CARIBBEAN: – The administration in “is very much determined to reengage with the Caribbean” after what one prime minister described as “a retreat on some security issues”.

“I must admit that there was a time, shortly after the preoccupation of the of America with the invasion of Iraq, there appeared to have been a retreat from some security issues with us,” Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of and the () said on Tuesday.

He was speaking in before he and Dr. Brent Hardt, Chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Barbados, co-signed an agreement that allows the United States to board SVG-registered vessels suspected of transporting weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and related materials.

“I am happy to say that that retreat has come to an end and we are now seeing some advance in this cooperation,” Gonsalves said.

Hardt said Washington has reflected it renewed commitment to the Caribbean with the recent visits to the region of Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, Attorney General , and Secretary of State .

He said Clinton has spoken of the need to “engage more vigorously with the Caribbean this year”.

The Barbados-based diplomat said the United States had increased its Caribbean Basin Initiative budget for 2010 from US$30 million to US$45 million and US$70 million has been allocated for 2011, pending Congress approval.

“One of the critical things I would like to note about this is that it’s not what we call traditional security assistance – support to police forces, coastguards – although there is plenty of that. But, we also understand the problems of the region have deep roots in social issues and economic issues,” Hardt said. (Follow I Witness-News on Facebook)

He further said the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was developing programmes to teach young people education and employment skills that would lead to better prospects.

The U.S. wants to partner with the Caribbean on issues relating to the , climates change, health and , Hart said, adding that countries of the region recently sign onto a five-year US$100 million HIV programme.

“We are engaging in many ways and today’s agreement is one more step, one more reflection of the close security cooperation that we have enjoyed with St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Hardt said.

Gonsalves noted the differences between SVG, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados and the United Sates after they signed and ratified Rome Statute establishing the in 2002.

This was done to the displeasure of the United States, which wanted nations to sign an Article 98 Waiver, granting U.S. citizens certain immunities from the international tribunal.

The U.S., in an attempt to pressure Caribbean nations to support its position, threatened and subsequently withdrew military aid from the countries that indicated intentions to, or signed and ratified the Rome Statute.

“President Obama’s presidency has put an end to that kind of a demand and more resources are opened up. Because there were certain restrictions placed on resources coming to us,” Gonsalves said.

He also noted that the Caribbean Community has intermittently been at odds with Washington on issues ranging relating to .

“Those differences are not of a kind to imperil our relationship. Our relationships are too fundamental, two strong, for those differences to shake the basic strengths of those relations…. And we approach our work with honesty and closeness and friendship and long may they continue,” Gonsalves said.’