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Powell Set for Trip to Chile, Argentina - 2003-06-06

Secretary of State Colin Powell begins a three-day Latin American trip on Sunday. He flies to the Chilean capital, Santiago to attend a meeting of Organization of American States foreign ministers, and he visits Buenos Aires for talks with Argentine officials including newly-inaugurated President Nestor Kirchner.

Officials here insist the Bush administration has not been neglecting Latin America despite its recent focus on Iraq. But they nonetheless say the Powell trip begins an "intensified U.S. focus" on the region that will also include a White House visit later this month by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva.

Mr. Powell will join fellow hemisphere foreign ministers in Santiago Sunday and Monday for the annual OAS General Assembly. A senior U.S. official said the meeting will have a largely economic focus with a hope that severe recessions in key member countries, including Argentina and Peru, have begun to "bottom out."

But there will also be discussion of the political crises in Venezuela and Haiti, and the ministers are expected to approve a plan for an OAS summit in Mexico in the latter part of the year.

Mr. Powell will stop in Buenos Aires Tuesday to meet Mr. Kirchner, Argentina's new populist President, who was sworn into office only two weeks ago.