MS FRANCIS: So, ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the arrival of Prime Minister The Most Honorable Andrew Holness, and the Honorable Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State. You may be seated.
This morning our proceedings will be moderated by myself, Naomi Francis, and Ms. Morgan Ortagus, the spokesperson from the State Department.
We now turn over to Prime Minister The Most Honorable Andrew Holness for his statement.
PRIME MINISTER HOLNESS: Thank you very much, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning. Thank you all for being here to join me in welcoming with great pleasure Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his delegation to Jamaica.
Mr. Secretary, thank you for including Jamaica on your travels through the region, your visit today following on that of your predecessor almost two years ago, and the intervening meetings I had last year with President Trump and Vice President Pence confirm the special strategic partnership our two countries have long enjoyed by virtue of history, geography, and culture.
Our discussions today have provided yet another opportunity to affirm our shared commitment to democratic ideals, the rule of law, and economic prosperity. The United States is our largest trading partner, and Jamaica continues to count the United States of America as one of our most reliable and longstanding partners. I believe you will agree with me when I say that our relations are dynamic and multifaceted and continue to grow in a positive direction.
It is against this background that Secretary Pompeo and I have engaged in discussions on critical issues of mutual interest to Jamaica and the United States. The aim of our talks was to reaffirm our mutual commitment to partnering for greater peace and prosperity in our respective countries, and indeed across the hemisphere. I am pleased to say that we found common understanding on the urgent need to scale up our security cooperation. The main focus will be on bolstering Jamaica’s capacity to counter transnational organized crime, secure our borders and ports, and interrupt the flow of illicit weapons into our country. I cannot overstate the urgency with which we need to address these security matters. The Jamaican public most recently heard me underscore this in my New Year’s message. I have also emphasized their importance in my discussions with Secretary Pompeo today.
Mr. Secretary, we are therefore greatly heartened to have your pledge of support as we move to rigorously implement Plan Secure Jamaica. (Applause.)
At the wider level, securing Jamaica also requires sustained intervention on the economic and social front. We are determined to position Jamaica to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to grow the economy so that large and small businesses as well as our communities and citizens can reap the benefits. I therefore reaffirmed Jamaica’s keen interest in and plans to build upon the economic partnership between the United States and Jamaica. We will bolster cooperation in the area of energy security, increase trade, and importantly, we restated our desire to see greater U.S. investment in Jamaica and across the region.
Mr. Secretary, I am very pleased that we are working well together on the socioeconomic front, where Jamaicans continue to benefit from educational opportunities through the Fulbright Program and other exchanges. We also value the outstanding work being undertaken by the USAID and the U.S. Peace Corps at the community level to build the capacity of microenterprises and to address crime and violence among youth. It is important that we recognize that work geared towards the creation of stable and prosperous communities is ultimately work geared towards a stable and prosperous region.
I must also highlight the critical importance of our partnership in confronting natural disasters through risk reduction, building resilient communities, and improving disaster response. We therefore very much welcome the U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership launched last April, as it has given greater impetus to our efforts in this truly existential challenge for Jamaica and the Caribbean as a whole.
For our regional engagement, the U.S.-Caribbean 2020 Engagement Strategy also set the course for further work to promote prosperity, energy security, health and well-being, peace and security, and ongoing high-level political engagement in the years ahead. Mr. Secretary, I trust that your discussions at the Caribbean roundtable later today will catalyze the implementation of this very important strategy.
Secretary Pompeo and I also shared views on the challenges being confronted in the wider region. We concurred on the importance of these issues being resolved in a peaceful but timely manner, and for the people who face hardship to receive the fullest support of the international community in order to exercise their rights and enjoy their dignity.
We reiterated the value of the role of the Organization of American States in supporting countries of the hemisphere and expressed the desire for the OAS to continue playing this role through strong leadership, strategic and sustainable planning, and, of course, responsible action by all members.
Secretary Pompeo, I thank you for being with us today. I certainly value our fruitful and productive dialogue and look forward to the continued robust partnership between Jamaica and the United States.
MS FRANCIS: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. And now, Secretary Pompeo.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Prime Minister Holness. Thank you for you and your team welcoming me here to Jamaica House during my first trip to the Caribbean as America’s Secretary of State.
