BOGOTA, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- NATO's agreement to begin talks with Colombia on cooperation leading to full membership was announced Friday, angering neighboring Venezuela.
NATO has 28 member states, and several programs involving non-member nations. Colombia is one of five "global partners" with the designation of "NATO associate," several rungs below "cooperation" status, and has sought full partnership in the military bloc since 2009. It has numerous internal hurdles to overcome, notably a reversal of Colombia's Constitutional Court, which struck down a bill in 2015 permitting the country to seek a higher status in NATO.
"We filed the request almost nine years ago for a cooperation agreement, which is the highest position at NATO for countries that are not member states ... and they handed me the letter that says Colombia has been accepted to begin conversations on this cooperation," Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Friday in a speech at a military base.
Santos' announcement infuriated neighboring Venezuela, whose leftist government has been openly hostile to NATO. A statement from the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said the potential agreement is an "attempt to introduce external factors with nuclear capacity in our region, whose past and recent actions claim the politics of war, violate bilateral and regional agreements Colombia is a member of, through which Latin America and the Caribbean were declared a zone of peace. This announcement undermines the  Bandung [conference] principles that gave rise to the non-aligned movement, which expressly prohibits its member states from forming military alliances."