WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton threw his support
behind Colombian President Andres Pastrana's plan to end armed conflict in
Colombia on Wednesday as he opened a new era in relations between the
"This is truly a new beginning for Colombia and a new opportunity for our
nations to renew our bonds," Clinton said at a joint news conference with the
U.S.-Colombian relations sank to an all-time low when the United States
revoked the U.S. travel visa of Pastrana's predecessor, Ernesto Samper,
and branded him a "truly corrupt president" amid a scandal over allegations
he funded his 1994 election campaign with Cali cartel drug money.
Pastrana, making the first state visit by a Colombian president since 1975,
said he came with the hope of "forging an alliance with President Clinton and
the United States" in order to "overcome past problems and enter a new
Pastrana, 44, is seeking political and financial backing for his fragile
negotiate with leftist guerrillas and end a civil conflict that has killed 35,000
people in the past decade alone.
The Harvard-educated Pastrana plans to begin talks with Colombia's largest
rebel group next month, after temporarily clearing government troops out of
an area the size of Switzerland.
Clinton pledged to help Colombia as it tries to stop a conflict complicated
rebels and paramilitary groups doing business with violent drug traffickers.
"We stand ready to help," he said. "We hope the insurgents and
paramilitaries will seize this opportunity the president has offered them by
ending terrorism and hostage-taking and involvement with drug traffickers."
Clinton said the U.S. government would provide $280 million in new
assistance to Colombia -- double the amount from last year -- to help fight
the drug trade and bring an end to the conflict.
The money was part of a $2.6 billion boost in funding approved by
Congress to repress the drug traffic from South America, including the
purchase of six powerful Blackhawk helicopters for the Colombian police.
Clinton and Pastrana signed an anti-drug alliance committing both countries
to "use all means at their disposal" to stem narcotics production and
They agreed to use the proceeds from assets forfeited by drug traffickers
bolster Colombia's counternarcotics efforts.
"The fight against drugs is our joint responsibility," Clinton said. "It
us, not divide us."
Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine and a major source
heroin sold on U.S. streets.
Clinton on Wednesday night was to play host to Pastrana at an elegant state
dinner. The VIP guest list included famed Colombian author Gabriel Garcia
Pastrana took the opportunity to offer praise for Clinton as the president
seeks to survive an impeachment inquiry over his affair with Monica
"As a rarity in world history, he is one who forges world peace," Pastrana
said. "President Clinton is a friend of Colombia, and in this visit, we have
solidified our friendship."
ident Clinton is a friend of Colombia, and in this visit, we have solidified
Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.