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US, Portugal in key talks on base

The value of a piece of strategically important real estate will dominate the six-day official visit to the United States by Portugal's President, Gen. Antonio Ramalho Eanes, which started Wednesday in Washington.

Officials here bill the White House get-together as the most important foreign visit ever made by Portugal's chief executive, Monitor contributor Ken Pottinger reports. Discussions will center on the US air base at Lajes on the Azores islands, 2,200 miles east of Washington.

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Portugal and the US are renegotiating a five-year agreement on the use of the base, which is vital to the US Rapid Deployment Force and the resupply of American troops in Western Europe.

Some here believe that Congress's offer of $148 million worth of military and economic aid in exchange for the base is paltry in terms of the Azores' strategic value to NATO. But to date negotiations have been low-key, although several major issues remain to be resolved before the agreement, which expired in February, can be renewed. The US is seeking to enlarge and upgrade its Azores installations and to establish entirely new facilities on the Portuguese mainland.

Other points on the agenda include Portugal's intepretation of events in southern Africa, especially in the two former colonies of Mozambique and Angola; bilateral relations; and the eight-year effort to bring independence to the troubled Southeast Asian territory of East Timor, occupied by Indonesia.

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