President Bush may use the four-nation drug summit to revive the idea of using U.S. military forces to cast a "radar net" over Colombia to track cocaine-carrying aircraft, a senior adviser said Tuesday. The idea has been shunned in Latin America.
Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national security adviser, said the idea was "on the shelf for the moment" because Colombian officials balked last year at news reports that the United States was considering a naval "blockade" of their ports.
Scowcroft said the plan probably would not win approval "in the next several days" - the summit is Thursday - but he added that "it's an idea we think has merit." He said, "I expect it might be discussed" at the summit.
Another administration official, speaking anonymously, played down the sensitive subject, calling it "not a significant agenda item."
Bush, after an early flight from Washington on Thursday, will join the leaders of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru in the coastal resort of Cartagena for six hours of talks.
The summit site, at a heavily guarded naval base isolated on a peninsula, was selected to provide maximum protection in a nation torn by drug-related violence.
Underscoring the hazards, police reported Tuesday that leftist guerrillas had kidnapped two Americans in the drug capital of Medellin, Colombia, to protest Bush's visit. They were identified as David Kent, a teacher from Indianapolis, and James Donnelly, employed by a company that manufactures hydraulic equipment.
Colombian authorities say about 5,000 security agents will be on hand for the presidents' protection at the summit.
To bolster security, two American warships have been deployed in the Caribbean, along with a Colombian escort ship.
Acknowledging risks involved in the trip, Scowcroft said, "It's an unusual situation because there are in Colombia these guerrilla bands, terrorist bands with access to funds to purchase . . . any kinds of arms, and so naturally there are unusual circumstances."
However, he said, "All the agencies involved in presidential security are comfortable with the arrangements."