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US Defense Secretary in Peru for Counter-Narcotics Talks

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates discussed the fight against drug trafficking and other international crime during a visit to Peru Friday. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Lima.

A Peruvian defense ministry official said Defense Minister Allan Wagner would present "specific plans and make specific requests for assistance" during several hours of meetings with Secretary Gates and his team. The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Peru wants to buy police boats from the United States for counter-narcotics patrols on the country's rivers. The official says Peru wants to increase its river patrols by 30 per cent because much of the cocaine produced here is smuggled out by boat.

But after the meetings, Defense Minister Wagner did not provide any specifics, saying only that Peru is interested in expanding its ability to fight drug trafficking on the country's rivers and at sea.

Secretary Gates said he came to listen, and to seek new ways the United States can work with Peru to fight what he called "today's problems."

"This visit is an opportunity for me to listen, and a reminder of our shared commitment to countering narco-terrorists, combating trafficking of all kinds and fighting trans-national crime," he said.

Defense Minister Wagner called the talks "very intense" and said Secretary Gates' meeting with President Alan Garcia gave a "new dimension" to U.S.-Peruvian defense cooperation.

U.S. and Peruvian officials all said the possibility of establishing an American base in Peru was not discussed. Ecuador says it will not renew the lease on a facility it hosts when the agreement expires in 2009. The airstrip is used as a base for anti-drug surveillance flights. U.S. officials say they hope the Ecuadorian government will change its position, and in the meantime they are exploring options for other locations. But the subject is so sensitive in Latin American countries, they refuse to discuss any specifics.