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Last updated: 18 June, 2007 - Published 22:06 GMT
 
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Caribbean leaders meet US Secretary of State
 
Bush and Condi
President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet Caribbean leaders this week.
Caricom leaders have begun a series of high level meetings in washington with US officials.

Today (Tuesday) they meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in preparartions for a summit with President Bush on Wednesday.

Talks are also scheduled with members of the US Congress and representatives of the Caribbean diaspora in America.

Caricom officials have said that the aim of the meetings is to "strengthen and deepen" ties with Washington - which some regional leaders and commentators have lamented had "worn thin."

While trade and other bilateral issues are expected to play a key part in the talks, security - primarily the uncovering of an alleged plot by Caribbean nationals to bomb New York's JFK airport - is expected to dominate.

Outcome

However some observers are skeptical of what this week's talks are likely to yield.

Former Antigua and Barbuda ambassador Sir Ron Sanders, cautions that "expectations should not be raised too high."

"President Bush is now an outgoing lame-duck president and there's not going to any great initiative from him on behalf of the Caribbean," he told BBC Caribbean.

Sir Ron feels sensitising White House staff to issues that are crucial to the region and interacting with Congressmen would be more productive.

He also also strongly recommends tapping into the Caribbean diaspora in the US to create an effective lobby on behalf of the region.

 Expectations should not be raised too high.
 
Sir Ron Sanders, former Caribbean diplomat

Trade will be a crucial aspect of the talks, especially on tourism.

Tourism

The US Department of Homeland Security has had to give more time to Americans travelling to the Caribbean, Canada Mexico and Bermuda to get their US passports.

They now have until September.

But regional tourism executives, who've been meeting in Miami, say the temporary reprieve is not enough.

They're hoping to take their message to Washington, where Caribbean leaders will be meeting over the next few days.

They want Americans to be able to travel to the Caribbean passport free right up to mid-2009, when the measures come in for everyone, including cruise-ship passengers.

Tourism executives had given up on the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which from the American point of view, seeks to secure their borders.

At the moment Americans can come and go to number of Caribbean countries like the Bahamas, without passports.

Caribbean tourism executives like that ease of travel.

They figure that the bureaucratic hassle of getting passports will cause many to stay in the United States, keeping their dollars with them.

In this they were backed up by a study from the World Travel and Tourism Council, which measured the impact at more than 2 and a half billion US dollars and 186-thousand jobs.

 
 
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