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American Forces Press Service

U.S. to Strengthen Defense Relationship with Chile

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

SANTIAGO, Chile, Oct. 4, 2007 – The U.S. military will strengthen its relationship with Chile by encouraging the country’s peacekeeping efforts in the region and increasing interoperability with more foreign military exchanges and bilateral operations, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

On the third stop of his week-long tour of Latin America, Gates met this morning with Chilean Defense Minister Jose Mario Goni. This is the first time Gates has visited the country as secretary of defense, though he has traveled here in previous government capacities. Gates also will meet with the country’s president, Michelle Bachelet, today.

Gates and Goni signed a reciprocal health agreement between the two countries that provides servicemembers and families access to host-country military health care facilities. Gates said the agreement “reflects a maturing defense relationship” with Chile.

Seated next to Goni during a news conference, Gates lauded Chile’s regional peacekeeping efforts, especially those in Haiti, and called the country a “great friend” of the United States.

“Our bilateral relationship is strong because it is based on our shared values of democracy, our economy and our commitment to social justice and human rights,” Gates said. “These values strengthen our countries and result in better governments, growing economies, lowering poverty rates and a more effective defense against today’s challenges and threats.”

Gates committed to working to increase interoperability with Chile’s military and to sharing knowledge of military modernization.

The secretary said there would likely be further exchanges between the two countries’ military academies and educational institutions, further cooperation on demining, and more military exercises together. He also said the Chileans expressed interest in “specialized” training, but he didn’t elaborate.

The secretary said Chile’s contributions to peacekeeping efforts beyond Haiti offer promise as the country explores “new and different ways of doing peacekeeping.” Chile has more than 500 peacekeepers in Haiti, and several in other countries.

“Chile’s participation in peacekeeping operations makes a significant contribution both to regional and global stability and the growth of democracy,” Gates said. “The United States is especially grateful for Chile’s efforts in Haiti. Your leadership and bond with the Haitian people has fostered stability and created space for institutions to grow.”

During a question-and-answer session, a local reporter asked Gates if his five-country trip to Latin America was an effort to provide an allied front against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has made anti-American statements. Gates has called Chavez’s recent weapons purchases discouraging, considering the resources could have been spent reviving his country’s poor economy. But, Gates said today, no specific country has been discussed during his trip. He said this is a fact-finding trip to learn ways to strengthen relationships with partners in the region.

“The focus has really been, throughout, on what we can do bilaterally to strengthen our relationships and on regional security issues,” Gates said. “The focus of the conversation has been on narcotraffickers, gang warfare -- these kinds of problems. We really haven’t focused on other countries, but really more on what we can do together in these areas.”

In response to a media question about Iraq’s recent order of $100 million in weapons from China, Gates said he was not concerned that Iraq was buying weapons from China, but that the U.S. foreign military sales system is too cumbersome to respond to fast-delivery, short-term demands.

Iraqi officials have expressed similar concerns. Still, Gates said, the first request by Iraq to the United States for weapons was in January, and the U.S. already has delivered $600 million worth of weapons. Another $2 to $3 billion worth of weapons is on order, he said.

“We are looking into ways in which we can abbreviate or accelerate the process by which we provide weapons under the FMS programs to Iraq and, in fact, … that was an issue that was discussed here in Chile this morning,” Gates said.

He said the system needs to be more responsive and able to react more quickly to requirements of “our friends.”

“Unfortunately the FMS program was set up in such a way it was not intended to provide sort of emergency or short-term supplies as in the case of Iraq,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how to do that better.”

Gates said officials have opened offices in Baghdad to establish a day-to-day dialogue with Iraqi government officials and receive and process the country’s requirements more quickly.

The secretary also was questioned about his stand on closing the detainee facility at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Gates said he would like to see the facility closed, but that legal and safety issues must be worked through before it would be possible. More than 300 detainees are housed at the facility.

“What we are looking into is how to do that in a way that provides for appropriate rights for those who are being detained, but, at the same time, protects Americans and, frankly, others in the world from terrorists who are at Guantanamo (and who) if released there is no question that they would return to plotting against us and others, and we have no doubt of that because they told us that,” Gates said.

He said that government officials in the executive and legislative branches are examining legal issues of closing the facility.

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