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Ecuador wants military base in Miami

By Phil Stewart

NAPLES (
Reuters) - Ecuador's leftist President Rafael Correa said Washington must let him open a military base in Miami if the United States wants to keep using an air base on Ecuador's Pacific coast.

Correa has refused to renew Washington's lease on the Manta air base, set to expire in 2009. U.S. officials say it is vital for counter-narcotics surveillance operations on Pacific drug-running routes.

"We'll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami -- an Ecuadorean base," Correa said in an interview during a trip to Italy.

"If there's no problem having foreign soldiers on a country's soil, surely they'll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States."

The U.S. embassy to Ecuador says on its Web site that anti-narcotics flights from Manta gathered information behind more than 60 percent of illegal drug seizures on the high seas of the Eastern Pacific last year.

It offers a fact-sheet on the base at: http://ecuador.usembassy.gov/topics_of_interest/manta-fol.html

Correa, a popular leftist economist, had promised to cut off his arm before extending the lease that ends in 2009 and has called U.S. President George W. Bush a "dimwit".

But Correa, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, told Reuters he believed relations with the United States were "excellent" despite the base closing.

He rejected the idea that the episode reflected on U.S. ties at all.

"This is the only North American military base in South America," he said.

"So, then the other South American countries don't have good relations with the United States because they don't have military bases? That doesn't make any sense."

Reuters2007All rights reserved.

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