Meeting With Eastern Caribbean Prime MinistersAmbassador Cofer Black, Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Remarks at a Press Conference
September 3, 2003
Good afternoon. I am very pleased to join you in Barbados today to discuss an issue of national priority to my government -- the threat of terrorism. I arrived yesterday in what will be my first but certainly not last visit to the region as the U.S. Government’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism. My aim has been to share the thinking and intentions of the United States regarding the ongoing global campaign against terrorism with the prime ministers gathered here, and at the same time to learn first-hand about the concerns of the region as we seek to work with nations in the Eastern Caribbean to protect our common interests.
Events of the last several years have proven that terrorists respect no boundaries. They respect no creed, no set of laws, no reasoning but their own. And what I have learned during my three-decade career in counterterrorism is that terrorists like to attack the easy targets, the soft targets, because they can just as well make their misguided point in that kind of operation as they can against a harder target. And as they are pursued from the internationally known “hotspots” of the world, they move to new, target-rich locations that afford them the opportunity to operate with a minimum of disruption.
That is why I am here this week. The nations of the Caribbean present a broad range of soft targets including both tourist and economic targets. Cruise liners, ports and airports, hotel resorts, the energy sector -- these are the kinds of targets that international terrorists have exploited in such unsuspecting places as Indonesia, Kenya, and Morocco. And these are the kinds of targets that are present in the Caribbean, a region in close proximity to the U.S. and a region with which we enjoy historically close ties.
I have spent the last two days meeting with Prime Minister Owen Arthur of Barbados, Prime Minister Pierre Charles of Dominica, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada, and Prime Minister Kenny Anthony of St. Lucia. I was impressed by their candor and their disposition to work with the international coalition against terror.
Today, we engaged in a productive counterterrorism briefing organized by the U.S. Embassy in Bridgetown in order to share our mutual understandings of the global and regional threats of terrorism. This briefing was arranged in conjunction with an FBI-sponsored counterterrorism seminar offered to regional police and first responders to a terrorist incident.
This training is timely because the global terrorism conditions have shifted considerably in the 2 years since the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. The global war on terrorism has moved well beyond its opening stages in Afghanistan. Two-thirds of Al-Qaeda’s leadership has been detained or killed, and 3,400 terrorists have been taken out of action worldwide. Momentum is clearly in the counterterrorists’ favor. Even so, our work is far from finished. America under President Bush remains on a resolute course of action against terrorist organizations worldwide. As I told President Uribe last week in Bogota, my country is intolerant of terrorism in any form, and we are working to help his country to defeat two of the pillars of Colombian terrorist groups -- narcotrafficking and kidnapping for ransom. As I told the leaders of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay last December in my very first trip overseas as the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, the United States will work with you to eliminate the sources of Hizballah and Hamas financing and to put terrorists worldwide on notice that they should not mistake the triborder region as a safehaven any longer.
Here in the Caribbean, we are beginning the essential work of prevention. We want to work with you to prevent a Bali-style attack that would cripple your tourism and energy industries and reduce investor confidence. It is a cruel irony that Americans are often the targets of terrorist attacks but nationals of other countries are often the primary victims. In the embassy attacks of Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, African dead and wounded by far outnumbered the American casualties. On September 11, over 80 countries lost citizens in the World Trade Center attacks, and over 60 of the dead were from the Caribbean. Collaterally, economies around the world suffered major shocks, and the Caribbean was no exception.
Imagine what an attack on your own soil would do to the region. I was asked by Secretary Powell to imagine such terrible scenarios and then to work bilaterally with foreign partners to prevent them. Despite the risks and difficulties, I enjoy such work because at the end of the day all of our collective efforts are to save innocent lives. The United States enjoys good counterterrorism relationships with all but a handful of countries in the world, and we also work multilaterally through the United Nations and the Organization of American States. The United States places great faith -- and funding -- in the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE) as a vehicle for regional counterterrorism cooperation.
I can assure you that the United States makes great efforts toward maintaining the international coalition against terrorism and has no desire to fight terrorists unilaterally. Counterterrorism is a team activity with each nation playing its part. We are here this week to share our experience and to learn more about the vulnerabilities here in hopes that we can build capacity to fight terrorism. We want to do so in conjunction with CARICOM and CICTE, and we want to undertake this partnership under the framework of the Third Border Initiative to do it in a sustainable fashion. I look forward to returning to the Caribbean in coming months to continue this discussion and to identify key areas in which we can make our security cooperation concrete and effective. Thank you very much for coming today, and I now have time to take a few of your questions.