BOGOTA, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Mexican President Felipe Calderon offered to mediate between Colombia and Latin American states critical of its military cooperation with the United States.
During a brief visit to Bogota, when he signed a new security agreement with President Alvaro Uribe, Calderon renewed assurances that Mexico respects Colombia's sovereign decision to allow additional U.S. troops to be stationed in seven Colombian bases to fight drug traffickers and insurgents.
The new accord indirectly supplements the Colombian-U.S. military cooperation, as it provides for the training of 11,000 Mexican police officers, exchange of intelligence and sharing of evidence to help bring narcotics trials to successful conclusion.
Calderon also backed up Uribe's argument that increased military cooperation with the United States does not mean Colombia has agreed to the U.S. military setting up bases on Colombian territory.
Calderon said that during last week's summit of North American leaders in Guadalajara, Mexico, President Barack Obama was quite emphatic that the United States has no interest "in establishing new military bases in the region."
Colombia's decision to allow U.S. anti-narcotics operations on its bases has been criticized by several leaders. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says the U.S. troop buildup is "for an attack on Venezuela" and has repeatedly warned of war.
At last week's summit of the Union of South American Nations in Quito, Ecuador, Chavez led an unsuccessful bid for a declaration condemning Colombia. Despite support for the diplomatic drive from host Ecuador, the initiative won little support from other UNASUR member countries.
Calderon's mediation offer comes as an earlier diplomatic initiative launched by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is under way. Fernandez has convened a summit of UNASUR nations at the Argentine resort of Bariloche Aug. 28. Colombian President Uribe, who stayed away from the Quito talks, is likely to attend, according to Argentine presidential aides.
In Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley told reporters at a State Department briefing Colombian-U.S. military cooperation was strictly a bilateral matter but that Washington and Bogota remain open to discussions with other countries in the region.
He said the discussions with Colombia on a new bilateral agreement dealt not only with narcotics being shipped to North America but also transnational crime and terrorism.
"What we're discussing would provide access to Colombian military facilities in order to undertake mutually agreed upon activities," Crowley said.
"If we are successful in this, it will be similar to agreements we have with many other close friends around the world."
"This is strictly a bilateral issue, but obviously, we and Colombia will continue to have discussions with other countries in the regions," he said. The agreement would allow the United States to function within Colombia to help with Colombia's security needs, he added.