'Dudus will not hurt ties'
Barbara Ellington and Arthur Hall, Staff Reporters
Isiah Parnell, the United States chargé d'affaires to Jamaica, is expressing confidence that the ties that bind Kingston and Washington will remain strong despite the current impasse over the request for the extradition of west Kingston strongman Christopher 'Dudus' Coke.
In his first full-length interview since taking office in Jamaica seven months ago, Parnell stayed away from any direct comment on the extradition request and the imbroglio it has spawned.
But there was no getting away from a comment on the relationship between the two states, and Parnell agreed with Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Ken Baugh, who last week told Parliament's Standing Finance Committee that the relationship between Jamaica and the US remains firm.
"As far as I am concerned, the overall relationship with us and the US remains the same," Baugh had said.
That position was underscored by Parnell: "We have tried to encourage a big-picture approach to looking at US-Jamaica relations. We think that with such an approach, you will see a relationship that is strong, has a number of ongoing mutual programmes and, in the vast majority of issues with which we partner, there is a great deal of cooperation."
He added: "In 100 per cent of the things we do, there is mutual respect about the ways in which we deal with each other in both the easy and the difficult issues."
The difficult issues between the two states are headed by the Dudus affair with Washington arguing that the Jamaican Government has been provided with sufficient information to allow the justice minister, Dorothy Lightbourne, to sign the extradition request and allow the courts to decide if Coke is to be sent to the US to answer gun and drug charges.
However, Kingston has countered with claims that a wiretap - which is a key part of America's case - was obtained in breach of the laws and would not be admissible in court.
Against that background, Prime Minister Bruce Golding's administration has demanded that the US authorities provide better information before the extradition request can be considered.
Golding also announced last week that Lightbourne would be going to court to seek a declaration on her obligations before signing extradition orders.
That is unlikely to either settle the impasse or ease the tension between the traditionally close allies, but Parnell said he has high regard for the Jamaicans in the ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs.
"The fact is that both here and in other countries, you sometimes encounter difficult issues," said Parnell.
"As friends, we are working on ways to handle difficult issues in a way that both respects outstanding treaties that exist between our nations and a nation's right and ability to discuss openly how you move forward when dealing with issues when there is sometimes some contention," he added.
Parnell could provide no news on when the US would appoint a new ambassador to Jamaica.
That office has been vacant for more than a year since Ambassador Brenda LaGrange Johnson ended her tour of duty.
See Sunday's Outlook Magazine for the full interview with the United States chargé d'affaires.