U.S., Haiti Leadership Committed To Victims' Needs

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be among the many voices calling for better coordination of international efforts to rebuild Haiti at a donors conference in Montreal next week. Cheryl Mills is the State Department's point person on Haiti. Mills tells Renee Montagne that she has been to Haiti twice in the last week to work with President Rene Preval and other officials.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.

When she travels to a donor conference in Montreal next week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be among the many voices calling for better coordination of international efforts to rebuild Haiti. To find out what the U.S. has been able to do so far, we turn to Secretary Clintons point person on Haiti, her chief of staff Cheryl Mills. Mills has been to Haiti twice in the last week to work with President Rene Preval and other officials.

Ms. CHERYL MILLS (Chief of Staff, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton): The first time I was down, I did meet with Secretary Clinton, with President Preval. He had very specific goals for what he wanted to see for his country in this time. Our ambassador on the ground is constantly in touch with the president and the prime minister and their teams.

And so I think one of the things that is nice about the relationship that has developed is we have very clear lines of communication and that has been, I think, fortunate for this situation.

MONTAGNE: Well, there is the one, though, you know, issue there with the president. He doesnt seem to be showing much leadership directly to his people. There have been complaints, weve been reporting on, by Haitians saying they havent seen their president. They havent seen their leaders.

Ms. MILLS: Well, I know President Preval not only spoke publicly with Secretary Clinton when she was there, but also gave an interview to CNN. The reality is in this challenging situation it is a very difficult moment for everyone. And I think what everyone needs in this moment is to know that their leadership is committed to making sure that the needs that they have are actually being met. Thats something President Preval is doing.

MONTAGNE: Well, let me just, though, say something. I mean, some part of being a president of a country is showing that you're leading the people. I mean, meeting with the secretary of state and speaking on CNN doesnt seem to be a substitute, many would say, for, you know, wading in, going out amongst the people.

Ms. MILLS: Well, I think we obviously have our own definition of how we think of leadership and what our politicians do and how they do that. President Preval has not always been the most he doesnt share the same qualities that we think of in our traditional politicians here in the United States, but his commitment is really to getting things done, at least as I have observed.

He had no lack of clarity as to what were the first priorities. Subsequently, they meet at 8 a.m. every day. Our teams and other teams meet with the prime minister who sets the daily priorities for what needs to be addressed for Haiti and the Haitian people to ensure that theyre getting the food, the supplies and other things that are going to be necessary to sustain them and their country in this period of challenge.

MONTAGNE: During President Bill Clintons administration, the U.S. sent in troops to restore Haitis then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after he was ousted in a coup. Some years later in his - in the early 2000s, he was, with the backing of the U.S. and help of the U.S., pushed once again into exile. Now he has said, pretty straightforwardly, that he wants to return to Haiti. What is the State Departments position on that?

Ms. MILLS: Well, I think our position right now is how do we provide the most assistance for rescue and relief of the individuals who are there, how do we support the government that is in power. Were not focused on what Aristide is doing. Were focused on how do we help the Haitian people.

MONTAGNE: Secretary Clinton went out of her way to reassure the Haitian people that, one, the U.S. is not an occupying force, and two, the U.S. is there for the long term. In practical terms, what do those two things mean?

Ms. MILLS: Well, the first is quite simple. We are deploying our military to assist in a disaster and rescue operation. They are not there for any other reason.

MONTAGNE: And...

Ms. MILLS: In terms of being there for the long term, I think we are invested in the success of Haiti and the success of the Haitian people. And our goal is to be an effective international partner in looking at the country-led plans that they have and stepping in to provide the kind of assistance that we can that ultimately will lead them to be self-sustaining. Thats the kind of partnership we spoke about before the earthquake. Thats the kind of partnership were going to have even after it.

MONTAGNE: Cheryl Mills is Secretary Clintons chief of staff, now overseeing U.S. efforts in Haiti for the State Department.

Thank you very much.

Ms. MILLS: Thank you so much.

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