(Note: Minister Rey's remarks are provided through interpreter.)
MIN. REY: (In Spanish.) I want to thank Secretary Gates, once again, for being here today to talk about issues of common interests for both countries. We had the opportunity to review the priorities that we both have like the fight against drug trafficking and the remainders of terrorist activity in our country.
We have a wonderful relationship with the United States at the economic, political and military level. I want to make a slight observation, a close friend of mine, Aldo Mariátegu the director from the Correo newspaper, he has speculated that the possibility of holding back the acquisition of Chinese tanks has something to do with the intervention of the United States and that that would explain the presence of Undersecretary Arturo Valenzuela, the presence of Secretary Robert Gates here today and also the presence of aircraft carrier Vincent. That's not the case, I repeat, the decision that we have made to extend, to hold back the purchase of Chinese tanks, which I still consider to be the best possibility available given the technical specifications and the market conditions.
That was a decision made at the defense ministry by the defense minister and with the recommendations-- that is the recommendation that we will issue to the Security Council to prioritize our purchase of equipment and for equipment that will allow us to effectively deal with natural disasters, and, of course, in the fight against narcoterrorism.
That is my brief presentation and I will now hand the floor over to Secretary Gates.
SEC. GATES: First, let me thank President Garcia, Minister Rey and the Peruvian people for their hospitality during my visit. I was particularly honored to have the chance to pay tribute to the Peruvian armed forces earlier today.
Mr. Rey and I just completed a very good meeting, very thorough meeting and our discussions focused on the way we can continue to strengthen the defense relationship and partnership between the United States and Peru.
During our conversations, I reaffirmed that Peru's security is of great importance to the United States. We remain committed to assisting Peru in its fight against illicit trafficking, narcotics and terrorism, challenges that can only be overcome by strong international cooperation.
Our two nations are deepening the already robust military partnership. We discussed expanding this relationship through bilateral and multilateral initiatives. These initiatives include joint staff talks in Washington tomorrow, beginning tomorrow and bilateral working group schedule for late May.
The initiatives also include the Inter-American Defense Board and increasing levels of cooperation with regional security partners like Colombia and Mexico.
The United States is also encouraged by the recent military training and doctrine exchanges between Peru and Colombia and we stand ready to assist as appropriate in these regional initiatives.
Peruvian security forces have proven that they are willing and able to respond to regional humanitarian needs, and I want to commend Peru for its commitment to send 150 additional peacekeepers this week to the U.N. mission in Haiti. And the bilateral security relationship between the United States and Peru is vitally important to both of us, and again, Minister Rey, thank you for your friendship and I welcome the chance to continue this dialogue in the future with you and look forward to our meeting with President Garcia shortly.
Q First, a question to the minister. Would Peru consider hosting U.S. forces to help offset the loss of the Manta base in Ecuador? And to Secretary Gates, is there any U.S. interest in finding a replacement for the Manta base in Peru or elsewhere in Latin America?
MIN. REY: We haven't talked about the presence of American troops in Peru and we talked only about the continued deepening and the ongoing relationship between the United States and Peru.
SEC. GATES: I was just going to echo that. We did not discuss any facility like that in our very comprehensive meeting this morning.
I think the key here as we look to the future, how can we best work together along with Colombia in the counter-narcotics arena? We clearly want to do that in a way that is comfortable and politically acceptable for our partners and we will examine any possibilities in the future in terms of air surveillance for counter-narcotics and so on within that framework. But there was no discussion whatsoever of any possible phase.
Q Mr. Minister, how concerned are you about growing Iranian influence in the region? And a question for Secretary Gates, China has been willing to work with the U.N. on Iranian sanctions before, but then used negotiating sessions to water them down.
Should we be optimistic or do you have any reason to be optimistic that this latest round of negotiations might be more fruitful?
