Clinton rebuts Chavez assertions about Colombia pact

The Obama administration is moving closer to a security agreement with Colombia that Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez said would fan "winds of war" in Latin America.

But Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing with Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez after their meeting in Washington on Tuesday, stressed that the U.S. will not be establishing bases in Colombia as part of the defense cooperation agreement.

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"I want to be clear about what this agreement does and does not do," Clinton said. "First, the agreement does not create U.S. bases in Colombia. It does provide the United States access to Colombian bases, but command and control, administration and security will be Colombia’s responsibility, and any U.S. activity will have to be mutually agreed upon in advance. The United States does not have and does not seek bases inside Colombia.

"Second, there will be no significant permanent increase in the U.S. military presence in Colombia," Clinton added. "The congressionally mandated cap on the number of U.S. service members and contractors will remain and will be respected."

The pact, she said, would focus on "working together to meet the challenges posed by narco-traffickers, terrorists and other illegal armed groups in Colombia."

Chavez, who just announced plans to make his eighth visit to Iran early next month, has used the security agreement as pretext to build up his country's defenses and buy more arms from Russia.

"It is my moral duty to warn that winds of war are blowing" in South America, Chavez said at a Union of South American Nations meeting last week. "This could lead even to war in South America.

"The announcement of the installation of seven military bases" in Colombia could "become a tragedy," Chavez added at the meeting.

On his Sunday TV show, Chavez accused President Barack Obama of being "lost in the Andromeda Nebula" when it came to Latin American policy. While reserving much of his criticism for Obama's remarks about hypocrisy from Latin American critics who wanted the U.S. to get more involved in the Honduras crisis, Chavez also lashed out at the administration over the Colombian security agreement.

"This is just the start of an imperial military expansion," Chavez said.

Clinton was asked Tuesday about Chavez's claims that the agreement was a sign of aggression.

"I believe that any fair reading of what it is we are discussing is about our continued commitment to assist Colombia," Clinton told reporters. "It has nothing to do with other countries, and I only hope that people will actually take the time to understand that."

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