Chile’s earthquake, Iran’s nuclear program top Hillary Clinton’s agenda on Latin America trip

By Matthew Lee, AP
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Clinton heading to Latin America after Chile quake

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s weeklong, five-nation tour of Latin America is certain to focus on the earthquake in Chile, even as she tries to build support for fresh penalties against Iran.

Clinton will briefly visit Santiago, Chile’s capital, Tuesday morning. “We want to show America’s support for the people of Chile while mindful of the realities on the ground,” Clinton aide Philippe Reines said Sunday.

The secretary had been scheduled to go to Chile late Monday for talks with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and President-elect Sebastian Pinera, who takes office March 11. But that meeting has been canceled as Chile struggles to recover from the quake.

Before Clinton left Washington on Sunday evening, she made clear she would show U.S. support for disaster rescue and recovery operations in Chile.

“Our hemisphere comes together in times of crisis, and we will stand side-by-side with the people of Chile in this emergency,” Clinton said Saturday after President Barack Obama called Bachelet to offer assistance.

The State Department issued a travel alert Sunday urging U.S. citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Chile.

Clinton starts her tour in Montevideo, Uruguay, at Monday’s inauguration of the country’s new president, ex-guerrilla Jose Mujica. Mujica’s election in November won praise from other left-leaning populist leaders in the region, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, a perennial thorn in the side of the U.S. who is cultivating closer ties with Iran.

U.S. officials say Clinton will meet with Mujica but has no plans for separate meetings with other inauguration guests — for example, Chavez or other like-minded leaders, such as Ecuador’s Rafael Correa or Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

The Obama administration has been pleased by Uruguay’s contributions to U.N. peacekeeping forces, and Clinton will encourage Mujica continue that policy, U.S. officials said.

Later Monday, Clinton will travel to Buenos Aires for a meeting with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez. The U.S. has praised Argentina’s stance on Iran’s nuclear program.

Fernandez may raise Argentina’s dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands, but Clinton is not expected to bring it up. “This is a matter for Argentina and for Britain and it’s not a matter for the United States to make a judgment on,” the top U.S. diplomat for the Americas, Arturo Valenzuela, said Friday.

After her brief stop in Santiago on Tuesday morning, Clinton heads to Brasilia, Brazil, for talks with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, whose support the U.S. is seeking for a new round of U.N. Security Council penalties against Iran over its nuclear program.

Brazil, a voting member of the Security Council, has been reluctant to additional penalties. Its leaders have expressed a desire to improve relations with Iran, and Lula plans to visit Tehran in May.

Clinton hopes to win Brazil’s backing for sanctions as well a commitment to press Iran to comply with international demands to prove that its nuclear intentions are peaceful.

“We will be telling our Brazilian counterparts that we encourage them to encourage Iran to regain the trust of the international community by fulfilling its international obligations, which we feel that they have not fulfilled,” Valenzuela said before Clinton’s trip.

Clinton also will attend a meeting in Costa Rica of regional foreign ministers that will focus on improving economic conditions in the hemisphere. She expects to see outgoing President Oscar Arias, who brokered an accord that ended the political crisis in Honduras last year.

Clinton will also meet with incoming Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla before wrapping up her tour in Guatemala on Friday.

In Guatemala, Clinton will meet a group of Central American leaders, including Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, who took over in late January from an interim government that had ousted leader Manuel Zelaya in a coup last June, leading to a political crisis.

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