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US-Bermuda assistance pact is ‘unique’, says top diplomat

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Karen Grissette, the US Consul-General (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

An agreement in which the United States would assist Bermuda directly in the event of a security threat is “unique”, according to the US Consul-General.

And talks about how the US would be able to help could include tabletop scenario exercises, Karen Grissette told The Royal Gazette.

She said the agreement between the US, Bermuda and Britain provided a framework for co-operation in the event of a security threat or serious risk to public health or safety in Bermuda.

Ms Grissette said: “In short, if a rapid response was requested of the United States, and if Bermuda wanted that, the UK – in consultation with Bermuda – would be able to request immediate assistance from the United States.”

She added that the form of help would be dependent on the threat that arose.

Ms Grissette said: “These kinds of arrangements require regular consultation, exercises – whether that’s tabletop exercises or actual live exercises – so that all the parties can work through questions that come up and talk about different scenarios, because it would depend what type of emergency we are talking about.

“That’s where exercise planners, which we have a lot of in the United States, can think about and posit different scenarios and then give everybody a chance to work through and look at the MOU and see, does this make sense? Is everybody prepared to use such an MOU?”

Ms Grissette said: “We have signed the MOU and we are talking about a tabletop exercise.

“It hasn’t been officially planned … all sides are interested in exercising this MOU with a table top, so that would mean we don’t actually bring troops in per se but we would have exercise planners and responsible parties to talk about what if ‘X’ happened, how would we respond, and what would be the roles and what would be the issues that might come up.”

Ms Grissette said potential risks or threats were not defined in the agreement and “historical events have taught us that it’s difficult to know what the next crisis will be”.

She added: “Covid, I think, taught us that it’s hard to know what to plan for but we do our best in exercises and in crisis planning.”

Ms Grissette explained: “This is unique and part of the reason that it’s unique is the US proximity to Bermuda.

“The UK has the capability to provide the same response, without question, but the United States is just geographically much closer.

“If there was something that required a very fast response, and the 500 miles between us meant that the UK wanted that response and Bermuda wanted that response, we could activate it.

“I think for anything more complex, certainly the UK would be able to respond and has similar capabilities to be able to respond."

Karen Grissette, the US Consul General (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Royal Gazette asked if Russia’s war against Ukraine, which has been condemned “in the strongest possible terms” by Nato, was expected to lead to US military presence in Bermuda.

Ms Grissette said: “America’s goal, with regards to that situation, is straightforward: we want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign, prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.

“As the Ukrainian president has said, ultimately the war will only definitively end through diplomacy, so the United States has moved to send Ukraine a significant amount of weaponry and ammunition, so that it can both fight on the battlefield and also be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.

“As long as the United States and our allies are not attacked, we will not be directly engaged in this conflict. We don’t seek a war between Nato and Russia by any means – not by sending American troops to fight in Ukraine, so we’re not seeking to be directly engaged in this conflict.”

The US Consul-General marked her first anniversary in the post this month.

She said: “I certainly was very excited to learn that I would be coming to Bermuda.

“I still remember flying in. What a beautiful sight that I saw beneath me. That has been matched by the people of Bermuda, for sure, who have been kind and welcoming both to me and to my family.”

Ms Grissette explained that the mission of the US consulate was to protect US citizens and help them in response to emergencies, as well as to “deepen the strong economic and cultural ties” between two countries.

She added that the consulate’s involvement in Bermuda covered several sectors including law enforcement, border security, environmental sustainability and climate change as well as education.

Educational opportunities thanks to US and Bermuda ties

Karen Grissette, the US Consul-General, said she was passionate about higher education.

She explained: “One particularly important partnership that has come about over the past year has been between Arizona State University and BIOS.

“The fact that an American university is coming, or basically is here now, through its partnership with BIOS and its merger with BIOS is really significant.

“I’ve spoken with the Premier, with the Minister of Education and with other ministers about what this means, and also with Bermuda College.

“It’s a great opportunity for partnership both at BIOS but also with Bermuda College in terms of looking at potentially a new accreditation agreement and other potential partnerships in education, also K through 12 education and beyond.”

Ms Grissette, who is a third of the way into her three-year term in Bermuda, hopes to be able to boost learning opportunities for Bermudians when Nasa contractors and employees are on the island.

She added: “The Artemis missions are going to be increasing in number. Nasa overall is ramping up.

“As Artemis looks to putting the first woman and person of colour on the Moon and then aiming for Mars, Bermuda has a role in that through the tracking station [at Cooper’s Island] and through our engagement.”

Ms Grissette said: “Primary education also is a passion of mine and, I think, critically important.”

She added: “We are eager to engage with schools. I have books to donate to schools, happy to read to students and to share a passion for literacy."

Ms Grissette said that a highlight so far was her focus on security partnerships, which also included visits and fisheries enforcement work by US Coast Guard ships.

She said that talks were taking place about next steps on work to patrol common mid-Atlantic waters outside exclusive economic zones.

“The intelligence sharing and the interoperability of working together … is absolutely beneficial to both the United States, to Bermuda and to the UK,” she said.

“I’m eager to support it if there’s a desire on all sides for it to continue.”

Working together to help travellers during the Covid-19 pandemic

Karen Grissette, the US Consul-General, said the consulate had worked closely with the Ministry of Health – and with Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, and others – to help travellers since the onset.

She added: “I just want to applaud their efforts and their work.

“We work very closely with the ministry’s social workers who work with individual cases, so particularly this comes into play when they’re Americans here on vacation who end up having a positive test and then they’re staying longer than they had anticipated staying and they might need some assistance.”

She added: “It’s also been something we have worked on when Bermudians would like to travel to the United States but they’re not vaccinated.

“There’s an … exception process that comes through us, through the consulate, and we work closely with the Ministry of Health.

“The vast majority of those requests for exceptions to our vaccination requirement have been granted when those travellers are seeking to go to the US, for example, for medical emergencies or to accompany their family for medical emergencies.”

Ms Grissette added that another high point was her public engagement work, which included building on ”well-established relationships“ between the consulate and the Bermuda Government as well as non-governmental organisations and people involved in education.

She also highlighted “close collaboration” with the international business community.

“We work with the trade organisations as well as individual companies on any of their concerns or priorities and also we’ve been very happy to celebrate their internships and scholarships for Bermudian students particularly who have chosen to study in the United States,” she said.

Ms Grissette said: “The fact that Bermudians can travel to the United States without a visa is rare in the world and is a huge benefit to Bermudians.

“That’s a wonderful benefit that means that young people know about the United States, know about the cultural opportunities there and already many people have ties and family in the United States, many young Bermudians go to boarding school in the US and also choose the United States for higher education.”

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Published July 26, 2022 at 7:51 am (Updated July 26, 2022 at 7:51 am)

US-Bermuda assistance pact is ‘unique’, says top diplomat

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