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28143: (news) Chamberlain: U.S. looks to close 'breach' over Haiti (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Patricia Wilson

     NASSAU, Bahamas, March 21 (Reuters) - The United States and the
Caribbean community needed to "close the breach" over Haiti and work to get
more international help for the hemisphere's poorest country, a senior U.S.
official said on Tuesday.
     U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting with CARICOM foreign
ministers, hoped to encourage the 14-nation regional bloc to re-engage with
Haiti after two years of fractious relations.
     Ties between the group and Washington also suffered because of
bitterness over the circumstances surrounding the ouster of former Haitian
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who fled into exile in February 2004
faced with an armed revolt and U.S. and French pressure to quit.
     CARICOM leaders considered his removal a dangerous precedent for
democratically elected governments in the region and asked for a U.N.
     They suspended Haiti but have agreed to reinstate the country after
its new government is installed and President-elect Rene Preval is
inaugurated, probably in early May.
     "It's important for the international community, it's important for
Haiti and it's important for us to close the breach over CARICOM and
Haiti," said Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for the Western
     Rice would talk to CARICOM ministers about their role in Haiti going
forward "and how it can work with the international community to address
Haiti's development needs," Shannon told reporters traveling with Rice to
the Bahamas.
     "If our engagement on Haiti is episodic it won't be successful,
especially at this point," Shannon said.
     U.S. aid to Haiti over the past three years will reach $500 million by
the end of 2006.
     Shannon acknowledged that ties with CARICOM became somewhat "ragged"
after the United States sent troops to Haiti in 2004.
     He said it was in Washington's interest "to find a basis on which to
get our relations back on a level where it can have the positive impact
it's capable of having."
     Rice's scheduled 19-hour visit to Nassau is the first high-level,
substantive session the United States has had with all the CARICOM
ministers since 2001.
     Apart from a visit to Haiti last year to urge Haitians to stick with a
firm date for elections, this is also Rice's first trip to the Caribbean.
     Shannon said other topics for discussion were democracy and human
rights, trade, competitiveness and regional security, including drugs and
small arms trafficking, money laundering and illegal migration.