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Uruguay and US express concern over possible arms race in South America

Wednesday, September 16th 2009 - 12:36 UTC
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President Vazquez said resources should be used to combat poverty and development President Vazquez said resources should be used to combat poverty and development

Uruguay and the United States expressed concern Tuesday that recent weapons purchases could lead to an arms race in South America. In a joint appearance, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also pledged co-operation on trade, scientific research and other fields.

In a brief statement before the press conference Hillary Clinton praised Uruguay, a long time friend of the US, and President Vazquez commitment to peace and democracy.

“Our two nations share core democratic values, a wide range of common concerns, and hopes for a peaceful and prosperous future for all of our peoples. I thanked the president for Uruguay’s leadership on regional and global challenges, for working within multilateral institutions to spur economic recovery, support the peaceful resolution of conflicts, and strengthen democratic institutions.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for transparency on the part of Venezuela in an arms build up by the Hugo Chavez government that US officials believe threatens regional stability while President Vazquez said Latinamerican governments should combat poverty rather than acquire weapons.

Clinton's comments at a joint press event with the Uruguayan leader were the highest-level expression of US concern thus far about a Venezuelan arms buildup that gained momentum with an announcement this week that the South American state will buy Russian battle tanks and anti-aircraft missiles.

Venezuelan President Chavez said in Moscow Sunday he had obtained a 2.2-billion US dollars line of credit from Russia for 90 T-72 tanks and an advanced long-range air defence system.

Clinton said Venezuela's arms acquisitions outpace those of all other South American countries and raise questions about a possible regional arms race.

“We urge Venezuela to be transparent [in] its purchases, clear about its purposes. They should be putting in place procedures to insure that the weapons that they buy are not diverted to insurgent groups or illegal organizations, like drug trafficking gangs and other criminal cartels. So there is concern that we have expressed, and we'll continue to raise with other countries in the region. And we hope that we can see a change in behaviour and attitude on the part of the Venezuelan government,” Clinton said.

For his part, President Vazquez - who has headed Uruguay's centre-left government since 2004 - refrained from any direct mention of Venezuela's arms purchases.

But the Uruguayan leader lamented that Latinamerican governments are devoting growing resources to armaments rather than dealing with pressing social needs including health and education. He spoke through an interpreter.

“Not only is our country worried, but we have already expressed time and again our position against an arms race. We believe it is quite inconvenient for the region to devote such significant economic resources to purchasing arms. But it's a fact and we can't deny it that the countries are buying weapons. To make things worse, our region is the region that has the worst distribution of wealth. Under those conditions it is worse still to be devoting those resources to weapons,” Mr. Vazquez said.

Under questioning, Clinton said the United States is ready to work with whatever candidate wins Uruguay's presidential election in October.

She said the good relationship the United States has had with Mr. Vazquez' left-leaning government underscores the Obama administration's commitment to deal productively with Latinamerican leaders from across the political spectrum.

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