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Gates Launches Latin American Trip

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador, Oct. 2, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates set off today on a five-day, five-country Latin America trip with his first stop here this morning to meet with the country’s president and other senior political and military officials.

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, center, and U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Charles Glazer, right, receive an honor guard salute from the El Salvadoran Inspector General Honor Guard on arrival in El Salvador, Oct. 2, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Gates had a similar visit planned this summer, but rescheduled after he was needed at policy meetings in preparation for a July 15 report to Congress on progress in Iraq.

The trip is a symbol of President Bush’s interest in Latin America, a senior defense official told media members traveling with Gates.

“We hope to demonstrate our continuing interest in strengthening U.S. defense and security ties with our allies and partners in the hemisphere,” the official said on the flight here.

The trip comes at a “unique moment in history” in which many countries in the region find themselves facing the same threats: transnational crime, drug and arms trafficking, and terrorism, the official said.

He said some countries lack adequate law enforcement and border security and suffer economically. “Politics, economics and security are all related, so, we find, in fact, there is a lot to discuss,” the official said.

El Salvador is a member of the United Nations and an active participant in the Central American Security Commission, which seeks to promote regional arms control. The country has been a committed partner in the war on terrorism, and also has provided a battalion for service in Iraq.

Years of civil war had devastated the country, but in the past 15 years, political and military reforms have stabilized it, and free markets have reduced poverty by more than 30 percent.

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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
U.S. State Department country background note on El Salvador
Photo Essay

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