Liberian Ambassador to the United States Unveils Plans, Speaks On U.S.-Liberia Diplomatic Ties

Liberian Ambassador to the United States Unveils Plans, Speaks On U.S.-Liberia Diplomatic Ties
The new Liberian Ambassador to the United States of America, His Excellency Milton Nathaniel Barnes, says his focus will be to build on the excellent goodwill that Liberia now enjoys from Washington so that the country will see more incremental benefits come to it.

 ďI think there are an incredible amount of goodwill in the U.S. at all levels of government, particularly the Congress and the Executive. Our President enjoys an incredible amount of support from the present White House and there is a very strong commitment and goodwill out of both Houses of the Congress and both political parties. So we need to make sure that we leverage that to the very best of our abilities so we do get these benefits.Ē

 Speaking with journalists at the Bureau of Public Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Monrovia before being commissioned by Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on August 28, 2008, Ambassador Barnes who succeeds Charles Minor said he intends to also include all the major allies and friends in the US to become more actively involved in Liberia. ďOne of the items weíre developing in my strategic plan is improving the benefits that we derive from our relationship from the U.S.Ē said Nathaniel Barnes, Liberia Ambassador accredited to the United States.

 Speaking on his tenure at the United Nations at Liberia Permanent Representative and Ambassador, Barnes said for him it was the most enriching and rewarding personal experience. He said while at the UN, he was able to contribute to the lifting of the sanctions, which is significant for this government.  ďMost importantly, being able to play a small role in lifting the image of our country from that of a rogue, lawless nation to one that has been an emerging leader in several key areas globally, itís very satisfying. I like to think that I played a major role in that using a matter of building relationships to do that,Ē Ambassador Barnes noted.

 Another achievement he mentioned was establishing new bilateral friends with the focus of enhancing Liberiaís interests. He cited Cuba who have awarded 13 scholarships to Liberians to study in various disciplines and has also agreed to provide the Liberian Government with 50 Cuban doctors to assist Liberia dire health care delivery system. Here are excerpts from the interview.

 Question:  You were appointed Ambassador & Permanent Representative to the United Nations in May 2006. Upon assuming that position, you made a statement which in part said, "The thrust of our efforts here at the United Nations will be rebuilding our traditional relationships and forging new ones on a foundation of trust, understanding and mutual respect.Ē  You also noted that your primary focus will be how we utilize these mutually beneficial relationships to serve Liberia's economic, social and political interest.  Reflecting, two and a half years on, where are we?

 AMBASSADOR BARNES: Very good. Let me give you a little background as to the motivation behind that statement. As you know we were coming out of a civil war being in a post-conflict environment and unfortunately for our country we did not enjoy very good credibility and/or reputation.  For many years Liberia was being perceived as a rogue-state, stateless and lawless country.

  As I said itís not just talk, talk, talk. These are very difficult times and in my own personal opinion, this government is the real transition government. This is the real transition for Liberia." We had to work very hard to change that perception and the basis of that statement was to attempt to do that in order for us to change that perception of Liberia being a lawless country. Being a rebel state we had to begin to work on relationships. Of course, there are traditional relationships that had been damaged so we had to work to build them; but then we also had to work to establish and expand new ones in this era of globalization where the world is becoming a smaller place. You have to make more friends to be able to survive.

 Now with reference to how well weíve done, I am very pleased and proud to say that I think we made excellent leeway. We re-established very strong ties with our traditional partners. Weíve established very good relationships with new ones.  The thrust of this particular strategy was to try to focus on establishing personal relationships with the various representatives. For example members of the Security Council Ė all 15 members; we attempted to establish personal relationships with each of them so when decisions affecting Liberia were being made, we could have access to the various decision makers and stakeholders. That worked very well.

 In the process of being at the UN, we established bilateral relations with five new countries including the Republic of Iceland, St Vincent & The Grenadines, The Eastern Republic of Uruguay, Republic of Malta and the Republic of Cuba which again was our attempt to reach out and establish new friendships. Itís gone a long way in terms of elevating ourselves from the very low perception globally to one where I think Liberia is being perceived as an emerging leader in several areas globally. I can think of three right off my head. The first one is we are seen as an emerging leader in the matter of womenís issues. Of course I think that manifests in the fact that our president is a woman; but the issue of womenís rights and children rights on Liberia is perceived globally now as an emerging leader on the continent and globally.

