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US, Peru to update 60-year-old defense accord

LIMA -- The United States and Peru decided on Saturday to renegotiate a 60-year-old defense cooperation agreement between the two countries as Washington seeks to deepen security ties with Latin America after a decade focused on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said updating the 1952 bilateral defense agreement with Peru would help the two countries work more closely on issues of mutual concern, from terrorism and drug trafficking to response to natural disasters.

“We have agreed to begin this process with the aim of improving and modernizing the agreement,” Defense Minister Pedro Cateriano told a joint news conference. Panetta said updating the accord would “improve our ability to conduct joint activities, to do training and other exchanges.”

“Ultimately that will help us deal with shared security challenges in the future,” the U.S. defense secretary said.

The effort would update the Cold War-era document to take into consideration current threats facing the two sides and legal developments, including a new Peruvian constitution as well as new laws.

The decision is part of a new U.S. defense strategy approved earlier this year that shifts strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region while deepening training and assistance to partner nations to help them provide for their own defense.

“The principle thrust of our ... new defense strategy is aimed at reaching out and developing partnerships and alliances throughout the world and particularly in this region,” Panetta said on Saturday after meeting with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala.

The Pentagon released a Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement on Thursday that gave additional details about how the new strategy would be implemented in Latin America.

The statement called for focusing on 21st-century threats like terrorism and drug trafficking, helping partners develop and professionalize their military forces and promoting integration and interoperability.

Washington is especially worried about drug trafficking and violence in Mexico and Central America and cocaine production and rebel groups in Peru and Colombia.

But with a long and complicated history of interventions and meddling in Latin America, the United States will have to overcome deep suspicions as it moves to build deeper military ties in a region where stable democracies have taken root in recent decades.

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