As the prime minister and Foreign Minister Johnson-Smith and I discussed today, we are natural allies, natural friends. We have a close and historic relationship with Jamaica that is built on a whole lot more than just proximity. That was clear as far back as 1981, when a great champion of democracy and free markets, Prime Minister Seaga, who sadly passed away this year, had become the first foreign leader to visit President Ronald Reagan at the White House.
It was clear last year too, in March, when President Trump demonstrated the importance of our relationship by hosting a group called the summit of Caribbean leaders at his home at Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
More importantly, it is clear every day in the bonds of trade, tourism, and flourishing communities of Jamaican Americans in my home country.
I want to touch on what ties us together more fully in my remarks and the conversation with the foreign minister later this afternoon.
But today in our meeting the prime minister and I strengthened our countries’ friendship and set the table for greater engagement.
In that conversation, I echoed my remarks at the OAS in Washington last week, and my discussions over the last few days in Colombia and in Costa Rica. The United States is proud that our neighbors believe in multilateralism, and multilateralism that can work to secure a prosperous, stable, peaceful hemisphere of freedom.
A strong, freedom-minded OAS is crucial to that effort. Prime Minister Holness and I share the goal of empowering that organization.
Development and infrastructure were also on our list of topics today. Last year, Jamaica became the first Caribbean partner to join our “Growth in the Americas” initiative. And we’re honored to assist our Caribbean friends in making their countries more attractive to private-sector infrastructure investment.
Because there is so much opportunity, United States companies have already invested nearly $1 billion in energy infrastructure here in Jamaica.
And we want to ensure that all new investments – especially in the technology sector – come from trusted sources who won’t compromise Jamaicans’ security and privacy. We want the Jamaican people to receive quality, high-level, trusted work on fair terms.
Prime Minister Holness actually raised first security in the region. It was the first thing we talked about today. We discussed how we can work together to stop drug flows and transnational crime.
The United States has supported Caribbean nations with more than $600 million in much-needed funding for this fight over this past decade. Our expectation is those funds will augment homegrown efforts to protect all Caribbean peoples.
I want to commend the prime minister for standing up to the illegitimate, destabilizing Maduro dictatorship and its brutal repression of the Venezuelan people.
I know this hasn’t been easy, but I applaud his leadership, and we will keep working together to help the Venezuelan people have a democratic nation with free and fair elections and a return to prosperity that the Venezuelan people so richly deserve.
Prime Minister Holness, I look forward to working with you and your team in the weeks and months and years ahead.
Thank you once again for your hospitality. I’ll bring the warmth of our meeting, if not, unfortunately, your amazing weather, back to Washington with me. Thank you, sir. (Applause.)
MS FRANCIS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, Prime Minister. And now, ladies and gentlemen of the media, we invite your questions. Earlier, we had indicated the process for this. If you could raise your hands, once you do, then we’ll acknowledge you. I’ll be joined in this segment by my colleague, Ms. Morgan Ortagus, and so let’s take the first question from Jamaica. Mr. Arthur Hall (ph).
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary of State, quick check for you. You indicated the friendship between Jamaica and the U.S. and the warm friendship there has been, but in recent times, the U.S. has cancelled the visa of one cabinet minister and a former cabinet minister with no explanation, which has made Jamaica seem like a corrupt state in the international light. Can you respond, please?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I can’t respond to the specific in that we don’t talk about decisions that we make on granting visas, but the Jamaican people should know we grant hundreds, thousands of permits for Jamaicans to come travel to America. You return the favor by allowing – indeed, I have a command to come back here on my own, on a personal visit here to Jamaica from the prime minister. We have a process by which we evaluate each and every person who seeks entry into the United States. It is a – it’s an even process, it’s a fair-handed process, and we do our best to make sure that if we get such a decision wrong, we continue to review it so that we can make sure that we’re doing the right thing. We, just like Jamaica, have security interests when we think about how we approach these problems. That’s always foremost in our mind.
MS FRANCIS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Next, from our U.S. colleagues.
MS ORTAGUS: Elizabeth McLaughlin, ABC News.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, back in Washington, impeachment is front and center. Have you been tracking the Senate trial during your travels and would you testify if called upon?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, and if I’m legally required to testify, as I’ve said before, I’ll be happy to do it.
MS FRANCIS: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Another one from Jamaica, Ms. —
SECRETARY POMPEO: I just want to make sure. The “no” was to the question of have I been tracking the impeachment back home.