The other area is the matter of human rights. You saw and witnessed the presidentís utterances at the summit in Egypt and later on southern Africa concerning the matter in Zimbabwe Ė a very courageous and brave thing to do. Again, it clearly signaled our leadership role in the matter of human rights. The third area which is very important is the matter of control of small arms and light weapons. Being a country emerging out of a conflict where there was a proliferation of small arms and light weapons I think it behooves Liberia to take the leadership role and cutting edge approach to the control and curb of small arms and light weapons. So itís been a very difficult task; but I think weíve made excellent leeway and itís been very rewarding.

 Question:  When you assumed the position at the United Nations, Liberia had a very serious problem especially as it related to sanctions on timber and diamonds. You were able to prevail on the Security Council to have these sanctions lifted; diamonds in part pending a review.

 AMBASSADOR BARNES: The first thing we had to do was develop a strategy on how we deal with this and we adopted a strategy, of course with appropriate direction from our capital Ė The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidentís Office.  The strategy basically was basically to understand the justification behind the sanctions and then develop a process of cooperating to do what was needed to be done to have the sanctions lifted. We started that and we then began to reach out and embrace those stakeholders that were involved in the implementation of the sanctions and begin to work very closely with them in a cooperatively and collaborative manner so that we would meet all of their requirements to have the sanctions lifted.

  "Again we work with the committee in a collaborative way; again keeping in the forefront of our minds and continuously reminding them that the sanctions were supposed to be corrective not punitive and once these individuals have met all the corrective requisites then itís time to lift it and they should not be punished."  You know the thing to keep in the forefront of our minds was that the sanctions were established as a corrective measure not a punitive measure. So what we had to do was work with those people Ė Security Council, the Sanctions Committee and the Panel of Experts Ė to try to find what needed to be done, then to develop and implement those corrective actions. So once we began to do that, for example the Kimberley Process, and then begin to not only understand and implement them but take ownership of them. We then began to show them and work with them in a collaborative and cooperative manner went a long way to doing that. As we began to realize that we have met these particular requirements, we then began to say to them, now weíve done this can you begin to consider removal.

 The other key fact is building relationships as I mentioned which meant that my role at the UN and the whole process was to constantly keep in touch with the key players, stakeholders, members of the Security Council, and the Sanctions Committee to inform them and update them and keep them aware of the progress we were making so by the time decision came before they went into session, we more or less had a very good idea as to what the outcome would be. But it was a matter of first of all accepting what the issues were and then trying to find a way to address and work towards resolution in a cooperative manner.

 Question:  I know the sanctions on diamonds were partially lifted by the Security Council pending a review at some point in the future. Whatís the situation now as it relates to that?

 AMBASSADOR BARNES: I think as we are going itís a good thing. As a matter of fact if you recall even as the sanctions were lifted the government unilaterally left a moratorium until we were sure that we would be able to do what needed to be done. We wholeheartedly accepted the matter of monitoring because it would allow us to self-monitor. I think there have been several processes of monitoring and weíre still making a passing grade vis-ŗ-vis the sanctions on diamonds and the sanctions on timber.
Question:   Another component of the sanctions were those on persons, specifically the travel ban and assets freeze on the former Liberian President Charles Taylor and his associates. Whatís the situation now as it relates to that?

 AMBASSADOR BARNES: Again, the Sanctions Committee has created a process where each individual must now apply to a focal point and then they are looked at on a case by case basis. You may be aware that in recent times as many as four people have been removed from the list.

 Question:  : Who were they?

AMBASSADOR BARNES: Grace Minor, Gerald Cooper, Gabriel Doe, Wissey Dennis, and there was a fifth whose name I donít recall right now. Again we work with the committee in a collaborative way; again keeping in the forefront of our minds and continuously reminding them that the sanctions were supposed to be corrective not punitive and once these individuals have met all the corrective requisites then itís time to lift it and they should not be punished. So itís done on a case by case basis.
 
