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US Navy Secretary visits for security talks

By Nalinee Seelal Saturday, August 23 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Secretary of the US Navy Ray Mabus meets President Anthony Carmona at President's House, St Ann's, yesterday. ...
Secretary of the US Navy Ray Mabus meets President Anthony Carmona at President's House, St Ann's, yesterday. ...

THE MAN at the helm of the most powerful naval defence operations in the world, United States (US) Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, was in Port-of-Spain yesterday on an extremely tightly guarded visit for talks with Trinidad and Tobago national security officials, including Minister Gary Griffith.

In addition to Griffith, Mabus met with Chief of Defence Staff, Major General Kenrick Maharaj, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Dookeran and President Anthony Carmona. Also participating in the meetings were Chargé d’Affaires, Keith Gilges, Chief of the Security Cooperation Office Commander Kevin Austin, both of the US Embassy in Port-of-Spain, as well as the Secretary’s travelling staff.

Mabus’ trip to Port-of-Spain also follows a visit by a 22-man team from Trinidad and Tobago (TT) including Griffith and Maharaj, representatives of the Office of the Prime Minister and the TT military leadership to the home base of the future amphibious assault ship, he USS America in San Diego. The visit’s main focus, according to a news story from the US navy, in July, was to engage in a round table discussion with key American naval personnel on such areas as the importance of humanitarian assistance and disaster preparedness and the capabilities all countries bring to the effort.

No full details about the Mabus visit were given by either TT personnel or the US Embassy in Port- of-Spain except for a statement from the Embassy which quoted Mabus as saying that part of the purpose of his visit was “to explore ways we can expand our military-to-military partnership, whether it is through training or participation in joint exercises so we can increase our interoperability.” The release said he came to meet with government officials about military, maritime and security issues.

Newsday sources revealed, however, that during his meeting with Griffith, Mabus focused on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which is a pact to govern the temporary presence in TT of US military and civilian personnel, and contractors of the US Department of Defence in the conduct of mutually agreed activities.

This bilateral agreement was approved in May 2013 terminating the practice of concluding a series of ad-hoc agreements between the two countries to govern specific joint activities conducted here.

Newsday also understands at yesterday’s top level meetings, Mabus and Griffith also discussed a Letter of Agreement on Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, in force since September 2011 between the US and TT to increase cooperative opportunities for security matters under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI); a regional security partnership which began in 2010 between the US, Dominican Republic and Caricom Member States. The agreement provides for assistance in four key areas: strengthening counter narcotics control capabilities; money laundering and financial crimes; drug demand reduction; and law enforcement professionalisation and support. Funding under this programme has increased since 2012 by US$1.815million from a previously committed sum of US$420,000. While neither the programmes nor the projects under this agreement have been modified, there are proposed increases of US$1.8 million in the funding.

Sources also revealed that a new agreement in the Fight Against Drug Trafficking between the two countries will be signed as early as next month. Benefits under this new agreement to will include training to enhance law enforcement professional capacity such as forensics capabilities and the investigation and prosecution of financial crimes, including terrorism financing, and money laundering.

Training programmes will also seek to improve capacity in increased port security and maritime interdiction capability, and support for youth education programmes to facilitate workforce entry, and the promotion of entrepreneurship and increased access to micro-financing.

Newsday understands Mabus also discussed TT being a signatory to the Cooperative Situational Information and Integration Agreement (CSII).which is a web-based software platform designed to facilitate information-sharing and support regional security efforts. The National Security Council has already endorsed TT’s involvement in this agreement which is expected to link the US and Caricom Partner Nations (PN) from Miami to Suriname, into a regional system that spans the air, maritime and land domains.

According to the US sources the primary aim of this agreement is to bolster partner nations’ capacities in areas such as counter- illicit trafficking, humanitarian assistance,/disaster relief, search and rescue, monitoring of fishing waters, and joint exercises. This increased capacity will assist both Caricom and the US in the fight against transnational threats, such as drug trafficking.

Mabus’ visit coincides with his decision to visit some Caribbean territories to strengthen bilateral agreements already in existence with the US Government. As secretary of the US Navy, Mabus is responsible for an annual budget in excess of US$170 billion and leadership of almost 900,000 people.

Newsday understands that the visit was kept a closely guarded secret for security reasons since Mabus is believed to be one of the persons targeted by terrorists. The US government ensured that upon his arrival in TT he was given the strictest security arrangements up until his departure. The US Embassy release stated that Mabus reaffirmed the friendship between the US and Trinidad a Tobago and discussed ways to strengthen cooperation on issues of mutual concern.

“We value our relationship with Trinidad and Tobago,” said Mabus, “and part of the purpose of my visit is to explore ways we can expand our military-to-military partnership, whether it is through training or participation in joint exercises so we can increase our interoperability.”

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