U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Friday began a four-day trip to South America, where he attended a regional meeting of defense ministers in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, this weekend. Mr. Gates’ first stop was Chile, where he met with Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet to discuss disaster preparedness in the region. Chile is among Washington's "closest partners in the hemisphere" and the two countries share "a mutual desire to develop regional mechanisms to support disaster relief," Pentagon Press Secretary, Geoff Morrell told reporters.
On Sunday Mr. Gates arrived at the IX Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas, a gathering held every 18 months that aims to improve cooperation among the militaries in the hemisphere. On the agenda at the conference included issues such as how to promote greater openness in defense budgeting, the role of women in the military, disaster response, and transparency in arms sales and purchases.
On the subject of growing Iranian influence in Latin America, Mr. Gates said, "I think the countries negotiating with Iran in this field should be very cautious and very careful about how they interact with the Iranians about their real motives and what they are really trying to do." Bolivian President Evo Morales countered those comments, saying Bolivia will create alliances with any country that it chooses regardless of U.S. opinion. Gates responded, "As a sovereign state Bolivia obviously can have relationships with any country in the world that it wishes to," Gates expressed on Sunday. "I think Bolivia needs to be mindful of the number of United Nations Security Council resolutions that have been passed with respect to Iran's behavior."