MS FRANCIS: Ms. Andrea Chesum (ph). Go ahead, please.
QUESTION: Good morning. Secretary Pompeo, I gather that six CARICOM countries were invited to the high-level meeting today. Just to be clear, which CARICOM countries were invited? Could you please explain the connection to the OAS vote on Mr. Tarre? And how do you respond to criticisms that the specific invitations were linked to the vote? And how do you respond to the dividing CARICOM that is being perceived as well as the vote to secure OAS on the incumbent secretary general?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’m happy to answer them, and the prime minister may want to weigh in on this as well.
PRIME MINISTER HOLNESS: Not really.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Fair enough. Look, there’s no intent from the United States to divide CARICOM – not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow. We want all the countries of this region to prosper and be successful. We know that countries in this region will agree with the United States on certain positions from time to time and disagree with us from time – that’s true for Jamaica as well it’s true for many of the folks that I’ll visit with this afternoon. We want to invite them all to be part of the economic prosperity, security zone that is this region. We welcome the leadership that Jamaica has demonstrated in this region, in the CARICOM region.
And then your final point was really about this OAS issue. We’ve made very clear who we think should be the next leader of the OAS. We’ve made that clear because we think he has demonstrated his ability to return financial stability to the institution and return this institution to a really important place, a really important place for all member states of the OAS. And so there’s absolutely no intent to divide. We have conversations, dialogues with every country. We’d welcome that. We want to meet with them all, and we’d welcome them all to participate in all of the conversations that we’re having about the important issues, the things that mattered to the United States of America, we think matter to each and every country in the CARICOM. And we want to work with them closely to develop out a security-prosperity dialogue with them so that we can all be successful, not divided but together.
PRIME MINISTER HOLNESS: Let me endorse what the Secretary has said. Jamaica does not want to see and does not engage in any policy that would divide CARICOM. CARICOM is an important fraternity of countries. We are a trading bloc. We are a custom union. But more than that, it is the fraternity. And we want to keep it that way. In modern diplomatic relations and in the exercise of foreign policy, we all must respect the sovereignty of countries to determine how they structure their foreign policy. When friends ask to be hosted or for us to host them, we’re friends, and so we do that. We’re friends with the United States.
So we are happy to host here, not to the exclusion of anyone. And if anyone wanted to attend, they just have to signal. From my perspective, we would have done everything to ensure that they are present. I think the focus has to be for every single member of CARICOM and for every Jamaican to ensure that there is engagement.
So the conversation should be: How do we get greater engagement? How are we talking more? And my interest is to get Jamaica talking with everyone and to strengthening our relationship, particularly with our largest trading partner. Particularly with our largest security partner. Particularly because we have over a million U.S. visitors visiting our shores yearly. We have significant economic, social, and cultural interests. So we should never seek to create an artificial divide. Jamaica’s interest is to unite the region for prosperity, freedom, and peace. (Applause.)
MS ORTAGUS: Alina Dieste from AFP.
QUESTION: Good morning. Thank you for doing this. Mr. Secretary, President Trump confirmed his administration plans on expanding the travel ban, which targeted several Muslim-majority countries. Why is it necessary to do so, and which countries will be added?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t have anything to announce on that today. I’ll simply state that it is always our policy to make sure that we’re getting security right, to make sure that we work with every country to have processes in place such that when their citizens travel to the United States we can have confidence that there’s not excessive risk to the United States of America. And so, we will continue to evaluate that. We are constantly evaluating that, and we will continue to do that. Our obligation is to ensure that from wherever people are traveling to the United States, that we protect America.
MS FRANCIS: Thank you, Secretary. And we’ll allow the prime minister to do a wrap-up statement, following which he will invite you to sign our guestbook. Thank you so much, too, to members of the media. Mr. Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER HOLNESS: Thank you. I probably didn’t convey how well our meeting went. I think we had very frank discussions, that Jamaica was able to raise in direct ways our perspective on difficult and complex issues. And I believe that the United States was equally upfront in their perspectives as well. Jamaica placed on the table specific requests and areas of cooperation, and I believe that we will see some benefits coming from that. I think that this meeting is an advanced step in elevating our relationship to an even stronger plane.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you all very much.
MS FRANCIS: Thank you so much, Mr. Prime Minister. Mr. Secretary. (Applause.)