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U.S. Promises to Work
with New Colombian Leader

By Jonathan Wright, Reuters 6/19/2002

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States told Colombian President-elect Alvaro Uribe on Wednesday it looked forward to close cooperation against leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers when he takes office in August.

Uribe, on his first visit to Washington since a landslide election victory in May, met Secretary of State Colin Powell  and asked for U.S. support in multilateral financial institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank.

A senior U.S. official said Washington expected excellent relations with Uribe, who will head a government fighting the guerrillas and traffickers with massive U.S. help.

Colombia has received more than $1 billion in U.S. aid over the past two years, making it the third largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel and Egypt.

Uribe won the presidency in the first round on a platform of tough action against irregular forces that have killed 40,000 people in the past decade alone.

"We asked Secretary Powell for U.S. support in the Inter-American Development Bank and international financial institutions," he told reporters at the State Department.

Uribe on Tuesday met World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who said in a statement he looked forward to "a productive relationship" with Uribe's team, and Inter-American Development Bank President Enrique Iglesias.

He is hoping for more loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to fund poverty-reduction programs. Colombia has a loan worth about $2.44 billion with the IMF, none of which has been used, and has $858 million of credits available from the World Bank.


He said that he and Powell spoke about the problem of violence in Colombia and cooperation with the Bush administration, which has asked Congress to give the Colombians more aid money and let them use it to fight the guerrillas.

Otto Reich, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told reporters, "We expect to have an excellent relationship with President Uribe."

The United States has also had good relations with current Colombian President Andres Pastrana, although some U.S. officials sometimes felt he was too soft on the guerrillas.

U.S. officials have welcomed Uribe's promise to increase defense spending and expand the military.

"Both the president and the finance minister raised the fact that they realize that Colombia has to provide more of its own resources. We're fully in agreement," Reich said.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said: "The secretary congratulated President-elect Uribe on his election and expressed our desire to continue the close and friendly relationship that we have with Colombia.

"(They) both discussed how much they look forward to working together, advancing our shared goals of eliminating the scourges of narcotics trafficking and terrorism, strengthening Colombia's democratic institutions and improving human rights conditions in Colombia."

Uribe later met House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert, who said in a statement he supported the Bush administration's request to loosen the restrictions on aid.

"The Colombian government must have the flexibility and resources necessary to strengthen and professionalize its military while respecting basic human rights," Hastert said.

"The United States must stay engaged in Colombia and we must assist the new democratically elected government in its effort to combat the campaign of terror and violence that has plagued Colombia for many years," he added.


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