Opportunities for Cooperation Highlight Bilateral Meetings

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) 

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