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Bush Hosts Chilean President at White House

President Bush and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet say they are working together to improve social conditions in South America. It was their first meeting since her January election.

President Bush welcomed the new Chilean leader to the Oval Office, hoping to build on warm relations with the previous Socialist government in Santiago.

While U.S. relations with other Latin American leftists, including Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Evo Morales, are often strained, President Bush has found a commercial and political ally in Chile - an ally he hopes to keep in President Bachelet.

"I appreciate very much your dedication to values that are important: human rights and human decency, the right for people to be able to speak freely and to vote," said Mr. Bush.

President Bush told President Bachelet that America shares that same sense of social justice and focus on education. He says it is very important for the United States to remain engaged in South America and continue good relations with Chile.

President Bachelet, a former political prisoner and defense minister, says it is her intention to continue that relationship.

"We have political, commercial relationships. We really are happy about how our relations have developed, and we have talked and shared opinions about how we can build a region in peace, about how we can fight together against poverty, for social justice, how we can help strengthen democracy in the region, and how we can look after issues [such] as energy innovation, education, health and so on," added Ms. Bachelet.

A 2004 free trade agreement between the countries has boosted commercial ties as the Bush administration has heralded capitalism in Santiago as a model for the region.

On a visit to the capital in November of 2004, President Bush also praised Chile's privatized pension system as a model for how he would like to change America's federal retirement program.

There are differences, chiefly Chile's support for an International Criminal Court that President Bush opposes. There is also Venezuela's campaign to fill the Latin America/Caribbean seat on the U.N. Security Council, a post that Washington would rather see filled by Guatemala.

President Bush and President Bachelet had lunch at the White House following their talks. Ms. Bachelet also visited a school outside Washington, which she attended in the early 1960s, when her father was the military attaché at the Chilean Embassy.