 20, 2010


QUESTION: Good morning.

MS. MILLS: Good morning. How are you?

QUESTION: Fine, thank you. Now, you have said that you are coordinating closely with the Haitian Government and Haitian officials. Could you give us an example of precisely what that means?

MS. MILLS: Sure. And first of all, thank you. And as I said, I’m very appreciative of the coverage that you all are giving to this. I have been working on Haiti actually since April when Secretary Clinton identified Haiti as a policy priority, so obviously long before the tragic events that have just occurred. Since that time, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Haiti on multiple occasions and meeting with the president there and the prime minister, as well as some of their ministers of different agencies. That relationship hasn’t changed, and indeed it is from that relationship that we’ve had the opportunity to be able to know in real time what their goals are, what their needs are, and how we can go about ensuring in this moment of challenge how to be effective partners.

I’ve been down in Haiti twice in the last four days. The first time I was down, I did meet with Secretary Clinton, with President Preval. He had very specific goals for what he wanted to see for his country in this time. I met with the Prime Minister as well. And then on my visit back that was just two days ago, I also met with the Prime Minister again. But I think in real time, our Ambassador on the ground is constantly in touch with the President and the Prime Minister and their teams. And so I think one of the things that it is nice about the relationship that has developed between our Ambassador and all of the relationship that we’ve developed is we have very clear lines of communication with the government there, and that has been, I think, fortunate for this situation.

QUESTION: Well, there is, though, one, you know, issue there with the president. He doesn’t seem to be showing much leadership directly to his people. There have been complaints we’ve been reporting on by Haitians saying they haven’t seen their president, they haven’t seen their leader.

MS. MILLS: Well, I know President Preval not only spoke publicly with Secretary Clinton when she was there, but also yesterday, I believe, gave an interview to CNN. I think the reality is, in this challenging situation, it is a very difficult moment for everyone. And I think what everyone needs in this moment is to know that their leadership is committed to making sure that the resources and the needs that they have are actually being met. That’s something President Preval is doing. He has --

QUESTION: But let me just, though, say something. I mean, some part of being a president of a country is showing that you’re leading the people. I mean, meeting with the Secretary of State and speaking on CNN doesn’t seem to be a substitute, many would say, for wading in, going out amongst the people.

MS. MILLS: Well, I think two things. I think we obviously have our own definition of how we think of leadership and what our politicians do and how they do that. President Preval has not always been the most – doesn’t share the same qualities that we think of in our own traditional politicians here in the United States, but he has been a leader and a leader over a relative period of calm in Haiti for the last several years.

And so his – while his style might not be the style that we think of as what is necessary, we certainly believe in moments of crisis that we like to see our leaders in different spaces. And I know in this particular instance, that is something that President Preval is certainly committed to. But his commitment is really to getting things done, at least as I have observed, and he has been very focused on what are the needs of the Haitian people.

QUESTION: And then – so you’re saying he is in charge in Haiti. I mean, how much does that have to do with the U.S. doing its part?

MS. MILLS: Well, I think it’s more than the U.S. doing its part. In Haiti, there has been a long set of relationships with international partners, and President Preval and his prime minister have had good relations in those situations. And I think one of the things that has been – they’ve been able to do very effectively, because of those long relations, is when they meet with not only the UN and other leaders of other countries and also their foreign ministers, they are able to say very clearly, because they think about the capacities and the coordination that has happened in the past and the relationships that are there, we need the following things: Our first priority is rescue and assistance. Our second priority is supplies and food. Our third priority is to reestablish communications so that we can have an effective strategy for addressing the challenges to come. And our fourth is how to think about our infrastructure so that, in a meaningful way, the aid that needs to come in and the reestablishment of community that needs to happen can occur.

President Preval said that when we met with him, very clearly. He had no lack of clarity as to what were the first priorities. Subsequently, they meet at 8 a.m. every day; our teams and other teams meet with the prime minister, who sets the daily priority for what needs to be addressed for Haiti and the Haitian people to ensure that they’re getting the different resources, the food, the supplies, and other things that are going to be necessary to sustain them and their country in this period of challenge.

QUESTION: During President Bill Clinton’s administration, the U.S. sent in troops to restore Haiti’s then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after he was ousted in a coup. Some years later, in his – he – in the early 2000s, he was, with the backing of the U.S. and help of the U.S., pushed once again into exile. Now he has said pretty straightforwardly that he wants to return to Haiti. What is the State Department’s position on that?

MS. MILLS: Well, I think our position right now is how do we provide the most assistance for rescue and relief of the individuals who are there, how do we support the government that is in power, and how do we ensure that as we do those things we are doing those in a way that are ultimately in service of the Haitian people.

Obviously, there are going to be all kinds of different issues that are going to arise over the next months and years to come. I think all of those have to be addressed in their time. But I think for us, we’re not focused on what Aristide is doing. We’re focused on how do we help the Haitian people and how do we ensure that the resources that we need to bring to bear are there to support them.

QUESTION: Well, could the U.S. keep Aristide out if it chose to, if it decided that he would be negative to what’s happening in Haiti right now?

MS. MILLS: Well, I’m obviously not going to speculate about what Aristide will or wouldn’t do. I mean, I think it is fair to say Aristide is obviously Haitian. He has a Haitian passport. All of those things are his judgments to make. Our judgments to make is how do we help the Haitian people. And in this particular instance, President Preval has asked us to be focused on how do we ensure that they actually have the resources? How do we make sure that they have the communications? How do we make sure they have the medical supplies? And how do we make sure that we are standing up a process that in the end will lead to a place where we can have greater economic stability after this terrible tragedy.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton went out of her way to reassure the Haitian people that, one, the U.S. is not an occupying force and --

MS. MILLS: Correct.

QUESTION: -- two, the U.S. is there for the long term. It’s going to be there for the Haitians. In practical terms, what do those two things mean?

MS. MILLS: Well, the first is quite simple. We are deploying our military to assist in a disaster and rescue operation. As a practical matter, all of the resources that are being brought in – to the extent that they require trucks, to the extent that they require distribution channels, to the extent that they require the rehabilitation of an airport -- which even before this particular earthquake only saw about two dozen airplanes a day and now has over a hundred coming in on a single runway with a control tower that is still damaged -- to the extent that the ports, which are not operational, need to be operational so that supplies and goods can get in so that the individuals who are injured or who have needs can be addressed, our military is coming in to make sure that those things can happen for the Haitian people. That’s why they’re there. They are not there for any other reason but to ensure that we are able to provide the support to the Haitian people in this moment of need.

In terms of being there for the long term, I think Secretary Clinton was speaking of the same thing she spoke about when she announced at the April donors conference in Haiti that we were their partner and we were committed to being their partner for the long term, that we are invested in the success of Haiti and the success of the Haitian people, we are invested in ensuring that they have the opportunity for the kind of economic growth and development that is each individual’s and, hopefully, country’s right and opportunity. And our goal is to be an effective international partner in looking at the country-led plans that they have and stepping in to provide the kind of assistance that we can, that ultimately will lead them to be self-sustaining. That’s the kind of partnership we spoke about before the earthquake. That’s the kind of partnership we’re going to have even after it.

QUESTION: Cheryl Mills is Secretary Clinton’s Chief of Staff, now overseeing U.S. efforts in Haiti for the State Department.

Thank you very much.

MS. MILLS: Thank you so much.

PRN: 2010/080

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