Question:  : Summing up your tenure at the United Nations, what would you say is the legacy that youíll be leaving behind in the interest of Liberia.

 AMBASSADOR BARNES: First of all, my little over two years at the UN has been one of the most enriching and rewarding personal experience for me in terms of my own personal professional growth. You know nations send their best and their brightest to the UN. So Iíve been sort of interacting and talking to, negotiating and interfacing with some very very bright people globally. Itís been personally a very rewarding experience for me. So personally Iíve gotten quite a bit of personal satisfaction out of being there. With reference to the contributions weíve made, our contribution towards the lifting of the sanctions, we think were significant. Most importantly, being able to play a small role in lifting the image of our country from that of a rogue, lawless nation to one that has been an emerging leader in several key areas globally, itís very satisfying. I like to think that I played a major role in that using a matter of building relationships to do that.

 Establishing new bilateral friends and we did so with the focus that friendship is good but how will these friendships with so many nations enhance Liberiaís interest. The other thing is Iím also the Ambassador accredited to Cuba. We were able to make some differences. We went and presented our credentials to Havana and while we were there we were able to get involved with the Cuban Government where weíve done a joint Communiquť where they have agreed to provide initially 13 scholarships for Liberian students in several areas Ė Agriculture, Medical Technology, Civil Engineering, Sports Management, amongst others. Theyíve also agreed to provide 50 Cuban doctors. I consider that an important contribution because you as I know the dire need for health care delivery in Liberia. But itís been a lot of things and I can only highlight a few. However, it has been a very rewarding and enriching experience for me.

Question:  :  I was about to discuss bilateral relations that youíve established with other countries including Republic of Iceland, St Vincent & The Grenadines, The Eastern Republic of Uruguay, Republic of Malta; what benefits dose Liberia hope to achieve from each country?

AMBASSADOR BARNES: Well, we looked at each one and each time because of our relationship they requested diplomatic relationship. With the Republic of Iceland, it is world renowned, a premier nation for fishing. We have a 350 mile sea coast. We had a vibrant fishing industry in Liberia. So weíre looking to collaborate with the Government of Iceland as a result of the relationship that weíve established our Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Chris Toe has been to Iceland to discuss the matter of how we can work collaboratively and how they can get some sort of bilateral assistance from the Government of Iceland in developing our fishing industry. With The Eastern Republic of Uruguay itís a matter of agriculture. They have excelled there also. With St Vincent & The Grenadines and Malta, itís tourism. So weíre always looking at the angle of how these relationships meet the interest of Liberia.

 Question:  As you depart the United Nations for your new assignment in Washington as Liberiaís new Ambassador to the United States, could you share a gist of your turning over notes that youíll be leaving for you successor?

 AMBASSADOR BARNES: You know, Iím a firm believer that whenever you inherit a job, one should always make an attempt to make that job better so when they leave itís a better environment, itís a more professional, more meaningful workplace and itís a more effective station that youíre leaving.I sincerely hope and Iím confident that my successor will strive to do the same thing; at worse maintain what is established; at best improve on it. Iím proud with what weíve done. Weíre looking forward to the new challenges.

 When I do write my turning over notes, there are several very important areas that we will focus on. (1) the need to develop, maintain, build and keep relationships; I intend to highlight those weíve worked on and those that show very strong promise, those that need to be developed some more and those that need to be initiated. I intend to inform him about our progress with the UN Security Council. There is a matter of our leadership on the small arms and light weapons program; the matter of MDG-3, womenís issues. Those things Iíll focus on.  Weíve also started a program at the Mission, trying to integrate Liberia Diaspora for investment. I intend to include that in my turning over notes because I like to work, while in DC, collaboratively with the Ambassador and Permanent Representative in New York to enhance that particular program. There are other matters. You know that weíve relocated our premises, and there may be the option to purchase the space weíre occupying now; those are administrative things. The other thing that I think would be very important is to encourage and admonish my successor to try to build better human resources. There is a need to re-staff and rotate the existing staff, improve the staff; pay people better and weíve been able to accomplish some of those.

