Jamaica defends talks with US

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Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith says talks between United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and some Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries this week should not be viewed as divisive but as an opportunity for bilateral engagement.

Pompeo is on a two-day working visit to Jamaica starting today.

CARICOM Chairman and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley spoke out against the talks and revealed that her decision to spurn the invitation to dispatch her foreign minister to the meeting in Kingston was based on principle.

“We don’t look to pick fights. I don’t look to pick fights, but I am conscious that if this country does not stand for something, then it will fall for anything. As chairman of CARICOM, it is impossible for me to agree that my foreign minister should attend a meeting with anyone to which members of CARICOM are not invited. … It is an attempt to divide this region,” she said.

In a statement today, Johnson Smith said this week’s US engagements with Caribbean foreign ministers are being undertaken largely bilaterally and not within a CARICOM context.

“There is nothing unusual or divisive about such meetings. All countries, large and small, have a sovereign right to engage bilaterally with any other country, beyond any regional or hemispheric arrangements. This happens across the world even in political unions which CARICOM, indisputably, is not,” she said.

Johnson Smith argued that Jamaicans should remember that the understanding in CARICOM is that member states should work to coordinate foreign policy and therefore collaborate on issues and consider each other’s positions, but there is no obligation to harmonise policy.

She added, “The fact is that since its formation, members have, as is their sovereign right, voted differently and taken differing positions on a variety of issues. Jamaica has always both exercised that right and respected it when exercised by others.”

She asserted that Jamaica will continue to act in a principled manner to ensure that the region remains a “zone of peace” while engaging with partner countries in advancing the country’s development goals and economic interests.

“We view the expanded context of these bilateral meetings as a welcome and positive development, since the last visit of a US Secretary of State to Jamaica in 2018.”

Johnson Smith will join Prime Minister Andrew Holness and senior cabinet ministers for bilateral talks with Pompeo on Wednesday, January 22.

Meetings with his Caribbean counterparts will take place thereafter.

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