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Obama, Haitian President Discuss Earthquake Relief Efforts

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Haiti's President Rene Preval has discussed his country's earthquake recovery and economic needs with President Barack Obama in a meeting at the White House.  It was President Obama's first meeting with the Haitian leader.

Nearly two months after a massive earthquake devastated Haiti, President Preval used his visit to Washington to outline what he would like to see the United States and the world provide for recovery and reconstruction.

At a White House Rose Garden event with President Barack Obama, the Haitian leader said at the top of his list is protection of the homeless and preparations for the rainy season.

President Preval thanked Americans for the flood of official and private aid, and moral support in a time of crisis.

"I would like to thank the American people, to thank Congress, to thank the administration and you in particular Mr. President, as well as your wife - not only for the material aid - but also for the moral support, the psychological support that helped us realize that we were not alone and that provided us great comfort in our distress," he said.

President Obama said the United States has been proud to play a leading role in relief efforts, and intends to remain a partner, even as the U.S. military hands off key functions to Haitian and international partners.

"America's commitment to Haiti's recovery and reconstruction must endure and will endure," said President Obama.  "This pledge is one that I made at the beginning of this crisis and I intend for America to keep this pledge."

President Obama recognized the numerous non-government organizations involved in Haiti relief, along with the U.S. military and various U.S. government agencies.

Both leaders stepped into the audience to shake hands with workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Army, and others involved in relief.

Members of Congress concerned about Haiti also attended the event, and President Preval journeyed to Capitol Hill to meet Democratic and Republican leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate.

Congress will be receiving an Obama administration request for more than $1 billion in additional aid, before an international donors conference the United States will host later this month at the United Nations.

The House of Representatives is considering a measure urging U.S. support for cancellation of all debts Haiti owes to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international financial institutions.

In his remarks, President Preval also referred again to the need for "decentralization", an effort to undertake reconstruction and economic development in a way that will not concentrate populations in major urban areas.

"Namely, offering health care, education, jobs to all Haitians men and women regardless of where they live in the country in order to prevent migratory flows toward the big cities, toward Port au Prince, and that will help avoid that disasters such as the earthquake will cause so many victims [in the future]," added Preval.

In their White House meeting, President Obama said he and President Preval discussed that the situation in Haiti remains dire, adding that no one should be under the illusion the crisis has ended.

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