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U.S. Defense Minister Gates in Latin America and Caribbean.

DOD Minister Gates with colombian President Alvaro Uribe in Bogotá.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday pushed for a stronger trade relationship with Colombia as part of his efforts to solidify support for the United States in a region where rival countries, both friends and foes, are attempting to expand their influence.

Iran is trying to expand its influence in the region, and Russia and China are making commercial inroads.

Gates said he hopes to see a “renewed effort” to finalize a free trade agreement with Colombia, which he hailed as a “linchpin of security and prosperity in South America.”

“It’s a good deal for Colombia. It’s also a good deal for the United States,” Gates said.

Gates’ remarks followed meetings with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Defense Minister Gabriel Silva, where he said the issue was raised.READ MORE HERE.