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Gates Reaffirms U.S. Commitment to Peru

Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

Peruvian officials welcome Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates upon his arrival in Lima, Peru, as part of a four-day trip to Latin America, April 13, 2010. DoD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison

LIMA, Peru, April 14, 2010 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates declared his meeting here today with Peruvian Defense Minister Rafael Rey a positive step toward deepening a bilateral security arrangement that “is vitally important to both of us.”

Gates reiterated the U.S. commitment to help Peru tackle illicit trafficking, narcotics and terrorism to reporters gathered at the Peruvian army headquarters. Such trans-border challenges “can only be overcome through strong international cooperation,” he said.

“Our two nations are deepening an already-robust military partnership, and we discussed expanding this relationship through bilateral and multilateral initiatives,” Gates said.

Today’s talks covered a variety of bilateral and multilateral initiatives, including joint staff talks to begin tomorrow in Washington, a bilateral working group scheduled in late May and the Inter-American Defense Board, Gates said. He noted Peru’s cooperation with regional security partners including Colombia and Mexico, and said the United States is encouraged by the recent military training and doctrine exchanges between Peru and Colombia.

“We stand ready to assist as appropriate in these regional initiatives,” he said.

Gates praised Peru’s military, which he said has proven it is “willing and able to respond to regional humanitarian needs.” He commended Peru on its commitment to send 150 additional peacekeepers this week to support the United Nations’ mission in Haiti.

Both Gates and Rey clarified that today’s talks did not cover any possibility of basing U.S. troops in Peru. “There was no discussion whatsoever of any possible base,” the secretary said.

“I think the key here is, as we look to the future is, how can we best work together along with Colombia in [the] counternarcotics arena?” Gates said. “We clearly want to do that in a way that is comfortable and politically acceptable for our partners. And we will examine any possibilities in the future in terms of air surveillance or counternarcotics within that framework.”

Gates emphasized in response to a reporter’s question that his visit to the region is not designed to send a message to Venezuela or to discourage Iranian influence here. He noted the signing of a new defense cooperation agreement with Brazil at the Pentagon earlier this week, and his plans to visit Colombia and the Caribbean before returning to Washington.

“These arrangements between ourselves and Brazil, ourselves and Peru, ourselves and Colombia, are about these countries, not about anybody else,” he said. That will also be true of his meeting with seven Caribbean defense ministers in Barbados, he said.

Gates met President Alan Garcia at the presidential palace after his session with Rey.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Garcia, Gates reiterated both countries’ mutual interest in furthering their defense relationship in the years ahead. “We had very wide areas of agreement,” he said.

Rey has pressed for a bigger Peruvian defense budget to confront the Shining Path terrorist group and its fringe elements. Meanwhile, Garcia has budgeted resources to improve coordination between the military and police and train special operations troops to enhance counterinsurgency operations.

Gates last visited Peru in October 2007, when Peruvian defense officials presented him a plan for combating arms and drug trafficking up its rivers and coasts.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Peru in March 2009 as part of a regional visit to promote closer military-to-military relations.

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