American Forces Press Service
SANTIAGO, Chile, Nov. 19, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here today for a visit meant to reinforce what officials said already is a strong military relationship between the two countries.
Tomorrow, Gates will meet with Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet, and the two defense leaders later will see Chilean special forces demonstrations.
"We have, among other shared interests, a mutual desire to develop regional mechanisms to support disaster relief," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said yesterday. "The capabilities that Chile has developed in this arena were on full display to the world this year, from its remarkable response to the earthquake and tsunami that struck in February to the extraordinary rescues of the 33 miners trapped underground for 70 days."
This is Gates' second visit to Chile as defense secretary, and his first in three years. A senior Defense Department official told reporters in a background briefing yesterday that this weekend's visit follows a series of military visits and exchanges between the two nations over the past two years.
Gates and Ravinet last met in September at the Pentagon.
The senior official said Gates' visit to Chile is "an effort to underscore the importance we place on the defense relationships with Chile."
With Chile taking on an increasingly prominent regional and global security role, interoperability is an area with potential for more cooperation and support between the U.S. and Chilean militaries, officials said, noting that the two nations already work together in a number of multinational exercises and training deployments.
Chile continues to increase its level of international engagement, the senior official said. And with a new defense reform law that calls for the branches of the Chilean military to work together more, Gates' visit provides a chance to share lessons the United States learned in a similar undertaking, he added.
"It's clear that Chile wants to be much more engaged and involved in the international arena from the defense side," the official said. "There are, and have been, 500 Chilean troops as part of [the U.N. stabilization mission] in Haiti since 2004. They've had U.N. contingents in Cyprus and Bosnia and other places."
In addition, the official said, Chile and Argentina are working together on a joint peacekeeping task that is scheduled to be ready in 2012 to deploy when needed.
Also, the Chilean military and the Texas National Guard have had a formal relationship since April 2009 through the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program, focusing on crisis response airlift capabilities, defense support to civil authorities, diver/port of entry security, and reserve affairs legislative support.
"There are many areas of common interest and common objectives," the official continued, "and I think the secretary is very interested in solidifying, institutionalizing and strengthening that."
Robert M. Gates
Special Report: Travels With Gates
State Department Background Note on Chile