US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with government leaders in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Sunday to discuss deepening the U.S. military partnership with Chile.
The Secretary arrived from Colombia, on a six-day, three-nation trip to South America that will include participating in the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas, which begins this Monday in Arequipa, Peru.
In Santiago, the secretary met with President Michelle Bachelet, Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz and Defense Minister Jorge Burgos. At news conference with Burgos after the meeting, Hagel noted he had met with his Chilean counterpart in Washington earlier this year.
“That was an important time for me,” he added, “because it gave me an opportunity to get a good sense and assessment of where Chile was on many issues -- where we could further deepen our partnership, our relationship, as we face many of the same challenges that the world faces.”
As a U.S. senator, Hagel said, he supported and voted for the U.S.-Chile free trade agreement, which marks its 10th anniversary this year.
“I recall, vividly, some of the debates during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee [hearings] on the issue,” he said. “It was the right thing to do for Chile and the United States, and I think the results have been very clear on that point.”
His meeting with the Chilean leaders touched on a wide scope of issues, the secretary said. “We started with a particular focus on how we can intensify our defense cooperation to address these big issues,” he added.
“The world is not getting any less complicated. The world is interconnected in ways that we've never seen before. That presents tremendous opportunities and advantages for strong relationships and partnerships, and good governance and law and order. But it also presents new challenges as well.”
During his meeting with the Chilean leaders, Hagel said, he noted that as Chile develops its global relationships – particularly, its partnerships in in the Asia-Pacific region – the respect it enjoys as a security exporter and for its capacity and techniques will continue to be important in helping to build defense capacities for other nations.
As a member of the United Nations Security Council, Chile has played an important role in helping to unify the international community against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Iraq and Syria, the secretary said, and he expressed appreciation for Chile's leadership in that effort.
As Pacific nations with large and growing economies and economic interests in Asia, the secretary said, both Chile and the United States have a shared interest in the continued peace and prosperity and stability of the Asia-Pacific region.
“This year, Chile's navy helped lead a major part of the Rim of the Pacific exercise -- it's the world’s largest maritime exercise,” he said. “This was a first for any South American nation. And as the minister and I discussed, Chile could also share some of its other model defense capabilities to help promote stability further in Asia-Pacific.”
But even as the United States and Chile expand their cooperation in other regions, both nations remain committed to continued cooperation within their own hemisphere, “because transnational security challenges -- from climate change to ungoverned spaces, as well as effective responses to natural disasters -- requires the collaboration of all nations of the Americas,” Hagel said.
“In this context,” he added, “the minister and I discussed the enduring value of the Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas … and the importance of those conferences and the importance of the dialogue -- the exchange of ideas and thinking.”
The secretary emphasized the continuing U.S. support for Chile's leadership among conference nations in areas such as search and rescue cooperation, noting that Chile’s expertise in that area has become a model for other countries to follow.