Thursday, September 17, 2009

Uruguay and US fear arms race in South America

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Uruguay and the United States expressed concern today that recent weapons purchases could lead to an arms race in South America. In a joint appearance, Tabaré Vázquez, Uruguay's president, and Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, also pledged cooperation on trade. Clinton singled out Venezuela, urging it to disclose its arms purchases and make clear what they are for. She said: "They should be putting in place procedures to ensure that weapons they buy are not diverted to insurgent groups or illegal organisations like drug trafficking gangs and other cartels." "We hope that we can see a change in behaviour and attitudes on the part of the Venezuelan government." Vázquez said he feared that an arms race in the region could divert funds from economic development in the poor countries of the region. "We believe that it is quite inconvenient to the region to devote such significant economic resources for purchasing arms," he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president, said on Sunday that Russia has opened a $2.2bn line of credit with which his country could buy weapons. He said Venezuela needed more arms because it felt threatened by Colombia's decision to give US troops greater access to its military bases. Chávez has also expressed interest in starting a nuclear energy programme. Chávez is a close ally of Iran and defends its nuclear programme as being for peaceful purposes, while the United States and other countries accuse Tehran of having a secret nuclear weapons programme. In his appearance with Clinton, Vázquez also announced a new collaboration on cancer research between scientists in his country and the US national institutes of health.