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Rumsfeld Urges Cooperation in Western Hemisphere


U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the countries of the Americas must work together to fight drug trafficking, gang violence and terrorism. The secretary was in Nicaragua for a conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas.

Defense ministers from more than 30 Latin American and Caribbean countries focused on increased cooperation and stronger military ties to boost prosperity in the region.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the problems the hemisphere faces are international.

"Almost every problem we face is a problem that cannot be solved by a single nation," said Donald Rumsfeld. "Whether it's counternarcotics or gangs or hostage-taking or counterterrorism, all of these problems require very close cooperation among nations, many nations."

Rumsfeld said coordination is especially important in the war against drug trafficking.

For their part, Central American Defense ministers said they asked Rumsfeld for more U.S. aid in their fight against Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers. In the past several years, drug violence has escalated in the region, and become more vicious in Mexico.

In his speech to the conference Rumsfeld said organized crime and narcotics traffickers are destabilizing forces in a part of the world that has worked too hard and suffered too much bloodshed to trade dictatorships and civil war for democracy and stability.

But he was optimistic in his assessment of the region, saying it made considerable progress the past 20 years in building prosperous societies.

The only note of discord was the issue of Venezuela's recent arms buildup. Rumsfeld said ministers from several nations expressed concern that some of the weapons arriving in Venezuela could end up in the hands of terrorist groups.

Venezuela's Defense Minister General Raul Baduel said his country's arms buildup is not aimed against any country, and is purely defensive.

The United States has banned the sale of arms to Venezuela and criticized the government's recent purchase of close to $3 billion worth of arms from Russia.