By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla
Washington, Mar 10 (EFE).- US President Joe Biden on Thursday promised to include Bogota on Washington’s list of its main non-NATO allies during a White House meeting with his Colombian counterpart, Ivan Duque, which took place at a delicate moment due to recent contacts between the US and Venezuela.
The trip made by a US delegation last weekend to discuss with Venezuela the release of US prisoners and the energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hovered over the first formal meeting between Biden and Duque at the White House.
But Biden worked to dispel any doubts about the close US relationship with Colombia and announced his intention to make the country Washington’s main non-NATO ally in South America, a special status that carries with it economic and military privileges and which 17 other countries around the world enjoy.
“That’s exactly what you are, a major, major non-NATO ally, and this is a recognition of the unique and close relationship between our countries,” the US leader told Duque in the Cabinet Room where each of them were accompanied by a small group of advisers.
“Colombia is the linchpin, in my view, to the whole hemisphere,” Biden said.
After the White House meeting, Duque held a solo press conference at Colombia’s Embassy in Washington, where he bragged about the new status for Bogota, emphasizing that it will bring the bilateral relationship “to the highest point it has been in history.”
He said that the announcement will give Colombia “privileged access to security materiel” and will allow Bogota’s relationship with US cooperation agencies to be “strengthened.”
Amid reporters’ insistent questions, Duque confirmed that he spoke with Biden about energy after the recent US-Venezuela contacts and he said he told the US president that “Colombia is an actor that can contribute much more” than Venezuela to stabilizing oil prices.
“Today, Colombia is a country that has more ability to supply hydrocarbons than Venezuela has,” Duque said, emphasizing that crude oil pumped in his country amounts to only 3 percent of US oil imports.
Colombia produced 890,000 barrels of oil daily and is aiming to reach the million-barrel level, Duque said.
Meanwhile, Venezuela produced 755,000 barrels per day, although President Nicolas Maduro said Wednesday that his production goal for this year is two million barrels per day.
“Colombia will contribute to increasing its market in the United States insofar as is needed and insofar as we are able,” Duque promised.
In addition, the Colombian leader reiterated several times during his visit with Biden that the talks between Washington and Caracas do not alter Bogota’s stance vis-a-vis the Maduro government and that “Colombia and the US have not recognized (Maduro’s) dictatorial regime as an interlocutor.”
“It’s important to say that the US and Colombia will keep demanding the installation of democracy in Venezuela and calling Nicolas Maduro a dictator,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday emphasized at her daily press conference that the US still does not recognize Maduro as “the leader of Venezuela,” a country with which Washington broke diplomatic relations in 2019 when it recognized the interim presidency of opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Psaki said that the “priority” of the US officials’ trip to Venezuela was the release of US prisoners there and, although the energy issue was discussed, there are no talks under way to “import” Venezuelan crude to the US or to lift sanctions on that country’s oil sector.
Apart from the issues of security and Venezuela, Biden and Duque also discussed the challenge of migration at the their meeting, a matter that Biden feels cannot be resolved by a single nation or along a single border, saying “We have to work together.”
In that regard, he said that the US wants to sign a regional declaration to protect migration in June in Los Angeles during the Summit of the Americas, which a number of regional heads of state are slated to attend.
Along those lines, Duque said that he will support the joint declaration that Biden is pushing and will offer “Colombia’s experience,” given that Bogota has issued 500,000 temporary protected status cards to migrants, mostly Venezuelans.