US defends deal to use Colombian bases
Washington: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought to reassure skeptical Latin American countries about US intentions in negotiating access to military bases in Colombia.
Clinton and visiting Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez said the two countries expected to sign a defence cooperation agreement soon that will boost their longstanding military ties.
I want to be clear about what this agreement does and does not. First: The agreement does not create US bases in Colombia, it does provide US access to Colombian bases," Clinton said after a meeting with Bermudez.
The top US diplomat said the governments in Washington and Bogota hoped to sign the agreement "in the near future."
The deal, finalised last week, is expected to give the US access to three Colombian air bases, two Navy bases and two Army bases.
Leftist leaders in Venezuela and Ecuador, which border Colombia, have loudly denounced the agreement as a ruse to establish bases that threaten their governments.
The US plans also have raised concerns among more moderate Latin American leaders.
And in Colombia, the government has found itself on the defensive over whether the agreement would give US troops immunity from prosecution in Colombian courts.
Clinton sought to counter some of these concerns on Tuesday, stating that the move was aimed at targeting groups inside Colombia.
"I certainly hope that anyone who is speaking out about the agreement will take the time to understand that this is built on years of agreements between the United States and Colombia.
"This agreement does not pertain to other countries. This is about the bilateral cooperation between the United States and Colombia regarding security matters within Colombia.
"It will allow us to continue working together to meet the challenges posed by narco-traffickers, terrorists, and other illegal armed groups in Colombia," she said, adding, "These threats are real."