Diplomacy I “This will be the largest diplomatic facility in the country”: US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Verma

1 juin 2023, 22:00


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Diplomacy I “This will be the largest diplomatic facility in the country”: US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Verma

US Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Richard Verma, left Mauritius yesterday, concluding the first leg of a regional whirlwind tour that will take him to Comoros and Seychelles next. Verma is the highest-ranking state department official to visit Comoros and the most senior US diplomat to visit either Mauritius or Seychelles in over two decades.

During his brief visit to Mauritius, Verma met with Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, Deputy Prime Minister Steven Obeegadoo, and President Prithvirasing Roopun. He also met with Leader of the Opposition Xavier-Luc Duval, other opposition parties, and the Secretary-General of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, Salman Al Farisi. The US has been a dialogue partner with the IORA since November 2012. In Comoros, Verma is scheduled to meet with President and current African Union Chairman Azali Assoumani, and in Seychelles, he will meet President Wavel Ramkalawan.

During his stay in Mauritius, Verma praised Mauritius’ democratic credentials, stating that the country “can serve as a role model for other African countries.” He also highlighted Mauritius’ current role as an invitee at the G20, where it contributes to maintaining security, combating transnational crime, and addressing illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing in the region. “Together, the US and Mauritius are partnering to create a free, open, and prosperous world,” Verma said.

The deputy secretary of state participated in a ground-breaking ceremony to build a new $300 million embassy complex in Mauritius. “This is the largest US investment in Mauritius ever,” Verma added. “It will also be the largest diplomatic facility in the country.” Verma pointed out that the new expanded facility demonstrates the deepening bilateral relationship between Port Louis and Washington, D.C.

Chagos, AGOA, and Human Rights

Referring to the ongoing discussions between Mauritius and the UK, as well as the future of the US military base on Diego Garcia, Verma stated that he covered this issue in talks with Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth. “We discussed a range of issues, including Chagos and Diego Garcia, and the importance of the naval facility for the US. We understand that a fourth round of talks between the UK and Mauritius will be taking place this week,” he said. “The issue did come up, and we had a good and honest dialogue about it.” However, when asked about specifics regarding these talks, including the prospect of a lease agreement between Washington, D.C. and Port Louis for the continued use of Diego Garcia (Mauritius has repeatedly expressed its willingness to sign a 99-year lease with the US), Verma replied that the US was “not at the table in these discussions” and therefore did not specifically bring up these issues in his exchanges with the Mauritian government. “We have a significant interest in the region to uphold a rules-based order, open sea-lanes of communication, and a regional architecture based on international law,” he added. Regarding a bilateral trade agreement, which has stalled since 2006 due to the status of Chagos, Verma said that the US government was keen on re-engaging with Mauritius on that matter.

Regarding the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which comes up for renewal in 2025, and the question of whether Mauritius would still qualify to benefit from that agreement, the deputy secretary of state stated that it was up to the US Congress to decide. “Members of Congress know how important it is for trade and investment in the region... we still have a fair amount of time to work on it.” When asked about the US State Department’s latest human rights report for Mauritius, which highlighted issues such as arbitrary arrests, restrictions on free expression and the media, and a lack of prosecutions for corruption by senior government officials, Verma said that he had discussed the report, but that the report itself “is shared as friends and partners.”