Trump to meet with Colombian president at White House

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez are seen during the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Concert at Telenor Arena in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 11, 2016.

REUTERS

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will meet with President Donald Trump on Thursday, visiting a White House hamstrung by a chaotic week, just one day before the Mr. Trump embarks on his first foreign trip abroad.

The two world leaders, who have spoken twice by phone, will meet in person for the first time in order to establish a closer relationship with the U.S.'s most important partner in counter-narcotics efforts.

With looming budget cuts to foreign aide in the Trump administration's 2018 budget proposal, Mr. Santos is expected to seek a renewal of $450 million dollars in foreign aide from the U.S. Government in support of Peace Colombia, the peace accord between the Colombian Government and Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).  

Mr. Trump, who met with two former Colombian presidents and opponents of Santos and the peace accord last month, is expected to publicly support the deal alongside the current Colombian President during the course of their meetings. But U.S. financial support for the effort is still in question. 

In an interview with El Tiempo on Monday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said that the administration views "the peace process with hope and understands that it is not only good for Colombians but for the region and the United States."

Colombian Ambassador Juan Carlos Pinzon spoke of the importance of support for the peace efforts from the U.S. to reporters in a briefing on Tuesday but downplayed the importance of a public declaration of support.

"I don't want to oversimplify the budget, but in policy, love is expressed through the budget," Mr. Pinzon said.

A budgetary commitment from the White House to renewing the multimillion-dollar package, however, remains in doubt.

"I wouldn't expect the president to commit to anything," a White House official told CBS News.

Complicating U.S. support for terms of the agreement has been the worrying boom of cocaine cultivation and production in Colombia since the implementation of Peace Colombia. Colombian cocaine cultivation has increase by 18 percent from 2015 to 2016 – a record high, according to the Office of National Drug Control and Policy.  

Pure cocaine production has also surged, increasing by 37 percent. Eventually, this cocaine is trafficked to the U.S. — the world's biggest market.

The demobilization of FARC, which extracted itself from the billion-dollar cocaine business as part of the terms of the Peace Accord, has led to other criminal groups vying for a stake in the cocaine business where FARC has withdrawn.

Two outspoken critics of the peace deal, former Colombian Presidents Álvaro Uribe and Andrés Pastrana Arango, met with Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago in April. The meeting was not revealed to reporters at the time.

Mr. Pinzon dismissed the suggestion that the former presidents had influence with the Trump administration.

"It's natural when the President of the U.S. crosses in his path two former Presidents – good to have a conversation," he said. "I think higher is impossible in terms of seeing the people that influence the policy. And second, I think support in Congress speaks better than any other opposing idea."

President Santos, who arrived in D.C. on Wednesday, is prepared to make the case for continued financial aid of what Pinzon called "the most important strategic partner in the Western Hemisphere."

In describing conversations with skeptical members of Congress, Pinzon has argued that the rise in cocaine is precisely why the U.S. cannot pull back support from Colombia now.

"The only people that will benefit are our drug traffickers and criminals," he said.

The timing of Mr. Santos' visit caps a tumultuous week for the Trump administration, which has been reeling from damaging reports that the President pressured former FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into his former National Security Advisor General Mike Flynn.

"Living in the U.S. gives you a lot of calm these days, you know, because then you go to Colombia and you say, well this is a little bit of the same I been seeing out there," Pinzon said.