(Note: Min. Santos's remarks are through an interpreter.)
STAFF: (Through interpreter.) The minister of Defense and then the secretary of Defense of the United States, and then we will have four questions.
MIN. SANTOS: Thank you very much.
First of all, I would like to deliver a special and warm greeting to the secretary of Defense, Mr. Robert Gates, and to thank him on behalf of the government and of all the Colombian people. His visit to our country this morning, we met with President Uribe and afterwards we went to the Tolemaida Air Base. And we had the opportunity to discuss how productive our cooperation has been, and we made an overview of the – past year -- here and of the -- (inaudible) -- here, and the results are there to say very grateful, very good.
We talked about having an opportunity to cooperate in the future of the United States and Colombia. For an example, our two countries that have an objective -- and this arrangement has been that of Plan Colombia. Perhaps this Plan Colombia has no (bad ?) information; it has not been done before. And this is a bi-party initiative on the part of the United States and on the part of Colombia that has given the -- (inaudible) -- and the results even greater than the ones expected.
So, Secretary Gates, once again, we want to thank you, your government, your people, for all the cooperation in this struggle against terrorism and drug trafficking. This is a struggle where we are together. We have joined forces, and we have --convinced that we will continue to have excellent results. Thank you very much.
SEC. GATES: Muchos gracias.
First let me thank Minister Santos for hosting my visit, as well as the people of Colombia. This has been a productive visit, an opportunity to discuss our shared security interests and a chance for me to witness undeniable progress in territorial control, human rights protection and democratic security.
I first met with Minister Santos at the Pentagon last February. I am pleased to return his visit and am honored by the hospitality President Uribe, the first lady and the minister have shown me here in beautiful Bogota and at the Tolemaida air base.
The U.S. and Colombia have enjoyed a long-standing cooperative defensive security relationship. Colombia has been one of our most prominent allies. That fact is underscored by our partnership in combating narcoterrorism, curbing transnational crime, and strengthening democratic institutions.
For the United States, supporting Colombia enhances regional security, thereby promoting stability and economic progress. Others benefit as well. Recently Colombian police have been training counterparts in Afghanistan in counter-narcotics operations.
Overall, Colombia has made substantial progress towards strengthening governmental institutions, pursuing economic reforms, and bolstering security in rural areas, all of which have made its citizens safer.
Colombia needs the continued support of the United States to consolidate the rule of law, social development, the reinsertion of demobilized groups, public security and economic development. The proposed U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement will also help to sustain these efforts in the future, and we will work hard to secure passage of this agreement. Let there be no doubt, challenges will remain, but they are surmountable.
We value Colombia's friendship and recognize the sacrifices of the Colombian people. I am grateful for the support that President Uribe and the government of Colombia have provided us. I look forward to continuing our partnership as Colombia strengthens its democratic institutions, extends the rule of law, and helps its people enjoy safer, more prosperous lives.
Q (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: We did have the opportunity -- President Uribe, the minister and I -- to discuss the hostage situation and to discuss the humanitarian agreement possibility. I am -- we obviously would like to see the safe return of the American hostages and the return of all of the hostages.
I think we were especially focused on the fact that the reason we have this problem is because of the FARC, and the decision to release the hostages will come as a result of a decision by the FARC. I think any opportunity that comes along that creates an environment in which the FARC will make that decision is to be examined very closely.
I know that -- President Uribe has assured me that there are limits on what he will and will not agree to as part of this possible agreement, and I'm satisfied with those limits, in terms of what Colombia is prepared to accept or not accept. So I think we had a good conversation. I know that Colombia is doing everything in its power to secure the release of the hostages, and anything we can do to help this process we would be happy to contribute.
Q (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: We are prepared to -- above all we want the safe return of our hostages, and we are prepared to work with the government of Colombia to any extent that we can to help make that happen. How the Colombian government chooses to pursue opportunities to secure that return I think is up to the government of Colombia. And as I indicated in my previous answer, I think that the limits that President Uribe outlined to me were certainly satisfactory to me.
Q (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: I'm sorry, I didn't hear the first -- the question you addressed to me.
Q (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: I think that our support remains firm and strong. I've been impressed by the efforts toward professionalization of the Colombian military, toward the increased efforts, toward rule of law, toward efforts to bring to justice people from the past and certain high profile cases. So I think that, frankly, we are quite satisfied with the status of our relationship with the Colombian military.
MIN. SANTOS: (Interpretation in progress) -- here is that these vandals, as you term them, were -- the same forces were the ones that brought to (light ?) because of internal investigations, and this shows that the armed forces are in a process of transparency and self- cleanness that makes possible that this came out to the public, this penetration you were talking about.
Now, the changes on the part of the Department of Defense, there won't be many changes. In general terms, the aid will be continued, and in the future we will discuss -- (interpretation stops).
Q (Off mike.)
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I sent a group to Iraq last week to look into the proper oversight of the security contractors working for the Department of Defense. They have come back with some recommendations. I have preliminarily reviewed them and they seem to make sense to me. I still need to go back and review them with my colleagues at the department, but we will be taking some steps I think to enhance the command and control of these groups and the coordination of their activities by our military commanders in Iraq. So I'm content we're headed in the right direction in that respect.
We are looking forward to participating in Plan Mexico. The Mexican government -- President Calderon has made proposals. We have some proposals for financial -- further financial assistance before the Congress, and we look forward to working even more closely with Mexico to deal with this problem of narcotraffickers that is such an issue for all of us.
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