Washington President-elect Alvaro Uribe of Colombia emerged from the White House on Thursday declaring that he had found "great determination" in President Bush to help Colombia's struggle against drug-financed terrorism.
"We are on the right track," Uribe said after a half-hour meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Bush stopped in for part of the session.
For their part, U.S. officials voiced resolve to help embattled Colombia combat outlaw armies roaming the country, even as analysts warned of new signs that the South American nation's countryside was falling deeper into the hands of guerrillas and outlaw militias.
"We are going to help Colombia in everything that may be necessary for it to win this war," said Otto Reich, an assistant secretary of state who attended several meetings with Uribe.
Uribe's meeting with Bush marked a watershed of sorts in U.S.-Colombian relations. For the first time in probably two decades, another issue counterterrorism moved sharply to the fore alongside drug trafficking to dominate bilateral relations.
Since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed that Colombia faces a terrorist threat from outlaw groups fueled by the narcotics industry.
Two leftist rebel groups and a rightist paramilitary army in Colombia are now on a U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"I have found great determination in President Bush to help in everything to do with the struggle against terrorism," Uribe said after the White House meeting.
In a major shift, Congress is likely within days to approve a Bush administration proposal to allow U.S. aid to Colombia to be used for counterinsurgency, as well as counternarcotics programs.
Washington has allotted nearly $2 billion in aid to Colombia in the past three years.
Reich said Uribe had told the White House he wanted to double the nation's corps of professional soldiers to 100,000 men and planned "to increase the proportion of the budget dedicated to the war."