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Obama sends Biden and Hillary on Latinamerican offensive

Saturday, March 14th 2009 - 07:44 UTC
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden

President Barack Obama administration has begun moving on several fronts to repair strained US relations with Latin America. Obama meets Saturday at the White House with Brazilian President Lula da Silva, and he is sending Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Latin American missions to prepare for the mid-April Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

US ties with Latin America came under stress during the Bush administration, which was largely preoccupied with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and had contentious relations with several populist governments in the region, notably Venezuela and Bolivia.

But the Obama administration said it is intent on trying to repair frayed regional ties based on what it says should be reciprocal dialogue and respect.

As an overture to President Obama's White House meeting Saturday with Brazil's President Lula da Silva, the administration announced a mission to Chile and Costa Rica by Vice President Biden, and a Mexico trip by Secretary Clinton, both later this month.

At a State Department briefing, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon cast the upcoming hemispheric summit in Trinidad and Tobago, which Mr. Obama will attend, as an opportunity for a fresh start in relations, based on what he termed “a spirit of engagement and constructive dialogue.”

He said that efforts at outreach will apply to, among others, the Bolivian government of President Evo Morales, which has expelled two U.S. diplomats in recent months amid accusations they interfered in Bolivian politics:

“We need a full diplomatic dialogue and a high-quality dialogue. And regrettably up to this point, as we have sought to engage the Bolivians around the issues that have provoked their own actions, we have yet to receive what we consider to be a coherent or consistent response. However we will continue to approach the Bolivians in the hope that we can address the underlying issues that have affected the relationship,” he said.

Shannon cast Saturday's White House visit by President Lula as recognition of Brazil's “global ascendancy” and an opportunity to build on a US partnership with Brazil on such issues as social justice, climate change, and development of alternate fuels.

The State Department said Friday that Secretary Clinton will visit Mexico City and Monterrey in two weeks (March 25-26) for talks focusing on key issues in the US-Mexican agenda including the Merida Initiative, under which the United States is helping Mexico combat violent drug traffickers.

For his part, Vice President Biden will travel to Chile for a regional conference on progressive governance hosted by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet that will also include the presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.

Later in Costa Rica, Mr. Biden will be hosted by President Oscar Arias, who has invited leaders of other Central American states for a joint meeting with the Vice President in San Jose. (Voice of America)

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