Bolivian President Evo Morales delivered a blunt reply on Monday to visiting US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates's warning about dealings with Iran, saying Bolivia will ally with whomever it wants.
Nobody will stop me from negotiating with any country, Morales said at the opening of IXth biannual conference of the Americas defence ministers attended by Gates.
Bolivia, under my leadership, will have agreements and alliances with everyone, the populist leader added. We have the right, and we have a culture of dialogue.
Morales, who has signed several political and economic deals with Teheran and has tense relations with Washington, announced late last month that Bolivia has plans to build a nuclear plant with Iran's help, stressing the facility would be for peaceful purposes.
On Sunday upon his arrival in Bolivia, Gates cautioned against the motives of Teheran which the international community suspect is seeking to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear program despite Iranian denials.
I'm not sure the Iranians have an independent capability to help somebody build a civil nuclear capability. Their own capability has been under contract with the Russians for 20 years, Gates said. I don't really know what the Iranians are up to, to really tell you the truth, he added.
Morales visited Iran twice in as many years, while Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad travelled to Bolivia in 2007 for the first visit by an Iranian president. Under Ahmadinejad, the Islamic republic has strengthened diplomatic ties with Latin America particularly with Bolivia, Brazil, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Gates also warned about the threat from drug cartels that could endanger the capacity of Latinamerican countries to exercise sovereignty over their own territories.
“I think there is a risk that cartels can threaten the capacity of governments to exercise full sovereignty on their own territories”, said Gates. “There’s a serious security problem and in some places it seems that it is out of the capacity of local police forces to cope with the issue”, he added.
Gates emphasized that the best way to ensure the military abide human rights’ policies is to have well trained civilians heading the ministries of defence.