SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Opportunities to expand military cooperation highlighted discussions Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had here yesterday with two of his South American counterparts.
Gates, who is here to attend the Conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas, had bilateral meetings with Bolivian Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra Soto and Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim.
A senior defense official speaking on background told reporters the secretary thanked Soto for hosting the conference, which brings together most of the Western Hemisphere’s defense leaders. Gates noted the various areas in which the U.S. and Bolivian militaries already cooperate, the official added, and pointed out that opportunities exist for further collaboration in areas such as search and rescue and disaster response.
The U.S. and Bolivian defense leaders also discussed progress in a framework agreement that could lead to normalization of relations between the two countries. Bolivia’s president expelled the U.S. ambassador in September 2008 on grounds that U.S. officials said were baseless, and as a result, the United States expelled Bolivia’s ambassador. Despite that diplomatic rift, Gates noted to Soto, the United States was the single biggest financial donor to Bolivia last year, contributing $55 million in aid, the official said.
But even as the countries continue to work on the agreement that could lead to normalized relations, Gates told his Bolivian counterpart that further military cooperation is possible in the meantime, citing education, conferences and exercises as possible avenues for an expanded relationship between the U.S. and Bolivian militaries, the official said. In addition, the official told reporters, Gates invited the Bolivian military to observe a disaster response exercise in the United States that’s scheduled in May.
“I think the overall theme was the importance of remaining engaged and the opportunities for engagement,” the official said. “We face common challenges in areas like natural disasters and disaster response. There are certainly ways in which we can collaborate more.”
The Bolivians not only seemed receptive, the official added, but also brought up the same issues on their side of the discussion. “I think the minister was very positive,” he said. The secretary’s meeting with Jobim was the latest of many, the official said, and confirmed the depth and collaborative spirit of the military relationship between the United States and Brazil.
“They really [built] upon the momentum of the defense cooperation agreement that was signed in April of this year,” the official said, noting that the two defense leaders signed a new military information-sharing agreement at the end of today’s meeting.
The U.S. and Brazilian militaries are working together on cybersecurity, conducting educational exchanges and engaging in strong cooperation in science and technology, the official said. “These are areas – particularly cybersecurity –- of great concern and interest to both countries,” he added.
Gates and Jobim also discussed challenges in Haiti and the work Brazil is doing there with the United Nations stabilization mission, the official said.
“The secretary commended the Brazilians for that effort and their continuing commitment to dealing with what is arguably a very difficult and challenging environment,” he added.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)