The Biden administration confirmed Thursday that it recognised Claude Joseph as acting prime minister of Haiti and it would help the Haitian National Police investigate the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Administration officials emphasised the need for democratic elections this year.
It has become clear that a power struggle was shaping up between Joseph and Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, appointed prime minister by Moïse the day before he was killed.
Since the assassination, U.S. officials have been in touch with Joseph, Henry and other officials in Haiti.
“The situation on the ground is evolving rapidly. We remain in close contact with Haitian officials.
“Claude Joseph was the incumbent in the position,” State Department spokesman, Ned Price, told reporters.
He was serving as the acting prime minister before the assassination of President Moise.
“We continue to work with Claude Joseph as such,” Price said.
But Henry told the Miami Herald that the Biden administration was misinformed.
“The information they have is inaccurate. I am not the acting. I am the prime minister,” he said.
President Joe Biden had pledged U.S. assistance to Haiti, and administration officials said they were standing by for formal requests for aid amid the crisis, in addition to the request received for investigative assistance.
“We again stand ready to provide support, provide assistance, in any way that is formally requested by the government there.
“We’re looking forward to hearing from them on what they will request and how we can help them through this period of time,” White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said at a media briefing.
Those requests would come from Joseph’s office and the Biden administration said it would work with them going forward in the immediate aftermath of Moïse’s killing.
It became apparent on Thursday that recognising Joseph as acting prime minister could prove complicated for Washington, which had for months called for democratic elections by the end of the year.
But Washington made clear that it was working with Joseph as a partner on the ground to help get the country to elections, coordinate the investigation into Moise’s murder and deliver any other assistance the country requests.
“We’ve consistently urged the government of Haiti to organise free and fair presidential and legislative elections.
“We continue to urge Haitian Government officials and stakeholders to dialogue in the best interests of the Haitian people and to refrain from violence.
“This was precisely the message we heard yesterday from acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph,” Price said.
At the White House news briefing, Psaki was asked twice whether the administration recognised Joseph as acting prime minister and did not use Joseph’s name in her response.
“We continue to support Haiti’s democratic institutions.
“We have been in touch with the acting prime minister, and we echo his call for calm.
“But I will again reiterate that’s one of the reasons we have called for elections this year, and we believe that they should proceed.
“Of course we are worried about, and closely monitoring, the security situation, the stability in Haiti, and understand that even before yesterday but certainly as a result of yesterday, that is even more of a concern for the people who are living in the country,” Psaki said.
It is unclear what sort of additional assistance the United States might provide Haiti’s interim government.
A State Department official denied reports that U.S. troops were being deployed to Haiti in order to help the Haitian National Police secure the country.
Those reports were false, the official said.
But members of Congress were already pressing the administration to ensure that U.S. Embassy staff in Port-au-Prince have enhanced security, fearing a protracted period of instability in the country.
The State Department would not outline new security measures taken at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.
But Price noted the embassy was restricting the movements of direct-hire U.S. citizens and their family members until further notice.
“In recent months, the Haitian people have suffered repeated setbacks to their security and the weakening of democratic governance.
“As the country grapples with the aftermath of this attack, the Haitian people deserve the opportunity to determine their future in a democratic election that is deemed credible by all sides and meets acceptable international standards,’’ Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the committee and a New Jersey Democrat, said.