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US Defense Chief in Peru for Anti-Drug Talks


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Peruvian counterpart, Defense Minister Rafael Rey, say they did not discuss the controversial possibility of establishing an American military base in Peru during talks in Lima on Wednesday. But they did discuss other ways to expand military cooperation, particularly in the fight against illegal drug trafficking.

Minister Rey said they discussed increasing all kinds of cooperation, but not the establishment of a U.S. base.

There has been speculation that the United States might seek a new base in South America, after it lost its base at Manta in Ecuador last year. But Rey said the goal is to deepen the defense relationship, not to station U.S. troops in Peru.

Secretary Gates said the United States is prepared to increase efforts to interdict boats and aircraft that carry illegal drugs in the region, and potentially to provide other help as well. But he said the U.S. military is not looking to establish a permanent presence in Peru. "I think the key here, as we look to the future, is how can we [-- the United States and Peru --] best work together, along with Colombia, in the counter-narcotics arena. We clearly want to do that in a way that is comfortable and politically acceptable for our partners," he said.

Gates also stressed that his visits this week to Peru and Colombia, and his participation in a Caribbean security summit in Barbados, are not aimed at any other country -- an apparent reference to Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez is highly critical of the United States and is moving to improve his relationship with another country critical of the United States, Iran.

Peru's defense minister criticized Mr. Chavez, saying that his policies have led to Venezuela's economic problems, and calling on him to respect Peru's rights -- including its right to expand its relationship with the United States.

Gates called the relationship "robust" and "vitally important" to both countries.

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