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Chile remains on Clinton’s itinerary

Associated Press / March 1, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s weeklong five-nation tour of Latin America is certain to focus on the earthquake in Chile while she also tries to build support for fresh penalties against Iran.

The itinerary released before the quake Saturday included a visit to Santiago, Chile’s capital, beginning tonight. While authorities were assessing quake’s damage, State Department officials said Clinton planned to go to Chile, although her schedule of events once there may change.

But Clinton, set to depart yesterday evening, made clear that she would show US support for disaster rescue and recovery operations.

Clinton starts her trip in Uruguay at today’s inauguration of the country’s new president, former guerrilla Jose Mujica. Mujica’s election in November won praise from other left-leaning populist leaders in the region, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, a perennial thorn in the side of the United States who is cultivating closer ties with Iran.

Clinton’s announced schedule puts her in Chile late today for talks with President Michelle Bachelet and President-elect Sebastian Pinera, who takes office March 11. She is also scheduled to meet with other regional leaders during stops in Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Uruguay.

In the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, Clinton will see Mujica and President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina. US officials say Clinton has no plans for separate meetings with other inauguration guests - for example Chavez or other like-minded leaders such as Ecuador’s Rafael Correa or Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

The Obama administration has been pleased by Uruguay’s contributions to UN peacekeeping forces and Argentina’s stance on Iran’s nuclear program, and Clinton will encourage Mujica and Fernandez to continue those policies, US officials said.

Fernandez may raise Argentina’s dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands, but Clinton is not expected to bring it up. “This is a matter for Argentina and for Britain, and it’s not a matter for the United States to make a judgment on,’’ the top US diplomat for the Americas, Arturo Valenzuela, said Friday.