Colombia, US seal deal on military bases
Bogota: Colombia said it had struck a deal with the United States allowing Washington to use its military bases in a move that has drawn angry fire from governments across Latin America.
"This agreement reaffirms the commitment of both parties in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism," Colombia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Officials here said the two countries agreed the text of an agreement, which now has to be reviewed by government agencies in Bogota and Washington before getting a final signature.
The controversial deal would permit the US military to operate surveillance aircraft from seven bases to track drug-running boats in the Pacific Ocean.
A top US general said on Thursday that the United States needed to reassure regional powers about the deal, after reports of negotiations rankled several leaders and even prompted neighbouring Venezuela to claim the "winds of war" were blowing.
"I think we need to do a better job of explaining to them what we're doing and making it as transparent as possible, because anybody's concerns are valid," General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference this week.
Washington sought out its ally Colombia to make up for the loss of its hub for counter-narcotics operations in Manta, Ecuador.
Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa had refused to renew an agreement that allowed the US military to fly out of Manta for the past 10 years.
The deal is worth over USD 40 million for Bogota, along with expanded US military assistance for Bogota's counter-narcotics efforts, according to a US defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Colombia would like to increase its military ties with Brazil and other South American countries, President Alvaro Uribe said on Friday.
The left-wing government of Venezuela has blasted the plan as a threat to regional stability. The moderate government of Brazil has also voiced concern over the pact.
"We would like the accord with the United States to be projected throughout the continent," Uribe told a business conference in the city of Medellin.
"We would like to have it with Brazil," he said. "I do not see this pact with the United States as incompatible with having pacts with other countries as well."