United States deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said Tuesday that the developing relationship between the United States and Colombia will focus on energy, science, and technology.
Steinberg told Colombia Reports the two countries addressed the issues at a meeting in Bogota on Monday as part of a high-level partnership dialogue focusing on ways to expand the U.S. relationship with Colombia beyond the war on drugs and trade. The diplomat said the issues reflect the the opportunities the U.S. has to work with its South American ally, and one of the new focuses will be energy cooperation.
“We support a number of projects we can be working on together in terms of pursuing our common interest in renewable energy, in conservation, in building a more interconnected electric grid for the region,” Steinberg said.
Another working group, Steinberg said, will address the issues of science and technology. On her visit to Colombia earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton signed an agreement to build a direct partnership around progress in those areas. The goal is to bring scientists and young people from the two countries together to cooperate on innovation and competitiveness in the industries of science and technology.
Beyond those specific topics, Steinberg said Monday’s meeting focused on how Colombia and the U.S. can partner regionally and globally. He said Colombia has a strong commitment to a global strategy for climate change, and also pointed to the opportunities for cooperation the two countries will have working together on the United Nations Security Council.
“There’s a broad range of opportunities not only in terms of work we can do bilaterally and as partners in a broader global framework,” Steinberg said.
He said Colombia will be an asset to the U.N. Security Council as a country with experience dealing with conflict situations, referring to Colombia’s ongoing internal war. The South American country has supported U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, demobilization in Sri Lanka, and humanitarian efforts in Haiti and Chile, and Steinberg expects cooperation of this kind to continue.
“The strong democratic tradition and support for international law here I think will make Colombia a leading voice on the council in it’s upcoming two year term,” Steinberg said. “We can’t imagine a better partner and we’re already beginning to work together to look at the agenda for the coming year and explore how we can coordinate our efforts.”
In the past, dialogue among the two countries has largely focused on the war on drugs through U.S.-financed Plan Colombia, and a pending Free Trade Agreement which the U.S. Congress has yet to ratify due to human rights concerns. Both countries have expressed interest in moving their relationship beyond these two issues, into more of a “true partnership.”
Steinberg also said the potential legalization of marijuana in California will not change U.S. drug policy, and the country will continue cooperating with Colombia to erradicate drugs. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has expressed concern that the drug’s legalization in the U.S. state will affect his country’s ability to curb drug production.
After the meeting in Bogota, the under secretary of state appeared Tuesday in Medellin with the city’s mayor Alonso Salazar and U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Michael McKinley at the Justice House in Comuna 13. The neighborhood is one of Medellin‘s most violent, with over 140 gangs in operation. Steinberg said he was struck by the progress made in the area over the past decade as a part of the partnership between the U.S. and Colombia, and that the U.S. is working with Colombia to improve the criminal justice system through the training of prosecutors.
“We believe this kind of work, this partnership and comprehensive strategies working with our USAID [United States Agency for International Development] is a critical chance for us to show the people of Colombia that we are interested together in trying to improve the welfare and opportunities for citizens here in Medellin,” Steinberg said.
The U.S. diplomat visited Bogota and Medellin on his second trip to Colombia as deputy secretary of state.