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Sunday, 19 August, 2001, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Bush vows US help on Argentina
Leaders from some of the countries that make up the Rio group
Argentina's economy topped the Rio Group's agenda
By Peter Greste in Santiago

President George W Bush has told his Chilean counterpart Ricardo Lagos that the United States will work to calm turbulent markets shaken by the economic crisis in Argentina.

The Chilean president said he had spoken to Mr Bush on behalf of the Rio Group of Latin American leaders, which wound up a two-day meeting in Santiago on Saturday.

One issue dominated the summit - the economic crisis facing Argentina and its potential impact on the region should the country fail to repay its debts.

Argentina has asked the International Monetary Fund for billions of dollars of aid to help it through.

Regional threat

If Argentina sinks, analysts warn the entire region will suffer the economic consequences.

Peru's President Alejandro Toledo
Toledo's war is on poverty
That is why the group members asked their host to speak directly to President Bush about cooling jittery markets.

In his closing speech, President Lagos said he had got the assurances they were after.

The United States, he said, is very interested in finding an adequate and lasting solution to the problems in the financial markets, particularly in Argentina.

"President Bush indicated that the US administration, Secretary of State (Colin) Powell, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, are particularly worried about finding a sustainable, adequate solution to what is occurring particularly in Argentina," President Lagos told a news conference.

President Lagos said the technical details still had to be worked out, but that help would be forthcoming.

That may not necessarily come in the form of cash, as Argentina wants, and there is still no guarantee that the assistance will solve the crisis, but Mr Bush's promise does represent a step forward.

Central bank

The Chilean president also said the Rio Group had agreed to consider the idea of a Latin American Central Bank for central banks, as a kind of safety net to avoid future economic crises.

That is still a long way off and there is no guarantee that it will protect Latin America from economic problems, but it also represents a breakthrough in the region's thinking.

Separately, Peru's new President Alejandro Toledo announced that the foreign ministers of Peru and Chile will meet on 10 September to find ways to cut the two countries' arsenals.

"There is only one war that I want to win and that is the war on poverty," he said.

The BBC's Peter Greste
"The Rio Group of Latin American Nations was originally formed as a forum for discussing regional co-operation"
See also:

17 Aug 01 | Business
Argentine crisis looms over summit
15 Aug 01 | Business
Argentines urged to return deposits
13 Aug 01 | Business
Bush keeps 'open mind' on Argentina
08 Aug 01 | Americas
Argentines protest against pay cuts
04 Aug 01 | Business
IMF speeds up cash for Argentina
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