 Question:  : Now, letís move on to your new position as Ambassador-designate to the United States of America. I know youíve been following the trend of what has been going on at the Embassy over the last few years. What would you say are some of those challenges youíll be meeting as you assume that position?

 AMBASSADOR BARNES: There are certainly challenges. I think there are different challenges then the United Nations. So we need to be more focus because this is a bilateral relationship. America being our oldest and best ally, I think we need to make sure we find ways to take that relationship to another level so that we can benefit more from that relationship. At this point in time, regardless of the partisan politics in the US, whether Democrats or Republicans thatís in power, I think there is excellent goodwill towards Liberia. So what Iím going to focus on is how we build on that goodwill and take it to the next level so that we can see more incremental benefits coming to Liberia.

 Question:  : During your confirmation hearing, I heard you talking about capacity of the local staff at the Embassy and plan to reorganize and improve their potential.

 AMBASSADOR BARNES: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is aggressively working on a rotation process. There have been people at all of Liberiaís Missions globally that have been in one job sometimes 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. I think on average, four or five years is what is expected. The Ministry has developed and is about to implement a plan as we speak that will begin this rotational process immediately. So I expect that there will be some changes at the diplomatic level at the embassy and Iím hoping that these people that will be coming will be able to hit the ground running so that weíll start with a new fresh team. What I intend to do immediately upon presenting my credentials and assuming my new position should I get confirmation from the Senate is to develop a three-year strategic plan. Identify what our objectives are;

 Question:  : And what are they?

AMBASSADOR BARNES: Improving the benefits that we derive from our relationship from the US. As I mentioned to you, I think there is an incredible amount of goodwill in the US at all levels of government Ė all three branches of the government Ė particularly the Congress and the Executive. Our President enjoys an incredible amount of support from the present White House and there is a very strong commitment and goodwill out of both Houses of the Congress and both political parties. So we need to make sure that we leverage that to the very best of our abilities so we do get these benefits. Thatís one item weíre going to be developing in that strategic plan. What are our objectives?

 You know thereís a philosophy that has driven my personal life and that is what do you want; what do you need to do to get and are you prepared to do those things that you need to do to get it? So our strategic plan will focus around that basic philosophy and then we intend to include all of our major allies, friends in the US.  For example, the organization, Friends of Liberia formed by former Peace Corps Volunteers are an incredible source of support for Liberia. We intend to leverage those kinds of people. They have support in Congress; they have political power. We intend to encourage the Liberia Diaspora to be more actively involved in Liberia. You know the matter of remittances is good but the phenomenon of remittances is interesting because they send money and itís consumed immediately. Thereís no savings or investment in those remittances. We need to find out a mechanism that will encourage investment by Liberians in the Diaspora because when Liberians invest in Liberia it sends a good signal to others.  People will if Liberians are prepared to invest in their own country then it must be safe.  We are thinking about programs we intend to implement and while my predecessors have done a good and credible job in building these relationships, weíre going to take that foundation to the next level hopefully.

 Question: :I know there are a number of Consulates around the United States, how are you going to handle them?

 AMBASSADOR BARNES: There is a serious review going on right now on all of the Honorary Consuls, Consul Generals, and Consulates. Right now, Iím not very sure but I think that two or three consulates will look at them and thatís part of my strategic plan. My basic approach is an entrepreneur approach. I intend to look at the entire Liberian Embassy in the US; how it operates and how we can implement processes to make it more efficient.

 Question:  Is there a final word?
 
AMBASSADOR BARNES: I just want to encourage Liberians to pray for me because these are very difficult and challenging opportunities that we have; but I will do my best. No one is perfect. Iím not perfect. I look to building a team. The Washington, D.C. posting will be second to none and I pray that I will get the support and continue to receive the support that Iíve gotten from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from the Presidentís Office that I enjoyed while I was at the UN and Iím really looking forward to it. "I just want to encourage Liberians to pray for me because these are very difficult and challenging opportunities that we have; but I will do my best. No one is perfect. Iím not perfect. I look to building a team. The Washington, D.C. posting will be second to none."