Sun, Aug 23, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Brazil requests a meeting with US on Colombia bases

AFP , BRASILIA

Brazil has asked the US to meet with South American countries to discuss regional unease over a new deal giving the US military access to bases in Colombia, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said on Friday.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made the request to US President Barack Obama in a half-hour telephone conversation early on Friday, he said.

Lula reiterated Brazil’s concerns over the US being given access to seven bases in Colombia under a recently negotiated deal, and told Obama he wanted guarantees the US military would limit its actions there to Colombian territory.

Two anti-US neighbors of Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, have expressed fears that the bases might be used to stage an invasion of their countries.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said “the winds of war” were blowing over the region because of the bases.

Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Chile have all voiced concern, too.

Amorim has said he believed the size of the US presence to be installed in Colombia appeared too big for the anti-narcotics operations they were ostensibly to carry out.

Lula told Obama it “would be very important” if he could attend a summit of Unasur — the South America forum grouping Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guayana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela — to discuss the matter.

The next Unasur meeting is scheduled to take place in the Argentine ski resort town of Bariloche next Friday.

It was called to specifically address the concern over the bases, raised at the last Unasur summit in Ecuador early this month.

Obama said he would “look at possibilities” with his team and thanked Lula for the suggestion, Amorim said.

The US White House issued a statement saying only that Obama spoke with Lula on “issues of mutual interest and concern in the Americas.”

It concluded that Obama “looks forward to seeing President Lula next month at the Pittsburgh G20 Summit and continuing to strengthen our partnership with Brazil.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton early this week said she expected the bases agreement to be signed very soon with Colombia. A preliminary accord was struck last week.

Clinton told reporters in Washington after meeting Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez on Tuesday that the deal was purely a bilateral matter focused on confronting “narco-traffickers, ­terrorists, and other illegal armed groups in Colombia.”

Clinton said that there would be no permanent increase in US troop levels in Colombia, where 800 US soldiers and 600 US contractors are already based.

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