RIO DE JANEIRO -- Secretary of State John Kerry met Monday with leaders of Colombia, Washington's top ally in South America, offering support as negotiators move ahead with talks aimed at ending that country's long-running guerrilla war, and seeking to assuage concerns over the scope of the National Security Agency's surveillance practices.
"We are necessarily engaged in a very complex effort to prevent terrorists from taking innocent lives in many different places," Mr. Kerry said at a news conference in Bogotá, Colombia's capital, at the start of a two-day visit to South America that will include meetings on Tuesday in Brazil. He added that American policies "will be geared in an appropriate way to work with our friends and our partners to respect their laws."
Mr. Kerry's trip, coming after a visit by President Obama to Mexico and Costa Rica in May, is aimed at bolstering ties in a region where the United States' influence has faded as China has surged as a crucial trading partner for an array of Latin American countries and as Brazil has sought to raise its economic and diplomatic profile.
The United States, which has provided Colombia with more than $8 billion in security and antinarcotics aid since the 1990s, is still channeling more than $300 million a year as the country contends with a five-decade-old insurgency led by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and resilient drug-trafficking networks.
President Juan Manuel Santos has focused more on integrating the nation with its neighbors while giving economic and social issues more prominence in shaping ties with the United States.
"Santos has been intent on engaging other players in the hemisphere and globally and not being viewed as so tied to Washington," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington policy group.
But even Mr. Santos, a staunch ally of the United States and former defense minister who worked closely with American intelligence agencies, had publicly requested clarification about the American spying.
Colombia's foreign minister, María Angela Holguín, and Mr. Kerry, who met with Mr. Santos, appeared to smooth over differences on spying. Ms. Holguín said conversations with Mr. Kerry and other American officials had been "very constructive."
Susan Abad contributed reporting from Bogotá, Colombia.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.