The State Department said Thursday that Ecuador's expulsion this month of two U.S. diplomats "raises serious concerns" about that country's interest in a productive relationship with the United States. The two diplomats were helping administer a U.S. law-enforcement training program.
State Department officials say they're surprised that a dispute over selecting Ecuadoran police officers for U.S. training escalated into the expulsion incidents, and say the matter calls into question the Quito government's desire for productive relations.
An employee of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security working at the American embassy in Quito was ordered to leave the country last week. On Wednesday, a second embassy staffer - First Secretary Mark Sullivan - was given 48 hours to leave the country.
Ecuador has accused both Americans of meddling in the country's internal affairs with regard to selection of Ecuadoran police officers for U.S.-sponsored training. Officials here have said Ecuadoran officials objected to embassy efforts, mandated by the U.S. Congress, to exclude from the program police thought to be corrupt or otherwise undesirable.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Gordon Duguid said the U.S. embassy had tried to deal with Ecuadoran concerns amicably, and that the U.S. ambassador had been scheduled to meet government officials on Wednesday and present a proposal that could have resolved the issue.
Duguid said the Ecuadorans rejected the effort to settle the matter through diplomatic channels and instead held a news conference to announce Sullivan's expulsion.
"The decision by the government of Ecuador to expel a second American diplomat is very troubling and raises serious concerns about Ecuador's desire to maintain a productive relationship," he said. "The United States rejects any suggestion of wrongdoing by embassy staff. Our embassy personnel have acted with the utmost respect for Ecuador's sovereignty. Our programs have been administered in a transparent and accountable fashion with the full cooperation of Ecuador's senior officials."
Duguid said Sullivan is in the process of leaving Ecuador and that the United States intends to respond to the two expulsions in an "appropriate way" - language suggesting that retaliatory action might be forthcoming.
U.S. officials say the law enforcement training program was suspended after the first expulsion, and that some Ecuadoran officials objected when the U.S. embassy insisted on the return of computers and other equipment associated with the project.
Duguid said U.S.-Ecuadoran cooperation over the years against drug smuggling, terrorism and trafficking in persons has paid dividends for both countries, and he said he hopes the Quito government will reconsider its actions and return to a cooperative dialogue.
The former Bush administration had a difficult relationship with Ecuador's left-leaning President Rafael Correa, who is campaigning for re-election in April on a platform of standing up to foreign influence.
The Correa government served notice last year that it will not renew an agreement expiring in November giving U.S. Air Force planes access to its Manta air base for anti-drug surveillance flights.