MIN. REY: Although the potential influence of Iran wasn't mentioned and touched upon in our conversations, there are obvious indications of that trend. We hope that the role that Brazil is to play to ensure that Iranian influence doesn't come to fruition in our region is successful. And I think and hope that other South American countries wish that the Venezuelan government understands that it is our sincere wish to coexist peacefully, and that entails cooperation among all the countries in the region.
SEC. GATES: I left Washington before I could get information in terms of the conversations between the president and Hu Jintao, so I didn't know exactly where the Chinese are in terms of the U.N. Security Council resolution at this point, although all of the indications are that they were moving in the direction of being willing to support a resolution.
I think what is important about the U.N. resolution in many respects is less the specific content than the isolation of Iran by the rest of the world. And a U.N. Security Council resolution provides a new platform, if you will, a new legal platform for individual countries and organizations, such as the European Union, to impose much more stringent specific sanctions than maybe provided for in the Security Council resolution.
So my sense is that progress is being made toward agreement on a resolution and the important aspect of both the isolation of Iran and then using it as a launching pad for further more specific sanctions by individual countries and cooperating nations.
Q My question is, first, in general, you both talked about deepening cooperation among both countries. And this cooperation largely has to do with drug trafficking. And I wanted to know what the condition in the future for U.S. aid is in this area. I understand that U.S. aid to Peru has remained stable in the area of drug trafficking. And I also wanted to know about interdicting flights. They have been held up for the last 10 years. And I want to know what the possibility is for furthering that initiative.
Also, specific to Secretary Gates, you talked about -- there was mention about statements that you made arriving in Peru about some anti-American trends, or some anti-American statements. I wonder if your presence here and your relationship with Peru is in order to pose a common front against Venezuela.
MIN. REY: We have talked directly about the possibility of having greater U.S. cooperation against drug trafficking, and indirectly about the ways in which we can become more effective with interdicting flights, but also in maritime interdiction, specifically with the Peruvian plan called "Costa Norte" -- "northern coast."
Let me say something about the question you directed to Secretary Gates as well. Peru, for a number of years, has started out on the path of fostering more investment, free-market economy, greater integration, economic liberalization, more openness, the rule of law. And we have begun to see the benefits of this type of initiative. Of course, economic stability that allows attracting of investment and have a more consistent fiscal policy.
We understand that there are countries that believe that the path lies elsewhere. We believe that is the wrong path; that, as a result of policies adopted , and this I say respectfully, by President Chavez in his country, this has led to the reduction or the paralyzation of new investments, price controls, capital flight, expropriations, food scarcity, and even energy scarcity.
We respect Venezuela's right to adopt the policies that it wishes, but we also ask that Peru's right to adopt the policies that lead to economic -- the economic well-being and development of its people are respected as well. And in that sense, we will continue to collaborate with the United States and request U.S. cooperation to this end.
SEC. GATES: The purpose of my trip here to South America is a positive purpose, and it is to strengthen our friendship and our military-to-military cooperation with Peru and Colombia.
Actually, my trip was to have begun in Brasilia, where the Brazilian minister of defense and I were to sign a defense cooperation agreement between the United States and Brazil. Because President Lula came to Washington with his defense minister for the nuclear security summit, I remained in Washington and signed that agreement with my Brazilian counterpart, and we are very pleased with this agreement.
And these arrangements between ourselves with Brazil, ourselves with Peru, ourselves with Colombia, are about these countries, not about anybody else. And that will similarly be the case in the last stop on my trip, which will be in Barbados for a meeting with the defense ministers of seven Caribbean nations.
Q Good morning, Mr. Gates. This is a question for you. I want to maybe ask you about Iran and the opposition of Brazil and Turkey regarding the proposal of nuclear weapons. What is the position of the U.S. military?
SEC. GATES: The position of the U.S. with respect to?
Q Regarding the -- (in Spanish, then continues in English) -- regarding the Brazilian-Turkey proposal on the Iranian nuclear weapons.
SEC. GATES: I'm not familiar with it.
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