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Powell, OAS Ministers Visit Chile - 2003-06-09

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in the Chilean capital, Santiago, with other hemisphere foreign ministers for the annual Organization of American States General Assembly. Mr. Powell says he sees no lasting harm to U.S. relations with key Latin American states, stemming from disagreements over U.S. military action in Iraq.

Mr. Powell says the Bush administration was disappointed that Chile and Argentina did not support its effort to get a resolution in the U.N. Security Council, in March, authorizing U.S. military action in Iraq. However, he says he does not see any "lasting scars" or consequences from the episode and says the parties are anxious to talk about the future and not the past, as evidenced by Friday's conclusion of the long-awaited U.S.-Chile free-trade agreement.

In a talk with reporters on the flight to Santiago, Mr. Powell said the brief Latin America visit will allow for some overdue diplomatic "garden tending" with hemispheric countries, after weeks of U.S. policy focus on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In additional to joining in the OAS plenaries, the secretary has bilateral meetings planned Monday with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria, and his foreign minister counterparts from Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

The theme of the annual assembly is how good governance, including combating corruption, can help boost the economies of Latin America, where key countries including, Argentina and Venezuela, are struggling with severe economic crises and overall economic growth is nil.

But there will be also discussion of the political conflicts in Haiti and in Venezuela, where an OAS/brokered agreement for an August 19 referendum on the Hugo Chavez presidency appears to offer a way to defuse a long running confrontation with his political opponents

The OAS ministers are expected to renew the organization's call on the government of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to restore security and human rights, to facilitate free and fair elections, later this year. There is reluctance among Caribbean and other ministers to discuss Cuba in the OAS, given that the Fidel Castro government has long been suspended from the organization. But Mr. Powell says he "will not shrink" from raising Cuba and what he calls its "increasingly poor" human rights situation, in his policy address to the assembly Monday.

In his airborne talk with reporters, the secretary said the Castro government, which sentenced 75 leading dissident to long prison terms in April, remains "the anachronism of the hemisphere." He welcomed a decision by the European Union to restrict travel by EU officials to Cuba, as evidence the rest of the world is beginning to take note of events in Cuba. Mr. Powell says he will discuss further action when he meets EU foreign ministers, later this month.

Mr. Powell will make a brief stop in Buenos Aires, Tuesday, to meet Argentina's newly-installed President Nestor Kirchner. Mr. Kirchner, a populist, has said he opposes a policy of "automatic alignment" with the United States and invited Cuban President Castro to his May 25 inauguration. But Mr. Powell says the Bush administration wants good relations with Argentina and stands ready to help that country overcome its economic difficulties. He says he wants to hear Mr. Kirchner's plans for his administration and expects the envoys will set a date for a Washington visit by the Argentine leader "in the not-too-distant future."