President Joe Biden told Colombian President Ivan Duque on Thursday he plans to designate Colombia as a major non-NATO ally, granting the strategic status to a key country in a turbulent region as the United States seeks to isolate Russia.
In White House talks, Biden and Duque said they would work toward signing a regional migration agreement at the Summit of the Americas in June in Los Angeles. Colombia is currently home to 1.9 million migrants from neighboring Venezuela.
Major non-NATO ally status is a designation bestowed by the United States to close allies that have strategic working relationships with Washington but are not members of NATO. Argentina gained this status in 1998 and Brazil in 2019.
“Colombia is the linchpin” in the Southern Hemisphere, Biden told Duque.
The two leaders gave no details on the shape of the expected framework on migration. The United States has struggled to contend with thousands of migrants seeking asylum on its southern border with Mexico.
Their meeting took place days after secret negotiations between senior U.S. officials and representatives of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro arranged the release of two American detainees. The move had raised eyebrows in Colombia, which has tense relations with Venezuela.
There was no sign of any tension in their public remarks. Both presidents condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Duque said Colombia was offering assistance to countries in that region on handling the mass of people evacuating from Ukraine.
“This has been a very horrifying moment for the world,” said Duque. “Nothing justifies the bloodbath.”
A U.S. delegation’s weekend visit to Venezuela and talks with Maduro focused on the fate of the detained Americans and the possibility of easing U.S. oil sanctions on OPEC member Venezuela to fill a supply gap if Biden banned Russian oil imports – something he did on Tuesday.
Venezuela is Russia’s closest ally in South America, and the United States is gauging whether the country would distance itself from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Maduro’s management of Venezuela has caused a humanitarian crisis that has affected Colombia.
A senior Biden administration official predicted before the meeting that the U.S. talks with Venezuela would not sour the Biden meeting.
Duque’s visit came ahead of legislative elections and presidential primaries in Colombia on Sunday, where several left-leaning candidates have floated changes to the cornerstone of the U.S.-Colombia relationship – the fight against drug trafficking.
Duque, who will leave office in August, came under sustained pressure from the Trump administration to decrease cultivation of coca, the base ingredient in cocaine. Colombia has long been a top producer of the drug, despite billions in U.S. funds meant to combat it.