Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met Thursday with President Trump, hoping to secure guarantees for a continuation of millions of dollars in USA aid as his country emerges from a half-century of civil war.
The two held a joint press conference following their private sit down, but given the current turmoil in Washington, the media on hand was more focused on a widening Trump scandal that has snowballed daily since he fired the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on May 9.
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TRUMP: Well, I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. Obama committed some $500 million a year over five years to support Colombia's landmark peace agreement, helping lock in the advances of the previous decade and a half.
Colombia has suffered more than any other country in the war on drugs, he added.
A State Department study released in March estimated coca crops at 470,000 acres past year, 50% more plantings than estimated in 1999, before the United States began dispersing aid under Plan Colombia.
Santos said his government has launched a new strategy to combat the increased coca cultivation. We have seized record amounts of tons last year, and this year, we're doing even better than last year.
"For a long time our nations have had a strategic alliance", Santos said. (In response, according to Colombian officials, Trump talked about the Colombian materials used in his buildings.) Last month, Congress maintained assistance for Peace Colombia in its bipartisan budget deal, a signal of enduring support for the longstanding U.S.
While Colombia's peace agreement did not take top billing at the White House Thursday, approval of the treaty has come in the form of aid.
Santos will walk away with no illusions about the fact that continuing administration support for the peace process will be contingent on turning the tide on cocoa.
Slashing support for Colombia would be a major setback to the peace process and could undermine decades of USA effort against violent insurgency and narcotics trafficking.
But a report in the New York Times this week that Mr. Trump allegedly asked Comey to end the investigation undercut the president's rationale and has led to accusations from some in Congress that he was attempting to obstruct justice. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Roy Cardin, D-Md, co-chairs of a Colombia Task Force that promoted continued engagement.
He said Colombia should continue with "Plan Colombia", which includes a coalition against terrorism and narcotics that should help ensure stability in the country.