Reporting from Washington — President Obama pledged to stand by Haiti as it recovered from its devastating earthquake, assuring the stricken nation's president today that the U.S. would not turn its back on neighbors in a time of need.
The situation on the ground "remains dire," Obama said after a morning meeting with President Rene Preval, noting that many Haitians were still in desperate need of shelter, food and medicine as the spring rainy season approached.
"That's why, even as the U.S. military responsibly hands off relief functions to our Haitian and international partners, America's commitment to Haiti's recovery and reconstruction must endure and will endure, Obama said, standing side by side with Preval in the Rose Garden.
"This pledge is one that I made at the beginning of this crisis," he said, "and I intend for America to keep our pledge. America will be your partner in the recovery and reconstruction effort."
Preval in turn thanked Obama and the American people "not only for the material aid, but also for the moral support, the psychological support."
Preval is visiting Washington this week in an appeal for ongoing support from the U.S. and other international forces. Haitians are only beginning to dig their way out from the devastation of the earthquake, which killed more than 200,000 people and crumbled the country's infrastructure, both physical and governmental.
Preval will meet with administration officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to seek support for reconstruction. Although U.S. officials offer sympathy and pledge ongoing commitment, Haitians are interested in more specific talks about how international aid will be administered.
In a joint appearance, Obama praised the Haitian leadership as well as the work of volunteers and of local, state and federal relief forces. The appearance by Obama and Preval was watched by members of Congress and by state and local officials who sent help to Haiti. Also present were officials from the State Department and other federal agencies involved in the humanitarian effort.
"Even as you and other Haitian leaders have endured your personal tragedies -- losing your own homes, your loved ones -- you have carried on with great courage and determination," Obama told Preval.
Obama did not spell out specifically what the U.S. was willing to do next or what authority it might want to retain over the expenditure of aid funds. He alluded to upcoming talks among members of the international community.
"The international donors conference at the United Nations later this month will be an opportunity, an important opportunity, for all parties," Obama said, saying short-term aid must be coupled with "Haiti's capacity to deliver basic services and provide for the Haitian people over the long term."