Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday the pending U.S.-Colombia defense cooperation agreement would not create U.S. bases in the South American country or significantly increase the American military presence there. Clinton discussed the soon-to-be-finalized accord with Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez.
The two governments reached provisional agreement on the defense accord, giving U.S. forces access to Colombian bases to tackle regional drug-trafficking and terrorism, late last week.
It has since been a focus of heavy criticism for some Latin American leaders, notably Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has depicted the accord as a manifestation of U.S. imperialism that could provoke war in the region.
At a joint press appearance with her Colombian colleague, Clinton suggested opponents of the agreement were wrongly characterizing it, either deliberately or out of ignorance of its actual terms.
She said the deal, to be finalized in the near future, gives American forces access to Colombia bases but that command, control and administration of the facilities will remain in Colombian hands.
"Any U.S. activity will have to be mutually agreed upon in advance. The United States does not have, and does not seek, bases inside Colombia. Second, there will be no significant permanent increase in the U.S. military presence in Colombia. The Congressionally-mandated cap on the number of U.S. service members and contractors will remain, and will be respected," she said.
Clinton also said the agreement is entirely about bilateral cooperation between the United States and Colombia and does not pertain to other countries.
The Secretary, asked about the criticism by Venezuelan President Chavez, did not mention him by name but said she hoped critics of the accord would take time to read it and understand that only builds on past U.S.-Colombian cooperation. That includes, she said, the anti-drug aid program Plan Colombia initiated by her husband's administration in 1999.
Foreign Minister Bermudez, for his part, said the pending agreement is founded on the the basic principle of non-interference in other countries' affairs. He was heard through an interpreter.
"The principles contained therein are very clear. The principle of sovereign equality of states. The principle of non-intervention. And the principle of the territorial integrity of states. These are very important tenets and I think it would be extremely good to have more agreements, not just with the United States but with other states in the same vein," he said.
The accord would permit the U.S. military to, among other things, operate surveillance fights from seven Colombian bases to track drug-running boats in the Pacific.
The United States turned to Colombia after Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, a political ally of President Chavez, refused to renew an agreement that gave U.S. monitoring planes access to Ecuador's Manta air base.
A State Department fact sheet on the agreement issued Tuesday said a Congressional cap limiting the U.S. presence in Colombia to 800 military personnel and 600 civilian contractors at any time will be faithfully respected.
It said in recent years the actual U.S. contingent has averaged less that half those levels and been in a gradual decline.