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Cohen Looks to Bolster Friendships in South America

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 28, 1998 – Defense Secretary William Cohen used his first visit to Argentina, Chile and Brazil to strengthen relationships with political and military leaders there.

En route to Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 22, Cohen lauded the growth of democracy in Latin America and noted the common interests the United States has with the nations he'd visit. These interests included mutual security against international terrorism and drug trafficking, and greater regional stability and security throughout Latin America.

"What we are looking at is a Latin America that is very different from the Latin America of yesteryear," Cohen told reporters. "In virtually every country in Latin America, there is now a democracy."

He said the countries he would visit have made enormous progress in dealing with regional security issues. For example, he cited Argentina's and Chile's efforts to overcome old political differences and their efforts to help resolve a longstanding border dispute between Ecuador and Peru.

Among the topics Cohen was expected to address with his South American hosts is the sale of American-made military hardware. He cautioned, however, that the United States wouldn't automatically sell weapons to any nation or group of nations without careful analysis.

"To the extent any country is interested in buying military equipment from the United States, we will take it on a case-by-case basis, [and in turn] I would expect a rational assessment of what they need to meet their security needs," Cohen said, adding U.S. willingness to help is not a blank check.

"We are interested in having a strong bilateral relationship with each of the countries in the region. To the extent that we can help modernize their forces, if they need it and can afford it, we are prepared to try and do so," he said.

The secretary's May 23 arrival in Buenos Aires coincided with new evidence linking Iran-sponsored terrorists to bombings in the Argentine capital earlier this decade. Cohen said he hopes to open a dialogue with Argentine leaders on the sharing of terrorist information. "Terrorism on the international level ought to be of concern to Argentina as well as the United States," he said.

Upon arrival, Cohen met with Argentine President Carlos Menem, Defense Minister Jorge Dominguez, senior Argentine military officers and American service members stationed there. From Buenos Aires, he traveled to Santiago, Chile, and Brasilia, Brazil, for similar meetings and consultations. He returned to Washington May 27.

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