President Joe Biden announced during a meeting with Colombian President Iván Duque on Thursday that the United States is designating Colombia a major non-NATO ally – a significant move that will bring the two countries together on security and economic cooperation.
“Today, I am proud to announce that I intend to designate Colombia as major non-NATO ally,” Biden said at the bilateral meeting. “This is a recognition of the unique and close relationship between our countries.”
Biden added that “Colombia is the lynchpin, in my view, to the whole hemisphere – north and south.”
Major non-NATO allies are not entitled to specific security guarantees, like NATO members under Article 5, but the designation changes how the US military interacts with the country, according to the State Department. These allies are eligible to receive material and supply loans, serve as a location for US-owned War Reserve stockpiles and can enter into agreements with the United States on training. Additionally, private companies from the designated country can bid on contracts to maintain, repair or overhaul US military equipment overseas.
As of January, there are more than 15 nations that are designated as major non-NATO allies to the United States, which includes countries like Australia, Japan, Israel, the Philippines and, most recently, Qatar.
The US and Colombia already work closely on issues like immigration, counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism and the US government has provided more than $10 billion in aid to the country since 2000.
Sitting across Biden in the Cabinet Room, Duque said, “We appreciate a lot that you have made the decision to designate Colombia a primary non-NATO ally, because that is the recognition of the principles and values that we have shared.”
The move comes as Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine upends global geopolitics and the US works to shore up its NATO defenses in Eastern Europe.
Biden on Thursday thanked Duque for Colombia’s swift condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the invasion is “not just a threat to Europe and Ukraine” but a “threat to international stability.”
The meeting was expected to focus heavily on migration, including discussion on issues such as expanding legal pathways for migrants and providing support for countries that welcome large numbers of migrants, two senior administration officials previewing the meeting said.
The two leaders were also expected to discuss the future of the US-Colombian relationship, security cooperation, efforts to protect Colombian elections from outside interference and environmental concerns, according to one official. Biden and Duque were also slated to review the US and Colombia’s “holistic” approach to counternarcotics, which includes addressing its root causes, the official said.
During the public portion of the meeting, Biden said, “Our hemisphere migration challenges cannot be solved by one nation or any one border. We have to work together.”
He called on nations in the Western Hemisphere to collectively manage migration, saying the goal “is to sign a regional declaration of migration protection” when the US hosts the ninth Summit of the Americas, which will take place in Los Angeles this June.
The plan, Biden said, “needs to dramatically expand access to resettlement and other legal pathways to legal immigration, and it needs to aggressively pursue the criminal smugglers and traffickers who prey on these folks for profit.”
As of June 2021, more than 1.7 million Venezuelans had fled to Colombia, which has granted temporary protected status to Venezuelans in the country.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that the meeting between Biden and Duque “provides an opportunity for the Presidents to celebrate 200 years of positive diplomatic relations and consult on a range of regional and global issues of mutual interest, including Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified military invasion of Ukraine, and the promotion of democracy, security, and prosperity in the hemisphere.”
Asked about Russian influence in the Americas and disinformation, one administration official pointed to “technical assistance and support” the US has provided to Colombia to defend critical infrastructure and counter misinformation efforts.
This story and its headline have been updated with further developments Thursday.
CNN’s Devan Cole and Allie Malloy contributed to this report.