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Gates Wants Closer Latin America Military Ties

Thursday, 15 April 2010 08:55 AM

LIMA — Visiting US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday offered to deepen security cooperation with Peru, Colombia and Mexico to take a joint approach to challenges like drug traffickers or insurgents.

In Peru's capital, he told reporters alongside Peruvian Defense Minister Rafael Rey, that the United States was seeking to boost cooperation with Lima and "with other allies in the region like Colombia and Mexico."

Gates' Latin American tour comes at a time that Moscow has stepped up its profile in the region with an unprecedented visit to Argentina Wednesday by Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev and an arms-selling stop in Venezuela last week by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Gates, who met with Rey as well as President Alan Garcia, said he had been encouraged by exchanges that already are taking place between Peru and Colombia on the anti-drugs fight. Colombia and Mexico also receive drug war training programs.

After his stop in Peru, Gates was off to Colombia, the staunchest US ally in Latin America.

Bogota and Washington last October signed a military pact that allows US troops to use Colombian bases, drawing fierce criticism from many Latin American governments who called it an affront to Colombian sovereignty.

It was the first of two military accords signed by the administration of US President Barack Obama. Another one with Brazil -- calling for cooperation and joint maneuvers but not US use of Brazilian bases -- was signed this week in Washington.

It was clear that in a region in which the United States historically has been the power player, its partners still are keen to stress that they are not being dominated.

Rey pointed out that in discussions with Gates "we have not even spoken about the presence of US troops or establishment of US bases" in Peru.

Gates said Peru's security was "of great importance to us."

Peru has had increasing strains with the government of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez over its burgeoning arms acquisitions.

Rey said he hoped Chavez would "understand" that South American nations "would like to live in peace and cooperating amongst ourselves."

In Bogota, Gates will meet President Alvaro Uribe, Washington's closest regional ally, and thank him for his government's commitment and sacrifice in the fight against leftist insurgents and drug trafficking cartels.

Gates will also congratulate Uribe, who took office in 2002, for "the accomplishments of the last 10 years" in increasing security in Colombia, and offered US support for the next president when Uribe leaves office in August.

The United States since 2000 has channeled more than six billion dollars to Colombia through its Plan Colombia initiative to fight drug trafficking and insurgencies.

Colombia also has tense relations with the leftist government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a vocal critic of Washington.

The Gates visit follows Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's trip last week to Caracas, where he closed a deal to sell Russian arms to Venezuela worth as much as five billion dollars.

The growing military cooperation between Russia and Venezuela -- including joint navy exercises with Russian warships in the Caribbean in 2008 -- has raised worries in the United States about Moscow's intentions.

In Barbados, Gates's main goal is to support President Barack Obama's Caribbean Security Initiative to fight the drug trade.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

© Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Thursday, 15 April 2010 08:55 AM
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