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US Ready to Work With New Leftist Ecuadoran Leader

The U.S. State Department said Monday the United States is ready to work with a new Ecuadoran government headed by leftist political figure Rafael Correa. The 43-year-old economist, a frequent critic of U.S. policy in Latin America, is the apparent winner of Sunday's election in the Andean country. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration is declaring itself ready to cooperate with the incoming leftist government in Quito, but it also says the quality of bilateral relations will depend on policies that it puts in place.

Mr. Correa, who describes himself as a personal friend of Venezuela's populist leader Hugo Chavez, piled up a nearly two-to-one margin over his conservative rival Alvaro Noboa in late but still incomplete election returns.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said he would not directly respond to Mr. Correa's apparent victory pending certification of the results.

But he congratulated the Ecuadoran people on what he said was a "pretty transparent, free and fair electoral process."

He said as a matter of policy, the United States is open to working with duly elected governments in the region that govern democratically, regardless of where they fit in the political spectrum:

"In terms of the next Ecuadoran government, we're ready to work with them," said Sean McCormack. "The course of U.S.-Ecuadoran relations, as in the course of any bilateral relationship the United States will have, will be dependent on the policies that the government pursues and whether or not those policies are consonant with our goals. Certainly we want to see the people of Ecuador prosper. We want to see their democracy strengthened."

Mr. Correa, who received a doctorate degree in economics from the University of Illinois, has been a critic of U.S.-backed free trade agreements in the region, and has also threatened to revise the contracts of oil companies working in Ecuador and to not pay foreign debts he considers illegitimate.

Spokesman McCormack said the United States supports the promotion of greater prosperity through free trade, and wants to see that the benefits of that prosperity actually get to all the people through good governance.

As to a program of possible nationalization by a Correa government, he said the United States would expect that all countries regardless of their political orientation would respect valid international legal contracts.

McCormack noted that the Bush administration has managed to have good relations with Bolivian President Evo Morales, even though he campaigned on an anti-U.S. platform similar to that of Mr. Correa when he was elected in 2005.

The spokesman said the reality is that while they don't agree on everything, the United States has "found ways" to work with Bolivia and Mr. Morales.