(President Barack Obama meets with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. President Barack Obama says there has been a 20 percent increase in trade between the U.S. and Colombia since the two countries signed a free trade agreement during his first term. The two leaders are holding talks focused on growing the economic relationship between their countries. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci))

Santos: Colombia-U.S. relations “at their best moment ever”

Following a meeting at the White House with President Obama, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said the U.S. and Colombia have moved beyond discussions of drug trafficking and security, saying “the agenda we have discussed this morning is much broader than it’s ever been.”

Among the topics the presidents discussed were education and energy, according to Santos.

“And I was telling President Obama that just as 50 years ago President Kennedy visited Colombia and launched the Alliance for Progress, we should think of something similar that we could do today:  Work together to launch a new alliance — an alliance for progress and peace, one that will help the entire region,” said the Colombian president and former journalist, who faces re-election.

The two leaders did not take questions from the press.  Speaking after the meeting, Obama said the increased security cooperation and progress in Colombia on peace talks has allowed the two countries to “widen our discussion to a whole host of issues:  how we can improve education and economic opportunity in Colombia; how we can work together on energy projects that are vital to the region; how we can take advantage of new technologies to expand the ability for a rural child to be exposed to the world; and how we can work in partnership together on many of the key regional challenges that take place.”

The two countries recently signed a free trade agreement, and Obama said Tuesday it had led to a 20 percent increase in trade since its signing.

At the University of Miami on Monday, Santos said he was cautiously optimistic about the ongoing peace talks with the FARC rebels.

Allert Brown-Gort,  Faculty Fellow at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, says a shift in U.S. policies beyond the war on drugs and security is long overdue.

“It is absolutely a good time to do a reset to go far beyond what we’ve been talking about for the last 20 years, which is drugs, violence and military hardware,” Brown-Gort states. “The U.S. has really ignored Latin America for the longest time.”

Brown-Gort adds there are voices within the U.S. government worried that the U.S. has lost ground in Latin America as China has increased its trade and investments in the region.

“Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Peru are thinking very strongly about the Trans-Pacific Trade Act.  They want to come in on a unified front. That’s one of the focuses of the administration’s second term when it comes to foreign policy. These are natural areas in which to start engaging.”

RELATED: Colombian president’s visit with Obama to emphasize economy, peace talks

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