Obama, Colombian president to meet

President Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will meet at the White House Tuesday in a bilateral summit designed to signal a transition from a partnership based on joint security operations to economic partnerships, according to administration officials.

The meeting between the world leaders is designed to show a transformation “from a relationship that was based on helping the Colombian law enforcement” to one addressing labor, human rights, and land issues in the South American country.

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“Certainly our security and defense relationships remain important, but they’re being more and more overtaken by this work that is more about promoting economic development,” a senior administration official said.

The meeting comes amid peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, an anti-government guerrilla group that has waged a bloody insurgency campaign inside the country for nearly five decades.

That campaign intensified in the 1990s, when a Colombian crackdown on drug cultivation and trafficking sparked anger among rural peasant farmers. 

But the battles have fizzled in recent years, after the Colombian government — aided by U.S. military assistance — was largely able to turn back the insurgent attacks. Now Colombia and U.S. officials are hopeful that peace talks taking place in Havana can bring an end to the civil conflict that has taken nearly a quarter million lives. 

Speaking in Miami on Monday, Santos said he was optimistic that the talks could bear fruit.

"Things are moving hopefully in the correct direction,” he said, according to Reuters.

He noted that the discussion with Obama would be focused not on security concerns, but economic ones like education and technology, and said it represented a change in Colombia’s status in the world.

“It's a different scenario,” Santos said.

In Washington, the Obama administration said it would be scaling back its role in security operations in Colombia.

The senior administration official said that as conditions on the ground improved and the Colombian authorities were able to establish more control of their country, U.S. assistance was “shifting” into economic arenas.

“The bottom line on this is that the security assistance package was always designed to be phased out over time based on how conditions were improving on the ground in Colombia,” the official said. “And in fact, conditions have been improving on the ground and so every year, year on year, the security assistance package is most likely going to be declining over time.”